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Tips and Tricks from Two Decades of Freelance Experience

    Last Updated on January 9, 2023

    So you want to be a freelancer? I’ve been freelancing for more than twenty years. If you want to count my paper route, babysitting jobs, and lawn-mowing stints, however, I’ve probably been freelancing since I was 10.

    You’re probably not interested in hearing about my paper route though. So here is some advice from twenty years as a freelance caterer, web designer, teacher, and writer on two continents.

    What is a Freelancer?
    How Much Should I Charge as a Freelancer?
    Where Can I Find Freelance Work?
    What Tools Do I Need as a Freelancer?

    So You Want to be a Freelancer. Here is Some Advice.

    The Digital Gig Economy didn’t invent freelancers. I have always worked on the side of my regular job. A lot of people do. Moonlighting isn’t a new idea. Sadly it’s often necessary to keep your head above water.

    When I was a chef I also catered privately. When I worked at an agency I also had private web clients. Now I teach and write for clients. Work has always defined me, but that’s my Protestant work ethic showing. Regardless, a side hustle is a great thing!

    • + Freelancing gives you an extra income
    • + Freelancing gives you a different perspective on your job
    • + Freelancing empowers you for the day you are no longer needed at your current job

    On the other hand, freelancing means you have to do all the work and make all the money. The real question is, do you really want to be your own boss?

    The buck stops with you. Always. There is no one to dump on. You can only blame yourself. Barry from Sales doesn’t exist anymore. YOU are Barry from Sales. And you’re Karen from Client Services too.

    7 plus Reasons You May NOT Want to Be Self-Employed

    What is a Freelancer?

    Freelancers are people who work independently and are not necessarily tied to a specific company or organization. Online Marketing freelancers may work in a variety of fields and industries, including design, writing, programming, marketing, consulting, and more.

    Each freelancer’s skills and experience will be unique to their specific area of work, and they may have different levels of expertise and knowledge in different areas.

    The term “freelancer” originated in the 19th century and refers to a person who works on a project-by-project basis rather than being permanently employed by a company. The word may have come from the phrase “free lance”, which refers to a knight who was not affiliated with any particular lord and was free to offer his services to anyone who needed them. This concept was later applied to people who work independently and offer their skills and services to various clients or employers on a freelance basis.

    Cool! We’re knights. Or mercenaries, depending on your bend.

    How Many People Work as Freelancers?

    Today there are approximately 44 million freelancers currently working in the U.S. By some estimates, there as many as 1.5 billion freelancers in the world. That’s almost 20% of the global population.

    Overall, the percent freelancing in 2021 remained constant at 36% of the U.S. workforce, but 2022 ushered in a shift in the type of freelance work being done. This year, we found that there was a drop in temporary workers, but an increase in skilled freelancing.

    What is the Average Hourly Rate for Freelancers?

    According to the 2019 Upwork survey, the average hourly rate for a freelancer is $28 per hour. However, this can vary greatly depending on the industry, location, and level of experience of the freelancer. My lowest hourly rate for Nonprofit clients is about $40, but it’s higher if you are a regular business.

    So How Can a Website Cost $5?

    I don’t know how that’s possible, but websites are one of the many things that are easier to do these days. They take less time because technology has drastically reduced the amount of work.

    Originally a website took me 60 hours to complete. This was before the existence of CMS like WordPress. Now the same website will take about 10 hours to complete. Why? Most of the things requiring programming are now included in WordPress. For example contact forms, image sliders, responsive design, and styling of the website. Even a shop system is today a free plugin.

    How Much Should I Charge as a Freelancer?

    Your hourly rate will decrease if you agree to deliver a service for a set price and it takes longer than anticipated. Only your experience can help you decide how many hours a project will take to complete. Allow yourself 10% in and 10% out for every project. You can decide whether you refund unused hours to your client, but it’s a definite way for them to remember and talk about you.

    The “10% in and out” Example

    A client wants an SEO audit done on their website.

    I know this should take me 5 hours for a quick audit, or 8 hours for a full audit. To be safe, I quote them 6 hours and 10 hours respectively. That is 30 minutes extra in and 30 minutes extra out for the quick audit, and one hour extra in and one hour extra out for the full audit.

    You never know if you run into difficulties, or if the client comes back with a different scope of work. If the audit takes me less time I charge only for the time taken.

    Should I Ask for a Deposit?

    Yes. Depending on the type of work you are doing, you can be paid upfront for your work too. I generally request a 30% to 50% deposit on any work I do. For writing work – articles I write for clients – I charge 100% upfront.

    You may be working on a website for a month or more before it is complete. Some times a project can be put on hold, or take longer than expected if the scope changes. It can take weeks before your invoice is paid too. Asking for a 30% to 50% deposit ensures you have some money in the meantime.

    If this is a new client, you may not be comfortable working without a deposit, and they may not be comfortable paying too large a deposit.

    My rule of thumb for charging a deposit:

    • + less than 500: 100% up front
    • + 500 – 2000: 50% deposit
    • + more than 2000: 30% deposit

    Make Sure You Charge Enough

    It’s really important to understand the costs involved in freelancing. You need to pay for everything. You will need to pay for your internet costs. Even your vacation days will need to be priced into your hourly rate. How about months when you don’t have so many clients?

