What is freelancing? A guide to kick-starting a successful freelance career

The ultimate guide to freelancing
Reading Time: 14 minutes

New to freelancing? This guide provides everything you need to know before you get started with your freelance career.

Table of Contents


What is freelancing?

Freelancing is the concept of working on a contract basis with multiple companies simultaneously. You may also see freelancers working on long-term contracts with companies or for one company at a time. Freelancers by nature are not full-time employees and as such treated more like consultants.

Freelancers have the freedom and flexibility to structure their workdays, take holidays, sleep in, and be their own boss. On the other hand, they won’t be eligible for the same benefits that full-time employees receive—sick leaves, pension, HRA, and so on.

Freelancing is not restricted to any particular field of work. You can find freelancers in all walks of life, from web development to teaching.



The freelance economy in India

The Indian freelance economy’s been flourishing over the past few years. In fact, it is home to the second largest population of freelancers, with almost 15 million working on their own terms. According to an industry estimate, the Indian freelance market is expected to be worth $20-30 billion(~Rs 2.1 Lakh Crores) by 2025.

Here are a few more insights to help you get an overview of the Indian freelance market:

Freelance-economy-stat

      • According to a survey conducted by PayPal, 74% of Indian freelancers surveyed had a PayPal account.
      • The same study found that nearly 29% of the Indian freelancers surveyed had annual earnings of over ₹40 lakhs (~$85,000).
      • PayPal’s report states that 41% of the freelancers they surveyed witnessed a  growth in their business in 2017.
      • Most respondents of the above-mentioned survey said they choose to freelance because of freedom and flexibility it offers. 
      • Besides domestic clients, Indian freelancers get a considerable number of projects from the US, Europe and Australia.
      • Industry estimates say that 30%-40% of the Indian student community are interested in freelancing.
      • The fields of work where Indian freelancers have been flourishing are data entry, internet research, consulting, accounting, graphic design, web-designing, and web and mobile development. There is also a demand for specialised skills in disciplines such as robotics, artificial intelligence, UI and UX design, digital marketing, architects, lawyers and chartered accountants.
      • Twenty per cent of the members of CoWrks, a popular Indian coworking space, are freelancers.

*All the data were gathered from reports by Quartz, TOI, and Forbes India.



What are the benefits and drawbacks of freelancing

The numbers listed above is an indication of where we are headed. More and more people are taking the plunge, but is it the right career path for you? To help you decide this, we’ve listed down the pros and cons of freelancing.

Pros of freelancing

      • Freelancing permits you to lead a flexible life.
      • Commuting won’t be much of a worry; you can work from home or local coffee shops or co-working spaces.
      • Freelancers have the freedom to build daily schedules based on their preferences and interests.
      • Better physical and mental health.
      • Freelancers don’t have to deal with office politics for the most part. 
      • Most of the times each project you receive will be different from the previous one. It challenges you to keep learning and evolving, and eventually expand your expertise with every new job.

Cons of freelancing

      • Freelancing life is full of distractions. You have to manage clients, settle accounts, file taxes, and more, by yourself.
      • Unlike full-time professionals, constant cash flow is not guaranteed for freelancers.
      • No way to regulate the flow of work. There may be times when you have 3-4 projects simultaneously, and other times when there is not even one.
      • When you become a freelancer, you will have to do everything from marketing, client servicing to bookkeeping by yourself.
      • You will miss the brainstorming sessions, the water cooler conversations, and the general hustle and bustle of an office environment.


Are you ready to be a freelancer?

Freelancing is not for everyone. It requires you to possess specific skills and qualities. If you lack them at present, you should focus on developing them rather than taking the plunge. This section aims to help you understand if you are ready for freelancing.

Signs that you are ready to become a freelancer

      • Want to earn more. You don’t want to wait for an annual appraisal to get a hike. You want to see tangible improvement in your earnings quickly.
      • Self-motivated. You are comfortable working alone. You are confident that you can keep yourself motivated and focused.
      • Comfortable having a lot of things on your plate. You are someone who can juggle multiple projects, and doesn’t get too invested in one project.
      • A strong network. You know where your first client is coming from and how to reach out to them.
      • A highly-organised person. You are someone who lives a well-structured and ordered lifestyle.
      • Mentally strong. You can handle rejections well and move past them without much hesitance.
      • Independent and self-reliant. You value freedom and flexibility very highly. Job security not a major concern of yours.
      • People person. You enjoy interacting, learning, and working with different people.
      • One person army. You find yourself more productive when you are working from home.
      • Frugal and environmentally conscious. You want to cut down on your expenditures and carbon footprint.

