Key Things You Should Know About Being A Freelancer
What does life look like for a freelance engineer who’s building a business on Upwork? I started freelancing in 2015 and Upwork itself was an early client. First, I worked on the reporting backend service but I’ve since supported the time-tracker pipeline, which is part of the backend for Upwork’s desktop client.
I’ve worked with other businesses too, and just wrapped up my 22nd client project. What have I learned working with all these different clients on Upwork? Here are my top tips.
1. Learn about your clients
Find out what your clients have in common. Are all of them technical? Do you prefer to work with non-technical people? What is your industry domain? These are questions you should have answers to.
After you realize what links your clients together, it will be easier to identify potential customers later.
What matters most: Don’t spend time on clients who aren’t a good fit for you. For example, don’t accept low-paying projects with too-high expectations: You will not finish the work and that could lead to negative feedback because you didn’t fulfill the original agreement.
When you’re new to Upwork, you’ll want to get good feedback so you can apply for similar projects with higher budgets. If you do this, apply for smaller projects with short durations.
2. Give yourself a chance to become a client
Try being a client yourself and post a project on Upwork. It doesn’t matter what you look for. What matters is that you will get a chance to see the other side.
I wanted to enhance one of my websites but I couldn’t figure out what I was missing. So I posted a project.
- Upwork suggested I add screening questions, and I chose one of the defaults: Requesting a cover letter.
- I also added a custom request, to send examples of work they’d done in the past with other engineers.
After one hour, I’d received around 20 proposals from different freelancers from all over the world. The problem? None of them seemed like suitable candidates—they all applied with template bids.
So, I changed my project description, removed the cover letter request, and added a lot of custom questions. The next day, I received three proposals. One of them was the candidate I chose.
3. Your rates will differ on different projects
There are different reasons to work for different rates. You might decide to set lower rates to add a project to your portfolio, for example, or you might just be curious about a particular type of project.
Not everything in life can be measured with money. Clients who know how to attract top talent can use that info to entice great freelancers.
This is what happened when I agreed to one project: A chicken egg counter on Raspberry PI. It was a fixed-price project and the budget was not that big. But it was an interesting experience. I managed to finish the project in time, with good feedback from the client—a company that specializes in the Internet of Things.
4. Being a freelancer doesn’t mean you will be a “classic freelancer”
Not all freelancers are the same. Through my work on Upwork, I’ve met freelancers from all around the world: Ukraine, Belarus, Hungary, Moldova, Israel, and the U.S. We each have different motivations for freelancing.
One of my friends is a freelancer because he doesn’t like the bureaucracy of working in a company. Someone else enjoys working from different places. Stas, an engineer from Moldova who also works with Upwork, has five children and feels he couldn’t manage his family’s schedule if he had a traditional job.
Personally, I like being my own boss and being in control of my schedule: I work 40 hours a week, often take on projects that help me learn new things, and regularly spend time on my blog, ivanursul.com.
5. Freelancing takes a mix of engineer, salesman, and accountant
My personal opinion is that a freelance engineer should be like a craftsman: He should know where to get clients, how to work with them, and how to work independently. He’s an independent unit, able to negotiate with the client, make an estimate, design architecture, write code, and deliver it on time. He should also learn how to pick up new skills and handle the unexpected.
That’s a lot to learn.
When you work for an employer, someone else looks after things like taxes. You need to focus on your work, but you’re part of a team—there’s someone else you can pass things off to if requirements, or your schedule, change.
When you work alone, there’s just you and you’re responsible for everything. This isn’t easy, and it’s one reason why freelancing isn’t right for everyone. But if you plan ahead, you won’t be shocked if clients change, if you travel to another country, or if you need to stop working for a period of time.
6. It can be hard to work eight hours
You may not realize this, but when you work on an hourly basis it can be hard to work for a full eight hours. At the beginning, I felt very exhausted because of this. I’d decided to work 40 hours per week, so my goal was to work eight hours a day, five days per week.
When you have a traditional job in an actual office, eight hours will often have interruptions: You can go with your coworkers for a cup of coffee, browse Facebook, watch some YouTube videos, and do your work. You can pass two hours doing nothing. Sometimes, that’s how you can spend the entire working day.
When you freelance, you can’t sit around and do nothing. It will catch up with you if you start missing deadlines, and you can easily lose clients.
7. Learn how to calculate your rates
Another important thing: The science of calculating your rate is to figure out how much you would like to earn. But there are other things you should take into account:
- We have 12 months in a year. If you take one month of vacation, you will work 92 percent of the year.
- You might also need sick leave, or other days when you won’t be available. Let’s say you plan for 14 days, which is roughly four percent of the total time you have in a year.
If you plan for both these things, you’ll work 87 percent of the year. Keep this in mind when deciding how much you should charge per hour.
8. Working from home is not for every freelancer
The last thing I’d like to say is that working from home is not for everyone.
Some people find working from home to be a pleasure and a convenience, but it didn’t work for me. I managed to work from home for two months before I decided to find office space. Luckily, I met up with groupmates from university and we’ve been sharing an office since—a great place in the downtown area with good parking.
Becoming a freelancer is a big journey, but also a great experience. When I started to work on Upwork, I didn’t know all of this. Now, I am happy to share these things to hopefully save you from shooting yourself in the foot!
This story was submitted by Ivan Ursul and does not constitute the views or opinions of Upwork.
Ivan Ursul started working as a software engineer in 2012, then moved to freelance in 2015. He is a member of the Upwork engineering team and keeps a blog at ivanursul.com.View Ivan Ursul’s other articles