So you’ve heard that becoming a freelancer can help you have more freedom as a work-at-home mom, give you more flexibility, and allow you to support your family while still having time for your kids.
And you’re wondering, can I really do this? Is this for me?
It’s scary to jump into something like freelancing, potentially leaving a full-time job or starting a business for the first time.
In this article, I’m going to give you all the details about becoming a freelancer, give you some honest pros and cons (from my 6+ years of freelancing experience), and share my story of how my freelancing business has evolved (and what I’ve learned) over the years.
By the end, you should have a pretty good idea of whether or not freelancing is right for you. And if you’re still excited about it by the end, I say go for it!
Let’s start with the basics:
Table of Contents
- What is a Freelancer?
- Pros of Becoming a Freelancer
- Cons of Becoming a Freelancer
- 12 Tips for Starting a Freelance Business
- My Personal Experience – Freelancing For Over 6 Years
What is a Freelancer?
A freelancer is someone who works for businesses on a contract basis. They will usually specialize in some kind of service and provide it to the business as needed.
Freelancers are not employees, which means they cost less to the business that’s hiring them. It also means that the freelancer has more freedom over how they work, who they work for, how much they work, and what they charge.
What Do Freelancers Do?
Freelancers can do pretty much anything, but most people provide valuable business services to their clients.
Popular freelancing businesses include:
- Freelance writing
- Freelance editing
- Virtual assistance (doing anything an assistant would do, but only for the hours a business needs and based online)
- Online business management (OBM)
- Social media management
- Graphic design
- Accounting and tax prep
- And more
How Much Do Freelancers Get Paid?
There is no hard and fast rule for how much freelancers get paid.
It comes down to many factors:
- Your skill level
- Your experience level
- How much value you bring to the business
- The size of the client
- The client budget
- Your industry
- Rates in your location
Freelancers are quick to charge low rates because they’re not the same as employees. But keep in mind that as a freelancer, you’re saving the business tons of money:
- They don’t have to prepare an office space or provide you any equipment
- They aren’t paying your taxes, insurance, or other fees
- They don’t need to pay you a salary, only paying you when they need you
And you’re taking on more of the risk by working for them, because they can choose to stop working with you at any time.
For those reasons, I recommend freelancers to pad their rates enough to cover all of these fees, and find clients that are willing to pay them. Anything less and it’s not worth it for you (at least over the long-term).
How to Calculate a Basic Freelancing Hourly Rate
Take your ideal salary (at least what you could get in a job with your skills)—and remember that you’re paying for your own equipment, taxes, insurance, software, training, and more, so make sure that it covers all of that.
Decide how many weeks of vacation you’d likely take off during a year, then subtract that from 52 to see the weeks you’ll be working in the year.
Then divide your salary by the number of weeks you’ll be working to get the amount you’ll want to make weekly.
Next, figure out how many hours you’ll (realistically) be able to work in a week, and divide that in half. (Yes, half. You’ll usually only get to work about half of your hours for clients, and the rest will often be used for other non-billable tasks.)
Now take your weekly salary and divide it by that number of hours (half of the hours you can work in a week).
This is your hourly rate. Seem high? It might be, and you might not be able to charge that right off the bat. But, as I explain in my tips below, I don’t recommend pricing based on time, but something else entirely. (See that section for more details.)
How to Find Freelancing Jobs
So how to find people to work for?
If you can, the first place to look is within your own network. You can ask around, post on social media, and see if anyone bites. You might find some initial clients to work for. If you have local networking event or business meetups, that could be another place to try (just make sure there are established clients in attendance, not tons of freelancers like yourself).
Next, you can start looking online for clients in places like:
- Upwork – I’ve found a lot of great clients here, and while it’s not the best place to work with clients for a long time, it’s a great place to start.
- LinkedIn / Twitter / Social media – You can post content that shows off your business, then network with businesses you’d like to work with and let them know you have availability if they are interested in hiring you.