Signs that mean you are not ready for freelancing

      • A shared sense of belonging. You aspire to be part of something bigger than yourself.
      • Values collaboration. You want to bounce off ideas with someone regularly.
      • Feel the need to be protected and secure. You value financial and job security very highly.  
      • A laid back person. You are content with the pace at which you are leading your life.
      • Not proactive. You’d prefer to finish the tasks assigned to you rather than working on finding new clients or learning a new skill or software, and so on.
      • Social climber. You are ambitious, class-conscious, and wants to climb the social ladder.
      • Values permanence. You are long-term oriented and wants to see your work outlast you after many years.


Highest paying freelancing skills

If you think you are ready for freelancing, the next step is to find out the skills that are in demand presently and how to learn or develop them.

We have compiled and categorised 25 insanely high-paying freelance jobs for you to choose from. Click on the links below to navigate to your preferred section.

Here's an infographic listing the top 25 high-paying freelance jobs. The jobs are categorized into four: technology, arts, marketing, and services related. You can also find the hourly rates for each job.



Is long-term freelancing difficult?

Freelancing is no doubt a difficult path to embark on. There is uncertainty and the opportunities are unending. But to make your freelance journey last long, you have to be passionate about what you are doing and should be ready to work hard. Moreover, the freelancing economy is growing and is only expected to get bigger. Freelancing can be a long-term endeavour.

Here are a few points that substantiate my claims:

      • The cost of hiring freelancers is much lower than what it used to be.
      • Due to the rise in collaboration, communication, and productivity tools, remote working is not a far-fetched concept anymore. 
      • Nearly half of the Gen Z workforce are freelancers.
      • Online payment systems have made it easier to collect invoices and payments.
      • Freelancing is no longer limited to fields like design and development. Each year we are seeing new professions coming into freelance space like teaching, household services, and so on.
      • Most freelance marketplaces have separate ratings and reviews sections for each freelancer. This increases transparency and trustworthiness.
      • Some freelance marketplaces also offer online tests — a good way to measure the expertise of freelancers.
      • Online courses provided by MOOCs make it easier for you to update your skills and remain competitive.

How to start freelancing?

You can’t become a freelancer overnight. Like a business, you have to plan and start the process months in advance carefully. This is true regardless of whether you are a content writer, a photographer or a big data analyst. If you don’t set yourself up in the right way, it will be like stepping into the unknown, and you may end up losing your way.

So before you quit your job and decide to freelance full-time, be sure to get the foundations built right. It will make your freelance journey a lot easier. In this section, we will give an overview of the primary stages of your freelancing journey so that you can get started quickly.

STEP 1 – Sign up and create a profile on different freelancing platforms.



Top freelance marketplace websites

Because of the internet, freelancing is no more restricted to one or two professions. Nowadays, you find freelancers everywhere, including software development, event management, to even teaching. So, the question becomes how do you connect the demand and the supply?

That’s where freelance marketplaces have come in and changed the game. Unlike, newspaper classifieds of the bygone era, these platforms are interactive and easy-to-use. They make the hiring process seamless for the companies, and at the same time, help freelancers get more business.

Let’s have a look at some of the top freelance marketplaces:

TopTal is exclusive for freelancers who fall in the top 3% of their industry in terms of expertise.

Focus area: Development, design, finance, and project management.

Pros: The talent matching feature.

Cons: The screening process.

Upwork is one of the best freelancing platforms out there. It is easy to set up and use.

Focus area: All-inclusive; lists projects belonging to all sorts of fields, from design to translating.

Pros: The feedback system and the security of payments.

Cons: It is a bit pricey — 10% on every transaction + premium subscription.

It is the biggest freelancing platform in the world with almost 25 million registered users.

Focus area: General; covers a wide range of niches.

Pros: Has a vast collection of open projects.

Cons: Their payment system has got a bad rep.

This platform is exclusively for software developers.

Focus area: Software development.

Pros: Great place to find long-term clients.

Cons: Commission is 20%, which is quite high.

A good place to find design-related projects such as logo designing, Marcom designing, web designing, and so on.

Focus area: Web designing and graphic designing.

Pros: Easy to use and manage.

Cons: There is no commitment between freelancers and the client.

TapChief provides an end-to-end service from hiring freelancers to the final settlement. Everything happens through the platform, so you can focus solely on completing the assigned work.

Focus area: Design, development, and marketing.

Pros: Good place for working professionals to earn additional income.

Cons: The platform is quite new.

This platform is exclusive for short-term projects. It is one of the cheapest platforms out there.

