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How to Be a Freelancer

Chapter 4 by Adeel Qayum

Some people are saying that freelancing is the career style of the future. As a result, many people are wondering how to be a freelancer.

And the numbers show that freelancing is a solid idea.

A study from UpWork and Freelancers Union shows that in the next decade, more than half of America’s workforce will do freelance work. And 47% of millennials are already doing it.

Here are some more interesting findings from the study:

  • There are currently 57.3 million people who do some form of freelancing
  • At the current growth rate, experts predict that 86.5 million workers will go freelance
  • Freelancers contribute $1.4 trillion USD to the American economy
  • Freelancers have an average of 4.5 clients each month
  • 71% of those surveyed say that tech has helped them get more work over the past year

freelancers infographic


More and more people are finding that freelancing brings incredible flexibility, freedom, and the ability to earn some extra cash.

It’s also worth noting the downsides, though. Many freelancers say the biggest obstacles are finding work, keeping a steady and predictable income, and dealing with the lack of benefits they used to have when they worked for an employer.

While it’s true that finding clients and making steady income can be tough, it’s far from impossible.

And we’re here to help. I’ll show you an arsenal of tips and tactics to find work in different freelancing fields.

In this chapter, we’ll discuss how to become a freelancer. We’ll look at some key considerations for starting a business, including whether freelance marketplaces are really worth it. We’ll also look at some of the most popular services, including writing, photography, design, web development and marketing.

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4.1. How to Be a Freelancer – Checklist

Learning how to be a freelancer is a lot of work.

That’s why we made a handy checklist to make sure you’re prepared.

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Equipment & Environment
  • Reliable desktop or laptop computer [  ]
  • Fast, stable internet connection [  ]
  • An organized system to invoice clients and get paid fast [  ]
  • Special software, if needed (Photoshop for freelance graphic design, etc.) [  ]
  • Special equipment, if needed (camera for photography, etc.) [  ]
  • Space to concentrate – whether it’s a quiet library or a busy café [  ]
Client Communication
  • Create a statement of work (SOW) or contract for each client [  ]
  • Be responsive – answer all messages within 24 hours [  ]
  • Be clear about your deliverables and terms for each project [  ]
  • Use email over the phone or Skype so you have everything in writing – especially requests for changes to your original agreement [  ]
  • Avoid excuses and communicate delays as soon as there’s an issue [  ]
Time Management & Productivity
  • Plan your day and stick to the schedule [  ]
  • Don’t keep your email open all day – it’s distracting [  ]
  • Finish the most important tasks first every day [  ]
  • Take small breaks every 30 to 90 minutes to keep your mind fresh [  ]
  • Do a daily review of your performance [  ]

Let’s go over the basics of being a freelancer and unpack a few of these elements.

Are Freelance Marketplaces Worth It?

In short, yes.

At the very least, freelance marketplaces are good stepping stones to help build your client base and experience.

The biggest benefit is that they can help you find clients quicker than if you’re on your own.

They also ensure that you get paid on-time – no hassle, no chasing down clients for money.

That means you don’t have to deal with writing statements of work (SOWs) or contracts. (We’ll  cover these soon). You also don’t need to worry about getting stiffed by clients who don’t want to pay you. This means that freelance marketplaces are great if you’re still learning how to be a freelancer in your field.

Here’s a big list of some top freelance marketplaces:

biggest freelance marketplaces

SOWs and Contracts

This is an important lesson for those who are learning how to freelance:

Never do work without a written agreement that you’ve both approved.

If something happens and you need to change the agreement, write and sign an updated version.

This is critical to protect you in case of any misunderstanding or foul play.

Statements of work (SOWs) and contracts should include:

  • The scope of work
  • The objectives of the project
  • Schedule of deliverables
  • Tasks to be completed
  • What exactly will be completed
  • How and when you’ll get paid
  • What you both expect for final outcomes
  • Specific requirements, terms, and conditions form both sides

Here’s an example of a general SOW:

Read more about how to write them.

Getting Paid

If you’re flying solo to do your work, you’ll want to set up an easy payment system.

Make sure you write an invoice for every single thing you deliver. Every. Single. Thing.

You can set the terms with your client.

