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The what, why, and how of freelancing

There are three ways to make money. Get a job, become a freelancer, or start a business. I'm sure you're familiar with the first. What separates two and three are how you sell and deliver the product.

Alex Dovhyi
Alex Dovhyi
6 min read
The what, why, and how of freelancing

There are three ways to make money.

  • Get a job
  • Become a freelancer, or
  • Start a business

I'm sure you're familiar with the first. What separates two and three are how you sell and deliver the product.

What is freelance?

The biggest advantage (and downside that prevents people from starting) of freelancing is that you are the only person in charge. You'll handle every aspect of the job, including lead generation, sales, and customer service.

Becoming a freelancer is a simple and cost-effective method to begin earning money from anywhere on the earth. This is especially true if you already have a skill that you can sell as a service.

(Actually, you aren't required to, but we'll get to that later.)

When the owner (you) outsources most of the company's responsibilities and concentrates on running the high-level activities, freelancing transforms into a business.

Why freelance?

For many people, having a traditional career works, and not everyone will go out independently. However, formal employment most often lacks independence and opportunity for growth. In most cases, you must report to a specific place at a particular time and work for a wage that will not increase by more than 10% in a year.

A scalable business is on the other end of this spectrum. It offers limitless growth and independence but at a high cost in terms of risk and complexity. Starting your e-commerce brand, for example, may cost $10,000 and come with no promise of success. For a newbie who still has a lot of learning and growing to do, that's a lot of money.

Freelancing appeals to me as a first source of online income since it falls exactly in the middle.

  • Minimal entry cost
  • Low risk
  • Excellent for skill development, and
  • Enough upward potential to make it worthwhile to pursue

You can then expand your freelancing business in a multitude of ways. That could mean outsourcing services and establishing an agency, or it could mean using the extra cash to start a side business.

Even if you wouldn't intend to work as a freelancer for the rest of your life, it's a fantastic job to have: location independence, a high hourly wage, and a sense of freedom that few professionals have.

Companies are eager for your talents, and once you figure out how to monetize them, you'll never run out of money. I know because I'm experiencing it firsthand. It took a long time for me to carve out my niche in the industry, but now that I'm here, the quantity of possibilities is unrivaled.

You also might have heard about the benefits and downsides of freelancing.

  • On the one hand, you're free to set your schedule and work from where you want, with who you want, and when you want
  • On the other hand, you can't predict the income; instead of one boss to report to, you'll have a few clients to answer to; you'll have to run every aspect of the business

How to freelance?

With the rise of remote work, more and more people want to try freelancing. Which brings us to the next big question – how to get started?

Thankfully, becoming a freelancer is easier than ever. According to statistics, more than 59 million people are freelancing in the US.

Not only is it more popular than ever to work as a freelancer, but organizations are becoming comfortable with hiring freelancers and contractors rather than full-time employees.

So maybe it's time for you to start freelancing and become self-employed. The cost of becoming a freelancer is meager.

Here's how you can get started

Define your freelancing goals

It always starts with the "why," and freelancing isn't different. You're not getting in the car and starting driving until you have the destination. Freelancing is the same. You must choose your end goal that will drive your business forward.

From experience, I can tell you that even having some additional cash on the side is a worthy goal to have in mind when you're starting. We all start it for the money. But we continue for something more. But that's for another article.

Ask yourself, "Why do you want to become a freelancer in the first place?"

  • To create some income on the side?
  • To replace your full-time income?
  • How much do you want to earn while freelancing?
Start freelancing part-time

If you already have a full-time job, don't quit it yet to become a freelancer. One of the best things about freelancing is that you can easily handle it on the side without pulling yourself entirely from your primary job.

You can't create a successful freelancing business overnight. It takes time, deliberate actions, and building solid relationships.

Starting freelancing on the side will give you some time to build relationships with clients, creating a flow of clients while still enabling you to pay your bills.

Choose the skill you want to offer

Whenever you are freelancing on the side or full-time, you will build your business around the unique skills you offer. Those skills are your greatest asset.

So identifying skills you have already is a critical part of becoming a freelancer. Make a list of the skills you already have. Think of what your passions are and what you are good at.

  1. What would you do on weekends, after work?
  2. What would you do even if nobody would pay for it?
  3. What would you do if you had $10M in your bank account?
  4. What problems can you solve that many people find unsolvable?
  5. What is evident to you but looks like rocket science to others?
  6. What do people ask you to help with most often?
Define your target clients

Now, when you have the list of the skills you can monetize, think about who might potentially need these skills.

  • If you're into photography, you can do product photoshoots or weddings
  • If you're into graphic design, you can do social media graphics or logos
  • If you're into cars, you can offer a car service for specific parts

Consider who you would like to work with: small businesses, individual entrepreneurs, or large enterprises.

Put your skills into an offer

Choosing your skills was just a first step. Now, you need to sell them. Think about how you would use those skills for someone else. What is the service you provide with those skills?

For example,

  • Writing is a skill. Sales copywriting for landing pages is a service
  • Design is a skill. User interface design for mobile applications is a service
  • Coding is a skill. Creating custom web applications is a service

The important note here is once you identify the service, you don't have to sell the service itself. You must sell the solution to the problem that this service offers.

Telling small business owners that they can hire a designer isn't compelling. But telling them that you can increase their website conversions by improving the user interface will make them interested.

Telling a company that they can hire a copywriter isn't compelling. But telling them that you can write sales emails that will convert more subscribers into paying customers will make them interested.

Focus on selling the solution, the outcome of your service, not the service itself.

Price your services

When you're just getting started, there are a few ways to price your services:

  1. Hourly
  2. Fixed-price
  3. Retainer

With hourly rates, you get paid for the amount of time you've put in. It's a great way to start a relationship with a new client or work on ongoing projects.

With fixed-price projects, you're agreeing on the project's scope and delivering it for a fixed price.

Retainers (a flat monthly fee) work best for ongoing projects based on the predicted number of hours spent every month.

Do good work

Doing good work is the point most people aren't talking about. It's not enough to land your first client to start your freelancing business.

You must do exceptional work so you can win more work:

  • Get a review from the client
  • Get more work from the same client
  • Get references for other clients

All the previous and next steps don't matter if you cannot deliver what you promised.


There's so much more to freelance that it won't fit into a single article. Each of the points deserves its series. This is why I'm starting this series — to go into the details of each topic and give you the most optimal way to start freelancing.

Freelance Playbook

Alex Dovhyi Twitter

Product designer exploring design’s interplay with product, business, and technology, and answering your questions about freelancing, career, and personal growth.


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