Is freelancing right for you? Here's how to determine if it could be your next career move.
Have you been in job-search mode for several months with no offers in sight? Perhaps you started out with hopes for a traditional 9–5 position, but now may be the right time to reframe your goals and give freelancing another look.
In decades past, contract workers were perceived to get paid less, have less job security, and be less worthy of respect when compared to full-time employees. Luckily, all of that is changing.
The way we work and make a living has shifted dramatically over the last decade. According to a 2019 survey commissioned by Freelancers Union, there are 57 million Americans working as freelancers. That represents 35 percent of the U.S. workforce! The recession in 2008 highlighted that no job is bulletproof, even those in the previously predictable blue-chip sectors. Combine that with advances in technology and cultural shifts toward a greater work-life balance, and becoming a freelancer may give you a new world of opportunity.
What is freelancing?
What is freelancing? Freelancing or contracting is defined as engaging in supplemental, temporary, or project-based work.
This definition allows for a significant variation in the freelancer's camp. Any of the following could qualify as freelance work:
An accountant with a traditional 9–5 office job who serves as a consultant to youth organizations on weekends.
A part-time daycare employee who supplements their income by driving with Postmates on their days off.
A marketing specialist who assists clients with go-to-market strategy and support on a project-by-project basis.
A stay-at-home mom who works as a virtual assistant and remote project manager.
An IT manager who assists organizations with systems conversions on a contract basis.
Freelancing: What's in it for you?
Every professional's decision to become a freelancer is driven by a unique mix of goals and motivating factors. Here is a list of just a few:
Flexibility: Freelancers report that they enjoy setting their own schedules, working from anywhere, and being in control of how many hours they work in any given week.
Variety: By selecting a diverse mix of projects, you can have a different job as often as you like!
Creative outlet: Some enjoy the creativity and freedom of expression that comes from choosing to work for people who appreciate and value their unique approach.
Extended test-drive of a new career: Whether you are keeping your “real job,” are in full-time job-search mode, or are simply curious about a new direction, freelancing can allow you to gauge supply and demand and try out this new career path without plunging in headfirst.
Less workplace drama: Freelancing can offer you the luxury of stepping out of office politics and working free from interruption and distraction.
Cash flow while in search of a full-time opportunity: Some freelancers use contract work as a stop-gap for when they are between jobs. In addition to getting paid, they also fill the gap on their resumes with new relevant experience.
Employers benefit from hiring freelancers
Employers benefit from collaborating with freelancers in significant ways, as well. Here's how:
Access to specialized talent: Depending on the project, some employers might need extra, outside help to achieve their goals. By using contractors or freelancers, employers can fill in any holes that might appear during a big project, a hiring freeze, etc.
Address seasonal increases in job demand: Certain industries are predictably cyclical and need a higher level of staffing during their busy seasons.
Allows a test-drive option for the employer and the contractor: Both get an opportunity to collaborate, exchange value, and learn whether the move to permanent employment is best.
Getting started: How to become a freelancer
1. Identify the skills, experience, and talents you have that are in demand
Think through your education, training, and past work experience and select a few key points that would be of service to companies and individuals. What is your unique value proposition? Can you support it with numbers, examples, and testimonials?
Test your value proposition by scouting the market. Online platforms like UpWork allow you to do so by reviewing the profiles of other freelancers in your target area of expertise. Read reviews: What do the customers in your field appreciate most? Which freelancers appear to be most successful and why?
2. Get the word out
Whether your networking starts online or face to face, get your value proposition out into the world. Reach out to companies that you are targeting and complete applications for projects. LinkedIn and Facebook could be effective in both identifying centers of influence and getting an introduction.
Create a contractor resume, tweak your LinkedIn summary, and establish a contractor profile on an online platform such as Workhoppers, Upwork, or FlexJobs. Make sure you focus on puzzles you have solved and speak to your target audience in words that matter most to them, tuning into their pain points and showing them how working with you is the right next step.
Consider building an online presence via blogging and videos. Speak to the common problems you can fix, present case studies, and include testimonials from past clients, colleagues, and business partners.
3. Build up your skills
Your professional skills are your tools — and you must keep them sharp in order to remain relevant. Think of yourself as a craftsman with an eye on the long term and invest in yourself. Whether through continuing education, coaching, mentoring, or a continuous improvement practice, become better and keep your skills in shape for your next opportunities.
4. Create a good reputation
People hire people they like and trust. Reviews and testimonials are your tools for building a good reputation as a contractor. Become disciplined about collecting testimonials, impact quotes, and reviews from your clients. Be upfront and clear that you want to deliver top-notch service and are willing to go the extra mile to make sure they walk away having gained superior value.
5. Focus on the flow
Tune into the opportunity flow of your selected field. A project can take several days, weeks, or even years, and clients may continue to hire you for subsequent jobs — but you must always balance your current work with your search for new opportunities.
Is becoming a freelancer the right fit for you?
In summary, the field of freelancing offers tremendous benefits to professionals in all fields. With a laptop, a WiFi connection, and a cell phone, you can be productive anywhere and at any time of day. Flexible scheduling, the ability to fine-tune your workflow, and the fun that comes from hand-picking projects are all great reasons to consider contracting.
On the flip side, you must be comfortable with uncertainty — project flow can be less than perfectly predictable, and you don't get paid if you are not working.
Another factor is the idea that “You eat what you kill.” In other words, you have to become proficient at branding and marketing yourself to be attractive to your ideal clients, or you won't get work. That takes courage and resilience. Remember also that as a contractor, you are responsible for your own health insurance, travel expenses, self-employment tax, and the paperwork that results from running your own business. Do your research and be prepared.
In closing, I have found that, beyond your technical qualifications and grit, a sense of humor and a focus on customer service will set you apart and result in repeat business.
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