The Ultimate Freelancer's Guide

Being a Freelancer means that you are self-employed. You are hired to work for different clients on particular assignments. 

Is your 9 to 5 (or 7 to 7) day job not letting you live on your terms? Do you want a new full-time way of making money? Or, do you simply want to earn some extra money on the side? Freelancing may be your answer.

There is a global trend towards Freelancing. Upwork, the online freelancing platform, claims that 1 in 3 Americans are currently Freelancing. This is expected to increase to 1 in 2 by 2020. More and more people are choosing to take control of their lives.

Millennials, in particular, are getting frustrated with the inflexibility of traditional employment. Many even rank work flexibility as being more important than how much they get paid.

The question is whether it is the right choice for you to join this global revolution.

The benefits of freelancing

There are many advantages of being a freelancer

  • Being your own boss gives you the flexibility to choose what projects you want to take on –  Freelancing gives you the ability to say “No”. You do not have to take on work that you do not enjoy or that you think will add to your portfolio.
  • You are able to choose when and where you want to work - Freelancing is about output. Generally, no one cares where and when you work as long as you deliver high-quality work on time. Payoneer recently conducted a survey of over 23,000 freelancers across over 180 countries. They found that freelancers work an average of 36 hours per week. There is a wide range in the number of hours worked. Some professionals use freelancing as a way to supplement their main job while others are full-time freelancers. Most importantly, they get to choose which 36 hours each week they work.
  • You get to say bye bye to your boss – Freelancers do not have a regular boss to take instructions from. They take instructions from their clients. But they can end relationships with difficult clients if they wish.
  • You do not need to be committed to a specific employer on a long term basis – The world is a freelancer’s oyster. As a freelancer, you can pick work that aligns with your passions and purpose.
  • No more traffic – Working from home or a nearby coffee shop is a realistic option. You can save time and avoid a lot of the stress that goes along with commuting.
  • You can spend more time with family and friends – Flexible hours mean that you are able to choose how you split your time.
  • You can control how much you charge – But unfortunately you don’t get to choose the demand for your services. So you need to exercise some judgment when deciding on your rate.
  • You do not have to get a higher education - Payoneer uncovered something fascinating in their study. They found that a higher level of education did not result in higher rates charged by Freelancers. They actually found that freelancers who graduated college were charging less than those who did not. Companies hiring freelancers are interested in their skills, experience, and ratings. They are in general less interested in their level of education.

Types of work that can be done as a freelancer

Popular freelance work includes content writing, design, marketing, IT development, data entry and research. But, the type of work that can be done as a freelancer is almost unlimited. To get started, you will need to select the type of skill that you are able to offer others.

The hourly rate you can charge as a freelancer depends on the type of work being done. Payoneer uncovered that the average freelancer rate was $21 per hour. Almost half of freelancers charge under $10 an hour for their work. 40% charge between $11 and $30, and 18% command over $30 per hour.

The income survey confirmed that certain skill types demand much higher rates than others. Freelancers providing legal services charge an average of $31 per hour. This is much more than freelancers working in Sales & Marketing ($21) or Writing & Translation ($17).

$21 per hour is significantly higher than that earned by the average person with a day job however, this difference is more significant for certain job types than others.

Over 80% of the professionals work on 1 to 3 jobs at a time and managing your work schedule is a job in itself.

 So how could you start?

It may be daunting to freelance for the first time but there is no reason to be afraid. If you desire or need the independence that freelancing provides, trust your own abilities. Take the leap into this ever growing way of working.

  • Select the type of work you want to do - As mentioned the first step is to decide on the type of work that you want to do. You should not be too general with this. For example, if you want to make money through content writing - rather brand yourself and promote your services as a content writer in a certain niche. Select a specialty and be open to adjusting this over time to adapt to trends and industry movements.
  • Decide where you want to work- Will you be working from home, a set office or a co-working space? Working at home is a real option for those with home responsibilities. It's also the cheapest option. But, you may become isolated working from home. You may struggle with distractions, and lines between home time and work time may become blurred.
  • Build a portfolio of work – If you have a great portfolio of work or credentials already then fantastic. If not, it is important to build this. Some freelancers even decide to do some pro-bono work initially. They try work on more lucrative projects to build their portfolio and showcase just how awesome they are. Should your monthly expenses not allow you to do that then rather focus on selecting jobs initially that will best display your capabilities. In general, it is also good to do work where components are reusable. This can save you time on future projects.
  • Research the amount that you wish to charge - Take into account your experience, what competitors are charging and your costs.
  • Draft legal contracts – Draft the contracts that will define the specific circumstances under which you will work. For example: what will happen if a client cancels a job request? When do you wish to be paid?
  • Decide how and when you will you be contactable – This may be necessary so that you are able to concentrate on working at specific times. So you can specify that you wish to be contacted via email except at certain defined times or in case of an emergency. Specify if you wish for time spent on communications to be charged for.
  • Start pitching 
  • Connect with potential clients, build your brand and network - You will need to promote yourself whenever possible. Attend conferences and meetups relevant to your niche. Spend money on marketing, write blogs, build an email list and comment in relevant forums. Engage in social media including LinkedIn.