- Cold emailing – If you can find someone’s email address, or if you use an email finder app, you can send people cold emails letting them know you’re available if they’re in need of your services.
The basic idea is this: No matter how you do it, you’ve got to reach out and offer people your services. You’re not desperate for a job, you’re offering a helpful service to a business that needs it. The majority of businesses will not need your help, but enough will that you can get fully booked and be sufficiently busy for the entire year.
(If you’re interested in Upwork, I’ve written a post about how to find good clients on the platform.)
So, is becoming a freelancer the right next step for you? I’ll break down the pros and cons:
Pros of Becoming a Freelancer
✅ Flexibility and freedom
You call the shots. Want to take off Tuesday? Go for it. Want to skip the entire month of March? You can do it.
✅ Earn what you want
You can set your own rates, which means (if you can provide adequate value), you can earn as much as you want. That doesn’t mean you’re going to get rich quick, it just means that you don’t have to wait for a measly 1% pay raise at the end of the year. If you can swing it, you can raise your prices whenever you want.
✅ No boss
No one is telling you what to do. No performance reviews, no boring meetings, no danger of getting fired.
✅ Do the work you want
You can choose to do the work you want to do. If you don’t like it, you have every right to say no. Or you can actively seek out only the most interesting or exciting jobs.
✅ Design your own business
You have the freedom to set up your business however you want. You can decide how you structure your fees, how you manage your schedule, how much profit you take out, who you hire, and so on.
✅ Could build into something bigger
Once you have success as a freelancer, you have the opportunity to create something out of it. You could specialize and become an agency that offers specific services. You could build an audience and teach others your skills. You could become a coach or a consultant. Or you could develop products or tools and pivot to selling those, for example.
✅ Pivot any time
Sick of your industry or service? You could build up some new skills and change to something totally different if you want.
Cons of Becoming a Freelancer
🤷♀️ You’re your own boss
On the flip side of not having a boss, you’re the one accountable for yourself. You’re in charge of your deadlines, so you must be disciplined, or you can damage your reputation with clients. You also feel all of the pressure of running a business that CEOs usually deal with, like figuring out how to be profitable and wondering if you’re taking the business in the right direction.
🤷♀️ Lots of alone time
This may be a deal-breaker for some extroverts out there. I’m an introvert, so I love having extended periods of time by myself where I can just work on things. But it’s important to understand that being a freelancer means a lot of time by yourself, and no coworkers to chat with over lunch.
🤷♀️ Must bring in your own clients
You’re now your own marketing and sales team. You’ve got to get on the phone with clients and pitch your services to them (or you’ll need to pay someone else to bring them to you).
🤷♀️ Client management
After closing your own clients, you’ll need to manage them. That means building a relationship, communicating regularly, managing their expectations, delivering on time, delighting them with your service, and following up for any payment or work issues.
🤷♀️ Money is not guaranteed
You might be doing well one month, then a couple of clients cancel on you and you’re suddenly out on half your income. To keep yourself safe, you need to have a way to bring in new clients when you need (or have plenty of savings in case this happens).
🤷♀️ Takes time and energy
I personally couldn’t make it work when I had a baby and toddler at home. Freelancing well (to get paid well) requires focus and effort, and it’s really hard to do that with little kids at home all day. I don’t recommend doing it unless you have other childcare options.
🤷♀️ File your own taxes
Yup, you’ve still got to pay taxes, but now you’ve got to file them yourself. Same for insurance and anything else your employer might have covered.
🤷♀️ Deal with your own legal issues
If a client is unhappy and pursues legal action, you’ve got to deal with it. That’s why setting up contracts and getting legal advice for your business is highly recommended.
🤷♀️ Must stay relevant
There are always going to be more freelancers, and if they can do something better and cheaper than you, you’re at risk of losing your clients to them. To stay relevant, you always want to be improving your skills, looking at trends and figuring out what new value you could bring to clients that other people can’t bring. If you become stagnant in your skills, you’ll quickly lose your edge.
