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What Is a Freelancer? Definition, Skills and Popular Jobs

June 10, 2021

In the internet era, the global freelance market has rapidly increased in size and scope. Freelancing can be rewarding and fulfilling for those who want to set their own working hours and prefer working with many different clients. However, getting started as a freelancer may take time to build a portfolio and client base. In this article, we will examine what a freelancer is, how to become one and some essential skills required for freelancing.

What is a freelancer?

A freelancer is a self-employed individual who offers professional services to clients for a pre-determined fee. Although freelance work is typically short term, freelancers may choose to work with a client or company over an extended period of time. Freelance work usually involves working for multiple clients at the same time or in succession.

How does freelancing work?

Freelancers offer their services directly to clients or through internet platforms. There are several websites that allow clients and companies to search for skilled professionals to work on their projects. Freelancers develop their profiles and portfolios on these websites and can bid on projects that are relevant to their skills. They also use social media as a tool to market their skills and get clients. Freelancers are typically hired on a contract basis and are paid according to the nature and duration of the work.

Related: How to Get a Gig Job

Types of freelancers

Depending on the nature of your freelance engagement, you may belong to one or more of the following categories:

1. Independent contractor

An independent contractor is a working professional who does not have a specific employer. Most freelancers in the market identify themselves as independent contractors. An independent contractor may work repeatedly with the same employer/client but will not be considered a regular, salaried employee.

2. Part-time freelancer

Part-time freelancers typically have a full-time job, but they do freelancing as a second job that allows them to make some extra income. Many professionals who work regular jobs also do part-time freelancing to hone skills that they may not necessarily use as part of their full-time job.

3. Diversified worker

Diversified workers are similar to part-time freelancers in the sense that they have multiple sources of income. However, their services and skill sets are more diverse than that of part-time freelancers.

4. Temporary workers

Temporary workers are employed on fixed-term contracts for specific projects or tasks. They usually have specialised skill sets for niche jobs and often get to take breaks between active projects.

5. Business owners

Freelancers who identify them as business owners usually employ people under them. This is similar to entrepreneurship and is a more formal arrangement of freelancing.

Essential skills for freelancers

These are some essential skills required for freelancing:

Management skills

As a freelancer, you manage the day-to-day functioning of your business as well as its growth. Like any business owners, freelancers also have to make expansion plans and execute them to grow their business and increase revenues. Sometimes, larger projects may require freelancers to work with groups of professionals. In such scenarios, it helps if you can manage and guide the group's collective efforts towards a common goal.

Related: Management Skills: Definition and Examples

Organisational skills

Freelancers often coordinate a lot of different tasks on a daily basis. You have to plan and organise several aspects of your work like finances, marketing strategies, communication, project schedules, workspaces and equipment. It is important for you to streamline your workflow to save time and reduce confusion.

Communication skills

Freelancers may have to handle a lot of back-and-forth communication with clients and other professionals as part of their work. Your communication should be prompt, professional and appropriate. Clients often prefer freelancers who can articulate their thoughts and ideas clearly.

Related: How To Improve Communication Skills

Negotiation skills

Freelancers often have to convince clients to give them projects to work on. Clients may go through a lot of freelancers for a single project. You need to be able to get their attention and gain their trust to stay in business with them. Negotiation also extends to discussions regarding pay. You have to offer competitive rates to clients and convince them that the pay is appropriate for the amount of work involved.

Accounting and business skills

Freelancers typically handle their own finances. They are also responsible for calculating and filing their own taxes. This makes it important to accurately track and record income and expenditure. You should have strong accounting skills to maintain records of your finances and minimise losses. Good accounting skills can also help you make financial plans for growing your business.

Marketing skills

Freelancing being inherently competitive, you must be good at marketing your skills and services to improve your visibility to clients. Social media is a powerful tool when used appropriately and many freelancers have specialised social media profiles through which they conduct their business. It is good practice to maintain a portfolio/website to share with clients. In the freelance market, client testimonials can also act as a verifiable record of work experience.

Qualifications required

Freelancers typically do not need any formal qualifications, as long as they have the skills required to complete a job. However, a formal degree in a relevant subject or field can improve your reliability in the eyes of a client. Proper documentation of work and a strong online presence can appeal to clients when you approach them with proposals.

It is also beneficial to pursue online certifications for skills and software that is relevant to your field of practice. A well-recognised certification from a competent authority can improve your prospects in the freelance market. For example, visual designers often pursue certifications from the developer company for the software they use. These certifications often come in different levels and highlight a candidate's experience and expertise in using a software tool.

How to become a freelancer

Follow these steps to start your freelancing career:

1. Develop your skills

Identify the field you want to work in and develop skills that are relevant to the field. This includes gaining proficiency in using equipment, tools and software commonly required in the field. Good technical and operational knowledge is essential for communicating with clients and other professionals in the field.

2. Define your business

Determine what kind of business you want to run and what services you will be providing. As a freelancer, you may have to effectively brand your services to cater to your preferred client base. Do some research to find out what other professionals in your field charge for similar services. For specialised services, you may charge more than the market average, depending on your expertise.

3. Find your target client base

As a freelancer, you have the freedom to decide what type of clients you want to work with. Decide whether you will take up short-term assignments or long-term work opportunities. You can also choose between working with individuals, small businesses and large companies.

4. Build a portfolio

Potential clients will want proof of your abilities to determine whether you are the right fit for a particular job. Prepare and maintain a portfolio that contains an overview of your skills and qualifications. Add projects to this portfolio as and when they are completed. If you offer a variety of services, consider categorising your work or preparing dedicated portfolios for each service.

5. Establish your online presence

It is good practice to create a professional website for your business. Your website should contain your portfolio, contact details and any relevant information about your business and the services you provide. If you sell products as part of your freelance business, you can set up an online store that lets your clients make purchases directly through the website. Use social media to showcase your work and market your business to a wider audience. Sign up on freelancing websites to improve your opportunities.

6. Develop and expand your client base

Many freelancers choose to work repeatedly with the same clients over extended periods of time. This helps them build a client base and maintain strong professional relationships. In the freelance market, client testimonials provide solid proof of a person's reliability and the quality of their work. Satisfied clients often recommend a freelancer's services to other clients who have similar work. With time, a freelancer's client base increases in size and provides them with a steady supply of work throughout the year. In addition to this, they can also expand their client base by approaching new clients with proposals and testimonials.

Related: Utilise Your Aptitude to Find the Right Career

What kind of work do freelancers do?

These are some of the most popular jobs among freelancers:

  • Photography
  • Tutoring
  • Data entry
  • Writing
  • Editing
  • Graphic design
  • Illustration
  • Coding
  • Film editing
  • Animation
  • Web development
  • 3D modelling and CAD
  • UI/UX design

Related: 20 Part-Time Jobs That Pay Well

Do freelancers get paid?

Typically, freelancers bill clients by the hour or by the project. For long projects, freelancers may request clients to release funds in stages or on completion of project milestones. Freelancers who pursue long term work opportunities with companies may even be paid on a weekly or monthly basis, like regular company employees. The average base salary of a freelancer is ₹2,86,806 per year. This figure can go significantly higher depending on your qualifications and specialisations.

Contracts are drafted prior to most business engagements to formally define payment, deadlines and other important conditions of the work. Freelancers who use online freelancing platforms usually pay a share of their earnings as a service fee to the website.

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