How to Make Money as a Freelancer
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- You have full control of your career and your income as a freelancer.
- Freelancing isn't a get-rich-quick scheme.
- Earning money as a freelancer requires persistence, resilience, and strategy.
- We'll walk you through how to start freelancing and earn money doing what you love.
Estimates from the Statista Research Department project that freelancers will make up the majority of the U.S. workforce by 2027.
This projection suggests that freelancing may not be a passing fad. It’s a career path more people may pursue to enjoy the flexibility, freedom, and control they can't get from traditional employers.
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Ready to Start Your Journey?
But, much like any career shift, freelance work can feel intimidating when you're starting from scratch. How do you actually start freelancing? How do you figure out how to earn money? And how much do freelancers make anyway?
If you're willing to put in the work, freelancing can help you crack the code on how to make more money — while doing what you love.
Types of Freelancers
All freelancers are independent contractors, which means they offer their skills to clients on a contract basis. Rather than making a long-term commitment to one employer, freelancers work on various projects for different clients that pay them for their services.
Freelancers brand and market themselves differently. You're bound to hear many similar terms that fall under that umbrella:
Used by freelancers who have an established business entity, such as an LLC
Used by freelancers who have a lot of expertise and credibility and act as advisors to their clients
Used by any worker who doesn't work under a traditional employer
In addition to titles, freelancers might also approach their work differently. Some prefer to work with retainer agreements, meaning they'll work for clients on a predictable and longer-term basis. Others like the variety of one-off projects for different clients.
In-Demand Freelance Skills
While freelancers are all independent contractors, that's where the similarities end. Telling someone that you "freelance" or "do freelance work online" doesn't share much about what you actually do.
Freelancers work in a variety of industries with different skill sets and focus areas. They can work as freelance writers, web designers, accountants, project managers, and interpreters — you name it, and there's the possibility for a freelance career.
But when the options seem endless, what freelance skills are actually the most in-demand? A 2022 Upwork report highlighted some of the following skills:
Customer Service: Provide customer support, bookkeeping, and data entry.
Email Marketing: Provide email marketing strategies, and copy.
Search Engine Optimization: Provide keyword research, audits, and strategies.
Social Media Marketing: Provide strategies, content, analytics, and engagement.
Web Design: Provide professionally designed websites.
Web Programming: Provide services to keep websites functioning.
Upwork also revealed that art and design, marketing, and computer skills are the most represented among freelancers. However, that doesn't mean you can't be successful doing something else. In fact, offering a different type of service could effectively differentiate yourself.
Step-by-Step Guide to Earning Money
Figuring out how to start freelancing is only half the battle. Once you take the leap, you reach another hurdle: figuring out how to earn more money with your freelance skills.
There isn't one right approach — everybody's freelance journey is different. Here are a few steps you can take to help yourself do work you love (and pay the bills).
1 Pick a Specialty
While plenty of freelancers are successful as generalists, picking a specialty or a niche can help you make more money.
Narrowing down helps you focus your outreach on clients that are the best fit for you, build more expertise, and establish credibility and name recognition in your chosen area.
A niche might sound limiting, but there's a surprising amount of flexibility in what you choose to zone in on. Your niche could be a certain:
Industry: "I provide blog content for clients in the healthcare industry."
Service: "I specialize in wedding photography."
Type of Client: "I design websites for creative solopreneurs."
Niches aren't nearly as narrow or restrictive as you may think they are and can focus your efforts effectively.
2 Refine Your Online Presence
When you're making a living doing freelance work online, it makes sense that clients will often look for you online. That means you need to have a polished and active presence there. Here are a few steps to take:
- Create a simple website: It doesn't need to be anything complicated. Even a basic website gives you an online home to share your services and create a portfolio.
- Update your social media bios and title: Clearly state what you do and who you serve — for example, "Freelance writer for e-commerce companies." It makes for a quick elevator pitch and helps you show up in search results.
- Follow relevant accounts: Follow and interact with people and companies within your niche. It can also help to follow other freelancers and build a sense of community.
- Promote your work and services: Don't assume that people know what services you offer. Share your recent projects. If you don't have any work to promote, write a few posts that explain the services you provide.
Remember that your online presence isn't a "set it and forget it" thing. You need to remain active and engaged on any platforms you choose.
3 Be Mindful of Your Rates
Potential clients ask you what you charge, but there isn't one price that works for everyone.
However, as you set your rates, remember that the entire amount won't go into your pocket. Freelancers need to pay their own taxes, fund their own benefits and retirement savings, and cover their own paid time off.
Account for all of those factors in your rates. Otherwise, you may find that you won't make nearly as much money as you hoped.
4 Polish Your Pitch
Work doesn't fall into freelancers' laps. Sales is a big part of a successful freelance career.
Whether you want to apply for open gigs on job boards or platforms like Upwork and Fiverr, or you'd rather reach out directly to potential clients, finding freelance work requires being a little aggressive.
This doesn't mean blanketing the world in the same generic, copy-and-paste message. Successfully pitching your freelance services means:
Doing Your Research: Understand who the potential client is, who they serve, what they do, and how your skills will benefit them.
Focusing on Benefits: Emphasize how you can help them, not the other way around. Clients don't care about helping you start a freelance business — they want to know what's in it for them.
Personalizing Your Outreach: Invest the time to tailor and personalize every cold email you send. Prospective clients can tell if you've sent the same message to hundreds of people.
Not every application, pitch, or cold email will successfully land you a client. That's the nature of freelancing. Be persistent and resilient, and keep learning and trying until something sticks.
Frequently Asked Questions About Freelancers
How do freelancers get paid?
Freelancers are responsible for invoicing clients for the work they complete. Clients will then pay the invoice according to the freelancer's payment terms, which detail when payments are due and what methods are accepted.
Freelancers use various payment methods, including direct deposit and ACH transfers, PayPal, checks, and credit card payments. All of them have pros and cons, and it's up to the freelancer to determine what payment methods they will and won't accept.
Do freelancers make good money?
Yes. It's possible to earn a great living as a freelancer, provided that you're willing to put in the work.
One study commissioned by Upwork and Freelancers Union found that freelancers have a median rate of $20 per hour, which is higher than the median of $18.80 for the U.S. overall. Freelancers who offer skilled services earn even more, with a median of $28 per hour. That puts their hourly earnings ahead of 70% of all U.S. workers.
Freelancing isn't a get-rich-quick scheme, though. Making good money as a freelancer requires patience, persistence, and know-how.
Do freelancers do taxes?
Because freelancers are independent contractors, they're responsible for paying their own taxes. They don't have an employer automatically subtracting tax payments from their paychecks.
In the U.S., self-employed people will pay quarterly estimated tax payments that cover Social Security and Medicare taxes as well as income tax. Each quarter, you'll fill out a form and submit a payment to the IRS and your specific state's Department of Revenue.
Freelance taxes can be confusing. One of the best things you can do is to find an accountant familiar with self-employment tax laws.
Is freelancing difficult?
Freelancing isn't always an easy career path. The work comes with a hefty amount of rejection, disappointment, and unpredictability. It also requires freelancers to take on many different roles, from sales and marketing to bookkeeping and administration.
Freelancing isn't for everyone. But, for those willing to put in the time and effort, it's well worth it for the flexibility and freedom you get in return.