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What is Freelance Work? The Ultimate Beginner’s Guide

With over 1.57 billion freelancers worldwide, freelancing has taken the workforce by storm. But what is freelance work, and how does someone get into it? In this article, we’ll answer these questions and more.

what is freelance work a guide

There are many misconceptions about freelancing. Some think it isn’t secure, can’t be a long-term career, or that it’s all fun and games.

Continue reading to learn how freelancing works, what freelance opportunities exist, and how to get started as a self-employed freelancer.

What is freelancing?

Freelancing is when you work as an independent contractor, usually on short-term projects. Freelancers are self-employed, and people or companies hire you to do a job or a series of projects for them.

How Freelancing Works

Freelancers work directly with clients to offer services. You can provide many kinds of services as a freelancer, which we’ll get more into below. A quick example: I’m a freelance writer who writes website content for businesses.

Years ago, freelance gigs were a way to earn extra income. But over the years, it’s become many people’s full-time job. One study reports that 40% of freelancers earn a full-time income.

Freelancing vs. Being a Business Owner (Technicalities)

Being a freelancer vs. a business owner is often used interchangeably. Many freelancers refer to themselves as business owners because they’re technically running a business.

That said, some will say that you’re not a business owner if your business can’t run without you.

For example, business owners have employees and systems that work even if you’re out of the equation. Meanwhile, freelancers are often a one-person business but sometimes grow into a larger entity where you might build a team.

In terms of technicality and filing taxes, most freelancers are sole proprietors – individuals who own an unincorporated business. 

You might also file to be an LLC (limited liability company) if you have a lot of assets to protect. Many freelancers don’t do this, especially when starting out.

Taxes

If you’re required to pay taxes where you live, it’s essential to understand how taxes work for freelancers. 

Taxes are automatically withdrawn from your paychecks when you work for a company. As a freelancer, you’re responsible for setting aside and paying your taxes, usually about 20-30% of your income.

Freelance tip: Open two bank accounts for your freelance business – one for business income and expenses and another to set aside money for tax payments.

If you’re in the UK or US, you can learn more about freelance taxes here:

The Best Freelance Jobs

online jobs for freelancers

There are endless opportunities for freelance work. Here are some popular and in-demand options:

  • Writer
  • SEO (search engine optimization) Specialist
  • Social Media Manager
  • Virtual Assistant
  • Graphic Designer
  • Online Teacher or Tutor
  • YouTuber
  • Web Designer
  • Photographer or Videographer
  • Vacation Planner
  • Yoga Instructor

Read more: 20 Best Online Jobs For Freelancers And Digital Nomads

As freelance work is on the rise, people are getting creative and starting freelance businesses with just about any skill. There’s a demand for just about anything, including coaching, dog sitting, and upcycling furniture.

solis portable wifi

While a lot of freelance work is online, especially if you want to become a digital nomad, there are opportunities for freelancing that don’t require technology.

How do I start freelancing work?

Being a successful freelancer takes a lot of work. But following the appropriate steps can help you get on track to building a fulfilling freelance business.

Here’s a step-by-step walk-through for starting freelance work:

  • Step 1: Figure out your finances
  • Step 2: Consider health insurance
  • Step 3: Identify what you want to do
  • Step 4: Join a community
  • Step 5: Make a plan
  • Step 6: Create a portfolio
  • Step 7: Find clients

Step 1: Figure out your finances

We recommend figuring out your finances before you get started. This helps ensure you can get and stay on track with your freelance business.

When you’re an employee for a company, you know what your income is, and it’s usually consistent. When you’re a freelancer working on various projects, your income fluctuates. Building enough clients to earn a full-time income also takes time.

Here are some tips for figuring out and budgeting your money:

  • Have enough savings to start (ideally, 1-3 months worth of expenses).
  • If you don’t have savings, start your freelance business while still working a traditional job.
  • Create a budget.
  • Decide how much money you need to earn. On months you earn more, set aside the extra money for lower-income months.
  • Create a system for tracking your income and expenses for taxes

Step 2: Consider health insurance

Health insurance is one of the most common things that keeps people from going full-time freelance. While you don’t pay more for healthcare coverage as a freelancer than you do as an employee, freelancers are responsible for finding and securing insurance.

If you want to go the traditional health insurance route, you can join your spouse’s plan if they have insurance through an employer. If you’re not married or want your own plan, simply Google “private health insurance in (country you’re in).” In the United States, freelancers can still get coverage through the Marketplace.

If you want to opt out of traditional health insurance, there are other ways to plan for unexpected healthcare expenses. You might open a health savings account (HSA) and/or get a catastrophic healthcare plan, which usually has a lower premium than traditional health insurance.

Freelancers who plan to travel can also look into travel-related healthcare plans.

Read more: A Complete Guide to Healthcare for Freelancers in the US

Step 3: Identify what you want to do

Now for the fun part – decide what kind of freelance work you want to do.

These steps can help you make your decision:

  • Create a list of your skills and interests.
  • Use your list to brainstorm potential jobs.
  • Research which of these jobs are in demand and offer a suitable income.

It’s important to niche down and choose a specific job (i.e., a video editor, a website copywriter, a social media manager). 

Being too general makes attracting and building trust with potential clients difficult. On the other hand, it’s easier to land clients and earn more if you have a specialty.

Step 4: Join a community

There’s a lot to figure out when it comes to freelancing. It can also feel lonely, so having a community can make a world of difference. It can also help you with motivation and problem-solving.

That said, there are countless ways to start and run your freelance business. Getting advice from others can be helpful, but it’s important to do what feels best for you.

There are several freelance groups on Facebook. Joining a coworking space is also an excellent way to meet other freelancers and have community. If there aren’t coworking spaces in your area, look into virtual coworking spaces

Step 5: Make a plan

Many freelancers start searching for clients before having a plan in place. But creating a plan makes it more likely you’ll meet your freelance goals.

Here are some questions to consider when making a plan:

  • What are my goals? (how much you want to work, income you want to earn, etc.)
  • What service(s) can I offer, and what do they include?
  • How much are my services?
  • Who’s my target market? You may need to do market research for this.
  • How will I market my services?

Step 6: Create a portfolio

To find clients, you must have a portfolio to showcase your work. It’s okay to start with 2-3 pieces of work, then add to your portfolio as you gain more experience.

To create a portfolio as a new freelancer, you can create mock pieces or offer to do a couple of low-cost projects for friends or family members.

Note: Before adding work to your portfolio, you should get permission from your client.

To display your work samples, we recommend creating a website. This can seem overwhelming, but your website can start simple. Having a website is an effective way to show up as a professional and have one place to showcase your services and portfolio.

Squarespace, Wix, and WordPress are popular options for building a website. 

Tip: Optimize your website for SEO to ensure your target audience can find your website organically.

Read More: How to Create a Freelance Portfolio That Stands Out (+ 6 Great Examples!)

Step 7: Find clients

Once you have a place that showcases your work samples and services, you can start finding clients. Looking for work can sometimes feel discouraging because you might get a lot of nos before yeses. But there are many ways to find clients.

Most freelancers find clients by reaching out to companies they’d like to work for, using freelance websites, and signing up for freelance newsletters


Be persistent and put yourself out there as much as possible. Make authentic connections by networking in your community, going to coworking spaces, and using professional platforms like LinkedIn. The more connections you make, the more opportunities for future work.

We hope this guide helped you better understand freelance work and how to get started. To learn more about freelancing, check out these articles:

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