What is a Freelancer?

Start the process of becoming a freelancer by understanding what a freelancer is. We’ll dive into what exactly a freelancer does and what skills you need to get started.

View Video on Loom

By 2027, nearly 86.5 million people will be freelancing in the United States, making up over half the total U.S. workforce. Due to its promising future, the world of freelancing is becoming increasingly mainstream, leaving many people wondering what being a freelancer is really like.

Whether you’re prepping to dive head-first into your freelance career or simply intrigued by the career path from all the TikToks you’ve seen about it, we’ve got you covered. Here’s what you need to know about being a freelancer.

What is a Freelancer?

A freelancer is a self-employed individual who offers contract-based services to a number of clients. Rather than being an employee of a company, a freelancer works as an independent laborer and makes money on a per-task or per-project basis.

Because freelancing is an incredibly flexible form of work, what it looks like on a day-to-day basis can vary. While some freelancers offer one service, others offer ten. Those who offer fewer services, however, tend to be specialists within those few areas. 

Many freelancers have enough clients to do it full-time, others freelance part-time as an additional income stream.

For example, Leilah Harshbarger is a full-time college student and part-time freelance copywriter, digital marketer, and social media manager. Grace Lemire, on the other hand, is a full-time freelancer offering content writing and copywriting services. While different in terms of how much they freelance and the services they offer, both source their own clients, work one-on-one with them to provide professional services, and manage the billing and payment of each project they work on.

Examples of Freelance Work

As you can tell by the types of services Leilah and Grace are offering their clients, freelancer experiences will vary. In fact, due to the flexible nature of freelance work, you can offer just about any service as a freelancer. The most common freelance jobs, however, occur within a few categories: 

Marketing: Social media management, marketing strategy, content creation, email marketing

Design: Graphic design, UI/UX design, presentation design, website design

Writing: Copywriting, blog writing, translation, proofreading, editing

Business: Sales development, customer service, business consulting/development

Tech: Web development, engineering, data analytics

What Skills are Needed to be a Freelancer?

To be a successful freelancer, you’ll need at least one marketable hard skill to offer high-quality services. A hard skill is a learned ability that often relates to a specific task or job. There is an endless number of hard skills you could possess, but here’s some to get you thinking:

  • Creative writing
  • Engineering
  • Web design
  • UI/UX design
  • Back-end development
  • Project management
  • Search engine optimization (SEO)
  • Video editing
  • Knowledge of more than one language
  • Knowledge of programs such as Microsoft Office, Canva, and WordPress

Most freelancers start offering services based on a hard skill they know very well and have experience in, but that doesn’t mean you can’t pick up more hard skills along the way. It’s just to say that if you’re a strong creative writer, it’s a good idea to start offering services within that realm before diving into something you’re less familiar with.

There are also a variety of soft skills you should possess in order to provide a high quality service for your client. Soft skills are personal qualities that can be utilized across a variety of tasks. Here are the top four soft skills talented freelancers have (and clients love):

The ability to solve problems, find solutions, and create things.

Clients hire freelancers because they have a problem they need solved. Whether that’s fixing an issue within their website, helping them nail their inconsistent brand voice, or creating graphics for their empty Facebook page, they’ve found a gap in their business they need filled. An ability to solve your clients’ problems is crucial. After all, that is what they’re paying you to do.

The ability to communicate calmly, clearly, and succinctly.

If you went to buy a new car, and the salesman’s pitch was full of “umms,” “uhhs,” and frantically checking his notes, you might not be as eager to purchase a car from him. The same goes for how you interact with both current and prospective clients.

As a freelancer, you’re essentially a business. Being able to convey the value of your services in a confident, clear, and concise manner shows clients you know what you’re doing and why they should work with you. The same communication style is important for situations of frustration or confusion, too. There are bound to be hiccups along the way, but being able to remain calm when communicating with clients is immensely important.

The ability to take responsibility when things go wrong.

Mistakes will happen, regardless of how experienced you are. While it can feel uncomfortable to admit to making a mistake, it’s important to be honest with your clients and take the right steps to fix it. You don’t have to be perfect to be a freelancer, but you do need to be open when something doesn't go as planned.

The ability to empathize.

Empathy goes a long way in various situations. Just as you may face setbacks throughout your work day, so will your clients. Be understanding of their schedules and respectful of their time when it comes to things like receiving feedback or being on time for Zoom calls.

Is Freelancing Self-Employment?

Freelancers manage the entire business process, from finding clients to providing services and facilitating payments. So, with that in mind, it might be less-than-surprising to learn that the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) categorizes freelancers as self-employed. While some freelancers might not think of themselves as business owners per se, tax-wise they are.

When working as a traditional employee, taxes are automatically deducted from each of your paychecks. As a freelancer, you’re responsible for putting aside a portion of your income to pay taxes later on. These distinctions, among various others, leave freelancers within the category of self-employed workers.

The Big Picture

A freelancer is essentially a business of one, offering a unique set of services to an array of clients. The idea of freelancing can be hard to conceptualize because it is incredibly broad. However, that same broad nature allows the work to be highly customizable and flexible. If the sound of that is music to your ears, this is your sign to start freelancing. 

Next up