12 Tips for Starting a Freelance Business
#1 – Save money first, or budget so you don’t need the money.
You may not get any clients the first month. Nothing is guaranteed. And it might take a while to get a full monthly income. So it’s best to prepare yourself for the long haul and make it so you don’t need the money for a while (at least a few months).
#2 – Create samples to show clients.
Clients don’t know if they can trust you just by hearing about your design or writing skills. But when they see samples, they’ll instantly be able to tell whether they like your work or not.
The truth is, whether you’ve actually worked for clients before, most clients won’t care. If they like your work, they like your work.
If you don’t have a lot of samples, my recommendation is to create some fake samples based on the industry of the clients you’re pitching for. Make it close to something they’d want for their own business.
#3 – Get some experience.
If you haven’t done anything before and want to start getting clients, I would say pause that for a second and get some good experience first. Work for a friend on a quick project, do something for a non-profit, or even just take a course with an instructor and get some feedback. It’s a disservice to a business to provide a service that you have no experience in or know nothing about.
#4 – Go above and beyond every time.
Find ways to give just a little bit extra in each project. The way to do that is to read between the lines of your clients’ requests.
For example, you agree to write a 1000 to 1500-word article, but you know they’re trying to rank for a certain keyword. Instead of just writing the basic article, you might go a little over the word count (which takes you more time), but you make sure it has all the information they need to help it rank for that keyword.
It’s not about filling the exact requirements, but helping your clients reach their goals, and finding ways to make the process easier and less stressful for them. That’s when you stop being a random freelancer and start becoming a trusted partner.
#5 – Aim to become world-class top of your industry.
How good should you be? Better than everyone else. I really believe that. It’s hard to get there (and I’m certainly not there yet), but as long as you aim to be the very best, you’ll always be the best freelancer all your clients have ever worked with.
#6 – Pitch new clients every day until you fill up your schedule.
If you’re not fully booked yet, I recommend pitching new clients every work day (so 5 days a week) until you’re booked. If you spend one hour sending personalized outreach messages to businesses on LinkedIn every day, you should get enough responses to fill up your schedule.
A good response rate could be anywhere from 1 to 10%, depending on your experience. If you’re getting no responses, you might be turning people off with your style of message. You can Google to learn more about writing effective cold outreach messages.
(I haven’t written about cold outreach yet, but I do have a guide on how to write effective messages that generate more buzz for your business.)
#7 – Create a calm environment to work in.
Your home is now your office, too. So it’s going to be important that you like where you work. Whether you have your own room or a little corner of the kitchen table, make sure you have an environment you enjoy being in.
You can decorate it with items that spark joy, be diligent in keeping it cleared off, establish times when the family needs to leave the room or stay quiet, or anything else that will make it easier for you to work. (At the end of the day, you succeeding in your work is a benefit to everyone.)
#8 – Create routines and set work times.
Yes, you can work whenever you want. But it’s very hard to maintain quality and hit deadlines without some sort of structure to your work. It’s much easier, I’ve found, to know when I’m going to start and end work each day. If your schedule is less predictable, you can try planning out a day or week at a time.
(Speaking of routines, here are my best tips for creating a morning routine that works for you.)
#9 – Always get a contract or use a safe freelancing site like Upwork.
Upwork makes sure the client pays before you start working, so you’ll never lose out on a payment. When you’re working directly with clients, you need to make sure you get a contract in place, or even collect 50% to 100% of the pay before you start.
Look for client reviews and Google clients before starting to work to avoid getting scammed. And if you don’t get paid for something, consider it a lesson fee (it’s happened to me, too).
#10 – Set clear boundaries for work.
I recommend setting clear boundaries with yourself, so you know when you will and won’t work. Setting aside at least one day where you will absolutely not work is important for your mental health and your family, too.
With your clients, you’ll need to set clear guidelines around communication. You can decide when you’ll be available and how they can contact you. (And if they don’t respect that, it’s time to find new clients.)