Options include:

  • Bill them up-front for a deposit (like for half of the project’s price), then the other half when you deliver the final product
  • Have them pay in full up-front, or in full after completion
  • Bill them monthly, bi-weekly, or on unique timing for each project

Here are some ways to collect payment:



Building Momentum

Landing your first freelance job can be a major struggle. This might continue for a few months until you learn the ropes of how to be an online freelancer and your business gains momentum.

Make sure you take notes, ask questions, listen, and provide references – and even some free work if you need to. Free work can help you build a portfolio and rack up some happy customers fast.

[highlight]Note: Watch out for bad freelancing clients. While you can’t always avoid communication issues, there are obvious warning signs to look out for. You may have a tough time working for them if they micromanage, frequently question your approach, or think they know a better way to complete the task they employed you for.[/highlight]


Now let’s get into how to be a freelancer within certain niches.

4.2. Freelance Writing

If you’ve always had a knack for explaining things and putting ideas into words, writing may be a good option for you. Let’s take a look at how to become a freelance writer.

freelance writing

Freelance writing opportunities are diverse and plentiful, too.

There are three main categories you can cover:

  1. Copywriting: Freelance copywriting would include writing for businesses, including advertising copy, various types of marketing materials, and sometimes research-based pieces.
  2. Journalistic writing: For news publications like print and web newspapers and magazines, etc. You’ll typically need some solid experience to land these jobs.
  3. Creative writing: Ghostwriting a book or personal blog, short stories, work-for-hire jobs like wedding vows. These are for the poet at heart.

Inside these categories, you can write all kinds of things, like:

  • Blogs
  • Short stories or novels
  • Whitepapers
  • Case studies
  • PowerPoint content
  • Essays and thought pieces
  • Magazine articles
  • Newspaper columns
  • Sales pages
  • Outreach emails
  • Social media posts
  • CVs and resumes

Get clear on the bare essentials you need to get started, which include:

  1. An elegant portfolio (you can make one on Behance)
  2. Up-to-date profiles on portals/marketplaces your prospects use
  3. An editing and proofreading tool for error-free writing (I recommend Grammarly)

[highlight]If you’re like me, you’ll also need several spiral notebooks for outlining and drafting. Or maybe it’s a giant whiteboard. Just make sure you have whatever materials you need to let your creativity and critical thinking skills flow.[/highlight]


How to Get Freelance Writing Gigs

Here are a few resources to get momentum.

Browse Writing Job Boards & Directories

If you’re still learning how to be a freelancer in the writing industry, search for gigs at these websites:

Join Social Media Groups & Browse Listings

Join a few ‘content writer’ and ‘freelance writer’ groups on Facebook and LinkedIn. Be an active participant and keep an eye out for any opportunity that might crop up.

freelance writing

Become a Guest Author

This gives you an author byline that helps you get noticed. Say you want to write finance blog posts. Search for these jobs on Google by typing things like:

  • Finance blogs + write for us
  • Financial blogs + guest post guidelines
  • Personal finance + guest writer

Follow Job Board Tweets

Follow Twitter accounts like:

  • @Write_Jobs
  • @WhoPaysWriters
  • @JJobs_tweets
  • @FreelanceWJ


Apply to a Content Agency

This option will have more structure and opportunities, as well as the potential for better pay and training on how to be a freelance writer.

Look for content agencies that are hiring, like:

freelance writing

4.3. Freelance Photography

If you love capturing life’s little moments on camera, you might want to start your own freelance photography business.

To get started as a freelance photographer, you need to have the right equipment, a good understanding of photo editing software, and passion for a specific genre of photography.

Buying the Right Equipment

Here are a few things you’ll need.

A Good Camera

You may be wondering what sort of camera you should buy.

The quick answer is any brand’s DSLR that helps you learn manual mode will work great. A few good options for beginners include Nikon 5600 and Canon EOS Rebel T7i.

freelance photography

High-Quality Lenses

It makes sense to put lenses at the top of your budget list.

That’s because the quality of the lens has the greatest impact on the quality of the photos you take with any DSLR you use.

If you want a high-quality starter lens for the most affordable price, consider prime lenses (those with a fixed focal length).

A lot of people prefer 50 mm 1.8G for Nikon and 50mm f/1.8 STM for Canon.


Perhaps the most important accessory is the tripod. It will provide you with extra stability as you seek the perfect angle.

Tripods come in all sizes, shapes, and prices.

A good value-for-money option is Manfrotto MKBFRA4-BH.

accessories for freelance photography

Reflectors are another camera accessory you may find useful. They offer a quick and affordable way to brighten up your images.

