Everything You Need to Know About Being a Freelancer

Spike Team
By Spike Team, Updated on February 21, 2023, 9 min read
how to be a freelancer

Spike’s a big fan of the freelance lifestyle. As the name suggests, becoming a freelancer gives you the freedom to work when and how you want. You can collaborate with a wide range of clients on a daily basis, working flexibly to max out your skills and deliver the results that people need. 


But being a freelancer is no walk in the park. The hours can be long, the amount of work unreliable – and most importantly, you are responsible for everything. You’re captain of your own ship, which can be tough at times. Get it right, however, and you’ll set sail on one of the most rewarding journeys of your life.


Here’s everything you need to know about becoming a freelancer, for those ready to take the leap this year:



What is Freelancing?

how to be a freelancerImage: Andrew Neel on Unsplash


Freelancing means you work for yourself, and are self-employed. So instead of having a permanent contract with a company, with set benefits and terms of employment, you work for a series of clients all at once. You offer up your services to these clients, in exchange for an agreed fee.


You may arrange short-term contracts or a day rate with your clients – but it is your responsibility to set these terms, and find freelance work in the first place. Freelancers usually work on a number of smaller projects or “gigs” (hence the term “gig economy”) for different companies. They may also arrange ongoing work with clients, but this will usually happen alongside other projects that they’re working on at the same time.


Some people freelance on the side while also holding down a full-time position with a company, too. In this case, you must run the two strands of your career separately (particularly when it comes to paying taxes), and also gain permission from your full-time employer to do so. 



What does Freelance Mean?

When you freelance, you are responsible for going out and finding your own work. This can be done in a variety of ways, from networking to word-of-mouth and online marketing (for example, setting up a Facebook page to advertise your services). 


The most important skill a freelancer must master is the ability to find and retain new clients. When you are a freelancer, no matter what you do, you are always looking ahead to the next client or project. 


Typically, you will need to arrange a client pitch to secure a freelance job. This may be informal – for example, a video call where you describe to a client what you can offer them in terms of your skills and experience. Or it may be a formal process, where you present your ideas or solutions for a particular project to a panel. 


A client pitch often begins with a great introductory email: find out more on how to introduce yourself and craft a killer subject line



What do Freelancers do?

How to be a freelancerPhoto by @plqml on Unsplash


Freelancers span a wide range of professions. You can tackle practically any job or area of expertise on a freelance basis. 


Popular freelance careers often involve creativity and problem-solving skills. These include a freelance web developer, a freelance graphic designer and a freelance writer. Each of these freelance professions are flexible in terms of location, and they don’t demand large startup costs. You can simply begin with your skills, wherever you happen to be in the world. 


Other freelance opportunities, for example being a freelance personal trainer, or a freelance builder, may require you to have certain equipment or a studio to work from.



How to Start Freelancing




There are a number of steps you can take before you become a freelancer, to help you prepare for the transition:


  • Identify your key skill sets, and how you can monetize these
  • Write a detailed business plan that forecasts how you’ll make money, along with a timeline for growth
  • Build an online presence of some description, so that people can find your services




To actually start freelancing, you simply need to:


  • Find your first client and start working for them
  • Produce an invoice for payment
  • This process also involves figuring out how to pay your taxes
  • When you are a freelancer, you are responsible for paying your own taxes – so you need to file your returns, just as any business does
  • There are various steps involved in this, depending on whereabouts in the world you’re working
  • You may need to register as self-employed, to alert tax authorities to your change in status from full-time employment to freelancer
  • Follow advice from your national tax service to find out more (see links to the IRS for Americans, or HMRC for Brits)



How do you Make Money as a Freelancer?

How to be a freelancerPhoto by Dan Meyers on Unsplash


Making money as a freelancer is a constant challenge, so you need to plan ahead and be strategic. Do your research to find out what the going rates are for skills in your area of expertise. Facebook community groups can be really useful for this, along with networking events where you can connect with professional freelancers in your industry. Don’t be afraid to reach out to fellow freelancers, even if you regard them as competition – everyone operates in their own way, and they may provide crucial support. 


When you’re creating your business plan, it’s worth thinking about how will expand your skills over time so that they are worth more. For example, consultant or strategy work will always demand a higher pay grade than production ability alone. If you’re a freelance gardener, how can you develop into areas of planning and design? Also look ahead to the market landscape to consider how you can scale your skills. So rather than being a freelance secretary, you’re better off pitching yourself as a virtual assistant. 


No matter what your industry, you should aim to increase your rates incrementally over time. In order to do this, you need to keep your skills fresh and relevant. Remember to factor in regular training and keep in tune with emerging trends (an employer may have covered this in the past; now it’s up to you). 


