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What is Freelancing? Everything You Need to Know!

What is Freelancing? Girl sitting outside with laptop.
Lex DeVille
Written by Lex DeVille

What is freelancing? My good sir! You have so much to learn! It’s a loaded question, but if you’ve got 10 seconds I’ll tell you about it. And for those short on time, here’s the skinny:

Freelancing means you work for one or more clients on one or more projects at a time. As a freelancer, you choose your own hours, set your own pay rates, and decide when, where, and how you work, and what you work on and who you work for.

Freelancing is kind of like having a job, but with way more freedom. It’s also like running a business without some of the responsibilities. The world of freelancing goes much deeper than that, so if you want to know more let’s keep going.

Is Freelancing a Job?

Freelancing is not a job. It’s like a job, but it’s not a job. With a job you go to work the same time each day. You spend six to eight hours B.S.ing your way around the clock until it’s time to go home. At the end of the week, you grab your tiny paycheck and hit the road. Also, you only get weekends off and you have to wait for seniority and performance reviews to get a 50 cent raise.

Traditional Job Freelancing
Standard work hours Work when you want
Standard pay Set your own pay
Report to a boss You are the boss
Boss dictates your work Do only the work you want
Employer-sponsored benefits You cover your own benefits

Freelancers work when and where they want. That might be the same time each day or different times. It could be 8 am or midnight. You work as many or as few hours as you like and clients pay you to work on specific tasks instead of busywork. As a freelancer, you’re never bored because you work on new and different stuff every day.

Also, you don’t have to wait 10 to 20 years to reach the top of the pay scale. You set your own rates. Technically, you can go from $5 an hour to $100 an hour or more in a month if you want (but you’d better be able to prove you’re worth it if you want clients to pay).

Is Freelancing a Business?

Despite what many people will tell you, freelancing most definitely is a business. If you don’t think so, try not paying your business taxes! You don’t have to file any official paperwork to start freelancing. You also don’t have to register your business. All you have to do is start working with clients and you’re in business and the IRS will expect their cut!

In the United States, freelancers who have not formed an official entity operate under a business type called a Sole Proprietorship. That means you are self-employed and doing business for yourself. This is the default business type for anyone who sells anything and who does not file as an official business.

If you sell services and you haven’t filed a business entity, you are a Sole Proprietor

Since freelancing is a business, it comes with some of the responsibilities of a business (but not all of the responsibilities!).

For instance, freelancers have to pay for their own insurance. There’s no retirement savings and you won’t get paid-time-off like you would at a regular old job. Also, you have to track your expenses so you know how much your tax burden is at the end of the year.

Most of that stuff is easy once you get going. The cool thing is, you don’t have to deal with any of it until you get up and running and start making money. In fact, I didn’t have my act together until about two and a half years into my freelance journey. That’s when I hired an accountant and started taking things more seriously.

Is Freelancing a Hobby?

Although freelancing is a business and can be tedious like a job, it can also be a hobby. Not everyone freelances full-time. Some just do it part-time for extra cash. Others hold full-time day jobs and freelance on the side.

The cool thing about freelancing is there are no hard and fast rules about when you work, how you work, or how much work you have to do. You control everything. so if you ever feel like you’ve got too much on your plate, just dial it back a little. Take fewer clients. Work fewer hours.

If all you need is a hobby to keep life interesting and fun, then freelancing can definitely fill that space for you.

Is Freelancing a Career?

Freelancing can become a career for you. It’s going to take some work, but it is 100% possible to make a great career out of freelancing. What’s better is that it doesn’t even take that long for most people to replace their full-time jobs.

It is 100% possible to make a great career out of freelancing.
For example, most brand new freelancers can expect to amass enough skill and experience and to earn enough money on a monthly basis to replace their full-time jobs while taking home higher pay within 6 to 12 months if they go all-in. Some will do it faster than this, and some slower.

By “all-in” I mean you put your heart and soul into your work. You learn an in-demand skill and you also spend time learning to prove your value to clients, deliver awesome results, and help others get what they want.

When you learn how to do those things, you can make the leap from your full-time job to freelancing and never look back.

Is Freelancing Hard?

Some might consider freelancing hard. I think it’s really easy. When I started, I picked a skill and signed up on one of the freelance platforms. After that, I looked over some of the job posts and thought about what I could say to clients to get them to want to hire me. In other words, how could I be valuable for them?

I got work on my very first day.

Two years later (2017) I started a brand new freelance account to prove it could still be done. I applied to one job, got hired, and started working with a company called Fresh Patch who got a deal on Shark Tank. Sweet!

Fresh Patch on Shark Tank

The low-paying jobs are usually the easiest. Clients have low expectations. As you move up in pay and you take on bigger projects and work with larger companies, then things can get more challenging.

