How to become a freelancer

Freelancing allows people to work independently and remotely on their own terms. Are you curious about how to become a freelancer? Check out our guide here!
How to become a freelancer

Hero image by Neosha Gardner

Earning a living your way is more possible than ever thanks to the boost in freelance gigs. You can take your talents and find your own clients, rather than working for a fixed salary at a company that earns way more from your talents. 

Being your own boss has its perks, but you also need to realize that you'll also take on more responsibility and risk than you ever would working for someone else. With some strategy, you can seamlessly transition into this part of your life and thrive at it. 

Keep reading to learn how to become a freelancer in your industry.

Prepare your life to become a freelancer

If you're going to become a freelancer, you have to do it with some strategy. But first, you need to wrap your mind around what it really means. Here are some prerequisites you should think about before you get into the freelance lifestyle:

1. Understand the lifestyle you're stepping into

When you're considering making the switch into the freelance life, it's essential that you begin contemplating what it really means. A lot of people have fantasies of rolling out of bed at 2 p.m., plopping down in front of their couch, and binge-watching Netflix while they effortlessly earn six figures from the comfort of their laptop. 

Becoming your own boss does let you call your own shots, but going out on your own is never a cakewalk. Freelancing means that you essentially run your own small company. 

When you run a small company, you no longer get the luxury of working 40 hours of week with a 9 to 5 schedule. Instead, you're responsible for all of the moving parts of the business, which could mean working 10 or 12 hour days and remaining connected to your work on nights and weekends. 

You will need to develop impeccable time management skills if you're going to earn your living as a freelance entrepreneur. The effectiveness of your business depends on your ability to manage and respect time. Always find ways to get better at this, because the entrepreneur's life is a long-term journey. 

2. Learn to balance your stress

Since freelancing often requires you to work untraditional hours or take on more, it's important that you find a way to manage your stress. Your work life will do more harm than good if you don't find ways to balance your life and keep anxiety low. 

Give yourself plenty of sleep every night so that you can show up each day rested and ready to be productive. Many entrepreneurs fall into the trap of thinking that sacrificing sleep means that they're more cutthroat and disciplined. 

While this drive and sacrifice does have its place, you should be getting 8 to 10 hours of sleep more often than not. You will quickly get diminishing returns when you sacrifice sleep. 

Doctors and scientists sometimes compare the lack of sleep to alcohol intoxication. Your cognitive function becomes markedly less effective when you aren't allowing yourself time to recuperate through sleep. 

You should also take several mini-breaks throughout the day. Constantly keeping your foot on the gas pedal reduces your ability to deal with stress and decisions.

Even resting for 5 minutes can boost your parasympathetic nervous system. With your parasympathetic nervous system activated, you will digest your food better, sharpen your thinking and get better blood circulation throughout your body. Many professionals also develop a meditation practice for this reason.  

3. Research your chosen industry and become an avid learner

It's one thing to just attack an industry, and another thing entirely to find success in it. If you're going to dive into freelancing, always do your due diligence first. 

For instance, if you're going to be a freelance writer, it pays to learn all about the different niches so that you can get an understanding of what will make you stand out. A social media influencer will need to learn what a successful YouTube or social media campaign entails. 

Rather than just getting caught up in preliminary research, you should dedicate yourself to becoming a lifelong learner in your industry and business as a whole. Developments and evolutions always happen in any industry or economy, so you should always be thinking multiple steps ahead. 

When you are constantly sharpening your thinking with books and audiobooks, taking time each day to read publications in your industry, and consistently learn your strengths and weakness, you'll always have a shot at thriving. 

Further, invest money each year in courses, seminars, and other continued education tools that make you more effective. 

4. Get your finances in order

Without question, you can't succeed as a freelancer if you can't get your money in order. If you don't learn some financial principles you'll always shoot yourself in the foot by mismanaging your money. 

Take the time to get rid of your personal debt or develop a plan for dealing with it. Learn how to save money for both your business and personal expenses. Set up a business checking account so that you can clean up your records and shore up your books. 

Hire professionals and use licensed financial software when necessary. Managing your business taxes will help you run your business effectively and in an organized manner. 

5. Don't start right away

The worst thing you can do is make freelancing your sole source of income before you're ready. If you already have a full-time income, you should treat freelancing as a side gig for as long as possible. 

Having this transition period lets you work out the kinks with the business and adapt to the lifestyle without fully paying for the mistakes that you make. 

