How to become a freelancer in 2024? A beginner’s guide

15 min read
Rhea Gulin

The onslaught of the COVID-19 pandemic has proved one thing: remote work works. With more and more companies switching to remote work, outsourcing, and freelance contracting, there has never been a better time to become a freelancer.

While the internet is brimming with ways to jumpstart your freelance journey, finding the freelance project to suit your skills and needs can be tricky. You might experience a highly demanding contract, rude clients, or, even worse–you might get scammed. To help you navigate the freelancing world, we’ve developed a beginner’s guide on how to become a freelancer.

The world’s workforce is rapidly shifting to an online setup, creating a steadfast need for more remote workers. Financial, tech, and other big companies across industries have now set their eyes on the Asia Pacific region to acquire skilled freelancers to help them drive revenue to their businesses.

Increase in demand

With the trend of the business industry today, freelancers would never run out of projects that would allow them to showcase their skills and achieve financial independence.

“Despite this busy market, Asia-Pacific freelancers are making their way on the top of the freelancing ladder.”

A recent study conducted by Hire Digital suggests that 59% of senior marketers said that they are maximising freelance service growth over the last five years. Moreover, 66% of companies even say that hiring freelancers on their teams boosts the productivity of their organisations. 

The same study by Hire Digital shows that 82% of the world’s youth freelancers come from Asia–a significant gap from the 47% in North America. With Southeast Asia being an outsourcing hub of the world’s foremost financial and technical companies, it’s no surprise that the Philippines ranked 1st among the fastest-growing freelance economy markets worldwide, with over 1.5 million active freelancers. Other active freelance markets come from Singapore, India, and Hong Kong. These Asian countries cater to various industries ranging from tech, finance, hospitality, retail, and more. 

Related: How to get freelance jobs in Hong Kong (4 steps)

The rise of self-employment

Aside from the market change, mindset shift among young professionals also contributes to the growing freelance market. Today’s workers opt to do “own account work” instead of sticking with traditional working setup.

According to an article in Lancer X, the number of account workers has risen from 8.8% in 2019 to 9.7 in 2020. Out of 228,200 own account workers, 84% take their freelancing work as their main job.

And this increase has been going steadily each year. While working independently without a clear-cut employer-employee relationship may be scary for some, the younger generations embrace it wholeheartedly. 

Filipino freelancer on the benefits of being self-employed.

For the Asia Pacific region, the Freelancing industry not only provides opportunities to gain a higher salary but also to escape the horrors of full-time 9-5 work. In this post from a Filipino freelancer, she cited the dreaded Manila traffic as one of the most compelling reasons for switching to freelancing.

A solution to the “Talent Crunch”

The business sector is seeing a great resignation trend among skilled workers across industries, dubbing the phenomenon as the “Talent Crunch.” The increasing rate is highly alarming for companies, as it’s said that the world will lack 85 million talent by 2030 if the trend goes on.

Businesses across the globe find hiring freelance talents and skilled professionals as the number one solution to the talent crunch. A recent article from Tech Collective said that around 20 million highly skilled freelancers could be found in the Southeast Asia market alone, which is more than enough to resolve the talent crunch in the region and supply additional manpower to other countries. 

Employers and hiring professionals have also adapted to the changing employment trends. Before, university degrees were all that mattered. Now, online training, certifications, and portfolios place more weight on a freelancer’s resume–giving everyone better access to higher-paying jobs that can help them showcase their talents.

The threat of recession

With the looming recession, more Southeast Asian companies are veering towards outsourcing and finding freelance contractors to reduce operational costs. Getting skilled freelancers can help a company reduce up to 30% of operational costs each hire–imagine the savings a company receives when they operate in a fully remote and freelance setup.

Aside from this, senior marketers also suggest that the freelancing industry resolves three of the biggest challenges of business excellence: lack of expertise among employees, long approval processes, and the rapidly changing market. This helps companies save time and resources, which they can dedicate to creating new products or solutions to further increase their revenue. 

With all these statistics and trends about freelancing, it’s safe to say that the rise of the freelancing industry doesn’t only offer more employment options for talents, but it also helps numerous businesses thrive on the market today. 

Advantages of being a freelancer

Because of the increasing number of freelancers, there is no shortage of people who attest to the benefits of being a freelancer. While each freelancer’s experience may vary depending on their skills, experience, and the industry they work in, here’s what you can expect when you start your freelance journey.

A freelance career gives you optimal freedom and control over your career. You can set your own working terms–from your schedule, rates, etc.

