A Guide to Freelancing

Freelancing can be a great way to make your professional life more flexible or earn extra money. Read this guide to freelancing to learn more.

Global changes have affected the way that the world views the workplace. No longer chained to desks for the 9 to 5 grind, people are working from home—or wherever else in the world they happen to be. For millions of people, these changes are exciting and offer them a chance to establish a better work-life balance.

Another trend in the gig economy is the steady stream of workers turning to freelancing as their main source of income. Some workers don't go all-in at once. They may pick up a few side gigs to determine whether they even have an interest in being their own bosses and forging their own course in the crowded seas of competition.

If you’ve ever pondered the freelancing option for yourself and wondered how freelancers manage to secure well-paying jobs (and all that entails), this guide can provide you with valuable information about freelancing. Could it be the right fit for you?

What Is Freelancing?

The term “freelancing” is quite broad. It is used, both correctly and incorrectly, to describe many categories of employment where the worker is their own boss. Think of freelancing as a large tent with all sorts of individual booths underneath it, and you will have an idea of how the freelance life relates to your present or future employment.

While some remote workers are freelancers, not all of them are. An individual can be employed by a company in a traditional form of employment and still exclusively work remotely. While some workers have traditionally had this arrangement with the companies that employ them, others came to these arrangements as a direct result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Not all freelancers work remotely, either. Their independent contractor status may require their daily presence at a designated job site during specified hours for a predetermined time period.

When freelancing, you must be ready to take on the responsibility of deducting your own taxes annually or quarterly. You might want to use a professional accountant if this is too challenging to take on yourself. You will need to secure your own health insurance plan, either privately or from the ACA marketplace. There is no vacation time or sick day pay. You can't ask a colleague to work late for you because you have a sick child at home or a midday dental appointment.

But while there are drawbacks, there are also many advantages for freelancers of all stripes. You work when you choose, as long as you can deliver what you need to. You can decline jobs you detest and give a wide berth to some problematic clients. For some jobs, you can work right at home in your pajamas. It can be ideal for young parents, those suffering from chronic illness, university students, or those who simply want more flexibility in their professional lives.

If you want to be one of the most successful freelancers, you must first determine your niche market. What marketable skills, knowledge, and experience do you have to bring to the table? Which demographic group(s) are you targeting for your business?

Once you answer those questions, you can move on to the next phase of your career as a freelancer.

What Are the Best Skills for Freelancing?

You can freelance in nearly every occupation under the sun. Medicine has locum tenens physicians who travel the country (and sometimes the globe) working at different hospitals along the way. Some people dictate their life stories for ghostwriters to polish to allow them to "author" their own autobiographies. Reporters can freelance for different websites and media outlets.

However, you don’t need to do anything as exotic as the above options to get started freelancing. More mundane, but still highly sought after, freelancing skills include:

  • Website design
  • Copywriting
  • Editing
  • Coaching
  • Graphic design
  • Consulting
  • Voice acting
  • Photography
  • And more!

What most (if not all) of the above have in common is that the expansion of the digital marketplace for commerce and industry now makes it possible for those who are proficient in those and other skills to remotely collaborate with other project partners.

You don't have to be in the same city or even on the same continent as a project collaborator. Using a simple Google doc or a spreadsheet seamlessly coordinates the project and serves as its blueprint for your remote colleagues to contribute from wherever they are in the world.

Follow the Money

You can make money online in a number of ways. Banner ads can be lucrative. Commissions from affiliate marketing is a terrific way to generate passive income. The trick is to market the type of products your client base will buy.

Selling your own product increases your bottom line. Do your homework and check out competitors' sites to make sure that you are in the ballpark when it comes to pricing. Don't price yourself out of the market but make sure what you get for what you sell is commensurate with the going rates others charge for similar products and services.

How Do I Start Freelancing?

Gone are the days when hopeful and desperate freelancers had to scour the dubious postings on Craigslist, seeking gig work that was lucrative and not another online scam. Today, there are many reputable talent outsourcing sites that not only target your specific industry but also are completely scalable to meet the growing needs of your freelance business.

Scaling your freelance business can save you a great deal of money and time, leaving you to devote your own working hours to enhancing your performance while expanding your clientele.

As the digital marketplace continues to broaden across all industries, you will learn how to hone in on the right market that seeks your skills and experience to help them grow their own brands.

Setting Yourself Up for Freelancing Success

Not everybody is cut out for freelance work. You must be stalwart in the face of rejection, for one. Your brand will not align with every client that approaches you for work. Sometimes your best is just not what they had in mind. That doesn’t mean that your contribution wasn’t any good, however. It just means that it wasn’t a good fit for that particular client.

You need to be able to keep it professional and shrug off the misses. A willingness to think and work outside the proverbial box to connect meaningfully with your client’s goals can catapult you beyond the competition.

It takes a disciplined approach to hit the mark on clients' expectations while still meeting sometimes tight assignment deadlines. Some wiggle room is often possible when working with freelance websites. However, excellent time management and top organizational skills are essential functions that both independent clients and freelancing sites expect from their independent contractors.

Ask yourself how well you work independently without the supervision of bosses and the company of colleagues. Some freelancing gigs allow you to structure your work time so that you can knuckle down when conditions are optimum for you, e.g., the quiet overnight hours when your family and neighbors are fast asleep.

Realize, too, that every freelancer at times gets problematic clients. Scope creep—where a client continually expands the scope of a project past agreed-upon parameters—can be a major issue for freelancers because they are eager to please their clients and want both their repeat business and also word-or-mouth and online referrals.

