How to Get Started as a Freelancer


Young man getting started as a freelancer


The reasons to embrace a freelance career are compelling, from supplementing your income to setting your own hours. Increasingly, freelance work is moving from the fringes of the job marketplace and into the mainstream. If you’re looking to get started as a freelancer, a recent study offers encouraging data about job prospects for freelancers.

The study was conducted by global freelancing website Upwork, in collaboration with Freelancers Union, a nonprofit organization that advocates on behalf of independent workers. Titled “Freelancing in America 2016,” it’s a deep dive into the “freedom and flexibility” of freelance work, which the study describes as “the fastest-growing component of the economy.”

Freelancers earned $1 trillion 2016, an impressive portion of the U.S. economy, the study found. The three top reasons job seekers want to go freelance? Independence, flexible work schedules, geographic flexibility, and good work-life balance, the research showed.

Highlights from the Upwork/Freelancers Union Study

  • Freelancing is on the rise. The number of freelancers increased by 2 million in just two years—from 53 million in 2014 to 55 million in 2016. That represents 35 percent of the U.S. workforce.
  • Freelancing by choice, not necessity. If you’re choosing to freelance rather than hold a traditional job, you’re part of a growing trend. Some 63 percent of independent workers in the study said they were freelancers by choice, compared to 53 percent in 2014.
  • Technology as an enabler. In 2014, 69 percent of survey respondents said technology was a big contributor to their freelance opportunities. By 2016, that number had risen to 73 percent 2016. Moreover, 66 percent of independent workers said they saw an increase in the amount of online work available to them.
  • Freelancers are committed. How deeply committed are freelance workers to their independence? Fifty percent said they would never return to a “traditional” job, “no matter how much they were offered.”

Factors Driving the Freelance Trend

  • More job security. Some 79 percent of freelancers who responded to the Upwork/Freelancers Union study reported feeling more secure working as an independent contractor for several companies, rather than relying on a single employer.
  • Increased engagement. There was a significant difference in the degree to which freelancers said they were engaged in their work (85 percent), compared to their non-freelancer counterparts (68 percent).
  • Healthier Work-Life Integration. Thanks to freelancing, 77 percent of respondents said they were able to achieve better balance between career and personal lives. Full-time freelancers said they worked 36 hours per week on average, with the majority (52 percent) reporting that was “the right amount of work” for them.

How to Get Started as a Freelancer

Now that you’re familiar with some of the highlights of the Upwork/Freelancers Union study, what are some of the steps you can take to get started as a freelancer? Here are five:

1. Promote your talents. It can feel a little weird to toot your own horn, but one of the greatest (and most rewarding) tasks when you’re an independent contractor is to make your skills and talents known to potential employers. To self-promote successfully, don’t be shy about playing up all you have to offer.

2. Demonstrate your professionalism. It’s true, as the survey notes, that freelancing is on the rise, but you may still need to debunk the myths surrounding freelance and remote work (like people lounging around in their pajamas). Do that by showing you have a professional, dedicated home office or work space, and are self-disciplined.

3. Manage your online presence. Taking charge of your online profiles as a freelancer can give you the upper hand by helping you manage your online reputation and control the information potential employers see about you. You can also use social media to find freelance work to expand your search, and your job search potential, exponentially.

4. Ask for referrals. One of the smartest thing you can do to get started as a freelancer is to set up solid networking connections, including people who can give you great referrals. Potential references to consider are past work colleagues, present colleagues who can be discreet about your job search, and instructors. You can even ask a friend for a job referral.

5. Find a great source for freelance work. Of course, once you set your sights on getting started as a freelancer, you’ll need an excellent source for freelance work—like FlexJobs, the leading source for great flexible, freelance jobs.

Find a Freelance Job

Originally published September 18, 2014. Updated March 24, 2017.

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