Achieve flexibility

Freelance contracts and gigs provide flexible working setups to accommodate all kinds of lifestyles. Some may be output-based, fixed project rates, or hourly contracts. In most of these setups, freelancers can set their own schedules and pacing.

Work anytime and anywhere. Photo by Kristin Wilson on Unsplash

Aside from your flexible working time, most freelancers are also granted the freedom to work anywhere. While there may be periodic project meetings, freelancers can work on their own terms as long as they can meet the deadlines and metrics agreed upon on their contract.

Regardless of the working schedule and terms you choose, freelancing allows you to work anywhere and anytime–balancing work and personal life as you see fit. 

Control over your career

Compared to regular work, where you're almost forcefully obligated to do every task given to you, in freelancing, you can say no. This includes declining offers, projects, contracts, or even clients. If you deem that a job can't fully compensate you for your skills and experience, or if you feel it won't contribute to your freelancing journey, you're free to decline a project.

Even though you're free to choose the types of projects and clients you want to work with, remember that each decision can affect your entire freelancing journey.

Each contract, output, or project you would work on may significantly affect your portfolio and credibility. So, it's best to commit to projects only if you can fully dedicate your time and talents to them.

Opportunity for higher earning

Freelancers don't base their rates on standard employment metrics. Instead, they charge based on their skills, experience, portfolio, and overall expected company contribution. Because of this, freelancers can charge higher than employees on a traditional working set up if they deem it applicable.

Because of the flexibility of their working setup, freelancers can also take on multiple clients at a time. This freedom can lead to higher earning potential. However, when doing this, remember to review your contract, as some freelancing contracts don't allow talents to work with competitors or other companies under the same niche. Furthermore, don't forget to ensure that you can deliver the demands of your existing projects before taking in a new one.

Related: 6 side hustle ideas you should consider starting

Embracing a wide variety of work

Boredom is one of the worst enemies of freelancers. Once you've started your freelance life, there may come a time when you will find yourself doing the same things from one project to another. To avoid this, it's best to develop a diverse skill set, which would allow you to take on a wide variety of work. This way, you won't find yourself in a constant loop of a single task.

Embrace opportunities. Photo by Jason Goodman on Unsplash

It's highly recommended to branch out to other skills connected to your current niche. For instance, if you've been working as a Content Writer, you can also explore other writing tasks, such as Email Copywriting, SEO Content Creation, and more. This way, you can offer better value to your new clients.

Constant learning opportunities

As mentioned a while ago, senior marketers believe that hiring freelancers allow organisations and companies to adapt to the ever-changing market. This is because freelancers are obliged to learn new skills and constantly adapt to new technologies. Learn new skills regardless through various strategies–watch online tutorials, benchmark quality work of other freelancers, and more.

Like software or gadgets, freelancers need updates. Doing this will help you stay current and relevant in the industry, enabling you to receive projects regardless of any market change or industry shift. 

Being your own boss

As a freelancer, you decide when and where you work, and you are fully in charge of where your career goes. In short, you're responsible for your own success. However, just like other company leaders, a wrong decision may also cause a significant decline in your freelancing career. So, make sure you know the industry and niche you'll choose.

It will also help if you have a concrete and systematic plan for your freelancing journey, pretty much like how you'd plan your business. Study the market you're eyeing, analyze the demand of your niche, go through freelance job boards, do competitor's analysis among other freelancers, and more. Doing this would help you manage your expectations and properly navigate through various freelancing marketplaces.

Enjoy tax benefits

In most Asian countries, freelancers can file their taxes as Self-Employed, Professional, Sole Proprietor, or even Business Owner. These various modes of tax applications also come with a wide range of tax deductions and exemptions, accounting for the expenses you may incur while carrying out your freelance work.

Challenge and success of building your personal brand

Seasoned freelancers no longer go job-hunting. Instead, brands and companies alike reach out to them to avail of their services. You can achieve this by building your personal brand and establishing yourself as an expert in your field. Deliver results and provide a hassle-free work experience for contractors–and make sure to ask for testimonials from satisfied clients!

How to become a freelancer: a step-by-step guide

While becoming a freelancer in Asia can vary depending on the country and industry, here are some of the general steps successful freelancers swear upon: 

Starting your freelance career is like starting a business–study the market, determine your niche, network, and create strong online credibility.

Develop an in-demand skill or talent

Just like how a business determines its offer, you should also determine your niche. In doing this, it's best to look for the most in-demand skill or talent. 