#11 – Price according to deliverables, not time.
It’s tempting to price by the hour, but you’ll actually lose money over time.
Consider writing a blog post, which will bring the client exactly the same amount of value no matter how long it takes you. If you charge by the hour, it might take you 4 hours at the beginning. But as you get better at your craft, it’ll take you less time to write the same exact blog post. Now you’re only getting paid for 2 hours instead of 4.
It’s much better to charge for the deliverable, the blog post itself, and you can worry about how much it’ll take you. Sometimes it’ll take longer, sometimes it’ll take less time, but as long as you know it’s worth it for the time it’s taking you, you can continue charging the same rate each time. (You could also charge per word for writing, which I often do.)
#12 – Continually look for better clients, and don’t be afraid to let clients go.
You’re not your clients’ best friend. You’re a business that needs to be profitable. And as you increase in skills and the value you can bring to the table, it’s natural to start looking for new clients who can compensate you for that value.
Maybe you started out with tiny businesses that paid you $10 for a graphic, but you know that your skills are way more than that, and you’re actively losing money by continuing to work with those initial clients. I recommend continually looking for new clients as if you have more availability, and when you find better-paying clients, start to let the lower-paying clients go.
It’s business, and it’s okay. You deserve to be compensated for the value you can bring.
My Personal Experience – Freelancing For Over 6 Years
I started freelancing in 2017, just before I left my full-time job in a Japanese tech company.
I spoke fluent Japanese (ever since I had studied abroad in Japan as a high school student), and I was living in Tokyo (still am!), so I figured I would become a freelance Japanese-to-English translator.
I was lucky enough to find some random jobs through a translation job board, which paid pretty well. I’m a fast translator, so charging per word or per project was pretty lucrative for me at the time.
Those jobs fell away, and for a while, I really struggled to find anything that paid more than 2 or 3 cents a word. I found a couple higher-paying jobs through friends, but they were very unpredictable. (I would get job notices a day before the deadline, and then would need to spend 3 to 6 hours translating video content the next day.)
I started to look into freelance writing and copywriting, because I’d heard that it was easier to get high-paying jobs that way. And I did start getting some better jobs through Upwork.
But I still didn’t really understand how to find clients, or how to pitch to them. I still saw myself as a low-level freelancer, almost like each client was doing me a favor by hiring me. I didn’t have much confidence, which meant I didn’t get the better-paying jobs.
Then I had my first baby (and my second shortly after that), and I quickly realized that I didn’t like trying to do long hours of writing and translating with crawling and toddling babies around me.
I tried to do other things, like coaching, courses, and social media management, but it wasn’t right for me. I would still like to teach and coach more in the future, if I have another chance. But I would rather build it on the back of a successful freelance business or this blog (if people ask for it), rather than try to build a brand-new coaching business off of nothing (which is the mistake I made).
After a lot of agonizing, I decided to put my kids in daycare. My oldest was turning 3, and I was becoming frazzled trying to take care of them all day without getting any work done (which is something I love to do). I decided that I would do a shortened work day so I could strike a better balance between working and spending time with my kids.
And it worked out beautifully. The month they went back (August 2022), I pitched clients on LinkedIn every day, plus Upwork as much as I could. And by November, I was fully booked with good clients who respect my time and expertise and pay me well. (Keep in mind, that was on the back of years of experience and some name-dropping of other clients I’ve worked for.)
Now I’m making enough money that it’s worth it, and only doing a few hours of client work a day. And I love what I’m doing.
So is freelancing worth it for you? Do you love the idea? Do you dream of working from home and don’t mind the ups and downs that come with it? Are you prepared to buckle down, save your money, and work hard until it clicks?
If so, it might be right for you. I recommend trying it on the side if you can before diving fully in. (By the way, here’s a post on how to find more time for your side hustle.)
What do you think? Are you planning to start a freelance business? Do you have any more questions about freelancing? Leave a comment and let me know!