You’re An Online Freelancer – So, What The Hell Do You Actually Do?
“A freelancer – yeah i’ve heard of it, it’s that new diet where you eat nothing but dehydrated apricots for a month straight, right?”
This is literally how I felt the first time someone tried to tell me about freelancing.
I’d heard the term before of course, but only really in association with other titles such as writer, or photographer in 90s romantic comedies.
Or back when displaying your occupation became a cool thing on Facebook, and everyone had that one unemployed friend who set theirs as ‘freelance loverboy’, because why not eh?
Either way, I had absolutely no clue what the hell it was, and in my true Eastern European nature – I was suspicious.
After all, a job that pays well and requires minimal study just sounded the start of a pyramid scheme sales pitch to me.
So, what is a freelancer?
A freelancer is someone who works for free.
No, not really but that’s what I read the first time after that initial conversation when I decided to educate myself and looked up this mysterious profession.
I would later come to understand that the sentence actually read:
“A freelancer is someone who works for a fee”
Makes way more sense right? Yeah, good one Mags. Anyways, other than probably not being able to put ‘impeccable attention to detail’ on my resume anymore, this experience also taught me that the majority of articles on how to get started as a freelancer are written in one of two ways.
The first of which is that of a tone that seems to be the literary equivalent of watching paint dry. Boring AF.
The second way I’ve found to be a bit harsh and incredibly intimidating. I’m all about hard work but reading that I’m going to have to be cold calling people for opportunities as a freelancer because it’s a cut-throat world out there made me want to go hug myself in the shower for a little while.
We all know first impressions count, and my first impression of freelancing was pretty shite.
But if I had never given freelancing a second look I wouldn’t be here, so I’m definitely glad I dug a bit deeper.
I got past my initial negative impression by recognising one simple fact – the internet is full of people who think they know everything.
Ultimately, every individual’s experience of any job is always completely different, and the same is true of working online as a freelancer.
Long story short – a freelancer is a self-employed person offering services, usually to businesses and often to multiple clients at a time. It doesn’t have to be remote – freelancers existed before the Internet. Despite what others may say, in my experience, it really isn’t hard to get started.
What qualifications do you need to become a freelancer?
Let’s dive into what a freelancer actually does and what skills or qualifications you need to become one.
Let me first start with what I think of when people ask me what I do.
I like to think of it as that moment in a 90s movie where a secret spy or assassin makes up some lame profession in order to avoid further questions about their career.
It’s a bit like that except instead of my job being a big government secret, it can just be a bit complicated for people to wrap their heads around leading to awkward lulls and nervous laughter.
This isn’t because the job itself is complicated, it’s simply because it’s new and different from a lot of people’s traditional views of what a “job” may entail. Freelancers or people who work remotely have actually existed for decades.
Social media management, however, is pretty brand spankin’ new. I definitely didn’t think about the person creating the content streaming through my Instagram feed.
Now that I am the woman behind the Instagram curtain, I fully understand that big brands actually have to have people to manage their social accounts because there just isn’t enough hours in a day.
My job, however, isn’t quite as straightforward as just managing someone’s single social platform. This is because, against all sane advice, I refuse to limit myself to one or two skills that I would excel at as a freelancer. The name for this is being a multipotentialite. You see, most people will tell you to fit inside one niche only – do one thing and do it really freaking well.
If you’re capable of that then kudos to you.
I, however, have a serious case of the stagnitis boredomitis, a not-so-Latin term for my condition of getting extremely bored with repetitive, stagnant work. Because of this non-medical, made-up condition, I excel at doing work that’s dynamic and continuously helps me grow and develop my skill-set.
This also allows me to charge higher rates because I can often do the work of 3 or 4 freelancers who all do their one thing, really really well.
It allows my clients to minimise the time they spend communicating with their staff all over the world and just have one point of contact (me) for various tasks.
Essentially, it keeps me entertained and my clients happy.
All of the skills I use daily in my freelance work I pretty much learned about 4 weeks prior to me getting my first freelance client.
These include things like creating and scheduling content for social media, writing blog posts and optimising them so search engines can help the ideal readers find them, creating branded content for websites, website design, newsletter creation, data entry, community management etc. Told you it was hard to explain right? Cue the awkward laughter.
I took a course which taught me the absolute basics of what I needed to know and then just learned the rest as I went.
The internet is a magical place where you can learn on the go and when you encounter a problem, your pal Google normally has a solution.
So, you can freelance with whatever skills you already have. As long as your spelling is on point or you know how to use spell check, you can be a transcriptionist or a data entry specialist from day one.
If, however, you want to make good money online and also not be competing with thousands of others charging five bucks an hour for the same job – then you may need a bit of help.
All it takes is just someone to give you the confidence to land your first gig, and give you the skills you need to get started. Our course here will do just that.
