Freelancers: What They Are and How They Work

What is a freelancer?

While freelancing has been a popular option for several decades, its prevalence has increased tremendously in recent years. Thanks to technological advancements and a change in the culture of work, freelancing as a career option has surged in popularity and has become an important fixture of the global economy. 

In this article, we will take a deeper look into what freelancing entails, the different career paths available for freelancers, and the advantages and challenges of this form of work. 

What is a Freelancer?

In essence, a freelancer is an individual who is self-employed and does work on a project basis for other businesses or individuals looking to outsource their services. Unlike contractors, freelancers are responsible for setting their own rates and hours, keeping track of time spent on different projects, billing clients, and paying their own taxes. Typically, freelancers work for a number of clients at a time and earn an income from each project. 

What Jobs Can Freelancers Do?

Online freelance jobs

There are many career options available for freelancers, although some are more popular than others. The jobs generally fall within these three categories: creative, development, and supportive. More about these categories and a comprehensive list of the roles within each of them can be found in our free foundations course

Usually, any type of job that can be done remotely and on a project basis can be done as a freelancer. However, some roles are more popular than others, and the demand for them may be much higher.

Recent data from Upwork suggests these are the in-demand jobs and skills at present:

  • Mobile app development
  • Web development
  • Virtual assistants
  • Customer service representatives
  • Social media managers
  • Content writers
  • Graphic designers
  • SEO specialists
  • Data analysts
  • Project managers
  • E-commerce development
  • UI/UX designers
  • Video editors
  • Email marketing specialists
  • Translators
  • Sales professionals
  • Accounting and finance professionals
  • Legal professionals
  • HR consultants
  • Business consultants.

According to ZipRecruiter, freelancer salaries in the United States can vary significantly depending on factors such as qualifications, experience, and skills. Estimates for these salaries range from a low of $15,500 to a high of $158,500. It is worth noting that 60% of professionals who shifted from full-time positions to freelance work reported earning more than they did in their previous roles.

59% of freelancers believe they are making more freelancing than they would in a traditional role.

To back that up, the average gig worker makes $5,120 per month, and 59% of freelancers believe they are making more freelancing than they would in a traditional role.

Advantages of Freelancing

Freelancers enjoy many benefits in their line of work, which is what makes it such a sought-after career choice. Some of the main advantages of freelancing include, but are not limited to:

Flexibility: Freelancing provides the flexibility to work from anywhere and at any time, as long as their deadlines are met. This can be especially beneficial for those who prefer to work independently and manage their own schedule. 

Control over workload: Freelancers can choose the projects they want to work on, as well as the number of projects they take on at any given time. This can help them maintain a manageable workload and avoid burnout

Potential for higher income: Freelancers have the potential to earn higher rates than traditional employees, as they can negotiate their own rates with clients and take on more projects.

Work-Life Balance: Freelancing provides the chance to balance work and personal life, allowing for more time with family, improved stress management, and the pursuit of personal interests.

Diverse work experience: Freelancing can provide the opportunity to work with a variety of clients across different industries, which can lead to a broader range of experiences and skills.

Creative freedom: Freelancers have the freedom to choose the type of work they want to do, as well as how they want to approach each project.

Personal Satisfaction: Freelancers have the opportunity to work on projects they are passionate about, which can lead to a sense of personal fulfillment and satisfaction in their work.

Autonomy: Freelancers are their own boss, which means they have control over their careers and the direction they want to take it.

Tax benefits: Freelancers can often deduct business-related expenses, such as home office expenses, from their taxes.

Challenges of Freelancing

As many advantages as there are to freelancing, that doesn’t mean that it’s without its challenges. These challenges include, but are not limited to:

⚠️ Uncertainty of income: Freelancers may experience an irregular income, which can make budgeting and financial planning difficult.

⚠️ Self-employment taxes: Freelancers may be responsible for paying self-employment taxes, which can be higher than traditional employment taxes.

⚠️ Time Management: Freelancers must manage their own schedules and deadlines, which requires strong time management skills and the ability to prioritize tasks effectively. 

⚠️ Lack of benefits: Freelancers are not typically offered benefits such as health insurance, retirement plans, or paid time off by their clients. 

⚠️ No job security: Freelancers don’t have the same job security as traditional employees, as they are not guaranteed a steady stream of work from their clients. 

⚠️ Constant need to find new clients: Freelancers need to continually market themselves and find new clients in order to maintain a steady stream of work.

⚠️ Isolation: Freelancers may experience feelings of isolation and loneliness as they don’t have the same level of social interaction that traditional office jobs provide. 

⚠️ Responsibility for all aspects of the business: Freelancers are responsible for managing all aspects of their business, including finances, marketing, legal issues, and client management.

It’s important to carefully consider these challenges before deciding to pursue a career as a freelancer. By being aware of the potential downsides, you can take steps to mitigate them and create a successful and fulfilling career for yourself. 

The Importance of Freelancers in the Global Economy

global freelance economy
Table 1: Global freelance economy projection (CAGR 15.3%)

According to recent research, the global freelance economy is expected to grow significantly over the next few years; the study predicts that by 2027, its total value will reach $9.19 Billion, marking a significant increase from the $3.39 Billion in 2020, with an average annual compounded growth rate of 15.3%.

Additionally, a report published by Upwork in 2021 revealed that nearly 28% of American professionals surveyed (40.7 million respondents) expect to be working fully remote in the next five years.

As the global economy continues to shift towards a more flexible and remote work environment, the number of freelancers is likely to continue to grow. The COVID-19 pandemic has further increased the popularity of freelance work and the need for freelance talent, as more companies rely on them to fill job openings. Also, with recent technological advancements, remote work has become even more accessible and viable. 

By hiring freelancers, businesses can quickly adapt to changing market conditions and access specialized skills on a project-by-project basis. This can be more viable than hiring a full-time employee for the same role and more affordable.  

Freelancing has also made it possible for businesses to access talent from all over the world. This means that businesses can find the best people for the job, regardless of where they are located. Additionally, the rise of the freelance economy has contributed to economic growth, as it has created new jobs and opportunities for individuals to start their own businesses and work on their own terms.


Freelancing is a popular career choice that provides numerous benefits, such as flexibility, control over workload, and the potential for higher income. As the global freelance economy continues to grow and evolve, many different types of jobs are available for freelancers in a wide range of industries. 

However, it is important also to be aware of the challenges that come with freelancing, such as the uncertainty of income, lack of benefits, and the need to find new clients constantly. By weighing the pros and cons and being prepared for the challenges, freelancing can be a fulfilling and successful career path.

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Freelancers: What They Are and How They Work

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