Becoming an At-Home Freelancer

person working as a freelance project manager from her home.
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Becoming a freelancer is a fast and affordable way to start earning an income from home. Especially if you freelance a skill you already have, you can get started offering your services today.

What Is a Freelancer?

A freelancer is someone who offers their services for a fee and usually with no expectation of a permanent single client, although the working relationship can be ongoing. It's a form of self-employment, similar to operating a home business versus telecommuting. With that said, a freelancer can work as a contractor, as opposed to a home business.

Why Would You Want to Freelance?

There are several reasons to start freelancing:

  • Done on the side around your job, it's a way to generate extra income to pay off debt or save for a rainy day.
  • It's affordable to start if you already have the skills and equipment to do the job.
  • You can start quickly. As soon as you find a client, you can start getting paid to freelance.
  • It allows for greater independence over a job.
  • It's often flexible, allowing you to work part-time or during off-business hours.

There can be a few downsides, including:

  • It can take time to build a full-time income.
  • Work, and therefore, income, can be irregular.
  • Managing multiple clients and projects requires excellent organization.
  • Pay for new freelancers is often low.

What Kind of Work Does a Freelancer Offer?

Nearly any kind of service provided to another business can be offered on a freelance basis. Some common freelance jobs include:

  • Freelance writer
  • Freelance web designer
  • A freelance virtual assistant or virtual professional
  • Freelance bookkeeper
  • Marketing/PR services or social media manager

What Do You Need to Get Started?

To freelance, you need to have a skill you can offer to potential clients. Most people draw on their employment experience, offering services using the talents they already have. Along with a service, some things to consider putting together include:

  • A business plan. While you may not be setting up an official home business, contact your city or county to determine if you need a business license to freelance. You will still need a plan that outlines what service you'll provide, the market you'll cater too, and marketing strategies.
  • A website that tells about you and your services, and includes a portfolio of your work, and testimonials.
  • A LinkedIn profile. While all social media can be a great resource to network for freelance work, LinkedIn is an online resume located in a place where professionals connect. It's also a great resource for ​finding freelance jobs.
  • A dedicated business phone or cell phone number on which prospects can reach you
  • A business card.
  • A menu of services and your freelance rates.

How Do You Find Work?

Freelance work can be found just about everywhere. Places to consider include those within your social network, online and off.

Go to where your target market hangs out and look and ask around there. The best place to find clients is where clients look for help. Learn about your market, what it reads, and where it goes to get support and be available to provide help, ideas, and resources.

There are many great freelance sites to find work, including Upwork (formerly Elance and oDesk), Guru, and Freelancer. You can also look for freelance work on sites targeting your skill—for example, Toptal for programmers or BloggingPro for freelance writing jobs. Some job sites focus on U.S. workers and others will focus on international workers.

Joining an association within your industry provides you with some clout. It also offers many networking opportunities, job listings, or a newsletter you can advertise or write to show off your expertise. 

How to Handle Taxes?

Like any job or business, freelancers need to meet their federal, state, and local tax obligations. It means filing any estimated tax returns, just as you would if you started your own business, except that your taxes are filed under your name and social security number instead of your business name and tax ID number. Any clients who pay you more than $600 in a calendar year are required to provide you with IRS form 1099 reporting your earnings.

Estimated taxes are filed with the IRS (and in most states) on a quarterly basis. The IRS provides forms to help you estimate your taxes, so you send in the right amount. Not paying your estimated quarterly taxes can result in interest and penalties from both the IRS and your state.

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The Balance uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Internal Revenue Service. "Reporting Payments to Independent Contractors." Accessed April 9, 2021.

  2. Internal Revenue Service. "Estimated Taxes." Accessed April 9, 2021.

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