A quality option is Selens 5-in-1 Handle 43 Inch.

Using Photo Editing Software

The two most popular software for editing photos are Photoshop and Lightroom.

If you’ve never edited photos before, start with Lightroom as it’s much easier to use than Photoshop.

Not only does Lightroom allow you to edit your images, it also provides a great system for organizing your images using stars, color coding, and keywords.


In addition, you can spruce up your photo editing skills by taking a course or two.

A couple good ones are:

Choosing a Photography Genre

Finding and choosing a photography genre can be challenging. And with so many people entering the industry, it’s easy to get thrown off course by what others are doing.

In such a scenario, the best thing to do is take a step back from everyone else and be yourself. Follow what inspires you.

Examples of photography genres include:

  • Food
  • Weddings
  • Travel
  • Fashion
  • Sports

Once you pick a genre, you can start honing your style by shooting daily.

How to Get Freelance Photography Work

Here are a few ways to kickstart your freelance business.

Look through Photography Job Websites

These websites might make it easier to make money online from home:

Establish Your Name in Photography-Specific Marketplaces

List your work in marketplaces so that you never depend too much on a single client for livelihood.

The best thing about this approach is that you can establish a loyal clientele if you receive positive reviews on a regular basis.

Here’s a list of marketplaces worth exploring:

freelance photography earn money online

Pitch to Companies That Require Photographers

Try companies that need photographers, such as:

  • Oyster – Visit nearby hotels and photograph them
  • Martha Stewart Living – Break into food & lifestyle photography
  • Obeo – Capture images for virtual real estate tours

4.4. Freelance Designer

If you’ve always had a good eye for design, a career in freelance design may be a worthwhile option to explore.

Depending on your design niche, you might be working on a product image, a company logo, or a storyboard that showcases the key frames of a commercial.

Let’s go over freelance design specialties and what you’ll need to build a successful freelance design business as a way to make money from home.

Choose a Speciality

Design is applied to many areas, so there are several types of design specialities. Before we look at how to be a freelancer in the design industry, consider what your specialty will be.

The most popular ones are:

  • Web design: Email templates, landing pages, mobile apps, website user experience (UX) and user interface (UI)… the World Wide Web is a web designer’s space.
  • Graphic design: If you’ve worked on business cards, posters, and letterheads before, freelance graphic design may be a good option for you.
  • Motion graphics design: Motion graphic designers add life to otherwise static illustrations, pictures, text, and more.
  • Product design: Through iterating, experimentation, and prototyping, product designers bring physical items to life.

Pick a speciality that best resonates with your skills to get started.

Get the Necessary Tools

In general, you should have access to the Adobe Creative Cloud (Illustrator, Photoshop, etc.) to work as a freelance web designer.

freelance graphic design software

Freelance graphic designers should have access to tools such as InDesign and Photoshop to create visual identities and marketing materials.

When it comes to Motion Graphics, it’s important to include After Effects, Final Cut Pro, and Maya in your toolset.

freelance designer

For product designs, clients will expect you to be familiar with CAD (computer-aided design) tools such as SolidWorks and AutoCAD to develop 3D models of different products.

Showcase Your Work

As you learn the basics of how to be a freelancer, it’s important that you build up your portfolio and showcase your work. Your design portfolio should reflect your skills, personality, genre and experience.

Tools like Carbonmade and Dribbble offer an incredibly professional, well-designed canvas on which you can showcase your talent.

If you prefer a dynamic website, I recommend Squarespace. It has its own portfolio website builder.

Alternatively, you could host your design portfolio on a social media website.

Sites like Instagram, Facebook and LinkedIn make it easy to upload graphics, illustrations, mockups, etc.

Best Websites for Freelance Design Jobs & Gigs

Hundreds of freelance design job websites exist on the internet, and the quality certainly varies.

To help you get started, here are a few great websites for freelance designers:

In addition, you can sell your designs in general marketplaces like DesignCrowd, as well as in speciality marketplaces like CafePress and Threadless. This is a great option for you if you’re still learning how to be a freelancer and if you haven’t yet found regular clients.

4.5. Freelance Web Developer

If you’re familiar with the basics of coding, you can become a freelance web developer.

The demand for web development specialists today far exceeds the supply.

And it’s not going to sink unless someone takes down the internet.

