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Getting Started Freelancing

One serendipitous conversation in the teachers’ room at my school got me into freelance work. Now I work as an independent contractor on a site called oDesk. For hourly jobs, I use an application that tracks the time I work, and I get paid automatically each week. For jobs with a fixed price, say 10 articles for $50, I get paid upon completion of the job. So far my experience with freelance work has been a dream. I spend 4 to 5 hours each day “at work,” and still have plenty of time to sightsee, visit with friends and relax while on the road. I can even create a “weekend” for myself anywhere in the week.

Of course, freelancing can be done from anywhere in the world. And you don’t have to pack up everything and flee the country like I did.  Freelancing can even be used to supplement a full time job that doesn’t pay enough. Many who freelance full time now made a gradual transition out of their old job and into their new freelancing career, all the while saving up their extra earnings.

Freelance work is often also called contract work, as you work on independent contracts, sometimes for a variety of employers. Right now, I have three hourly contracts and two fixed price contracts. That’s enough to keep me busy all week. My hourly rate has more than doubled since I started. Once you receive excellent feedback upon successful completion, you can also start to ask for more money. But you’ve often got to pay your dues by taking smaller jobs or lower rates until you build your freelance rep.

Financially, freelancing pays more than enough to support my lifestyle in the developing world. And, the more you work and successfully complete your assignments, the more money you can expect to earn.

At first you may not even know that you have valuable skills to offer to freelance employers. Take a moment to think about your marketable skills:

-Do you have experience with computer software or programming?

There are many freelance jobs that deal with writing codes or designing software.

-Do you have experience with writing and/ or research?

You could work as a writer for an educational, travel or business website, as well as assisting academics in their research.

-Are you proficient with Microsoft programs, such as Word, Excel or Access? Do you have experience with database administration or maintenance?

Data entry jobs abound in the freelance world. Knowing your way around Excel or Access can give you a great advantage. Databases can often be accessed remotely, and there are many companies looking for database administrators.

Have you done graphic or web design before?

Business, travel, health and financial websites are just a few of the areas you could use these skills.

-Do you speak, read and write a language other than English?

You could be a translator, or an online or in person tutor.

-Do you have skills with photography, Photoshop, or architectural design?

You could take on photography assignments for journalistic purposes, or sell your photos to websites. Engineering and architectural forms can always use freelance drafts people.

-Are you a math whiz?

-Business and accounting skills can also be marketable, as many people are looking for help with the financial side of their business, or even just some tax preparation.

-Do you have something to say to the world?

If you write a blog for a hobby, think about getting paid to write online.

Contract work and freelancing can also teach you new skills. Before I started freelancing, I knew about academic research and was fairly proficient with Microsoft programs. But I had to learn about posting blogs, creating hyperlinks, SEO and BMR writing, and editing and designing web pages, and I’m so glad that I did!

Freelancing for several employers might even put you in a good position for finding a new job doing what you love, if an employer decides to take you for full time work.

If you don’t find work on a “middle man” site such as oDesk, you’ll have to start marketing yourself and networking. This can be as easy as having a business card or website made up. Make sure that whichever you choose, you clearly describe your skills and some of your relevant past work experience. Talk to other freelancers too, and see if they have any good ideas for getting your foot in the door. They might even know an employer who’s looking for more staff. Referrals are a very common employment tool freelancers use to find more work.

How do you know what to charge for your time and skills? Your freelance rate will vary according to the nature of the work and your client’s budget. Be realistic about the time the job will take, and set a reasonable rate, but don’t go too low. Negotiation is part of the game. Be generous with time estimates; if you finish before the deadline, your employer will be even happier to pay you.

Most independent contractors have to handle their own finance, which means billing, collecting and doing your taxes properly. You will have a 1099 form (the freelancer’s version of a W-2) to work from. Experience will help you create your own system for following up with clients, but don’t be afraid to do some research on proper tax filing either.

Some experts suggest that you open an account where you hold the taxes you have withheld for yourself from your freelance work, then just use it to pay your taxes when the time comes.

Communication is the key.  As a rule, freelancers work with a variety of clientele, each with different communication styles. Ask for clarification on anything you’re not sure about. Always be crystal clear about what you will do, and expect the same from your employers. Make sure that you are available via email, Skype or phone most of the time.

If you are looking for work, check online frequently. There are many freelancing sites that can connect freelancers  and clients.

Manage your time wisely. This is especially crucial if you still have a full time job. Your freelance work should be something you can easily schedule into your work week, without burning out. Transitioning to freelancing will mean adjusting your lifestyle, as you will need to manage your own time and have self discipline to meet deadlines. You’ll also have to watch that tricky work/ life balance, so workaholics beware: just because there are 24 hours in a day doesn’t mean you should be working all of them.

You will enjoy a new found freedom, as you make your own hours and choose the jobs that are just right for you. The only thing left to do then is give yourself permission to love your work, and collect your pay!


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