Becoming a Freelancer Tips

Read these 30 Becoming a Freelancer Tips tips to make your life smarter, better, faster and wiser. Each tip is approved by our Editors and created by expert writers so great we call them Gurus. LifeTips is the place to go when you need to know about Freelance Design tips and hundreds of other topics.

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Your Freelance Portfolio

Artisan Talent Tip: Read the job listing carefully. Note the sort of work the employer wants and the format in which samples are to be provided -- then demonstrate that you can follow directions! Your freelance design resume should ideally be easy to read at a glance (paper is still one of the better ways to do this), demonstrating knowledge of the skills needed to do what the employer wants done. That means making adjustments to your standard portfolio every time you look for work. Employers are more likely to be impressed when you pay attention to their specific needs.

   
How can I tell if freelance work is right for me?

Freelance Checklist

Are you interested in becoming a freelance creative professional? Before you make the leap into a freelance lifestyle, make sure this type of career path is a match for your skill set. Ask yourself some hard questions so you can evaluate whether you will enjoy this type of work.

Here are some things to consider:

  • Am I able to work with little to no supervision? If you're going to work from home, you'll need to motivate yourself to do the job. If you tend to get sidetracked, this type of work may be a challenge.
  • Am I comfortable interacting with new people? When you do freelance work, you'll need to be able to work with a variety of people from job to job. If you enjoy meeting new people, this can be a great choice.
  • Am I able to deal with some uncertainty? Working as a freelancer means less stability than working a corporate job. This doesn't necessarily mean you won't do well, but you have to be prepared for the fact that it can be less consistent.
  • Can I get up to speed on projects quickly? If you freelance for a company, you may wind up joining the team in the middle of a project. In this case, being a quick study is important.

   

Ta-da! You're a Freelancer

Artisan Talent Tip: A resume for a freelance graphic designer is part of the package used to market your work and get jobs. If writing isn't your strong point, consider trading design work to a writer friend who can work with you to emphasize your most relevant skills and experience.

   
How can I get started as a freelance professional?

Freelancing as a Career Choice

If you think you would like join the ranks of freelance creative directors rather than work for a corporation, consider the advantages of this type of lifestyle. As a freelance professional, you'll have a more flexible career, and you'll be able to call your own shots. This is appealing to many people, and it's one of the main reasons that people pursue the freelance lifestyle. In addition, the variety of work can be stimulating.

Making the leap to freelance work can make some people nervous, but if you do it properly, there's no reason for alarm. Take the time to get a good resume together and then sign on with a talent agency that will help you locate good freelance positions. This can be a big help, as you won't have to conduct your search alone. Talent agencies have relationships with many companies that use freelancers on a regular basis, so they can reach out on your behalf.

   

Competing for Freelance Work

Artisan Talent Tip: A New York graphic design job posted on the Internet may receive hundreds or even thousands of applicants within 24 hours. Networking within a specific industry or carving out a unique niche is vital to standing out from the pack.

   
Am I a freelancer or a contractor?

Am I a Freelancer or a Contractor?

According to U.S. employment law, every freelancer is an "independent contractor," that is, someone who performs a specific service rather than being an employee of the hiring company.

However, in many companies, "contractor" or "freelance contractor" refers to a professional who comes to the client site to perform a specific, time-limited project, while a "freelancer" performs the work offsite. Many freelancers operate both ways, depending on the work available and their own professional goals.

If you work offsite, using your own equipment, there's no question about your status. However, a company employing you onsite must differentiate between contractors and full-time employees for tax purposes, and U.S. law seeks to punish employers who use "contractor" status to hire permanent workers without making required Social Security, Medicare and unemployment contributions.

   
How do I get started as a freelancer?

Ta-da! You're a Freelancer

Becoming a freelancer is easy. Getting work as a freelancer is a lot harder. Especially if you're just starting out, you'll want to do everything you can to establish yourself as a professional, reliable, talented worker with up-to-date skills and a thorough understanding of the market and clients' needs.

Start with a freelance resume. You'll want to rewrite your existing resume to reflect your new freelance career, emphasizing your skills, any relevant experience, and your ability to work well independently. A freelance graphic designer's resume, for example, will highlight specific projects rather than job titles or organization names -- unless the names are very well known and prestigious.

   
What if an employer wants something I haven't done yet?

