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How to Freelance and Make Money

Learning how to freelance is a little more complicated than just taking a single course or class and being prepared. Freelancing is simply one way of working, and each type of freelancing service you might provide has its own challenges and rewards. However, there are some general tips that work no matter what kind of freelance work you end up doing. Start by figuring out what you need to learn and what skills to build before branching out with a side hustle or going full-time as your own boss.

Prepare for Complex Taxes

When you work as a standard employee who files a W-2 form with the IRS, your taxes are relatively simple to understand. Your employer reports what they pay you, withholds money to pay for your tax responsibility, and sends you a form at the end of the year to help you file your tax return. You still get a form as a 1099 worker to tell you what you’ve earned each January, but the rest of the work is up to you. You must file quarterly reports and payments in most cases to keep up to date on your tax burden. Even as a part-time freelancer, you’ll need to figure out how to handle your taxes before making too much money. Hiring a professional who specializes in freelance tax returns is the quickest way to learn the necessary skills and avoid big surprises at tax time.

Choose a Skill

Freelancing simply means offering some kind of valuable skill as a self-employed worker rather than an employee. There’s a good chance you already have at least one skill you could use for freelancing, even if it’s not currently put to good use by your day job. Some popular freelancing opportunities include:

  • Translating if you’re fluent in a second or third language
  • Photography if you have a good camera and some skills
  • Writing if you’re familiar with grammar rules and research
  • Coding if you’re good with one or more programming languages
  • Web or graphic design if you are trained with the latest software
  • Data sorting and entry if you’re a whiz with spreadsheets
  • Transcription if you can type fast and with good accuracy.

While these might be the most common freelance opportunities advertised, you can also create your own niche offering almost any service. Whether you’re good at decorating cookies, putting up shelves, or explaining how video games work, there’s likely a way you could turn it into at least a small source of income.

Measure Up the Competition

Don’t hop right into one of the most popular freelancing niches without checking out the competition. Many types of freelancing services are well-established and you’ll be competing with thousands of other freelancers from all over the world. If you’re trying to get work while living in a country with a higher cost of living, you need to find a niche where your competition isn’t able to dramatically undercut your asking price. Look for work opportunities that require particular skills like fluency in English or advanced technical abilities to have a higher chance of getting noticed.

Try for a Local Angle

You’ll need to investigate local requirements set by your state and county when freelancing as well. You may be required to get a business license or file a certain way when filling out state tax forms. Aside from meeting local requirements, try to find local freelancing opportunities as well. Writing a brochure for the coffee shop down the street or coding for a nearby firm will help you circumvent the global competition. Local freelancing jobs may or may not pay all your bills if you live in a smaller town, but they will help you access work that no one else is getting.

Don’t expect to hop right into full-time freelancing. Depending on the niche you choose, it may take anywhere from a month to over a year for you to establish steady work and a good source of income. Work on building your credit and stay in your current job or career, so you have the cash flow to expand your freelancing business until it’s steady enough to become your main source of work.

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