    My partner, Bridget Willard gave a great talk on exactly this topic at WordCamp a few years back.

    Where Can I Find Freelance Work?

    There are many places you can go to find freelance work. There are countless websites where you can create a profile and connect with possible clients. Honestly, however, I have never gotten work over such portals.

    Most of my work comes from people I know or people who know people I know. Ideally, after one project is completed, it will serve as an advertisement of your skills and will attract other clients.

    Being visible is an important part of finding work. Writing a book, even a small one via Kindle. Creating a YouTube channel to upload and share movies. Content Marketing is a great way to get noticed. Be active and engaged on relevant social media channels. What do I mean by relevant? Participate on those channels where your network and potential clients are active.

    Some work comes from my connections on Twitter, interestingly enough. I also get clients from teaching classes.

    To begin your Freelancing journey, look around you and find a need that matches your interests and skills. Do you want to make websites? See if your local pizzeria has a website and if not offer to create one. Interested in social media? Then help them with their social media. You get the idea. I have done quite a lot of pro bono work – and still do – in order to advertise myself.

    The best advice I can give you is to be proactive and consistently seek out new clients and opportunities.

    It’s also important to establish a strong personal brand and network with other professionals in your field. Continually educate yourself and stay up-to-date on industry trends and best practices.

    The 10 Best Websites for Freelance Jobs in 2023

    Not on the list above, but a tip from my own experience, if you are a WordPress developer and looking for freelance work, check out Codeable. Codeable is a network of the world’s best freelance WordPress developers.

    “Why freelance? Where do I find work? How do I approach clients? How do I price my services? How do I increase my earnings over time? What career paths can I take? The Unstoppable Freelancer answers all these questions – and much more.”

    I can definitely recommend this book written by Jovan Cicmil.

    What Tools Do I Need as a Freelancer?

    There are many tools you’ll need as a freelancer because you are basically a one-person business. Depending on the type of work you do, you’ll need different tools. A private caterer will need an industrial oven, but a web designer will probably only need a microwave.

    Don’t invest too much money on the first day. You may be tempted to buy a year’s membership to the gym, but if you only go once a month it’s cheaper to buy a day pass. The same goes for software.

    Canva, Zoom, Adobe, Microsoft, and many others offer annual and annual rates. Be careful what you commit yourself to until the money comes in. On the plus side, a certain percentage of each expense can be written off on your taxes.

    Some of the Tools You Will Need as a Freelancer:

    1. A computer and internet connection. I have a laptop for home and for travel. I like Lenovo Thinkpads.
    2. A good quality phone and camera. I have two phones, one for private and one for business use, both from Samsung.
    3. A business and private email account. I use Gmail privately, and the email client for my websites for business. I like Mailchimp for my email marketing though.
    4. Cloud storage and file transfer tools. I have very little in the cloud – but a lot on hard drives. I’m old school. For collaboration, I use Google Docs and I like WeTransfer for filesharing.
    5. Communication tools like Skype or Zoom. I prefer Zoom, and have been using it extensively over the past three years. Privately, nothing beats WhatsApp for me.
    6. Professional software: Depending on the type of work you do, you may need specialized software, such as graphic design software I use Canva and Photopea because they are both free. Regardless of what you do, you should also have a project management tool (when necessary I use Trello), word processing software (Word seems fine, but I use Hemmingway and Grammarly for edits and readability), and some sort of accounting software.
    7. A calendar and scheduling tool. Many of my clients like Calendly.
    8. A time-tracking tool like Timeular.
    9. A place to sell your ideas – call it a content marketing platform. YouTube and medium are both incredible platforms, and I have published all of my books using Kindle Publishing. It’s free and gives you exposure while offering a platform to publish. Another good publishing option is Gumroad.
    10. A website to showcase your work and make it easier for potential clients to find you. I use WordPress. I’ve used many other systems too, like Drupal and Joomla for my websites. In addition to the SEO bonus, having a Google Business Profile offers you a free website too. Even Facebook offer a free business page. Your website needn’t cost you a cent!
    11. Social media accounts. It would be a shame if you couldn’t network. Check my social media links in the footer of my website. I try to be in as many places as seem prudent.
    12. A payment processing system and financial management tool like PayPal.
    13. A place to work. This can be the airport, Starbucks, or your living room. It could also be a shared workspace or office space in the city. Some companies offer memberships giving you access to space in whatever city you find yourself in.

    Freelancing isn’t Free but it Doesn’t Cost Anything to Try

    Running your own business is a lot of work. It’s hard when you’re sick, and it’s often difficult doing everything alone. It costs you time and can be a source of stress.

    Freelancing is, however, a chance to do things your way and explore your potential. Don’t wait until you retire to wonder what could have been. Try it! You’ll, probably, like it!

    Are you a freelancer? Did I miss anything? Please let me know!

    Further Reading for Freelancers

    With many thanks to for the image!