21st Century Hustle: Freelancing in the Fast-Moving Gig Economy

The Freelance Career: How to Make it Work

Freelancing is a tricky thing.

I’ve worked as a freelance writer incrementally throughout my professional career, and I now do it full-time.

My career path speaks to a growing trend. Almost half of millennial workers freelance, according to Upwork.

Just last year, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics released its first freelance economy research in over a decade, finding that 10.7 percent of US workers — more than 16 million people — are employed through either contingent jobs or alternative employment.

This is the rise of what we now call the gig economy.

But freelancing comes with a steep learning curve. Here’s what I’ve learned.

Specialize & Diversify

Freelancing, or at least freelance writing, is one market where it doesn’t pay to be a jack-of-all-trades.

That’s not to say that it isn’t helpful to be skilled in a variety of writing styles, but it’s easier for a freelancer to find new clients if they become known for work in a specific area.

When pursuing a career as a blogger, copywriter, content marketer, or journalist, it pays to specialize in an area or industry.

Once you become known for the work in that industry, it’s time to expand.

There are usually a few different freelancing niches in every industry.

Do the legwork to find available opportunities in the current market. This will help establish clients in different areas.

Budget Time

Most freelancers I’ve met work from home. Some thrive in an unstructured working environment, but it can be challenging as well.

Staying organized with lists and schedules is essential — it establishes structure in the working day.

Aside from the time spent on the actual work, make sure to budget time to pursue new leads and build relationships with potential clients.

Drumming up new work can be stressful and unrewarding, but it’s part of the job. Every successful freelancer does this frequently, if not daily.

Establishing a productive and sustainable schedule keeps the workflow even and clients happy.

Know Your Worth (And The Market)

There’s a different market for every kind of freelance writing.

Freelance rates drastically range based on the industry, deliverable, and a writer’s experience.

Understanding the market makes it easier to set an hourly rate that will be accurate and competitive.

When discussing rates with a new client, be honest about the time and effort the assignment will take. With a solid understanding of the current going rates, it should be easy to figure out whether the project is worth pursuing.

It’s also important to note that the market for creative freelancing (writing, photography, graphic design, etc.) is completely rooted in subjective taste.

Selling creative products is selling art – clients will pay as little or as much as they think it’s worth.

Referrals Are Best

Nearly all the freelance work I’ve ever done has been through a referral.

Because creative work’s value is subjective, clients usually ask advice from others to ensure they contract a reputable freelancer.

This is where professional relationships come in handy. Clients looking for freelancers always prefer a known commodity.

But if clients (especially established firms) find themselves in a bind, they’re more likely to reach out to new freelancers for help.

Fast freelancers who can turn around last-minute projects for clients in need usually end up with lasting relationships and plenty of work.

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Julian Dossett is a freelance writer and black coffee enthusiast. He’s based in New Mexico.

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