Filling the Gaps in Your Portfolio

As you look over job listings for freelancers in your field, you may spot a job that seems great for you -- except the employer wants one piece of experience you don't have. Maybe you've designed Web pages and banner ads, but have never designed an e-mail newsletter. Or perhaps you have a lot of great ideas for product packaging but have never been hired to do such a job because of your lack of experience.

Don't let yourself be limited by the projects you've done in the past. Give yourself an assignment! Create a fictional client and fill in the gaps in your freelance design portfolio by providing that client with your best work. You can have some fun with this -- maybe creating a fake band that needs CD covers, imprinted disk designs and a Web site -- but don't lose sight of your audience. You're doing this project for free to show an employer you can do work that gets paid.

   
How can I create an effective electronic portfolio?

Effective Electronic Portfolios

Some clients and prospects want to be able to print out your work. Others want to save toner and look at it on a screen. Still others don't care what you do, as long as it doesn't crash their less-than-modern computers. How to cope?

The PDF portfolio is your answer. Adobe's Portable Document Format has been around for many years, can be read by virtually any computer, and allows the creator great flexibility in page layout and display. As the creator of this document, you control what the client sees and doesn't see. Your design niche and target market will dictate the style -- modern, traditional, cute, Goth, whatever.

Many professionals advocate a two- or three-page portfolio attached to an e-mail response to a job listing, with a promise of a more comprehensive version if needed. Even that version should be no more than 10 or 12 pages, with one project per page, displaying your best work and the relevant skills to meet the client's needs.

Creating this marketing tool is a lot of work. One of the side benefits, if you choose to accept it, is the opportunity to go through your past work and file it all in a thoughtful system. (Oh, and please, back up that hard drive, OK?)

   
What should be in my freelance portfolio?

Your Freelance Portfolio

While a resume is an important first step in marketing yourself as a freelancer, the part employers are probably going to value most is your portfolio. Potential employers want to see what you can do, and whether you can do their job. How do you convince them you can? By showing them your best work.

Many beginners in freelance design make the mistake of trying to pad their portfolios with as much as work as possible, even though it may not be their best work. Some show off their high-tech skills with DVDs and Web slide shows. But remember that employers don't have a great deal of time, and they'd much rather see a few well-chosen pieces in an easy-to-read format, displaying skills that are relevant to the job in hand.

   
How can I reach prospective clients in faraway places?

The World is Your Market

Whether you're in Manhattan or Montana, the Internet allows you to reach potential clients anywhere. Especially if you don't live in a major design hub such as New York, it's vital to put a little extra effort into your Web site. Here are some ideas.

  • Familiarize yourself with search-engine optimization (SEO) and make sure your site contains proper code and keywords to be visible on Google and other search engines.
  • List all the services you can provide, not just the ones you've been hired for lately.
  • Consider a formal or informal creative consortium with friends who are freelancers. For instance, if you are primarily a designer, but you know someone who's a great writer or sharp proofreader, let your clients know that you can arrange these services as well.
  • Categorize your portfolio offerings in an easy-to-understand way, with navigation links so that someone who wants to know about your point-of-sale display work doesn't have to wade through pages of print ads.
  • Don't rely on clients' IT departments to be able to receive large files. Set up your own FTP server or other system for making your work available reliably.
  • Use well-designed and well-written postcards to target potential clients, then follow up with individual e-mails to decision-makers. Yes, this requires a lot of research. Yes, it's still worth doing.
  • Design a clear, attractive business card and order a lot of them. Give them to everyone you know. Even in a small town, there is freelance work to be had -- if people know you're there.

   
What about health insurance for freelance workers?

Health Insurance For Freelancers

Traditionally, one of the main reasons professionals have avoided shifting to full-time freelance work is the absence of health benefits. However, today freelance workers can get health insurance quite easily. Many freelancers join the Freelancers Union, a place where freelancers can pay to enjoy decent rates on healthcare plans comparable to what they would find through large companies.

   
Why is it called "freelance" work?

History of Freelance

Have you ever wondered where the word freelance came from? Its origin comes from medieval history. When all the other knights were employed or out journeying, the kings of medieval lands used to hire mercenaries of neighboring lands. The replacement men all carried their own lances. Therefore, they were referred to as free lances. They worked for the king only as long as was necessary, much the same as freelance workers do for clients today!

   
How can I feel like I fit in as a freelancer?

