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The Ultimate Guide to Start Working As a Freelancer

To many, freelancing equals freedom. Freelancers work on their own terms without bosses telling them what to do. And while freelancing may interest millennials more than the rest of the population, it’s not limited to them. With the right mindset, enough preparations and some useful skills, anyone can embark on a (life-changing) freelance journey. The good news is that your address may not matter at all.

guide to freelancingPhoto by Bich Tran from Pexels. Let’s do this!

1. What is freelance?

It’s a type of career pursuit. According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, “freelance” used to refer to medieval mercenaries, people who would fight for whichever nation or person hired them and paid the most. In a sense, the word still connects to the past and its origin. Today’s freelancers mostly work for clients on a project basis without getting hired as an employee. You may hear the word independent contractor or sole proprietor in the context of freelancing. (More on this later on.)

Freelance has also become an umbrella term. Nowadays it includes (on-site, off-site and remote) jobs done by creative, technical, and other professionals. Yes, you’ve read it correctly. Contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to showcase a creative skill set to get started as a part-time, full-time, or ad-hoc freelancer. Considering the diversification and proliferation of jobs, in the future, you may stumble upon freelance jobs that don’t exist in our present time.


You can also read: What does freelance mean | Embarking on a Freelance Journey

Find freelance job opportunities here!

2. What does it mean to be a freelancer

You’re in charge of every aspect of your job. With freelance work comes lots of freedom and responsibility. You have to file your own taxes, purchase your own insurance plan(s), and start your pension fund as soon as possible. Freelancers don’t have bosses but don’t have access to the kinds of benefits employees may have either. They make all their decisions and cannot blame anyone else for their mistakes.

In the U.S., new laws have been implemented recently and others may be signed or come into effect in the upcoming months/years. Although those may not necessarily intend to regulate all types of freelance work, the case of the California Assembly Bill 5 (AB5) shows otherwise. Therefore, you should REGULARLY update yourself about the latest changes in legislation in your city/county/state/country.

If possible, subscribe to the newsletter of your local government and follow organizations/individuals (for example NGOs and other non-profit organizations, lawmakers, policymakers, grassroots organizers, union leaders, etc.) online.


You can also read:

2.1. Freelancer vs. self-employed

Even if you have no interest in the field of law, you should know a few things about it. You should get familiar with a few legal terms and definitions, for example. In short, freelancers (and contractors) are also self-employed. Depending on where you live, you may not have to inform the tax agency about your freelance business. However, you probably have to be able to issue invoices.

In some countries, freelancers need to at least register as a sole proprietor or something similar. Yet it might be possible for you too to start working and earning as a freelancer without setting up a business officially. As a beginner freelancer, you may choose to do this. Yet you may conclude that you’d be better off registering a business. (You may become eligible for tax-deductions and such.) Other self-employed professionals may be required by law to register a business or apply for a license.

Several services have been offered worldwide to freelancers regardless of the stage they’re currently at. You can also use them to kick-start your freelance career without any difficulty.


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3. What are the pros and cons of freelancing

You should ask yourself the question of what kind of person you are. Freelancers don’t comprise a monolith group of people but a diverse one. Yet you will certainly see some characteristics of freelancing as pros or cons. However, freelancers (just like others) have the opportunity to make adjustments to create a better working environment for themselves. You too!

You may add the following to the list of the pros:

  • Flexible work hours and work location (working part-time, full-time or occasionally from home, a coworking space, a café, etc.)
  • A great amount of independence in your work (without a boss)
  • Earning as much money as you want for pursuing your passion/interests
  • Setting your own rules and routines
  • Being part of a growing and supportive community
  • Staying home with your children while still working

You may look at the following as cons:

  • The alternation between periods of flood and drought in terms of work and income
  • The need to deal with every aspect of your job (taxes, insurance, negotiation with clients, etc.)
  • Dealing with social isolation when working from home
  • The lack of routine in the traditional sense (9-to-5 jobs)

You can also read:

4. How to start freelancing?

guide to freelancingPhoto by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

You start by making a decision. If your final goal is to work full-time as a freelancer, you can take it slow. Many aspiring freelancers work on side projects while keeping their 9-to-5 jobs. This is what Steve Ash, who has built a career as an independent content writer, also points out among other useful information on how to start a freelance career. Once you reach the point when you can sustain yourself by relying on your freelance services, you can stop and start thinking about your next step.

To have a niche or not to have one? Some successful freelancers suggest that anyone should develop some specific skills. That can be anything. Nevertheless, there are professions where a freelancer must keep a broad scope and continuously gain new skills. It depends on what career path you choose.

Regardless of professions, you have to build and polish your portfolio You should not rush things but actively look for opportunities. You can reach out to organizations directly and introduce yourself—to let them know what you can offer to them. Although the Internet and online portals are your friends, word-of-mouth still has a lot of power. You should encourage your network to recommend you if someone could use your knowledge and skills.

