Did you know that an estimated 53 million Americans are freelancers? These are people who make money working for themselves, on their own time.

Many of these freelancers use the internet to find clients and complete projects – meaning that they can work from anywhere; whether that’s at home in their pj’s, or at a coffee shop while traveling Europe.  

The beauty of freelancing is that you can make it your full-time work, or you can use it to subsidize your current income. In fact, many people use freelancing as a way to transition out of their current job and into the world of self-employment and entrepreneurship.

If becoming a freelancer sounds like an appealing endeavor to you, then read on – here’s my introduction to freelancing and one of the best platforms for finding and managing clients, Upwork.com.

What is Upwork and how can you use it to grow your freelance business?

Upwork’s tagline is “where the world goes to work”. Since the beginning of 2016, Upwork really has been my “office” – providing me with about 75% of my work and income.  If you’re asking yourself the question, “How do I start freelancing?” this site is a great place to go first. 

Essentially, Upwork is a job board where client’s post projects. Freelancers submit proposals and make bids to win these projects. After each project is completed, both the client and the freelancer leave reviews of each other – helping the best move to the top.

While there are other ways to find clients such as Craigslist, cold calling, or contacting people through social media, I’ve discovered that I find the highest quality clients (other than through my personal network or referrals) by using Upwork. By allowing others to view my past experiences, and allowing me to evaluate the past histories of potential clients, both parties can ensure a good fit.

If I were just getting started as a freelancer, I would begin by creating a profile on Upwork – and that’s what I recommend to anyone I meet who is either interested in making some extra money on the side or replacing their full-time income with work they can do remotely.

The secret to launching a successful freelancing career

Before you start freelancing, there are several things consider. If you keep these things in mind as you get started, you’ll save yourself a lot of time, hassle, and money later on.

  1. Create a portfolio: If you don’t have examples of previous successes that you can show people, it will be very difficult to land any clients. Find samples of projects that you have completed successfully – for yourself or for previous employers – and provide those to potential clients as samples. Don’t have any samples? Then I would recommend doing a few projects for someone you know for free (or a reduced rate) to grow your portfolio.
  2. Charge more than you think you should: Remember, when you freelance you are saving the company from having to hire a full-time employee with benefits, so don’t feel guilty about charging a premium – as they’re still saving money! Depending on your currently hourly rate, it’s very reasonable to charge 2x or more for contract work.
  3. Include job searching in your hourly rate: If you make $25 an hour, but spend 10 hours finding the client, your hourly rate can dwindle very quickly. So make sure that you keep your job hunting time in mind when determining your rate.  
  4. Don’t try to compete with people way above or below you (in terms of skill and rate): If you believe that you’re worth $30/hr, don’t pursue jobs from clients wanting someone to work for $3/hr. Meanwhile, don’t bite off more than you can chew and over promise by trying to outwork a skill freelancer who charges $300/hr. Be honest and aware of your rates, and don’t over promise on price or quality just to win a bid.
  5. Prepare for feast and famine: What happens when a massive client ends your contract? It could take a few days (or weeks) before you fully replace that contract. Therefore, make sure that you save money when times are good, so you can prepare for a few low-paying periods when they inevitably happen. Sometimes working the occasional 6 day week is perfectly acceptable – because you’ll struggle to fill 3 days the next week.
  6. Keep your clients happy (for three reasons): First, finding new customers takes a lot more work than keeping old ones. Second, happy clients refer other clients. Third, bad reviews will destroy your freelance career – especially on sites like Upwork, where creating a new profile or repairing a damaged one is very challenging.
  7. Only do projects you enjoy: You’re a freelancer! That means you get to choose to accept each and every project – unlike when you’re at a traditional job. Because of that, don’t waste your time on jobs that are boring, overly complicated, or low-paying. Instead, stick to projects that will help you grow, learn, and have fun.

Freelancing is only going to grow in popularity over the year’s to come, as more people discover that they can literally shape their career into anything they want. Even if you’re happy employed, freelancing gives you the opportunity to stay sharp, try new fields, and establish yourself as a thought leader in your industry.

And it’s easy to get started!

I’ve been freelancing as a hobby for over 5 years (even way back in college). Now, what started as a fun hobby has turned into my full-time vocation.

For the comments: What are your thoughts of freelancing and Upwork? Additionally, if you have any questions, feel free to ask – and I’ll be more than happy to share any tips that I’ve discovered over the years.