Freelance work: everything you need to know about freelancing

Updated 20 June 2023

A person sits typing on a laptop at home.

Freelancing is an ideal option for people who want flexible work hours and the ability to choose their own clients. Freelancers get paid to perform specific projects, and they control when they actually work. Knowing how to organise an income as a Freelancer boosts your earning potential. Your highest potential, however, comes when you're positioned as an experienced professional.

In this article, we discuss working as a Freelancer, how to get an initial start and the benefits of this type of employment.

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What is freelance work?

Freelancing is a work-for-hire arrangement in which a contracted professional provides services on an as-needed basis. As a Freelancer, you can collaborate on multiple projects and earn on a short- or long-term basis. Freelancing allows you to choose your clients, set your rates and determine how much you work.

What do I need to become a Freelancer?

Freelancers are in demand, but knowing how to consistently earn is a skill they develop. You need to make this choice—to be a freelancer—first. It does not consist of a standard, nine-to-five wage. The "gig industry," as it's sometimes called, gives you a wide selection of services to provide. Decide on your marketable skill then research the specific expertise that clients need in your field.

Be reminded that freelancing requires exceptional discipline, self-control and time management. Many contractors don't have bosses measuring their performance or setting their targets.

As you build a career as an expert, be sure to build your portfolio. Employers want to see proof that you can deliver as promised. It helps to have a large portfolio of relevant projects, so be ready to collect assignments from over the years. For example, you can use links from publications you're in. In traditional fields like accounting or engineering, you still need certificates and licenses to work as a freelancer.

Related: Everything You Should Know About Working From Home

How does freelancing work?

In today's marketplace, Freelancers and Clients meet on online platforms. Many freelance sites are essentially escrow companies. The contractual clauses needed in a "work-for-hire deal" are set through these freelancer websites. They provide a platform for Freelancers to advertise their services on. Clients can post their projects and requirements also.

When the Freelancer and a client have agreed on the terms of a project, the freelance agency or website is paid the cost of the work. The freelancer only gets paid after completing the project to the satisfaction of the client. In most cases, the freelance site that connects the Freelancer and the client gets a percentage of the project cost for their services.

However, many freelancers find their own clients. Here, the Freelancer reaches out to potential clients using cold and warm emails. They use letters of introduction, social media and other prospecting techniques. This method can be more rewarding but is also riskier because you have to screen each client, which requires tremendous time and effort.

Related: Self-employed vs employed: Differences between the two options

How to get started as a Freelancer

Follow these steps to become a freelancer:

1. Choose a niche

Deciding on being a contractor is your first step.

Choosing a niche is then done in order to dictate your industry. You can select a niche that you already have professional experience within. Expertise gives clients confidence in your ability to complete their work. Selecting something that you are knowledgeable in makes your work easier. A niche positions you as an authority in your field, which is attractive to clients.

Related: How To Choose a Career Path

2. Build a portfolio

Most clients ask to see your previous projects.

Your goal is to build an extensive portfolio of projects related to the work of clients in your niche. If you use a freelance site to get clients, you can send portfolio pieces to clients via the platform. Freelancers who look for their own clients build websites to showcase their work histories.

Related: What is a portfolio? Tips and guidelines to create one

3. Identify your potential clients

Freelance clients can be individuals, small businesses, medium businesses or large corporations. It is best to qualify your clients before accepting work from them, however. Have a strategy for screening clients so you can work with employers who are an ideal fit.

Related: How to define your target market: examples and types

4. Market your skills

Once you've identified your ideal clients, position yourself as a solution to the challenges they have. Being an expert is essential for freelancing success, but you also need to know how to get clients to notice you. For many Freelancers, getting jobs is the most time-consuming part of their workflows.

Related: 7 of the best team chat apps for remote work (plus FAQs)

5. Set your rates

Freelancers can charge hourly or on a project basis. How you charge your fees must depend on the project and the client. At the beginning, you can set low prices to attract people in. Once you have enough portfolio pieces and can handle bigger projects, raise your rates and look for better-paying jobs.

6. Ask for testimonials and referrals

When you start getting freelance work, ask your customers for testimonials. Other clients will feel more comfortable giving you jobs when they see reviews from other people. In many cases, your clients have connections in the industry that will also need your services.

Related: What is the bandwagon effect? (Plus pros, cons and examples)

What are the types of freelance work?

Freelance opportunities are available in diverse industries including:


As a Freelance Writer, you help clients write articles, blogs and web content. You'll create case studies, press releases, white papers, brochures and other advertising. Informational and educational content are all part of the workload. Freelance writing consists of researching and articulating your findings with brevity. Besides writing, you can offer editing, proofreading and content strategy as services.

Related: What is an individual contributor?

Graphic design

Graphic Designers create images, logos, illustrations and web products for their clients. You will need to be an expert with graphic programs such as Adobe Creative Suite and related applications.


If you have expert knowledge in an academic field, you can offer freelance tutoring services. Freelance tutoring requires patience and empathy to help students understand difficult concepts. You may also help students with assignments, projects and other school work. Most times, Tutors must pass a security clearance because of the nature of their work.

Related: How to earn extra income from passive sources in 10 steps


You can freelance as a Bookkeeper and even as an accountant. Freelance Bookkeepers use accounting software to prepare financial reports and taxes for their clients. They can also offer financial advice and collaborate with in-house accounting staff.


Engineers provide freelance services on and offline. They prepare project blueprints using AUTOCAD and other engineering design software. Engineers are also deployed in the field for supervision, project management and environmental impact assessment.

Web development

Freelance Web Developers and Web Designers create, improve and publish websites. Web Developers monitor client websites and recommend strategies to boost traffic and audience engagement.

These Freelancers offer services in photography, music production, programming, data entry and data analysis. They can also work in fashion, project management, drawing and virtual assistance.

What are the benefits of freelance work?

Here are the benefits of working as a Freelancer:

  • Freelancing is quick and easy to start and usually requires no licence or industry certification.

  • Freelancing has exceptionally low starting costs. Most Freelancers need only a laptop and a reliable internet connection.

  • Freelancing is ideal for people who want to earn a side income without quitting their 9-5 job. This also makes it suitable for students, apprentices and school teachers who have a marketable skill or knowledge.

  • Freelancing also helps businesses save running costs on projects. Since Freelancers are not employees, clients don't have to worry about expenses like training, employment benefits, insurance and pensions.

Related: The differences between contract vs permanent work

Tips to succeed at freelancing

Here are tips to help you succeed as a Freelancer:

  • Don't quit your full-time job yet. If you are thinking of freelancing while employed, don't quit your job yet. It can take some time to earn a substantial income from freelancing. Before then, it is better to keep your job while trying to get freelance projects.

  • Sign a contract for every project. This is especially important if you don't get your clients from freelance sites. Regardless of the source of your freelance work, make sure you and the client have a contract on the scope of the work, payment and delivery timeline before you start the project.

  • Exceed your clients' expectations. A great way to set yourself up for freelancing success is to exceed your clients' expectations. This does not mean you should do free work or offer bonuses. Rather, strive to deliver the best quality work for clients until you become indispensable to their businesses. That way, they have no reason to choose other Freelancers for their projects and some may even refer you to other clients.

  • Pay yourself and have savings. When you are working as a Freelancer, it can be difficult to determine what to pay yourself. You need to develop the habit of saving to avoid the inevitable troughs many Freelancers enter. A time will come when business will be slow or important clients suddenly end your contract. Having something to fall back on during those lean periods may be essential to the survival of your freelancing business.


  • How to become a freelance project manager in 7 steps

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