How to become a freelancer

...and the myth of choice

How do I become a freelancer? Said no one. Ever.

I can hear some of you drawing a sharp intake of breath. You’re thinking that this is going to get out of hand quickly. Bear with me. I’ll explain.

We all see lots of places online offering advice and information with step-by-step guides on how to become a freelancer. A great many of these guides start in the same way:

Find a service to offer that everyone wants and get really good at it.

But sadly, life rarely works like that.

Only a tiny fraction of the freelance population decided to become a freelancer without already knowing what it is they would do and you can bet they had more than a few sleepless nights wishing they hadn’t.

Becoming a freelancer is not a journey that most people set out on intentionally, it’s more often a destination that people find they’ve arrived at without really meaning to. It’s an opportunity, a door that opened in front of them, and they decided to walk through. More often than not, freelancing finds you – not the other way around.

For the vast majority of freelancers, they have a skill or knowledge that is in demand. Opportunities presented themselves to work with different clients, often because the demand for that service from a single client doesn’t warrant a permanent position in their existing organization.

For some, it’s a last resort. They’ve been made redundant and they know their skills are needed in other businesses, so they insulate themselves against future redundancy and hedge their bets by having multiple clients and offer their services as a freelancer.

Freelancing is a way of life for so many but it’s not a choice for a very large proportion of those. Yes, for some it is a choice – and a brave one too – but for lots, it’s a practical necessity. The work is there, just not in a single place. The choice is to take the freelance leap and continue to do the job you’re good at, or to find a job doing something else that you might dislike that provides a steady income. For many, that’s not a choice at all.

That’s why you see freelancing in some sectors more often than others. There are a huge number of freelance graphic designers, freelance photographers, freelance website programmers, and freelance writers. So many freelance writers. But ask yourself why. Many organisations need these people but can’t have them in permanent positions because they don’t need them every day. They need them for specific campaigns or for projects and when that campaign is done, they don’t need them anymore.

That’s how people become freelancers. They move where the work is. They seek out the gigs. It’s not that they woke up one morning and decided to become a freelancer. They woke up one morning and realized they may not have a job in a week or a month from now and they already had a skill that they could offer to a wider range of clients that would stop them constantly having short-term contracts and impromptu visits to the Jobcentre.

So, next time you see a guide about ‘how to become a freelancer’, ask yourself if the guide should really be ‘how to keep doing the job you love by becoming a freelancer’.