How to start your career as an independent contractor
June 19, 2019
Being an employee and working from 9 to 5 in an office is slowly becoming a thing of the past. While previous generations cherished the security that came from such employment, millennials have somewhat different preferences.
More than one-third of millennials, who are currently the largest generation in the workforce, are independent contractors. Why? Because they value freedom and flexibility over traditional job security. But it’s not just them: this trend is highly contagious. (If you don’t believe us, just Google the term ‘gig economy’.)
Whether it’s the fault of millennials, technological development, or something entirely different, freelancing has become increasingly popular in the US. According to the Freelancing in America Survey, 50.9% of the US workforce will be freelancers by 2027.
Sure enough, being self-employed has many advantages. For example, you can set your own hours, work from anywhere, and have multiple interesting part-time jobs. Does it sound enticing? No kidding. But how to get started?
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How to become an independent contractor
The road to being self-employed is not as easy as you may think. There are numerous things you need to be aware of before you can even start looking for your first gig.
Cover all your legal bases
Generally speaking, the law tends to regard freelancers as small businesses and not as employees. However, different state and federal regulations apply to freelancers based on their place of residence and the industry they’re active in.
Check out if you need a business license, when and how to pay taxes, what kind of invoice you need to issue to your clients, and anything else you have to know before you can get started. While this sounds tedious, anything that can keep you out of trouble with the IRS & Co. is worth the effort.
The gig economy is all about connections. You may be the best graphic designer/English tutor/car mechanic in the world, but if nobody knows you exist, you won’t get hired.
Don’t worry, this doesn’t mean you’ll have to attend every networking event ever invented (though that wouldn’t hurt). In fact, if you want, you can network away from your couch or your kitchen table, as long as you have a stable internet connection.
Freelancer, Upwork, SolidGigs, Fiverr, and FlexJobs are all excellent platforms aggregating self-employed workers looking for their next gig. These few are just examples; there are a lot more platforms out there. Find out what the most popular networks in your industry are, and create a profile there.
While all these platforms work according to slightly different rules, they all serve a common purpose. Their main aim is to create a hub where freelancers and employers can meet. Independent contractors can showcase their talent by uploading a portfolio, collecting feedback from previous jobs, or entering various contests within the network.
Meanwhile, employers have an opportunity to post job ads and browse freelancer profiles. So make sure your profile catches their attention.
If you want to become an independent contractor, your biggest asset is your reputation. How good you are at your job, how you treat your clients, and how professional you are all contribute to your reputation, which is your strongest weapon in the quest to find gigs.
Make sure your online portfolio features your finest work. Ask satisfied clients to provide feedback on your profile, and never leave a client angry. A bad review, however unjust, can seriously hurt your reputation and make other employers think twice before hiring you.
This is why it’s really important to be honest about your skills. If you boast about your amazing web design skills but the end result looks like it escaped from the 1990s, you can’t be surprised if your client feels cheated and leaves a scathing review.
Remember, lying about your skills may get you one job. But only that one. If you’re serious about becoming an independent contractor and want to make a career out of it, think long-term and only take on jobs you’ll be able to finish to the maximum satisfaction of your client.
Don’t forget social media
While freelancer websites are an excellent way to find self-employed gigs, don’t neglect your social media profiles. Professional networks like LinkedIn are instrumental in connecting employers with job-seekers.
Find your clients on LinkedIn and any other social media platform relevant to your profession, and connect with them there as well. Be as active as possible; post, share, and engage in conversations. From this point of view, social media is a high tech word-of-mouth marketing tool. Use it to find new clients and to remind old ones of your existence.
Volunteer in your field
If your portfolio is incomplete, your freelancer profile greener than freshly mowed lawn, and your feedback site empty, nobody will dare hire you. Don’t blame them. Would you hire somebody who hasn’t proven themselves yet?
Landing a gig is similar to getting a full-time job. If you’re a newbie without any significant experience under your belt, you’ll have a hard time finding your first client. This is where volunteering comes in.
Look for unpaid jobs in your field. A charity wants to get their website redesigned? Your neighbor’s kid needs tutoring? A blog is looking for pro-bono contributors? Grab the opportunity and do your best at the job. And when it comes to “payment,” ask for feedback in return for your efforts.
Have your client write a glowing review of your services on your freelancer page. As an added bonus, you can showcase your freshly finished work product on your portfolio, and kaboom! You’re not green anymore.
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Watch out for a healthy work-life balance
Becoming an independent contractor can be a blessing and a curse when it comes to work-life balance. It’s true you can get your groceries done at 10 am when the store is practically empty. However, it’s just as easy to get sucked into work and still labor away at your desk at 10 pm on a Friday evening when all your friends are relaxing in a pub.
Don’t take on every gig just because someone offers it to you. Carefully consider each job offer and take only what you really need or want to.
In addition, look after your mental health. Not having a secure, steady job can induce anxiety in many people. Also, being a freelancer may get lonely sometimes. Make sure to create connections that can fill in for traditional work friendships.
Being self-employed gives you freedom, flexibility, and an opportunity to take on various independent and interesting projects. You’ll be able to meet many people, hone your skills, and learn a lot in a short amount of time. But, as you can see, it’s not that easy to become a successful independent contractor.
Are you up for the challenge?