How to Become a Freelancer

Freelancing Advice / Friday, January 5th, 2018

Before you really start getting into this blog, I want to give a few notices. And I want to share some important information about how to become a freelancer.

Freelancing is not for the faint of heart. It takes dedication, guts, courage, and honesty. It takes prompt communication and a sense of organization. But, more than anything else, it takes skill.

This means there are a few things I feel compelled to tell you before you get your sights set on something unrealistic. After all, that’s what Realistic Freelancers is all about: teaching you how to become a freelancer without sending you down the wrong path.

Freelancing skills can’t be learned on the fly.

If you plan on launching your freelance career with little or no experience in your dedicated skill, you’re going to be sorely disappointed. If by this point in your life, you aren’t a great writer or photographer or translator or whatever (or even a good writer or photographer or translator or whatever), you need to find a different field of interest. I want to prepare you for the reality of the industry that you’re about to enter. Whatever skill you choose to specialize in, you have to be professional-grade.

Don’t get me wrong. As you work, your skills will improve. But you have to have solid talent to get started. You have to be good, if not great, before you start reaching out to potential clients. That’s just the way it is.

Your jobs will vary in size and content.

Variation is key. You might have a writing client that needs 10,000 words per week in the form of an instructional eBook, another client that needs 5,000 words per week in romance novellas, and another client that wants you to format their poetry. You will explore new boundaries, learn new things, and push the limits of what you already know. This isn’t a cookie-cutter process. No two months will ever be the same.

For some people, this is a dream come true. For others, the concept is terrifying. You should be one of the former if you plan to freelance.

You won’t start out making hundreds every week.

I want to make this abundantly clear because there are so many scam artists saying otherwise. You aren’t going to read these posts, create a few accounts, apply for a dozen jobs, and become a financially independent freelancer.

You should not, and cannot, depend on freelancing to pay the bills until you’ve been working with clients for at least three months. It isn’t feasible. It takes time, sometimes months, to pool your freelancing clients into a functioning, well-oiled machine capable of running a household.

Freelancing is a perfect start-up career for students living at home and going to school. Or those of us fortunate enough to have a few months of expense money set aside. However, if you have important bills to pay, you should plan on part-time freelancing until you’ve secured a client base.

Organization is the most important thing.

Organization is how to become a freelancer.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve missed client deadlines because I’m too busy with work for another client. Or because, quite simply, life got in the way. Keep a planner, write down every single task you need to complete, and stick to your schedule.

As a freelancer, it’s so easy to walk away from your computer and get distracted. There isn’t anybody telling you to apply for more jobs, go above and beyond, or finish that last page. You’re on your own. Without a sense of motivation and a strong will to move forward, you’re going to fall behind. Or, even worse, you’re going to get stuck in a rut.

With the proper negotiation skills and tenacity, the right freelancer can make $5,000 or more per month. But you have to be willing to put in the time. If you truly want to make freelancing a career, organization is the key that will unlock your future.

Your payments aren’t always guaranteed.

Even if you work on a platform like Upwork, your payment isn’t promised.

Sometimes, missed payments are small. My first missed payment came when Upwork was still oDesk. I was shorted thirty bucks.

As you earn more, though, the numbers get bigger. The next time I wasn’t paid, it was to the tune of ninety dollars for six long, technical articles. I made the mistake of trusting a client on Skype, which is something we’ll talk about later.

Could I have taken the company to court? Of course. But doing so wastes my money and my time – and it certainly doesn’t bring me the check I earned.

I’m not saying you can’t fight for your hard-earned money. Still, remember that being a freelancer comes with the risk of not being paid; and understanding that you can’t drag someone to court every time a payment doesn’t come.

Sometimes, you have to accept the loss. So, whenever you can, practice caution.

You need to keep your finances organized.

Keep a checking account, savings account, and credit card (for emergencies only). You’ll also want online banking. Trust me on this.

I spend at least half an hour every morning going through checks, separating taxes from my income, and working on a household budget. This might sound repetitive and unnecessary. But when you work for yourself, you need to have tight financial rules. The more prepared you are, the more control you have.

Because I stay organized, I can reschedule my work when emergencies come up. I know exactly how much extra money I have coming and what clients I can afford to move around. This information also helps when you want to add or drop clients.

One essential tip for those learning how to become a freelancer: Earn your money a month in advance. This is not a career that lends itself to paycheck-to-paycheck living. When you try to manage bills that way, you end up taking out financial frustrations on your clients, who sometimes need a few days to review your work and release payment. Save a month of expenses before starting your freelance career. You’ll thank me later.

You won’t work long hours, but the job is demanding.

If you make $40,000-$60,000 a year working forty hours a week, you’ve landed yourself a pretty stable job, especially in 2018. Freelancing affords you comfortable, middle-class luxury with bonuses to boot. But don’t let the ease of the job fool you.

You might work eight hours a day, five days a week – sometimes less – but the job is demanding. Your brain will constantly be turned on; thinking and crafting and organizing. Your career will be anything but mindless.

Sometimes, you won’t get credit for your work.

In the beginning, much of your work will go under the byline of someone else. There will come a day when you can publish work under your own name (some clients even encourage it), but don’t expect that day to come within your first year of freelancing.

If you feel uncomfortable allowing someone else to take credit for your work, freelancing won’t be impossible – but it will be far more difficult. Many freelancers offset this frustration by charging more for un-credited projects.

Clients will require constant communication and attention.

You can leave your office at the end of the day, shut the door, and turn off your phone. But your clients will still be there. Clients require consistent communication and attention. Sometimes their needs come during hours that aren’t convenient for you. This is especially true if your clients live in another time zone.

Being a freelancer is sometimes like being a salesperson. If you don’t answer their questions within twenty-four hours, they’ll find someone else who will. That doesn’t mean you need to check your email every twenty minutes. But you need to be available at least once a day.

Learn How to Become a Freelancer on Realistic Freelancers

If you really want to know how to become a freelancer, you need to commit. Right here, right now, right on this page.

And, if this post seriously scared you, I suggest reading Why Freelance Careers Are The Best Careers next. It just might perk you up.

Learn more about how to become a freelancer on Realistic Freelancers.

Cassandra Bondie

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