Freelancing has gained huge popularity, especially since the COVID-19 pandemic which taught people how to adjust during unprecedented times. As per global industry reports, the total freelance market size is about USD 1.5 trillion and growing at a CAGR of 15%! It was indicated that countries with lower domestic work opportunities are seeing a surge in freelance professionals. This trend is, in general, catching up in developing countries as well. The highest supply of freelancer services in the world is owned by India at 24% while Bangladesh ranks second with 16% and the US third with 12%.
Now let’s understand what freelancing really means. An individual who makes money on a per-job basis is a freelancer. They usually earn on a per-task basis and generally work for a short time which means they are not full-time employees with any 1 firm. The formal definition of freelancer is ‘an independent labourer earning wages per job or task.’ Freelancers do have the freedom and flexibility in their work but sometimes get bound by contracts that require exclusivity. So, what are some of the pros & cons of being a freelancer?
1. Freedom - Freelancers enjoy the freedom of choosing clients & projects as per their preferences. They may choose to work with 1 or more clients simultaneously.
2. Flexibility - This is one of the biggest pros of being a freelancer as they get to choose their working hours, days and weeks. They can choose to work full-time during the week, and work part-time during weekends. They may also choose to work over weekends if they have other priorities or commitments in any particular week. As long as they communicate their deadlines to their clients, freelancers can choose when they want to work to complete their tasks.
3. Exposure - A freelancer gets huge exposure while taking up projects with different clients. Each project they take up may be something new or unique. When people work with a company in-house, they do not get to hone their skills in other areas. But with freelancing, one can broaden their horizons.
4. Independence - Freelancers get the advantage of not only choosing their work day & hour preference - they also have the autonomy to choose where they want to work from - whether it’s from home, a co-working space - or in some cases, even though a client’s office for a specific period of time, freelancers enjoy the independence of choosing their workplace setup.
1. Taxes - It is a freelancer’s responsibility to understand & pay their self-employment taxes on their own at the specified time periods. While freelancers are eligible for tax deductions, it is important for them to be well-versed with taxes for the self-employed so that they can set their rates & fees accordingly.
2. Benefits - Freelancers miss out on benefits like pension funds, insurance, etc that full-time employees of companies automatically get when hired. As self-employed people, freelancers must always be cautious to find & fund their insurance.
3. Stability - It is a very challenging task to find steady projects all the time. A lot of times, projects start but don’t see it through till the end which leads to contracts ending early. It is also difficult to determine when and how a freelancer’s next project will come through. It is not easy to find consistent clients all the time.
4. Payments - Collecting payments from different clients can be one of the biggest challenges faced by freelancers. A lot of times, freelancers have even been scammed where clients haven’t paid out after completing the project. This is especially true when freelancers start out early.
5. Isolation - Employees who have full-time jobs also have a lot of daily human interactions through teams, offices, etc. Freelancers, however, tend to work on their own and often do not have people to turn to in case of doubts or problems. Although this is a very individualistic preference as many people enjoy working alone rather than with teams.
First of all, freelancing is a lot more complicated than it appears when you first look at it. It requires skills, practising, learning & dedication to be a successful freelancer.
The first step to entering the freelancing industry is to identify your most valuable skills and determine your target audience. It is also important to remember that freelancing isn’t a quick way to make money - it requires proper investment of time & resources. It is very unlikely that you will be able to work as a freelancer without proper equipment - like a computer, a stable internet connection - for some industries, you also require specialised software, applications and online tools.
Once you’ve identified your most marketable skill and are equipped with the necessary resources - figure out some of the keywords that clearly define that skill. It could range from something as simple as transcribing podcasts to more complicated things like mobile application development. There are several reliable & trustworthy freelance marketplaces where you can see what types of jobs are up. Some of the most popular ones are Freelancer, Upwork and even LinkedIn has recently become a trusted place for job listings. If there are enough job listings for your skill set, you’ve hit gold. If not, look a few steps further by narrowing your skill sets or even broadening them, depending on the results.
To have a successful career in freelancing, it’s important to keep polishing your skills. So once you’ve found your most marketable skills & listings, do further research to understand what your industry is demanding at the moment. It’s very useful for freelancers to get a subscription to online skill development platforms like SkillShare or Chartered Skills. You must also build your reputation & network to not only bag new clients but be well-known for the services you provide. Using a professional networking site like LinkedIn is very useful for freelancers. But before you start marketing yourself in your domain, you must build a portfolio to showcase your work, projects and skill sets. There are many paid & free portfolios building sites such as WordPress, Canva and Behance - each specialising in certain categories.
Another useful tip before starting a career in freelancing is to give it a shot part-time. Freelancing is not everyone’s cup of tea and only those who are self-disciplined & patient end up surviving the long game. Before you quit your job or start your career as a fresher - take up a few shorter and quicker freelance projects and see how you are fitting in with the work, hours & dedication you need to be successful.
When you have finally determined & put in place everything required to start your career as a freelancer, be sure to charge the right price when you secure your first project. You will find plenty of information on the market standard rates for your domain and depending on your years of experience or specialisation, be sure to charge a price that is fair to your client & you. Don’t undersell or oversell your skills as you must start off your career with some competitive advantages & always leave room for bargaining.
And finally, deliver your project beyond expectations! Pay close attention to your client’s needs and expectations & deliver accordingly. In fact, you could always take it a step further and overdeliver without charging for it. In this day & age of reviews & recommendations, little efforts to go beyond your client’s expectations will only lead to 5-star reviews - which automatically builds your online reputation as a freelancer.