Keep your reliable source of income for as long as possible so that you don't put yourself in a financial hole that is difficult to climb out of. Sticking to your day job at first allows you to grow your business at your own speed.

Start reaching out to prospective clients regularly so that you have a solid foundation once you're ready to go full-time. You'll always succeed when you can aggressively find clients each month. 

Freelancers often don't go full-time until their day job begins getting in the way of the success they're having with their side gig.

6. Touch base with freelancers who can offer some perspective 

Learning from the experiences of full-time freelancers is the best research you can do. This helps you to see what they've done well and learn from their mistakes without having to replicate them. 

Touch base with your network and find people in your life who have already earned a living freelancing. Start asking them about their experiences and how they were able to make it work for them. 

It'll surprise you to learn that several entrepreneurs that you don't even know will be happy to shed some light or offer advice. Their perspective can add so much value when you're setting out to start your own company. 

Every professional needs both mentors and colleagues, no matter what industry you're in. These are the people that you'll exchange notes with, and having this circle of influence will keep you on track. Carve out time each year to attend several networking events so that you can consistently grow your contact base. 

7. Officially file your business 

Once you've laid the groundwork for starting a business, it's time to officially file it. 

Get a business license so that you can officially open. For most people, that'll be a sole proprietorship, and you won't have to officially get a business license. However, having a balance license creates a necessary separation from your personal life and may protect you from liabilities. 

You should also get a tax identification number in lieu of using your social security number (SSN). 

Depending on the type of business that you are running, it might make sense to reach out to both a business lawyer and an accountant. Having access to these professionals will help you stay organized and will prevent you from making mistakes and missteps that would otherwise set your business back. 

The lawyer will be sure that you are properly designating your business, while the accountant will be sure that you're addressing your taxes correctly. 

8. Stock up on the equipment and industry-specific tools you need

The last thing you'd want is to start your business unprepared. Set aside some cash or get a loan to stock up on all of the equipment that you need to start your business. 

If you're a freelance photographer, this might mean purchasing a new camera or two, along with lighting equipment, data storage space, and add-on lenses. A writer may want to get a completely separate laptop for their business so that they can keep it running smoothly without cluttering the hard drive and performance. 

Keep records of every equipment or supply purchase so that you can classify it and write it off on your taxes. 

9. Carve out a home office space and work on your productivity

Creating a separate workspace is perhaps the most important step that you can take. It's easy to get distracted as a freelancer. Working from the comfort of your home has a way of sometimes undermining your progress. 

Instead, open a home office that you can work on a regular basis. Make sure this door is free of distractions and that it has a door and a lock so that you can shut yourself out from the rest of your home. This is particularly useful if you have a family or roommates. 

Treat your home office like a true workplace, by making sure it has communications equipment, file storage, waste bins, and other equipment that will help you stay productive and focused at work. 

Invest in some fitness equipment as well to take care of your health throughout the workweek. Resistance training can balance your hormone levels, which is useful in helping professionals deal with stress in the face of a chaotic work life. 

Freelancers particularly should be mindful of the home office tax credit, so that they can receive a deduction on their rent or mortgage. This credit gets rolled out every year and allows you to deduct a portion of your living expenses based on the square footage of the office, in relation to the square footage of the rest of your home. 

Your home office should be arranged to serve you throughout the natural flow of your workdays so that you have every resource at your disposal, and so that you don't let clutter stress you out. 

Keep regular business hours like you would if you worked outside of the home. This should include routine breaks so that you can stay fresh and productive throughout the day. 

Practicing the Pomodoro method can help you strike this balance in your freelance life. This method has you set a timer and work for set periods of time, followed by short periods of rest. 

Doing this will allow you to stay focused rather than burning yourself out and ultimately becoming more productive.

Become a freelancer on your terms

You can become a freelancer that succeeds when you consider the points above. This life is fulfilling but demands a lot of you. Once you get the hang of it, you're well on your way toward a long and thriving career as a freelance entrepreneur. 

Get started with a better client management system with Moxie.

Share it!
Our team of career freelancers writes about best invoice practices, what makes a great client, and repeats the mantra, "never work without a contract." We're opinionated about the future of work and will always be on the side of freelancers.
More By This Contributor
Getting everything from your brain in one place
Moxie makes all your systems work together seamlessly with better software, education, and community.
hectic app logo