Focus area: All-inclusive.

Pros: Good place to find small and short-term projects.

Cons: Customer support is poor.

This platform lets freelancers find projects and collaborate with employers the world over.

Focus area: All-inclusive.

Pros: Multiple-payment system and time-tracking software

Cons: Scamming is prevalent on this platform.

This platform is mostly meant for local or offline freelance jobs. It could range from cleaning services to plumbing.

Focus area: Local and offline

Pros: Communication with clients is easy

Cons: Not suited for specialised jobs.

This platform is mostly aimed to satisfy the needs of small businesses all over the world.

Focus area: General.

Pros: Easy to set up your profile and find jobs.

Cons: The commissions are too steep.

STEP 2 – Build a Freelance Portfolio

Once you have signed up on relevant platforms, you need to build a portfolio.



What is a portfolio?

Your portfolio is a compilation that depicts who you are as a professional —  your style of work, expertise, interests, educational qualifications and what your colleagues and clients have said about you.

UX/UI designers portfolioSource

It is much more than just a profile. When you pitch your services to a prospect, your portfolio helps them get a rich and more in-depth understanding of what you have done in your career. It supports your claims and increases your chances of landing the deal.

How to create your portfolio?

Regardless of whether you are a designer or a writer, to build a steady stream of clients you need an impressive portfolio. Most people have online portfolios now — a website that lists down everything from the services you offer to your contact details.

How to make a portfolio to launch your freelancing career

Learn more about how to create an online portfolio.

STEP 3 – Market your Freelance Portfolio

Once you set it up, be sure to include your portfolio’s link to your email signatures, Twitter Bio, LinkedIn Profile, Facebook Profile or Page, and the project proposals that you are sending out. The aim should be to get your prospective clients to visit your online portfolio.



How to market yourself as a freelancer?

You can sign up on all the leading freelancing marketplaces, create a great a portfolio, and write impressive proposals, but is that enough to build a steady stream of clients?

Unfortunately, the answer is no. Freelancing success can’t be achieved with an ‘if you build it, they will come’ mindset. You have to market yourself proactively. That’s how you improve your visibility and generate leads for your freelance business.  

There are numerous channels available to do so, but three channels you can’t afford to skip are Facebook, LinkedIn, and email marketing. When done well, they can augment your brand building, networking, and lead gen efforts significantly.

How to get clients on Facebook?

Facebook has multiple avenues to attract clients, namely, your personal Facebook profile, your official Facebook Page, relevant Facebook groups, and Lead Ads. Use them according to the nature, demands, and requirements of the service you provide.

Learn more about each avenue:

How to use Linkedin to get clients?

LinkedIn is the go-to social network for professionals, and with good reasons too. The user base is enormous, with almost 590 million users. More importantly, LinkedIn is responsible for 64% of all visits from social media sites to business websites. It indicates how popular and effective LinkedIn marketing is.

Explore the different aspects of LinkedIn marketing that freelancers can use to attract clients.

How can freelancers use email marketing to get more clients?

Let’s get one thing clear, email is not dead, and it won’t be, anytime soon. It is still one of the best channels available — cost-effective, direct, intimate, and easy to set up. Freelancers can use it to pitch clients, build brand awareness and maintain top of mind recall.

Learn more about email marketing:



STEP 4 – Landing your freelance clients

How to land projects?

Once you have all of the above ready, the next step is to go out there, find out open projects, pitch your service to clients, and close the deal.

How to get your freelance marketplace profile approved?

Most freelance marketplaces have a screening process before they approve your profile. You will able to apply for open projects only after your profile is approved. The screening process of some websites is lenient while others are strict.

Here are a few tips to help your profile get approved:

      • Have a professional looking email address. For instance, [email protected].
      • Complete your profile with as much information as possible, especially about your skills, expertise, experiences, focus areas, and so on. Don’t hold back!
      • Ensure your job title is specific and reveals who you are.
      • Ensure you carefully proofread every section before submitting.
      • If the marketplace offers skill tests, be sure to take them.
      • Further back up your claims by describing your experience, educational qualifications, or certifications you possess.
      • Adding a link to your portfolio is not enough, also enter the details of the projects you have worked on.
      • Remember, when they ask for your experience level, they mean your overall experience, and not just your freelance experience.

Don’t worry if your profile gets rejected the first time, add more or optimise the details, and submit it again for approval.

How to pitch to clients?

Once your profile gets approved, you can start searching for open projects. Before shortlisting one, make sure to read the description, find out the requirements, and see if it fits your skills and expertise. Once you have evaluated it and decided to go ahead with it, that’s when you have to write a project proposal to pitch your services to the clients.

