How To Become a Freelancer in 2024: The Complete Guide

How To Become a Freelancer in 2024: The Complete Guide
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Freelancing offers an incredible opportunity to control the way that you work. As a freelancer, you have the freedom to work from anywhere at any time. You get to create your schedule, set your own hours, and decide which projects you take on. These perks are why many people decide to start freelancing part time as a side hustle or make it their full-time job.

In fact, 38% of Americans freelanced last year, contributing nearly $1.3 trillion to the U.S. economy, according to our Freelance Forward Report.

But how do you get started as a freelancer? If you want to take the first step toward becoming a freelancer but aren't sure how to begin, you're in the right place.

This article will discuss nine steps to becoming a freelancer in 2024 and landing that first client.

  1. Define your service and offering
  2. Find your target audience
  3. Develop a pricing structure
  4. Build an amazing portfolio
  5. Write a great proposal
  6. Create a relationship with your client
  7. Continue developing your skills
  8. Network with other freelancers
  9. Continue to find new clients

Popular freelancing occupations

Clients are looking for successful freelancers to solve their problems across almost every industry, job, and skill set. Businesses ranging from startups to 50% of the Fortune 500 have made hiring freelance talent on Upwork part of their business strategy.

Regardless of your skillset, a client is looking for a freelancer like you to solve their problem. Below are some of the most popular freelancing jobs in 2024 and the Bureau of Labor Statistics’s projected job outlook.

Businesses in over 180 countries use Upwork's work marketplace to find talented freelancers across 8,000 skills and 180+ categories of work. Thousands of work opportunities are offered every day.

When freelancing on Upwork, your clients and work are in one place. You can find new jobs, message clients, submit work, and get paid all within the platform.

Becoming a freelancer in 9 easy steps

Being self-employed and taking on freelance work can give you more control over your career. Working remotely and setting your own hours can also help with work-life balance. Start freelancing as a side hustle to earn extra money and gain experience, or approach it as a full-time career.

Regardless of your journey, the nine steps listed below will guide you past many of the common hurdles that new freelancers face.

1. Define your service and offering

Turning your skills into a marketable service is the first step to becoming a freelancer. Think about the skills that you have and then check Talent Marketplace™ to see the jobs available. These are the most in-demand work skills on Upwork for 2024.

Once you've identified your skills, you'll need to market them. To do this, you'll need to understand how your skills can help a prospective client. Try to put yourself in the shoes of your ideal clients. Consider the problems that they have and how your skills can resolve the issue.

Remember that clients are looking for a solution to a problem. To be a successful freelancer, you need to understand the client’s situation and use your service to address their issue. You can then speak to your client's pain points in your profile overview and proposals.

Come up with a brief description of your freelance service that helps you sell it to companies. Try to concisely explain what you can do, how you do it, and what types of business or client it helps. Don't worry about the price yet; we'll get to that in the later steps.

2. Find your target audience

Now that you have a freelance service to offer, you'll need to find a target audience. Start by identifying the type of clients that will be a good fit for your service. Do these clients have a shared problem and common characteristics? Are they in a specific industry?

As a new freelancer, merely being great at what you do is not enough to automatically have clients seeking you out. It's crucial to position yourself in front of your potential clients so they can learn about your services. You'll need to take an active role in finding potential clients. Most freelancers use three ways to acquire clients:  

  • Participate in freelance job posting platforms
  • Leverage existing connections and networking
  • Conduct marketing, advertising, and outreach  

Understanding which of these options works best for you is key to finding relevant clients for your services.

"I started my freelance business on Upwork and found my first freelance client through Upwork’s platform. Over the next year, I grew my business exclusively through Upwork and client referrals without paying for advertising or having to attend a networking event.”
—Sean Cope

Upwork is a work marketplace that helps freelancers and clients connect and engage in meaningful projects. On Upwork, clients are actively posting available projects across multiple categories. You can search here to find projects that match your skills.

3. Develop a pricing structure

Once you have clearly defined your service and your target market, it's time to set your price. The goal is to maximize the amount you're paid without losing out on potential jobs. So, start by looking at your competitors in the market. What are they charging for similar freelancing services?

In reality, there is no perfect formula for pricing your freelancer services. Many variables can impact the amount that clients will be willing to pay:

  • Experience
  • Demand for skills
  • Industry
  • Project duration
  • Deliverables
  • Project complexity
  • Client's geographic location
  • Urgency

Fortunately, Upwork has some useful resources to help you navigate how to price your freelance services. You can take this Upwork Academy Learning Path for tips and best practices. The Freelance Rate Calculator can help give you an idea of what your minimum hourly rate should be based on your current expenses like rent and utilities.

