How To Design A Sustainable Freelance/Contracting Career


Ready to kickstart your freelance career or just getting started on your freelance journey? You’re in the right spot. Learn the tricks of the trade from the industry’s most experienced freelancers.

The independent talent movement is the future of work. If you’re considering leaving full-time employment for a career as a freelancer, now is the time to find your successful space in the independent talent workforce. More people are working freelance today than ever before, with the freelance marketplace now contributing $1.2 trillion to the US economy. Some of the most in-demand roles for freelancers right now are senior developers with professional experience in React, Python, Blockchain, QA, and Node.js.

This workshop will help you design a sustainable and profitable full-time (or part-time) freelancing/contracting career. We will give you tools, tips, best practices, and help you avoid common pitfalls.


As I said, my name is Shane. I work at TopTel. And what I want to talk to you guys about today is freelancing. And specifically, I want to walk you through how you can design a freelance career. And I want to say that there's one word there that I think is important, and that's the word career. Freelancing or contracting as it's called, has had a negative connotation. And it's no longer that way. And I think, of course, over the last two years, we've seen a massive shift. And so I'm going to start out with some statistics for everybody. I think you guys might find these fascinating. So let me... There's the agenda. This is what we're going to be going over. We're going to talk about why freelancing, and I'm going to share some current statistics. We're going to talk about how you get paid, how you build your brand and business, and how you actually find work. And then you see the speed coding challenge there. So here we are. If anybody has heard of freelancing or contracting, you know that it's become popular, but you also know that it's very, very risky, because it's far easier and more convenient, and in some cases, more accepted to have a traditional job where you work for an employer and you get a steady pay. And when you talk about freelancing or contracting, I think one of the things that a lot of people naturally are fearful of is, well, what happens if I don't have steady pay? How do I pay my bills and feed my family, et cetera? But we're going to go over that today, because I think what you're going to see is going to change that opinion a little bit and ease that fear. One of the things I want to point out on this little chart, and this is from Statista. They're a great, great site. They do a lot of fantastic stats. And so one of the things I want to point out here is, since 2017, you can see the increase. Now, the big increase happened over the last couple of years, obviously. And there is a huge amount of economic opportunity in freelancing. It's become way more stable. It's highly flexible in terms of your lifestyle. It actually allows you for career growth. And there's a huge growing community of support around this. And I'll show you what that means in a second. I think you'll really like these statistics. So economic opportunity, what does that mean for you? Well, a lot of the times, when you take on freelancing work from another country, it can often be with a US company. And they will pay you in US dollars. In many cases, we have found that freelancers enjoy that. They get paid a lot more. And for them, it's really a good thing. Just if we're talking about not even global, but just in the US, freelancers have earned over a trillion dollars in 2018. That is a lot of momentum. About 36% of freelancers now make more than $75,000 a year. Again, this is US dollars, sorry. And what's very interesting is when they go out and they talk to freelancers and they talk to contractors, they ask them, what would make you go back to a traditional job? And 50% of them say, no amount of money would make them go back. And you have to ask yourself, why is that? What are they trading for that? And what you'll see is that freelancing has become so stable and accepted that they are able to make an actual career out of this, a career path. And again, I'll show you some of those examples here in a second. So how is this becoming accepted? And by the way, I want to point out, in all of these images, these are actual top towel. These are freelancers that you're seeing. These are not fake images. These are our shots of freelancers. 80% of major corporations, and when I say major corporations, I mean big companies such as Airbnb, pharmaceutical, health care, they plan on increasing their use of flexible workers in the coming years. They're having such good success with hiring from a pool of talent that they're going to continue and increase that. 30% of Fortune 500 companies, and these are a lot of big names you've heard of, a massive ton of big names, Microsoft, Apple, all of them use freelancers. They may not advertise that, but they do. 92% of freelancers expect opportunities to increase in the coming years. And 33% of companies use freelancers extensively. So this is no longer a thing that is unstable or negative. So flexibility, I think when people think of freelance work, this is the first thing that comes to mind. They think, oh, I could be in a cafe on my laptop. That's true. That is true. But I think one of the things we find with our freelancers that they continually come back and tell us is that it really changed their life because if you imagine it, think about this. Let's say that you have a passion, a hobby, something you want to do. When you're freelancing, you get more flexibility. You can adjust your hours as you see fit, and you can work wherever you see fit. We actually have a lot of stories of our own freelancers who have passions. They own nonprofits. They go to other countries and teach kids how to code. They are into things like skydiving. And because of the ability to kind of adjust their hours how they want, they've been able to pursue these passions outside of their work. And I think, again, coming back to flexibility, that really has changed a lot of their lives. We're doing a lot of interviews right now at TopTel, interviewing the freelancers in our network, and we're going to be posting those online, their stories. And there's some really inspiring stories that even really surprised me of things they've been able to go out and do beyond just the work. So career growth, I think a lot of people naturally are afraid. They think to themselves, well, if I'm at a company and I'm a developer, I could become a senior developer, and then I could become a manager, and then I could become an executive baby or something like that. The reality is, when you're freelancing, you can also do those things. The key is where you freelance at. Because if you're just freelancing completely on your own, it will obviously be a little harder to have that career path. Oh. Okay. Thanks, Alex. I will. Yeah. I got your question. I'll answer that. Coming up. It's coming up. Quickly. So anyway, career growth is possible. You can actually have a career path. Okay. And lastly, I just want to mention, everybody, there is a growing community out there. You're not alone. It's not like you go freelance and you're solo, and you're just by yourself in an isolated bubble. Again, this really depends on the platform you choose and how you choose to do your freelancing. That is exactly what I'm going to talk to you about next. And I am going to answer your question, