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The Gig Economy, Freelancing, and You

Sometimes it feels like it’s hard to make a difference with your job. You’re working for someone else, and they end up making the lion’s share of the profits while you’re paid a fraction of your worth. If you could only start freelancing and be your own boss as a freelancer.

Good thing we live in the internet age! Have you ever heard of the gig economy? Or freelancing? Because that’s the way the future is headed now. Maybe large corporations are here to stay, but you CAN take your place among them, and many talented freelancers have started doing just that.

Freelancing Beginnings

The gig economy only exists because of the internet. Without it, it would be almost unsustainable for most people. However, because of the internet, people can get clients from all over the world.

The gig economy came about because of workers that wanted the flexibility of working a job without having to report for the same hours every single day. If you work as a freelancer, you work many short-term jobs instead of being an employee of a firm. This has several upsides and downsides, that we can look at piece by piece.

Working Hours As a Freelancer

If you plan to work as a freelancer in the gig economy because it’s easier than working a real job, turn back now. Because it’s not. As a freelancer, you often have to work much longer hours starting out than anyone at a “regular” job. However, on the upside, you can pick your working hours. For example, I work as a web designer and freelance writer. I often have to work 10-12 hours per day, but I can divide that up any way I like. I can get up early, knock all my work out, and have the whole night free. Or I can sleep in and work late into the night. But either way, I don’t have an employer breathing down my back. However, if working longer hours for less pay (at first) isn’t your thing, that’s understandable. But there are other factors at play too…

Pay Scale for Freelancers

Payment is a funny thing in the freelancing world. You eventually develop a slightly cynical attitude towards clients, but you have to hide that if you want more of them. Sadly, many people hire freelancers on the internet because they are easy to underpay (people don’t know what they’re worth) or they can guilt them into doing MORE work for free (because freelancers often don’t know what’s a fair price for work). The only solution to this is knowledge; you need to know how much people should pay you if you want to work this way. I’d recommend looking at what freelancer with similar reviews and similar gigs offer, and base your pay rate off of that.

One other thing to note is that as a starting freelancer, you often have to do a lot of work for pretty cheap in order to prove to others that you CAN work well. Because to their credit, they don’t know the quality of your work. Once you have a portfolio and a series of good testimonials from past clients, THEN you can ramp up your pay. Until then? Don’t overestimate yourself. That leads to bad reviews. Be realistic about what you can do and what it’s worth.

Freelance Legal Protection

The short answer? You really don’t have any. The long answer? You have to get it for yourself. Popular freelancing sites like Upwork and Fiverr have fairly good customer service, but they tend to side with the freelancers, siding with the customers instead. This can lead to some frustrating phone conversations, and (in my case) several jobs where I was completely unpaid. I have two pieces of advice to make sure you get paid what you’re worth: First, use an escrow service and a clearly-defined contract. And do NOT go outside the contract; do exactly what you agreed to do. If they want more, they need to pay more. An escrow service holds the client’s money until you complete the job, then they release it to you once you’ve met the conditions. Upwork has their own, and it works great. Fiverr does something similar as well.

If you’re working independently, I’d recommend two things. Unless you REALLY (and I mean really!) trust the client, demand at LEAST 40% of the money upfront, the rest of delivery. People are less likely to back out if they’ve paid some upfront. If the two of you are in the same country, get a legally binding contract (like one from Rocket Lawyer in the US) and have both of you sign it BEFORE you start work. This protects both of you from cheating.

Lastly, if someone refuses to pay anything upfront, sign a contract, or use an escrow service, DO NOT WORK FOR THEM. That seems obvious, but people do it anyway, hoping that “they’ll pay me anyway.” They won’t if they refuse to do the above things.

How to Get Started with Freelancing

I’d recommend starting with a freelancing site like Fiverr. This gets your feet wet with dealing with customers and doing small jobs. Upwork is harder to use well, but it pays much better once you figure it out. Here are some of my tips:

  • Charge less than competition (don’t be afraid to charge almost anything at the start)
  • Get good reviews… Do a good job! Don’t slack off. Good reviews get better jobs.
  • Read a book on sales. I recommend Selling 101 by Zig Ziglar or Triggers by Joe Sugarman. Sales books teach you how to get more customers.
  • Be nice, even to mean people. Most of my best customers refer other people to me, so you never know who might get you a lot of business!

Freelancing is one place capitalists and socialists can unite… You get paid for what you do and keep almost 100% of it. And you don’t have to take advantage of anyone to do it.

About Caleb Smith

Caleb is a freelance writer and music student from the United States, with a passion for comic books, reading, and punk rock. He loves writing about often overlooked and under-reported stories to help raise awareness.

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