As an Upwork freelancer, you can charge clients hourly or fixed-price fees based on the project. You'll need to identify an hourly rate for your profile, and you can set up specialized profiles and set a different hourly rate for individual skills. The hourly rate guide can help give you an idea of the average rate for popular skills on the platform.

Don’t let uncertainty about your pricing structure keep you from getting started. Your rates are not permanent. You can change them in the future. Start with a price you feel comfortable with, and try not to overthink it.

4. Build an amazing portfolio

Creating a compelling portfolio is an integral step to becoming a successful freelancer. As a freelancer, your portfolio establishes your work quality by showcasing your accomplishments and past projects. This is your opportunity to show—not just tell—clients what you’re capable of doing and the value of your expertise.  

Having a portfolio is equally important for creative and technical skills. Your Upwork portfolio lets you showcase your best work to clients, no matter what form it takes.

Your portfolio should highlight your most impressive projects related to your service offering. Each piece in your portfolio should paint a clear picture of your contributions and how that project benefited the client.

Some of the things that a strong portfolio could include are case studies, testimonials, data-driven results, images, charts, work samples, and mock-ups. It's important to receive permission from your past clients before incorporating their project materials into your portfolio.

5. Write a great proposal

Your first Upwork projects should closely match the skills listed in your profile. When you find a project that you're confident that you can provide excellent service for, it's time to submit a proposal.

The right proposal can mean the difference between securing a job or not, so it's critical to have a proposal template that works for you and then personalize it for each specific job. Taking that extra upfront time and effort demonstrates your sincerity, enthusiasm, and professionalism.

You can use Proposal Tips powered by Uma, Upwork's Mindful AI, to help craft stronger proposals. After writing your proposal, you’ll receive personalized tips based on the job description to make sure you're putting your best foot forward.

Personalized tips

Your proposal is an opportunity to demonstrate your interest in the project and explain why you're the right freelancer for the project. It needs to outline the client's needs, how you can help, and provide your credentials and qualifications.

If you feel strongly about a job, you can boost your proposal to stand out. Boosted Proposals are 17% more likely to be seen by clients.

6. Create a relationship with your client

As a freelancer, your clients are your business. While it may seem obvious, it's important to develop a positive working relationship with your clients. Successful freelancers establish relationships with clients rather than thinking of the work as a one-and-done deal.

Building a long-term partnership can lead to repeat business and new client referrals. Keep these key points in mind when creating a relationship with your clients:

  • Do excellent work: High-quality work is necessary for client satisfaction. You need to provide value and solve the client's problem to have a chance to build a long-term relationship with the client.  
  • Communicate with the client: Effective client communication creates a stronger business relationship and encourages clients to continue to work with you on new projects.
  • Build trust through consistency: By consistently completing your work on time and providing accurate deliverables, you can build trust and show that your client can depend on you in the future.
  • Find opportunities to provide more value: By showing initiative, identifying new solutions, and taking on additional responsibilities, you demonstrate your potential value to the client and open up new ways to work together.

7. Continue developing your skills

Freelancers are hired for the service and skills that they offer to their clients. As a result, it's crucial for freelancers to consistently improve their skills, adapt to changes, and expand their knowledge. Upskilling and keeping up with current trends are also essential to providing your clients with the highest service level. Online learning resources such as Udemy, LinkedIn Learning, Coursera, and even YouTube tutorials are great starting points for ensuring that your skills are always up to date.

8. Network with other freelancers

Learn from other freelancers and refer jobs back and forth by networking. When working as an independent professional, you may not have the team environment that being an employee can provide.

Joining the Upwork Community can give you the support you want through forums and in-person and virtual events. You can share your experiences and get advice from other freelancers. When you decline a job invite on Upwork, you have the option to refer another freelancer. Building your Upwork network can help you win more interviews.

9. Continue to find new clients

An important part of building your business is taking on new freelance projects and clients. Some clients may want to work with you long term, while others may only need your skills once—depending on what type of services you offer. You'll need to set aside time to check Talent Marketplace™ and reply to job invites.

Part of your marketing strategy can be running Upwork ads. You can turn on your Availability Badge to let clients know you're ready to take on more work or boost your profile to stand out.

Why you should consider becoming a freelancer – 9 benefits in 2024

Freelancing and being your own boss has many perks. You get to decide when, where, and how you work. You may want to freelance as an alternative to working in the office as a full-time employee or make it your side hustle outside of your 9-to-5 job.

