The way people work is changing. No longer is it commonplace for workers to spend their entire career at one company. In the not-too-distant future, even working a single full-time job at all could be a thing of the past.
While flexibility and autonomy are enticing, freelancing means hard work, networking to land good gigs, and producing great work to boost your reputation. Here’s a look at the freelancing landscape and some advice on how to succeed out on your own.
According to a 2015 study by Upwork and Freelancers Union, 60% of freelancers in the U.S. started freelancing by choice versus necessity, and 67% of freelancers agreed that more people were choosing to work independently than three years prior.
In a revised 2019 study, Upwork and Freelancers Union found the same rate of by-choice freelancing. The two groups have yet to publish more recent data, though other entities have released 2020 freelancing data. These entities have found that 59 million Americans freelanced in 2020, compared with 53 million in 2014. That’s 39.4% of the overall 2020 workforce of 149.8 million people.
Freelancers account for $1.2 trillion in annual U.S. economic contributions.
Freelancing offers freedom and flexibility, and many workers opt for this lifestyle over traditional full-time opportunities. Nick DiUlio, a freelance journalist and adjunct professor of journalism at Rowan University, originally assumed the freelance work would be a stopgap between full-time gigs.
“It started as a way to get out of a toxic workplace where I was unhappy,” DiUlio told Business News Daily. “I loved the flexibility and variety. After a year, I couldn’t imagine myself doing anything else.”
Whatever your skill set, it’s important to recognize market demand to keep your freelance business running. According to a study from FlexJobs, these were the top 15 companies for hiring freelancers in 2021.
Here’s advice from some freelancers and other experts about going solo.
DiUlio advises laying out a plan and doing your research before you begin looking for freelance work.
“You need to know and approach [freelancing] with an economic plan,” DiUlio said. “Web-based writing is a little easier because the payment turnaround is quicker, as opposed to print, which could have 30-, 60- or 90-day turnarounds.”
Your payment structure, including how much you’ll get paid and when, is a crucial component of your plan for your freelancing career, he added.
Ryan Johnson, director of categories at Upwork, recommends thinking of yourself as a business of one. “Budget time to build your personal brand and market yourself.”
Cultivating in-demand skills is also crucial. “In addition, allocate some of your time to refreshing your existing skills and adding new ones,” Johnson said. “Businesses are increasingly turning to freelance marketplaces to access skills that an in-house team doesn’t have. Keeping yourself up to date with new and emerging trends will make you more desirable.”
Michael Parker, vice president of collaboration at Join.me, said it’s important to keep in touch with your contacts and make new ones. Networking is especially important for freelancers to help with lead generation.
“Attend industry events you’re interested in,” Parker said. “Go to other events to network with prospective clients and sources.” [Read related article: What Is LinkedIn?
The best way to start once you’re ready? Just do it – perhaps even alongside your full-time position.
“Once you set up [an online] profile and land your first project, you’ll be able to showcase your work, receive client reviews, and start building your online reputation,” Johnson said. “You should view your profile as a more innovative, better version of a resume, since it provides proof of your work.”
Whether you make a career out of freelancing or use it as a part-time platform, acknowledge your worth and don’t work for free.
“[For] your work, whatever that may be, you deserve to be paid,” DiUlio said.
If you’re a business owner rather than a freelancer, maybe you’re used to hiring people through job listings. That’s a great route for finding part-time and full-time employees who look to job boards such as LinkedIn to find their main gigs. Freelancers are less likely to use these spaces to find work, because they’re not interested in working a binding number of hours per week. Though you can post listings on these sites, better options exist.
Online freelancer markets might be your best bet for finding the right person. These sites include Freelancer.com, Fiverr and FlexJobs. Make sure your job listings follow the best practices for job descriptions before posting them – freelancers look for many of the same inclusions as full- and part-timers. Industry-specific sites and word of mouth can also help, as can simply asking people in your network.
No matter which route you take, you should first determine exactly what your freelancers will do for you and how much you can pay them. Set a strategy for weeding through an overabundance of resumes, and vet potential freelancers with one of the best background check services. The perfect freelancer for your company is out there somewhere.
Max Freedman and Adam Uzialko contributed to the writing and reporting in this article. Source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.