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Freelancing 101: What Every Potential Freelancer Should Know

Adryan Corcione
Adryan Corcione

The gig economy is booming. According to Forbes, between 2005 and 2015, 94 percent of 10 million jobs created were either freelance or temporary gigs. For freelancers, this shows a great demand across different niches and industries and a steady decline for traditional 9-to-5 day jobs.

However, being a self-employed freelancer means owning your own business. Whether you're prepared for it or not, you have to be your own boss. To help you better understand the nature of freelance work, here are nine things all potential and current freelancers should consider about the current state of the market climate.

1. Freelance work isn't just one-time projects.

Traditionally, startups and smaller businesses hire freelancers for short-term ad hoc projects that the owners and their staff don't have time to do themselves. This trend has begun to change recently, as companies are integrating freelancers into their core business strategies.

"Modern businesses are choosing to run in a very lean fashion," said Nikolas Badminton, an author, researcher and keynote speaker for Futurist. "Sometimes there are solopreneurs that build everything they need using freelancers and they run the business on their own. Even large businesses are using freelancers as part of their contingent workforce."

Rich Pearson, senior vice president of marketing and categories at Upwork, has observed a similar pattern, noting that some freelance positions are for projects extending as long as six months. This is an important trend for freelancers to pay attention to if they are looking for steady work.

2. Think beyond local.

College graduates and laid-off employees who have difficulty securing full-time positions near their homes frequently turn to freelancing to support themselves. Because most freelance work can be done remotely, you don't have to stick to jobs that are close by.

"From a business standpoint, companies hiring freelancers can get better talent by escaping the local economy," Pearson said. "It helps freelancers too in areas where there's not much local work."

Though competing with a national pool of applicants might be intimidating, you may be more qualified for a job than someone who's geographically closer to the company. Freelancing ensures that you won't lose a job because of your location.

3. Rejection is a part of the job.

Since freelancers work with several clients at a time, balancing several projects at once, there is less sense of stability. Oftentimes, your clients will change, based on your working relationship, the company's need to employ a freelancer or even their budgets. That's why rejection comes more often, but it's important to not take it personally.

"Get cozy with rejection," said freelance content writer Minda Honey. "Don't get discouraged, just keep grinding. If you do good work, people will talk and more people will want to work with you."

4. Find a community.

It's important to have a community to fall back on for support, accountability and resources. There are local chapters of Freelancers Union in major cities, but if you can't find the right one, don't be afraid to start your own.

"Build a community of other freelancers to stay motivated and keep you going," Honey advised. "I get so much energy and motivation through my friends' successes, and we learn from each other's missteps too."

After transitioning to full-time freelance writing last summer, I founded a blog called The Millennial Freelancer to foster a community among millennial-aged freelance writers and editors I know online. Every other week, I publish an interview with a successful freelance writer. Additionally, my blog has partnered with a Philadelphia co-working space this summer to develop a more localized community in my city.

5. Always build your pipeline.

Honey stresses that the freelance industry is often "a numbers game" of sending out persistent letters of introductions, pitches and cold calls.

"You have to always be adding to your pipeline, even when times are good and your schedule is full," she said.

As a freelance journalist, I'm constantly developing new ideas and honing pitches to send out to editors, even when I'm working on several pieces already. The key is to schedule and plan work for the future so you're never left without any work to do and bill for.

This also means consistently marketing your services across social media and on your website, as well as networking with professionals offline, no matter how much work you already have piled up.

6. Highlight your skills.

Pearson told Business News Daily that 70 percent of companies that hire freelancers use them to fill specific skill gaps in their staff. If a job description lists a highly specialized combination of skills and you have them, make sure you focus on that when contacting the employer.

"Make sure you highlight your unique skill set, some success stories, and why you are the best freelancer for the employer's job," Badminton added.

7. Document it all.

When you're self-employed, you're not only providing services to clients, but you're completely responsible for bookkeeping. Staying organized will help you dodge any mistakes and mishaps along the way, especially when tax season comes around when you least expect it to. [Unsure of your tax obligations as a freelancer? Learn more in our self-employed taxes guide.]

"I just use an Excel spreadsheet to keep track of pieces after they've been accepted, and color-code them to know where in the process I am with them – if they need to be written, if they've been published, if I've been paid for them," said Sulagna Misra, freelance writer and the editor and founder of Pitching Shark. "I know some people keep track of their [assignments], but I figure the best way to keep track of those is waiting anxiously for emails or sending follow-ups."

8. Build a portfolio.

Many freelancers create virtual portfolios of their work on websites like Tumblr, Contently or for prospective employers to look at. If you don't have a dedicated online freelancing profile, make sure you have a collection of clips, files and other past projects ready to go in case someone asks to see them.

"It's essential for a freelancer to show a portfolio of their work," Badminton said. "This is a huge opportunity to wow employers and seal the deal."

A rich history of past work can put an employer at ease when considering you for a freelance job, but be careful when choosing which projects to share. The sample pieces you provide should be relevant to the freelance job you want.

9. Communication is key.

You may not be a full-time employee of the businesses that hire you as a freelancer, but while you're working with them, your point person at each company is your boss. This person expects you to perform a specific task, and just like with a regular boss, you need to keep the lines of communication open to ensure that both parties are getting what they need.

"Use IM, video chat and email to talk with potential employers, ask questions and connect on a deeper level," Badminton said.

Once you submit a project, be open to feedback and willing to revise and make changes to it if the employer wants something different.

"These are all things people in the gig economy have a rough time with, because no one gave us any idea on what to do," explains Misra. "We're all struggling with this on our own. I've been very lucky because I've not only gotten advice from a lot of people but been in a position where I could reach out to a lot of people for advice. But when you're first starting out, it's incredibly daunting."

For more insights on what it takes to become a full-time freelancer, check out this Business News Daily guide.

Additional reporting by Nicole Fallon. Some source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.

Image Credit: vinnstock/Shutterstock
Adryan Corcione
Adryan Corcione
Business News Daily Contributing Writer
Adryan Corcione is a freelance writer. To learn more about their work, visit their website. They also run a blog called the Millennial Freelancer and a newsletter Rejected Pitches.