Consider these powerful benefits of freelancing:

1. Flexibility in work schedule

When freelancing, you get to create your own schedule by deciding what projects and clients you take on. You could decide to work from 9 to 5 or find an alternative schedule that works for your lifestyle. Let your clients know when they can reach you, and then work when you're the most productive. This is what a day in the life as a freelancer can look like.

2. Choice of projects

Compared to working as a full-time employee, freelancing gives you more choice over the projects you work on. In a full-time job, you can't always tell your manager "no," but as an independent professional, you can choose only to accept job invites and submit proposals for projects that you find interesting and match your skills. You can work within your niche and be more of an expert rather than a generalist at what you enjoy doing.

3. Control over workload

Setting your own schedule also gives you more control over your workload so you can create a better work-life balance. Accept new projects and clients only when you have the capacity. You can also take time off when you need to. This control can help you avoid burnout and improve time management.

4. Potential for higher earnings

As the demand for your services rises, so can your earnings when freelancing. Many freelancers raise their rates as they upskill and gain experience. When working as an employee, you typically have to wait for the company to give you a raise or bonus. Freelancers get to choose what they charge based on their skills, expertise, and demand.

5. Opportunity for remote work

Freelancers can work from home for most jobs, especially on Upwork. Working remotely means you don't have to commute to the office so you can live wherever you want (keeping your client's time zones in mind). Some freelancers are digital nomads who travel the world while working for their clients, while others create home offices and enjoy being able to spend more time on self-care and with family.

6. Skill development

Freelancing is a skills-based career. Learn a marketable skill and gain experience immediately by taking on small projects for clients. You don't necessarily have to have a degree to be successful. Instead, you can take online courses and earn certificates in skills that clients need.

7. Building a personal brand

Freelancing is a business that you get to grow and develop. Part of this is building your personal brand. As you find your niche and develop your reputation, you can position yourself as the '"go-to person" for that skill.

Expert-Vetted freelancer Ryan Clark branded himself as Mr. Sharepoint and has earned over $2 million on Upwork as an expert SharePoint and Office 365 architect.

8. No office politics

Freelancers are independent professionals offering their freelance services directly to clients. This means that you're able to avoid office politics. You don't have to be in the office and can decide to stop working with a client once a project is finished if you find the relationship to be too stressful. Ideally, you can tell if a client isn't the right fit before accepting a contract, but you have the option to leave at any time when freelancing.

9. Develop business management skills

As a freelancer, you’re running your own small business. You’re responsible for finding the clients and projects you want to work on and pitching your services. Once you win a job, you’re the project manager, making sure that you meet your deadlines and have all of the resources you need to be successful. Outside your skillset, you have administrative tasks like budgeting your income, self-employment taxes, and invoicing clients. Upwork makes working with clients easier, from accepting contracts and messaging back and forth to payment protection.

Can a beginner in their career, with no experience, become a freelancer?

Whether you're a seasoned professional or just starting your career, you can become a freelancer. Beginners can learn a skill and then take on smaller projects to build their portfolios. Many clients look to hire beginners because it fits their budget or they're willing to provide training.

Earning certificates and completing courses can take the place of experience, especially when just starting out. If you don't yet know what skill you want to offer, these skills are in demand on Upwork. You can learn many of these online or teach yourself.

Can students consider becoming freelancers?

Freelancing is a popular online job for college students. Students can gain experience in their field or freelance as a side hustle in skills that they already have. Freelancing is a flexible way to earn money outside of classes and build experience. Students can take on projects during the summer and on breaks and then avoid taking on new clients during busier times like prepping for finals.

Start your freelance career

Are you ready to begin freelancing in 2024? It's up to you. As a freelancer, you're in control, and you get to make the decisions for your business. Clients are actively looking for new ways to address their problems, and your freelancing services could be the solution.

You can take the first step toward becoming a freelancer right now by signing up for a freelancer account on Upwork and gaining access to millions of freelance opportunities. Don't get stuck in the planning phase. You must take action to make your freelancing career become a reality.

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Author Spotlight

How To Become a Freelancer in 2024: The Complete Guide
Sean Cope
SEO Writer

Formerly a full-time in-house marketing director, Sean Cope began building an SEO and content creation company by freelancing on Upwork. He has enjoyed working with clients in various industries, leading them to achieve their business goals and higher Google search rankings. Sean is passionate about helping new clients in growing their businesses through search engine optimization, content writing, and digital marketing.

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