4.1. How can I start freelancing with no experience?

Even if you have never worked for any client before, you must have gained some experience. Perhaps while working on school projects or passion projects in your free time, or for a friend or relative who needed your help. You may want to make a career out of your hobby, interests, part-time job, etc.

Make yourself visible online and offline: build a portfolio, develop your brand. We know journalists and bloggers who surf the Internet for people to interview. An interview can lead to another article, and then client work.

What can you do to land your first official job as a freelancer?

  • Reach out to your network and ask around whether they need some help with something.
  • Keep your eyes and ears open in your workplace, school, church, study groups, social circles, etc. Someone might be after a person just like you.
  • Know the best practices in your industry/sector/field.
  • It’s not recommended to work for free, but you may make an exception with non-profit organizations.
  • Join groups on various platforms.

5. How to find freelance work?

The pieces of advice given in the previous section apply here as well. When you know what you can and want to do, look for opportunities. Adjust your strategy to your needs and goals.

Post a message on your social media channels, in online forums, knock on doors, send out spontaneous emails and/or submit your portfolio to (open) calls. If you determine whom you want to work with, contact them. You must work on your reputation so that you can appear on the horizon of potential clients.

5.1. The best freelance websites to find a job

It very much depends on the industry/sector/field you work in. A creative freelancer may register on Behance.net, Dribbble.com, DeviantArt, Cargo.com and similar portfolio sites. On sites such as 99designs.com, Upwork, Fiverr, Freelancer.com, PeoplePerHour, Thumbtack (for all kinds of freelancers) and many others, you can connect with clients directly.

These ones haven’t been created only for creative professionals, freelancers with technical, legal, marketing and other skills may give them a shot as well.

  • With HelloTech, you could provide IT support to people on location.
  • If you’re into coding, Codester could work for you.
  • If you wish to launch your career in project management, consider joining Toptal.
  • As a photographer, Byrd, and Fotoliafo could rank high on your list. Don’t forget to monitor traditional and well-established job boards either.

You can also read: 22+ Websites for Professionals and Beginners to Find Remote Marketing Jobs

Explore other online portals here!

6. How to freelance from home?

Under certain circumstances, you may prefer to get a job you could do from home. In the past few years, several articles have been published about the increasing prominence and popularity of remote work.

With this type of job comes opportunities and challenges. With the right mindset and strategy, your efficiency won’t suffer. On the contrary, you’ll get more things done as ever before. However, if you love working in a team and being surrounded by people, working from home may not be your gem. Get to know yourself better to be able to make better choices!

Explore some of the best freelance jobs here! We’ve compiled a list of freelance work-from-home jobs and on-location jobs. We’ve thought about creatives and strategic thinkers, people with IT, technical, legal and language skills, and many others.

What to do if nothing suits your personality and skill set? Head over to our blog post on the best freelance websites offering free online courses. It’s never too late to start learning something new!

Look for gig jobs here!

7. Freelancers and taxes

money saving tax tips for gig workers

Do you know what a tax season is? It’s the time of the year when everyone earning an income has to declare their taxes. As a freelancer, you may not have one but more occasions to take care of the admin tasks necessary. More on this below.

7.1. How to pay taxes as a freelancer?

Freelancers (including all self-employed people and independent contractors) usually file their taxes on their own. The procedure varies by country and state. It may matter whether you are a citizen or a permanent resident with a work permit. In most countries, it’s possible to submit your form(s) online. You should dive into the rules and regulations of which apply to you. Visit the official website of the country.


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7.2. Is there a minimum income to file taxes as a freelancer?

Then again, it depends on where you live. In the U.S., all citizens and foreigners working must fill out a 1040 form. If you earn at least $600 a year with a company, they have to send you the Form 1099-MISC. Those who make an annual income through a third party or have accumulated 200 transactions (for example 200 Lyft rides) and the gross payments exceed $20,000 have to fill out an additional 1099-K form.

Some states, such as Alaska, Florida, Nevada, South Dakota, Texas, Washington, and Wyoming, don’t impose income taxes, for example. Of course, it doesn’t automatically mean that life is cheaper there. Always get the latest updates on legislation regarding income taxes in your home state.

7.3. Freelance tax calculator

Tax advisors may tell you that you should put aside 25% to 30% of your income for tax purposes. You can check the Form 1040-ES created by the Internal Revenue Service or Quarterly Tax Calculator offered by Keeper Tax to estimate how much you have to pay in taxes. You can probably list a few tax-deductible items. More on them below.

7.4. Money-saving tax tips for freelancers

Who wouldn’t love to save money on taxes? Freelancers, whose workload may change by season could reduce their stress level knowing that it’s possible to decrease their expenses. Back in the day freelancers may have needed to keep a box for invoices and go through them when the tax season came. Thanks to digital technologies, you could easily use a piece of software and file your invoices right after payment. If you’re based in the U.S., you can try Keeper Tax.