Another area that challenges freelancers is the number of projects and clients they’re working on at any given time. If you’ve got a lot of projects going on, then you have to play a balancing act.

In fact, probably the hardest part of freelancing is balancing life. Not just balancing your clients and projects and also your outreach, but balancing work life with home life so you have time for family too.

What is the Worst Part About Freelancing?

If I had to pick one part about freelancing that is the absolute worst, it’s the fear you feel as a beginner. Unlike 9-5 jobs where you have a false sense of stability (because as long as you show up you get paid) freelancing can be really unpredictable until you have a foundation of clients.

From one month to the next, you don’t always know if you’ll have an income. This is mainly a problem for newbies because you don’t have a client base yet. Once you establish a base of clients who need different projects at different times, then you gain more stability than you’d have at a full-time job.

Green Job vs Freelance Income Stability

Stability at a 9-5 job is an illusion. You believe because you show up that you will get paid. But if recent times have taught us anything, it’s that jobs can be wiped out overnight, and if you don’t have other sources of income, you’re in big trouble.

Freelancing only has stability problems when you’re new and don’t have very many clients. As your client base grows, then you gain more and more leverage over your income. If one client decides to stop working with you, so what? You have 10 more to fall back on. Make sense?

What is the Best Part About Freelancing?

For me the best part about freelancing is the freedom you earn. Since you act as your own boss, you make all of the rules.

Traditional Job Freelancing
Work in a stuffy office Work outside under a tree
Work in a noisy factory Work in a quiet cafe
Work in bad weather Sleep in for bad weather
Lose job during pandemic Earn more during pandemic
Work where your job is Work from the beach

If I want to work outside today, I’ll do it. But if I want to chill in a Starbucks with my laptop, I can do that too. And if I don’t want to work with someone, I don’t have to. If someone wants to low-ball me on pay, I can reject their offer.

It’s all about freedom. Not trading every waking hour for a paycheck that barely covers the bills, and giving yourself a chance to actually love what you do. That is the best part about freelancing.

Where Can You Start Freelancing?

There are several different places you can start freelancing. For most people, I recommend one of the major platforms like Upwork, LinkedIn, or People Per Hour. However, if those don’t suit your tastes, I also made a big list of 100+ freelance websites that you can check out here.

Most people should start with one of the major freelance platforms.
If you’re not into platform freelancing and you want a little more control, then you could always step outside the platforms and do things on your own. That approach is harder because you have to reach out to clients by email, phone, social media, and other ways and trying to persuade them to work with you.

The cool thing about the freelance platforms is that clients already know they need help. They post jobs because they’re actively looking to hire. Freelance platforms are kind of like job boards (like Indeed) but they’re just for freelancers.

Speaking of Indeed, some freelancers find clients through traditional job search platforms, so don’t overlook those. Simply Hired, Monster.com, and others can be valuable resources to find freelance work.

Is Freelancing a Good Path for You?

Freelancing isn’t a fit for everyone. Some people aren’t cut out for it. To make sure freelancing is right for you, ask yourself these questions:

  • Am I a real “go-getter?”
  • Do I want the freedom to work when, where, and how I want?
  • Do I want to control my income?
  • Am I willing to put in the hustle to earn clients?
  • Am I willing to stick with this until I am successful?
  • Am I organized enough to hold myself accountable?

If you answered yes to most of those questions, then freelancing is probably a good path for you. If you’re not self-motivated, if you complain a lot, if you whine, if you procrastinate, then this may not be a good fit for you.

Some people need to have more structure in their career, and that is completely okay. But if you have that entrepreneurial spirit and you really want to set out on your own and take back control over your life, then I think freelancing is one of the best possible ways to make it happen and you really can’t go wrong.

Remember, the only way you ever really fail is when you give up and quit. If you keep going, eventually you will succeed as a freelancer and you will create a rewarding career.

Is Now a Good Time to Start Freelancing?

This last question is an important one, but also really easy to answer. YES! Right now is the absolute best time to start freelancing. In fact, the longer you wait, the harder it will be. If you would’ve started 10 years ago, you would understand how much of a difference waiting makes.

As of this writing, the world is in a state of pandemic. Millions of people are out of work. That means they’re flocking to alternative income sources like freelancing. Every day more and more people get started, so the longer you wait, the harder it is to get in the door and gain momentum.

If you really are thinking about walking this path, start right now. Go sign up on one of the freelance platforms. Pick a skill. Get your account approved. Start applying to gigs. The longer you wait, the harder it gets, and there may come a point when you’ve waited too long and you miss your chance.

About the author

Lex DeVille

Lex DeVille

Lex DeVille is a copywriter and freelance instructor who has trained more than 10,000 freelance students across 133 countries to start and grow profitable freelance businesses. If you'd like his help with that, then click the link in the bottom right corner to visit his website.

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