What is a project proposal?

A project proposal is an initial document that a freelancer submits to a client offering to perform a particular project. It is expected to provide essential information such as objectives, plan of action, timeline, and so on. Ultimately, freelancers use it to convince clients they are the right choice for a project.

How to write a project proposal?

You can write it in a variety of ways. There are no set rules to it. Freelance project proposals are heavily dependent on the type of work and the nature of the client. Furthermore, the terminologies and the style may vary according to the online tool you are using or the proposal template you are following.

To make your life easier, we’ve created a framework that you can follow. We have listed down and explained certain must-have elements of a good project proposal.

How to write a proposal that wins clients over

Learn more about how to write an impressive project proposal.

Top project proposal templates

Writing a project proposal from scratch every time can be a hassle. To help you save time and effort, we’ve compiled and categorised some excellent project proposal templates that you can borrow and adapt.

How to set the price for the freelancing services you offer?

To become a successful freelancer, you have to get the price right. If you don’t, you may feel overworked or find it hard to attract clients.

Here are a few pricing strategies you can try out:



How to improve your productivity as a freelancer?

As mentioned earlier, being a freelancer has a few disadvantages such as distractions, hectic schedules, difficulty in staying motivated, and so on. That means, to stay productive, you need to put some additional effort. Two ways to do it: learn and implement productivity hacks, and secondly, learn how to use certain apps and software that streamline your day.

Productivity hacks for freelancers

      • Batch similar tasks together, so that you can process them at once.
      • Create a to-do list that lists down tasks based on priority.
      • Join freelancer communities in your area.
      • Create a comfortable work environment — chairs, tables, and so on.
      • If you are working from home, create a separate workspace.
      • Create time slots for checking and processing your inbox.
      • When you are working something that doesn’t have a deadline, create one by yourself.
      • If you are feeling distracted while working, write down whatever that is distracting you.
      • Make note-taking a habit, especially when you interact with clients.
      • Learn to use keyboard shortcuts.

Must-have tools for freelancers

There is a wide range of tools available that freelancers can use to improve their productivity, starting with project management tools, and invoicing tools.

Project management tools for freelancers

Simply put, project management tools help freelancers organise and manage their tasks, and client projects in a streamlined manner. Here we are a few excellent free project management tools for you to check out.

Project management toolsSource

Invoicing tools for freelancers

An invoice is a document that freelancer sends to the client which specifies the cost of the service provided and its breakdown.

Invoicing tools make the entire process easier, so you don’t have to spend much time writing one. Most invoicing apps have features such as customizable invoice templates, automatic payment reminders, integration with payment gateways, and so on.

Some of the top free invoicing tools for freelancers are:



How to ensure your clients pay you on time?

As a freelancer, getting paid in time is critical to ensure your life and business goes ahead smoothly.

Because you work with a variety of clients, you should never assume they will pay you promptly. You have to be proactive about collecting your payments. Here are a few tips to ensure this:

      • Make it as easy as possible for them to complete the payment.
      • Ensure you update PayPal account, bank account, or credit card details whenever required.
      • Make sure you find out more about a client before you accept the project.
      • For bigger projects, you can bill the clients upfront up to 30 per cent.
      • Try to establish a rapport with a few accountants, and so that you can seek advice from them when required.
      • Be sure to send your invoices promptly.
      • Get in touch with your clients and find out their payments cycle.
      • Do follow-up if the client missed a payment.

Final thoughts

We hope you got a fair idea about how to get started as a freelancer. Always remember, you can never stay still when you are in freelancing. You have to keep finding out new ways to do things, learn new skills, expand your knowledge, and stay up-to-date with what is happening in your industry.

Want to further your freelance career? Check out TapChief. It is a platform where you can find open projects, interact with prospective clients, join communities of freelancers, and more.

Sucheth

Sucheth is a Content Marketer at TapChief. He is a marketer by day and an avid reader by night.

4 thoughts on “What is freelancing? A guide to kick-starting a successful freelance career”

  1. The content is really great for someone who is willing to start freelancing. Like said here, being productive and motivated was the hardest part. It requires a lot of effort.
    I would like to add one more point, by starting a career as a freelancer you will come out of your comfort zone which really helps in your growth.

  2. I am working full time and was looking for some freelancing work in India.I wasn’t sure if there are enough opportunities in Indian ecosystem that can help one grow as a freelancer. I came across this article and this has kind of led me to my next steps. Very well written with all the information in one place. Thanks so much!

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