Finally, it’s easy to forget about filing or chasing invoices when you’re busy with the day-to-day freelance life. But if you’re not paid on time, it impacts everything. Make sure you stay consistent and rigorous with your invoicing process.  



How to Find Freelance Work

How to be a freelancerPhoto by HIVAN ARVIZU @soyhivan on Unsplash


The most fulfilling part of being a freelancer is finding new work – and it’s also the most challenging part of the job. There are a huge range of ways to find work as a freelancer and it’s worth trying them all. As a rule of thumb, around 30% of your time at any point should be spent scouring for new business (that’s just under two days a week). 


Word of mouth is really important. You *are* your reputation in everything that you do, from the quality of a major project that you deliver right down to that email you fire off first thing in the morning. If you go above and beyond for your clients, they are more likely to recommend you as a result. Remember, it’s better to under-promise and over-deliver when it comes to client work. You should also set up a review process, to quickly identify and fix any difficulties.


Networking is another major way of finding freelance work. Join local groups both online and in real life, and seek out other people doing the same thing as you to ask their advice. Sign up to newsletters and YouTube tutorials in your area. The more knowledge and contacts you have, the better equipped you’ll be. There are also loads of great freelancing websites out there where you can find new work and expand your network.


Don’t forget to market your freelance services, too. Some people find a website is a good starting point, or you may want to use a Facebook page or your LinkedIn profile. Whatever you choose, make sure that you use your channel to talk to your community, and post regular updates on new examples of your work. 



How to do Taxes as a Freelancer

How to be a freelancerPhoto by The New York Public Library on Unsplash


As a freelancer, you need to be on top of all your taxes, so that you are making money efficiently and within the parameters of the law. 


In its simplest form, this means keeping a record of all your incomings and outgoings, along with expenses you’ve accrued along the way (for example, a laptop, or monthly gas fees if you travel for work). 


It’s also important to separate out your personal and professional transactions. Many people choose to create a separate freelancing bank account and put all their business earnings in there, withdrawing money where needed. This means you’re less likely to come up short when it comes to paying your tax bill. Check in with your tax office to find out when you need to file returns, and stick religiously to that. No-one wants that nasty letter from the IRS. 


There are plenty of tax apps around that can help you with all of this (check out our list of useful tools, including finance apps – plus how to find your ultimate freelance toolbox). Or you may choose to hire an accountant or bookkeeper, so that you can outsource the process and free yourself up to focus on your actual work. 



What are the Benefits of Being a Freelancer?

There are many benefits to being a freelancer, including the ability to be your own boss. Forget office politics or having to placate manager you *know* is always wrong. When you’re freelance, you ultimately only answer to yourself. That autonomy can be a wonderful feeling (researchers also say it’s the secret to being happy at work).


Freelancing is also flexible, so you will typically be able to choose how and when you work. If you’re a night owl, you can grind away to the early hours. If you work best with a beach view, the digital nomad lifestyle may be calling. Similarly, if you have kids or other commitments in your life, freelancing can offer a great way of creating the hours and rhythms that work for you – including working from home.



What are the Challenges of Being a Freelancer?

Freelance work can take a while to build up, so it can be unreliable. It’s also a myth that being your own boss will be easy. If anything, you will work harder than you ever have before, because it’s all down to you. 


Some people also find freelancing lonely, although solutions such as co-working can help with this. If you don’t like dealing with uncertainty, freelancing may not be the right option for you. It’s a vocation that requires you to be tenacious and adaptable. Even with the best will in the world, it’s hard to forecast ahead. Also, sick pay and holiday pay are not covered. 



What Tools are Good for Freelancing? 

imessage for pcPhoto by Spike


Naturally, this is where Spike comes in. Since everyone uses email as default, Spike’s unified workspace is chock-full of tools and features that make messaging effortless–meaning you can focus all your client communication in one place. Forget the bleeps and distractions of multiple apps. With Spike, you keep collaboration simple and fun with a seamless chat format. 


This means that the many (and we do mean *many*) conversations you have as a freelancer have never been easier to handle. When you download Spike, you gain access to all kinds of cool features, from the ability to snooze messages to group chat, priority pinning and a deliciously uncluttered layout. 


Think of your inbox as the beating heart of your business: Spike can make the whole thing come together like a dream. So what are you waiting for? Your brand new freelance career starts right here.


For more information on how you can supersize your freelance life, check out the Spike blog or tweet us at @SpikeNowHQ.


Spike Team
Spike Team The Spike team posts about productivity, time management, and the future of email, messaging and collaboration.

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