Keep in mind that, in order to be a successful freelancer, you need to set boundaries and not feel pressure to give in to unreasonable client demands. That's all part of "the customer is always right" facade. Because, in reality, customers are not always right. Some clients will try to wrest every extra service they can from hapless freelancers.

To avoid falling into this trap, one must know their value as a freelance professional. You must be your own advocate when dealing with difficult clients and refuse to be treated shabbily.

Learn to negotiate the highest rates and best terms for each project. Introverts who are more comfortable behind a screen can negotiate digitally via email and messaging.

Sometimes, however, you will need to FaceTime, Zoom, or Skype with clients. If that is a foreign concept to you, find a friend willing to roleplay a few typical client-freelancer scenarios that apply to your industry. Do this until you feel comfortable with the camera and proficient with the process.

Communication is essential in the freelance world. If you are unsure about expectations, clarify these immediately as they arise. If something unexpected occurs that will cause you to miss a deadline, let the client know ahead of time rather than breezily blowing past the deadline. This is one of those situations where it is definitely not better to ask for forgiveness than permission. You have no idea what people or processes your tardiness adversely affects.

Freelancing Website

It is possible to launch a freelancing career without a website. But why make it so much more difficult to market yourself to prospective clients when it is so simple to create a free website?

Website development shouldn't break your startup budget. Do you want to get your brand noticed by industry leaders? Go check out Mailchimp’s online store and see how their built-in marketing tools can help you self-promote your skill set to your targeted demographic.

Best of all, you can start out with their free version that still entitles you to a month’s worth of email support from their seasoned support team. As your business grows and you begin to turn a profit, you might choose to level up to a paid account that offers even more bang for your buck.

Networking

One of the best and cheapest ways to kick off a promising freelance career is by networking with those you already know in the industry. From former professors, colleagues, and bosses to clients you encountered in other workplaces, everyone in that field is a potential point of contact for you and the freelance career you want to launch.

Access the free resources you already have at your disposal. Start a business Facebook and Instagram page and build or update your LinkedIn profile. Flesh it out and give it some pizazz so you stand head and shoulders above the crowd.

Court clients with deep pockets and generous budgets, but don't be so quick to turn down other work that might have a bigger payoff later. Learn to freelance like a pro by utilizing some of the scores of freelancing websites that connect enterprising freelancers with the companies most in need of their brand of services.

Optimizing Your Portfolio

Search engine optimization (SEO) is the holy grail of online marketing. Even if that is only a nebulous concept to fledgling freelancers or their clients, it is nonetheless vital to use SEO if you want your site to rise to the top of the search engine heap.

There are all sorts of online tutorials, YouTube videos, and other resources that are freely accessible on the web. You can learn a great deal about SEO over a single evening spent doing some basic research.

Should You Seek Independent Clients or Use Online Platforms?

You can do both! Why limit yourself to either/or? You probably know many business professionals in your own community and social circles who need the services and skills you have to offer as a freelancer.

But that is no reason to shun the online platforms that match up freelancing professionals with businesses and individuals who seek what they are selling. Best of all, you are free to price yourself accordingly in both markets.

For example, maybe you are a content marketer who knows a great deal about ceramics or B2B commerce or mid-century modern American design. Whatever it is, this can be your primary focus where you highlight your expertise on the subject. You can command a higher rate for these projects because your proficiency or expertise has added value and cachet.

You might know quite a bit less about dental implants or how to file a case in small claims court. It is perfectly fine to accept a lower rate of pay from clients for these projects where you are less of an authoritative source. There is a definite learning curve to freelancing pricing, so make sure that you use it to your full advantage.

How to Use Your Freelance Website to Market Your Business

Don't be modest when it comes to your marketing and promotional efforts. You never want to lie or mislead, but always put your best foot forward.

Choose your domain with the intent of highlighting the best of your brand. Once you have a few satisfied clients under your belt, ask them to offer their honest testimonials on your website about your skills as a content marketer, web designer, project manager -- whatever freelancing gig you choose to pursue.

Make sure that your positive reviews reflect the gamut of your wheelhouse of clients. Reciprocal links to their own sites and online platforms can critically boost SEO, so mine those veins of pure gold as well.

Reach out to others in your field to verify your skills on LinkedIn, and then offer to do the same for them in return. Be honest, however. This skill verification system only works when you are actually aware of your colleague's skill proficiency, and vice versa. Otherwise, you risk attracting the problems associated with inauthenticity as a freelance professional.

Grow Your Freelancing Business with Mailchimp

When it comes to taking the freelance plunge, there is no right or wrong way. But there is a need for meticulous preparation. Decide ahead of time what the focus of your website will be. How often will you update your blog? Don't start out like a house afire with daily entries only to fizzle out a few weeks later because you can't think of any timely content that is germane to your industry.

Mailchimp works with countless freelancers to share resources, offer guidance, and help launch marketing efforts at all levels of experience in your field. The free tools and scalability make this a unique way to give a needed boost to a fledgling freelancer.

You can listen to podcasts, watch videos and films, explore expert insights, and harness the creative tools to use when defining your brand for the first time or during a rebranding campaign. The best part is that, because of its scalability, you only access what you need and can afford to thrive as a freelancer.

The workplace as we knew it pre-pandemic will likely never return to its former state. In today's gig economy, freelancing is an option that more workers are turning to during uncertain times. Stay three steps ahead of the competition by partnering with Mailchimp to broaden your freelance business opportunities and add more zeros to your bank account.

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