Freelancing platforms - According to the Payoneer survey, almost half of freelancers find projects via online freelance marketplaces. The growing popularity of online marketplaces has helped millions of freelancers build a worldwide client base. and Upwork have millions of freelance workers and millions of registered clients. You will need to Bid for jobs and this takes time. You will often be unsuccessful in your bids. But, once a bid is successful it is key to form long lasting relationships. The more regular clients you have the less time you will need to spend bidding on projects. This bidding process can be a distraction from your core work. Balancing doing work and getting new work is something that takes some time to master. You will need to optimize when to pitch for new work. Pitching too early means that you may over-commit yourself and not have the capacity to fulfill both new and existing jobs. This may lead to unhappy clients and poor ratings. If you pitch too late, you may be left with periods with no income. There needs to be a slow and steady feed into the pipeline.

 For Americans, Toptal is a super option to set yourself apart from the masses. They only select the top 3% of freelancers that apply to work through Toptal. If you get through their tough selection process, you will have more opportunities to work with high caliber employers.

Another option for Freelancers is Fiverr. You can do micro tasks for as little as just $5 but the potential volume of work that you can get from Fiverr is large. The aim should be to do a job, and then form a longer term relationship that involves higher paying jobs over time.

There are more specialist sites too such as Get a Coder for IT developers, 99 designs for designers or UpCounsel for Lawyers.

Warnings before you jump into freelancing

1.       Set boundaries  - You will need to be disciplined not to fall into the trap of working “all the time”. Ensure that home time is home time and work time is work time.

2.       Income volatility - Payoneer asked the freelancers surveyed to rank how satisfied they are with their current income from freelancing. The results indicated that many freelancers would ideally like to work more hours or be able to charge higher rates. You need self-discipline and emotional strength to work as a Freelancer. Your income will be more volatile and uncertain than with traditional employment.

3.       No employee benefits – You will need to be in charge of your finances, ensure that you take care of medical cover and save for retirement.

4.       Service providers might penalize you for your income uncertainty – The fact that your income is uncertain means that certain service providers like banks might, charge you extra to cover for your increased perceived risk of defaulting on payments.

5.       You won’t only be able to focus on what you are good at – You need to be in charge of admin, marketing, sales, customer services and more.

6.       You may become isolated - You will also be far more secluded from others. Increased independence comes with more self-accountability. It is important to have the people interaction in other ways or times of the day. This can be achieved through co-working spaces, regular coffee shops, gym, family and friends.

7.       You need to be self-motivated and create a daily structure –avoid the temptation to procrastinate. Just because you can sleep until 10 does not mean that you should.

8.       You need to develop your skills over time – you need to keep up to date with industry trends to ensure your services stay relevant.

9.       If you are just beginning you won't be able to charge as much as more established freelancers or agencies - If possible, try taking on client work in your spare time before fully quitting your day job. This means that when you do quit, you will have existing clients and future jobs lined up.

10.   Freelancing is a lot of admin - You'll need to prepare invoices, chase unpaid bills and keep track of your income and expenditure. You won't get paid for any of this time.

11.   Ensure clients understand boundaries - Charge for extras when necessary. Your time is important so ensure that your clients understand this.

12.   You need to be good at sales and marketing - You are the business. You are essentially the CEO of you. You may be the best lawyer, designer or business analyst in town, but, if you are not able to sell yourself you will not get the amount of work you want.

13.   Find a mentor – If you are just setting out on your Freelancing journey ensure that you get an experienced mentor to guide you along your journey. The emotional support will be as important as the practical guidance.

14.   Aim to diversify your income – It is best if your primary income does not come from one source. This will help ensure that if you lose a primary client you will not be left without a source of income.


Understand the challenges and benefits of freelancing before jumping in. But if you do take the jump, it may transform the way you make money and the way you live your life.


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