Making it as a freelancer in the new economy

illustration of freelancer

So you want to be your own boss, have a flexible schedule, and pick your own projects? And you have a marketable skill? You may be ready to enter the growing gig economy, but be prepared.

According to Fast Company, the U.S. has about 53 million freelancers—people who work on a contract basis for multiple entities. A study by Intuit predicted that by 2020, 40 percent of American workers would be independent contractors.

headshot of Sybil Pressprich
Sybil Pressprich, career services director at UW–Madison’s Division of Continuing Studies

The top 10 freelance gigs based on demand, pay, and client ratings include web and software development, design, writing, administrative support, IT, customer service, sales, accounting, engineering and data science.

While there are a number of benefits to freelancing, there are downsides, such as inconsistent work and lack of benefits. Freelancers must be self-motivated, organized and have some business acumen in order to make ends meet.

So, what does it take to thrive as an independent contractor? Here are a few basic things you can do to set yourself up for success.

Create a workspace

If you don’t have a dedicated office in your home, at least give yourself a corner that’s well- organized and stocked with necessary equipment and supplies. Or find a local coworking space. Coffee shops can work if you’re not distracted by noise. Libraries offer free and quiet areas. Wherever you work, make sure the space fits your needs and allows for full productivity.

Brand yourself

Whether you just go by your name or incorporate a business name, you should have a brand. Consider adding a logo and getting business cards. Create (or have someone else create) a website with your online portfolio, bio, explanation of services and contact information. Craft an interesting elevator pitch on your unique offerings, and be prepared to use it at professional gatherings.

Identify your clients

If you’ve worked in your industry for a while, circle back with colleagues who may have leads on clients. Repeat customers make life easier in the freelance world; so be sure to foster relationships. If you’re new in your field, check online sites such Craigslist, Fiverr or Upwork to find jobs. Most importantly, home in on your special skills or area of expertise to find your target market.

Be business savvy

Whether you’re a writer or an engineer, as a freelancer, you need basic business skills. You’ll be responsible for your own taxes, accounting and invoicing—whether you DIY or farm out these tasks. If you’re doing it yourself, set regular time on your calendar. You’ll also have to set rates appropriate for your client base, geographic area, skill level and income goals.

Reach out

You may be working alone, but don’t isolate yourself. Networking is good for business. Attend events and conferences or have coffee with colleagues to stay current on trends in your industry and find clients. You can also join professional organizations to get support and avoid isolation. Reach out for help locally from the UW-Madison Small Business Development Center, the Dane County Job Center or the Wisconsin Women’s Business Initiative Corporation.

If you do decide to take the plunge into the gig economy, don’t do it halfway. Your success depends on the effort and hours you invest.

Sybil Pressprich is the career services director at UW-Madison’s Division of Continuing Studies. She can be reached at sybil.pressprich@wisc.edu or 608-263-7207.