Go big on in-demand skills in tech, finance, and more. Photo by jose aljovin on Unsplash

According to a LinkedIn article, some of the most in-demand skills include copywriting, graphic designing, digital marketing, and data analytics. Other niches you can explore include virtual assistant gigs, development of apps, Wordpress content moderation, social media management, and even project management. Once you find your niche, it’s also best to determine your target industry, such as eCommerce brands, B2B companies, tech startups, and more.

While freelancers’ experiences vary, it’s better to master one skill if you’re just starting your freelancing journey. This will help you build credibility among clients, which may then encourage them to offer you more projects in other niches. 

Build a strong portfolio of your work

A portfolio will help you showcase your abilities and talents to potential clients. Aside from attracting more opportunities, it also helps your future employers manage their expectations based on the services you can give. 

Curating your portfolio can be tricky for new freelancers. Some opt to lump everything they have created into a single folder, but this rarely works. Remember that your portfolio shows your skills and experiences, setting your value. 

In some cases, it only takes one good article, email campaign, or graphics to land your first clients. For this reason, prioritise showing your experience and your best work instead of remuneration in sorting your portfolio. It may be a cliche, but for freelancers, quality is better than quantity. Furthermore, while some clients may request trial tasks, it’s best to ensure that you don’t provide your full expertise for free. 

Create a professional online presence

According to Fundera, more than 64% of freelance work is found online. This means your online presence can truly make or break your freelance career. Aside from freelance platforms, many freelancers find clients and projects through social media profiles such as LinkedIn, Instagram, Facebook, and TikTok. So, creating a professional and positive reputation for these sites is essential.

Most importantly, it’s best to create a personal website that would showcase your skills and talents. Aside from the fact that it can serve as an excellent portfolio for your previous works, it can also show ideal clients tangible proof of your skills. 

Having your personal website alone can increase client trust and generate more revenue for you.

Managing a professional online presence could be challenging, but it’s almost an inescapable task for freelancers. Fortunately, some websites provide beginner-friendly packages for freelancers to create their own websites. 

Gone are the days when you had to assemble a team just to create a simple website. Now, you can do this on your own with a couple of simple steps and ready-made templates. Click here to learn more about GoDaddy Domain and Website Builder.

Network and market yourself

Connecting with other freelancers and potential clients should be your priority when starting your freelance career. Reach out to prospective clients and let them know about your available work. The simple act of using LinkedIn’s #OpenToWork frame is said to increase professional engagement by up to 20%

Attract clients whenever possible.

Aside from creating a strong social media presence, you can achieve a better market reach by attending industry events, joining online communities, and looking for referrals. Don’t be afraid to explore collaboration with other freelancers or professionals within your industry–everything that can potentially expand reach may help you drive potential clients toward your portfolio. 

Related: How to kickstart your online presence when freelancing

Depending on the country, employment regulations and tax declaration laws may be specific to freelancers. This information is especially crucial if you’re doing your freelance work as your part-time job. It’s best to be fully aware of these before onboarding clients, especially high-ticket ones, to avoid any issues along the way.

Aside from this, there are also non-disclosure agreements, privacy and non-competition contracts, copyright clauses, invoicing rules, and other legal matters you may encounter based on your niche. You must learn how to protect yourself from unfair clauses and avoid potential disputes for your work. 

Find the best platform for your services

Lastly, find the best freelance website for your services. Beginners can start by creating profiles on some of the biggest freelance marketplaces, such as Upwork, Freelancer, and Fiverr. Remember to create a striking profile, as you will be competing with hundreds of thousands of freelancers worldwide.

There are also some niche-based platforms that you can explore. This includes Toptal for IT-related projects, Behance for creatives, Contently for marketing, and more. Some freelancers opt to create profiles across various platforms. While this may be an excellent strategy, creating a fully-optimised and engaging profile would still likely bring you more clients. 

Creating profiles for each platform may vary. It’s highly recommended to research how you can optimise your profile on each platform. However, the rule of thumb includes using a professional profile photo, creating engaging copies, and strategically leading potential clients to your portfolio. Remember that your profile is the first thing people see, so it can truly make or break your freelancing journey.

Start freelancing today

Freelancing in Asia may be challenging at first, but it can definitely be fun and rewarding. If you feel like your full-time job is no longer helping you achieve your goals, maybe starting a freelance business is the answer. Still don’t know where to start? Start building up your skill sets and portfolio today. Click here to learn more about how you can create the best professional-looking website to help you showcase your skills and talents.