Also, If you’re one of the lucky ducks who LOVES their offline job and just wants to travel the world as a freelance accountant, lawyer or financial planner then great news for you!
You already have the skills you need to do what you do and just need to take them on the road. You can plan people’s financial finance things from the rice terraces of Vietnam. Ok, confession (in case it wasn’t blatantly obvious already) I actually have absolutely no idea what a financial planner does.
Sorry if this is a passion of yours, maybe you can explain it to me sometime over virtual margaritas.
Freelancing vs. Digital Nomadism vs. Location Independence
Depending on how much research you’ve done into this topic, you may have heard these three terms floating around, sometimes interchangeably. I wanted to just briefly cover the difference and why you may see me use all three in the content on our blog at some point.
A freelancer (as we discussed) is just someone who performs work on a contract basis. Google will have you believe that this term is normally associated with people working only on an hourly basis and generally without long-term commitments to a specific client.
This just isn’t true, or at least not any more. As a freelancer you can certainly work on monthly contracts (much like a salary) as opposed to hourly rates and lots of freelancers retain the same clients over several years. Whether you choose to work remotely or not as a freelancer is up to you (and your employer).
The difference is that normally you won’t have an annual salary and as you’re technically a self-employed contractor you will not have any medical, dental or any other benefits which you may have with offline jobs.
A freelancer may simply be a stay at home parent or just an individual who works from their home office. While the term ‘digital nomad’ is saved for those who almost exclusively perform their freelancing work while travelling.
The type of work they perform may be identical, the point of difference here is the choice of location and lifestyle.
The problem with this term is that it covers an incredibly broad spectrum of lifestyles.
Over the years the term digital nomad has become associated with budget travellers who live rent-free through housesitting or stay in hostels (check out some of our all-time favourites) and work in co-working spaces.
They may use their paycheques to fund their travels but generally may not have a great deal left over. It also covers people who travel slowly and prefer to sacrifice spending money on nights out in order to be able to stay in nicer accommodation.
The terms location independence or location independent entrepreneur or freelancer came about as a way of people trying to differentiate themselves from the digital nomads. It was also a way for people to clear up the never-ending identity struggle.
PS. For actual budget travel tips geared towards digital nomads, freelancers and location independent workers, check out our posts on finding the best accommodation, booking cheap flights and money-saving while you travel.
Are you a traveller who writes or a writer who travels?
Who the heck knows, but people who identify really strongly with the type of work they do online (as writers often do) will usually prefer to refer to themselves as a “location independent [insert awesome profession here]”. Because the term digital nomad sometimes just doesn’t cut it.
Being location independent basically just means your work doesn’t tie you down to a specific location. This also means you can choose to travel anywhere in the world, but it doesn’t mean you will.
People who are location independent and do decide to travel, generally do so slowly, and perhaps out of a suitcase instead of a backpack that’s held together by duct tape and hope.
Again, all three of these are used interchangeably quite a lot, but knowing the difference might help you navigate through our posts.
So, I guess all that’s left is: How can you become a freelancer?
Well, first there’s the hazing rituals, then there’s an oath ceremony and then you’re given the secret key into the freelancing society.
Ok, not really. Anyone can become a freelancer and quite easily. I got my start on Upwork.com so feel free to check it out and browse through freelancers and jobs to see what it’s all about.
This is definitely the easiest way to start as they manage all invoices, payments, conflict resolutions etc. Basically all the crap I hate doing. In exchange, they take a percentage of your hourly wage but as long as you set your hourly rate with this in mind you’ll be fine.
Plus the bonus is that everyone on Upwork sets their rates in U.S. Dollars which for me as a Canadian living in Australia is a fantastic exchange rate. There are a lot of freelancing platforms out there as well as the option of going out on your own and advertising your services through a personal website.
The choice is personal, however, I definitely stand by my decision to begin my freelancing career on Upwork because it gave me confidence in my abilities, lots of additional skills and since I have a 100% ‘job success’ score, I never have to look for work. I’m not saying this to brag, I’m simply saying it so you know what’s achievable.
When I say I don’t have to look for work I mean that clients will approach me to work on their projects on the basis of them liking what I’m putting down on my profile. This magical trend began happening after around 3 months of me working through Upwork, having started with minimal skills mind you.
So take comfort in the fact that with the right skills and the right attitude you really can have a brand new career in freelancing.
Replacing your full time income in just a few short months.
Or earning just enough money to support your travel addiction – the choice is entirely yours!
Do you have any questions about freelancing that I didn’t cover here? Is there anything holding you back from taking the plunge into working online? Let me know in the comments below and I’ll happily answer them!
Want more freelancing clients?
Subscribe to our newsletter and get instant access to our free guide: How to Create a Winning Proposal on Freelancing Platforms!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Maggie is a