If you’re fairly new to coding, you can learn a thing or two from these resources:

freelance web developer

[highlight]At a minimum, you should learn CSS and HTML. Learning PHP basics can also be helpful, especially if you’ll be working with platforms like WordPress that are coded in PHP. You don’t need to become a coding expert, but having good knowledge of the basics will help you get by.[/highlight]


As you learn how to be a freelancer in the web development space, it’s important to have someone who can answer your questions about the small, fiddling things about programming.

So look around!

Try finding a mentor who can help you in this process. Their guidance can make all the difference when you’re stuck on a problem and feel like quitting.

Check out tech events near you where you can network with people and learn more about web development.

A site called Meetup helps people host hundreds of coding meetings in cities and regions around the world.

freelance web designer

How to Find Work as a Freelance Web Developer

If you’re starting fresh, maybe you’re wondering where exactly these web development projects get listed.

Maybe you’re stuck checking the same old job listings that haven’t been updated in a month.

Good news is, there are several resources out there that can help you find freelance web development gigs, fast!

Here are some worthy of your attention:  

1. Smashing Jobs

Makes it simple to discover full-time and/or part-time gigs. The majority of the gigs posted to this website are related to design and web development.

how to be a freelancer

2. We Work Remotely

As the name implies, this is a website where you can find web development jobs that you can do from the comfort of your home.

freelance copywriter jobs

3. Women Who Code

A global nonprofit dedicated to helping women succeed in technology careers. It also has a job board, where most listings pertain to web development and/or software engineering.

Besides these resources, you can check out general freelancing websites like Upwork and PeoplePerHour for more opportunities to be a freelance web developer.

4.6. Freelance Marketer

If you have a talent for showcasing brands in a positive light and know how to conduct market research, you may be cut out for a career in freelance marketing. Let’s look at how to be a freelancer in the marketing industry.

The best part of this niche is that businesses all over the world constantly require great freelance marketers.

Some quick facts:

  • Email advertising spending is expected to increase from 270 million USD in 2015 to 350 million USD in 2019. (source)
  • The majority of businesses are spending more than $5000 USD a month on SEO. (source)
  • 80% of retail specialists consider email marketing as their greatest driver of customer retention. (source)

And somebody has to cater to these needs. That’s where you come in.   

Get started by choosing an area (because you need to be more specific than just freelance marketer). Ideally, you’d make money online through:

Internet Marketing Service

Freelance internet marketers engage in various activities in the digital space, including:

Depending on your knowledge and skills, you can pick one or a combination of these activities to offer as a service.

For example, if you’ve experience of promoting an online store, you can place ecommerce marketing at the top of the list of services you offer. Likewise, if you have good relationships with influencers, content marketing could be a good option for you.

Social Media Management

If you’ve had success running a Twitter account or know what it takes to get followers on Instagram, you might want to give a thought to social media management.

A freelance social media manager creates and manages all social network accounts of his/her customers.

Other tasks clients could expect you to perform:

  • Source viral content for sharing
  • Schedule specific social media updates
  • Grow audience through sharing and outreach
  • Create images
  • Address customer service issues

You don’t need to know everything on the list, but you should be able to come up with a good overall strategy.

social media freelancer


And while you’re learning how to be a freelance marketer, consider specializing in a specific platform.

There are several individuals out there who can do social media management, but there aren’t many who can get maximum shares on Facebook, or build up an engaged following on LinkedIn.

Consider the platform you’ve had the most success with, and promote that as your service.

The Best Resources for Freelance Marketers to Find Work

If you want to make money online from home as a freelance marketer, here are the best places to find jobs.

remote jobs freelancer

In addition to these sites, you’d also find good freelance work opportunities on general marketplaces like Upwork,, and PeoplePerHour.  

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Chapter 4 Takeaways

  • Check out our freelancer’s checklist to make sure you have all the right equipment, a good work environment, efficient client communication, and good time management/productivity habits.
  • As you learn how to be a freelancer, it’s critical that you always have written agreements with your clients and a solid system to get paid on-time.
  • There are unique online communities and marketplaces for different freelance business niches, including:
    • Writing
    • Photography
    • Design (web, graphic, motion graphics, product)
    • Web development
    • Marketing
  • These resources can help you learn and grow toward your personal goals, while troubleshooting issues as you learn how to be an effective freelancer and start making money from home.



next: Chapter 5

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