Joining Freelance Communities

If you are interested in becoming a freelance writer, don't hesitate to join freelance communities to feel a kinship with fellow writers and keep current in your field. Sign up in online communities such as mediabistro.com, which will send you media news each day as well job listings and classes that can improve your craft. This site also has a special area called the Freelance Marketplace, in which freelancers can post their availability and experience for prospective employers and ongoing discussions about the field take place.

   
Should I work for free when I'm just getting started?

Should You Work for Free?

In general, it's a bad idea to give away your work. It teaches employers not to value what you do. However, as a beginner -- or even as a seasoned freelancer -- you may find that there are occasions where you derive enough benefit to make it worth your time.

For your very first professional project, you may want to do some work for a friend or family member just to have something to put in your portfolio -- and, often, to gain some experience understanding how clients' minds work and how to make them happy.

When you're in a phase of building relationships and a reputation, you may wish to volunteer your services to a nonprofit or community organization as a way of building contacts as well as a portfolio. It's wise to volunteer for specific, time-limited projects, such as a Web site for a charity auction or posters for a public-service campaign.

Whenever you do a free project, ask the client for a testimonial you can use in your portfolio or on your Web site, and be sure to use the experience to build your network of professional contacts.

   
How much should I charge?

Pricing Your Work

One of the most common hurdles for people starting freelance careers is the lack of a regular paycheck. There's no such thing as a freelance salary -- it's all a matter of getting the work and getting it done well. The more work you get and the better you do it, the more you'll make.

That's the theory, anyway. In reality, many clients are looking simply to get work done as cheaply as possible, without much regard for quality. It's very difficult to compete based on price -- there's always someone's 14-year-old nephew who will do the work cheaper.

Here's a rough guideline: Get an idea of what a full-time professional
would make doing your kind of work. Then double it -- after all, as a
freelancer you have to pay for your own insurance, health care,
computer equipment and other costs that a full-time employer would
cover for you.

While it's important to know what your competitors are charging, it's
also important to have a well-crafted marketing message that makes a
case for the value of a higher-priced freelancer.

   
What do I need to know about taxes and freelance work?

Taxation and Freelance Work

If you are a freelancer, you are considered a sole proprietor. Other terms commonly used include self-employed, independent contractor and freelancer. Income and expenses related to your self-employment is reported on your 1040 Schedule C. Your clients may send you a Form 1099-MISC in January or February to report total payments for the previous year. Form 1099-MISC is like a W-2. It is used to report income you received for freelance work. The IRS also gets a copy of your 1099s.

*It's a good idea to keep any income not related to your freelance work separate so there is no confusion during tax time.

   
Am I cut out for freelancing?

The Ups & Downs of Freelancing

Before you branch out into the world of freelancing, there is one question you must ask yourself: do I have self-discipline? That's because there is no time clock or supervisor checking your work. For some, freelancing is an impossible way to work. For others, it's bliss. Only you can decide what method of productivity suits you the best.

   
How can I get started as a freelance writer in my community?

The Power of Networking

If you are interested in marketing yourself around town as a freelance writer, make up business cards with your contact information and distribute them at every event you attend. Post your information up on community bulletin boards and offer to write free stories for your weekly paper or community newsletters. A few published stories, even if you did not get paid, go a long way in beginning a portfolio of your work. These are all good ways to put out feelers and get your feet wet in the freelance industry.

   
How can I stand out from the competition?

Competing for Freelance Work

The kind of marketing you need to do depends in part on where you are. In a small community, you may not face much competition, but you may need to educate local business owners about why they need to pay for your services. You're competing with all the client's other vendors to get access to limited dollars, and it's going to take sales skill and business knowledge to make the case for the value of your work.

In a large city, on the other hand, you may find yourself in a tight, competitive market with many other qualified freelancers. A New York graphic design job posted on the Internet may receive hundreds or even thousands of applicants within 24 hours. In that situation, networking within a specific industry or carving out a unique niche is vital to standing out from the pack.

   
How can I feel like I fit in as a freelancer?