A few things you may deduct from your taxes if you work from home: part of your rent, power bill, furniture and electronics expenses, Wi-Fi bill, property bill, water bill, etc. Even if you do not work remotely, you might write off a few things: standard mileage rate, data costs for your phone, transaction fees, insurance, car maintenance costs, interest on car loans, parking and toll expense, etc.


Read also: 5 Money-saving Tax Tips for Gig Workers

8. Freelancers and insurance

Without a full-time/part-time job and an employee status, you have to research the types of insurance available for freelancers, gig workers and other self-employed people. It’s a widely known fact that many people, perhaps freelancers as well, are not covered or their coverage won’t cover all their medical expenses.

In the past few years, a few gig platforms have partnered with insurance companies. Workers may receive help and some discounts when purchasing insurance. Quite a few platforms offer additional insurance during the work period. It varies by platform. You should prioritize your health and buy insurance if you can. Read up on Medicare and Medicaid, too.


Read also: Why All Gig Workers Need Insurance

8.1. What kind of insurance do freelancers need?

Every freelancer should have health insurance, dental and possibly liability insurance. You can always purchase other types of insurance. In your field, freelancers may typically get coverage for a specific reason.

For example:

  • If you work as a stunt performer, you need liability for other personnel on the set, the set, equipment and so on.
  • If you work digitally a lot, you should consider buying a plan for your computer.
  • If you need to travel a lot, travel insurance may become a necessity.
  • If you drive your car or ride your scooter/bike, you may want to get vehicle insurance.

(AppJobs members have access to insurance services.)

9. Do freelancers have to purchase a retirement plan?

It’s not mandatory to do so, but it’s recommended. Some freelancers (for example performers, photographers) don’t stop working when turning 65 or so, others (for example ballet dancers, athletes) may need to change their career path well before that. You can protect your future with a retirement plan. Allocate some of your savings, start a separate fund and put aside a certain percentage of your income. You can purchase a retirement plan, too.


Read also: How to Get Prepared for Your Retirement Years in the U.S.

10. Best tools for freelancers

At the beginning of someone’s freelancer career, no one knows what tools they might need. You can read plenty of blog posts about how to freelance, like this one, but your needs may differ from the rest of the world. If you work from home, you may look for advice on productivity tools. In this case, you can start with a simple Excel sheet or Spreadsheet to make a to-do list yourself. Crossing things off your list will generate lots of joy. Believe us!

Some tools you can try:

  • Calendar tools: Google Calendar
  • Cloud storage tools: Dropbox, Google Drive
  • Communication tools: Slack, Zoom, Skype
  • Project management tools: Trello, Gantt
  • Finance tools: PayPal, Stripe, Revolut, TransferWise
  • Design tools: Canva, Adobe Creative Suite
  • Social media management tools: Hootsuite

Check our comprehensive list of tools and services freelancers may need for work!

11. FAQ

Can I freelance while being employed?

Of course, you can. It’s better to offer freelance services your employer doesn’t, though. Why? They may consider you a competitor and let you go. Your circumstances can be different obviously. You can work freelance part-time or full-time, or do it as a side job. Make sure you do your best whether it’s your freelance job or day job.

💵How much money do I need to get started as a freelancer?

You should have enough money in your bank account to get by for a few months at least—until you manage to sign contracts with some clients. To play a safe game, you can start freelancing part-time or in your free time. Once a solid client base is built up, you can go full freelance.

How much money can you make as a freelancer?

A lot of factors affect this: your location, your industry/sector, your average rate, etc. In New York City, for example, some freelancers may earn a salary of $45,672.94 per year. A graphic designer may get around $18.00-$30.00 per hour, or maybe even more. Before setting your own freelance rates, find out what the standard rates in your field are.

Which skills are the best for freelancing?

Anything you can imagine. This may sound a bit of exaggeration, but freelance tasks have diversified since the early 2000s. Creative freelance jobs (writing, film and design jobs) may still promise more work than pet sitting, for example. Yet you may find that on-site freelance jobs are in higher demand in your city.

🖥Do I need a website to promote myself (or my services) as a freelancer?

It depends. Creative professionals should think of launching a portfolio site at least. Nowadays you can market yourself on social media networks with a business page, for example. You should not forget analog ways either: some people still read newspapers and call for a handyman after spotting their ad in the papers. Find out what the best practices in your field are.

How to deal with burnout as a freelancer?

Some freelancers may not even realize they experience burnout. If you feel overwhelmed and have no desire to do anything, you should take some time off—for real. You can also talk to a therapist or coach. Consider your options and choose the one that suits your needs best.

Barbara is a trained journalist, working in the field of media since late 2009. She holds a master’s degree in Communication Studies and Cinema Studies and has attended several freestanding courses as she believes in lifelong learning. Her passion for (audiovisual and written) content has led her to work on projects related to film programming, content production and management, social media management, event management, and project management. She enjoys doing research and sharing the acquired knowledge with others.