Joining Freelance Communities

If you are interested in becoming a freelance writer, don't hesitate to join freelance communities to feel a kinship with fellow writers and keep current in your field. Sign up in online communities such as mediabistro.com, which will send you media news each day as well job listings and classes that can improve your craft. This site also has a special area called the Freelance Marketplace, in which freelancers can post their availability and experience for prospective employers and ongoing discussions about the field take place.

   
freelancing, ghost writing

Ghost Writing: A Creative Way to Earn Money Freelancing

A creative way to make money from freelance writing is to be a ghost writer. This could open up an opportunity to get your freelancing feet wet as an author or while doing another type of writing you'd like to break into. What happens in a ghost writing deal means you will earn money for ghost writing, yet whoever employs you will own all copyrights to the material that is produced.

   
When should I start a freelance career?

Transitioning from In-house to Freelance

It's a difficult decision to make: do you keep your nice comfy office job or switch to a freelance career and work from home? Most of us love the idea of being our own boss, making our own schedule, and getting paid for doing work we love. However, if a redical shift in employment makes you nervous, try transitioning into the freelancing world by taking on freelance jobs while you are still employed by a company. It's extra work, but you'll build a good reputation and a client base that can sustain you once you decide to take the plunge into full-time freelancing.

   
How can I build my client base?

Word of Mouth

Build your reputation as a good freelancer. After a project is completed, ask impressed clients to refer colleagues. Explain that your work might benefit them as well. If your client agrees to referrals, make sure to contact the referrals promptly. Don't forget to mention how you received their names when crafting that cover letter or making that phone call. And don't forget to thank your original client!

   
What's the best way to stay fresh in my freelancing field?

Working in the Media Means Devouring the Media

As a freelancer, staying current or fresh in your field means reading everything you can get your hands on. Read magazine, newspaper, trade and Web publications. Think about how each made you feel as a writer. Did the writer connect with you? Look at the visuals. Did the graphic designer hit his or her mark? Is the design original? Catchy? Did the producer of that web site keep information orderly, yet interesting? Think about the choices behind all that you see and read. This will help you to think about how your own work will be interpreted by others.

   
How can I get started as a freelance writer in my community?

The Power of Networking

If you are interested in marketing yourself around town as a freelance writer, make up business cards with your contact information and distribute them at every event you attend. Post your information up on community bulletin boards and offer to write free stories for your weekly paper or community newsletters. A few published stories, even if you did not get paid, go a long way in beginning a portfolio of your work. These are all good ways to put out feelers and get your feet wet in the freelance industry.

   
How can I get more involved in my career as a graphic artist?

Getting Involved in Your Industry

For those who categorize themselves as "doers," joining an organization of your professional peers might pump up your career. There is an organization called The Graphic Artists Guild for graphic artists and other design types. The Graphic Artists Guild is a national union of illustrators, designers, web creators, production artists, surface designers and other creatives who have come together to pursue common goals, share their experience, raise industry standards, and improve the ability of visual creators to achieve satisfying and rewarding careers.

The Guild gives direct connection to a designer's peers. Workshops and events sponsored at the local chapter levels provide colleagues an opportunity to meet in a noncompetitive environment, network, and take action on issues of concern. Members appreciate a community where information on business practices, employment opportunities, clients, vendors, and technology is shared.

   
freelancing, ghost writing

Ghost Writing: A Creative Way to Earn Money Freelancing

A creative way to make money from freelance writing is to be a ghost writer. This could open up an opportunity to get your freelancing feet wet as an author or while doing another type of writing you'd like to break into. What happens in a ghost writing deal means you will earn money for ghost writing, yet you will not receive credit and whoever employs you will own all copyrights to the material that is produced.

   
What's the best way to stay fresh in my freelancing field?

Working in the Media Means Devouring the Media

As a freelancer, staying current or fresh in your field means reading everything you can get your hands on. Read magazine, newspaper, trade and Web publications. Think about how each made you feel as a writer. Did the writer connect with you? Look at the visuals. Did the graphic designer hit his or her mark? Is the design original? Catchy? Did the producer of that web site keep information orderly, yet interesting? Think about the choices behind all that you see and read. This will help you to think about how your own work will be interpreted by others.

   
How can I feel like I fit in as a freelancer?

Joining Freelance Communities

If you are interested in becoming a freelance writer, don't hesitate to join freelance communities to feel a kinship with fellow writers and keep current in your field. Sign up in online communities such as mediabistro.com, which will send you media news each day as well job listings and classes that can improve your craft. This site also has a special area called the Freelance Marketplace, in which freelancers can post their availability and experience for prospective employers and ongoing discussions about the field take place.

   
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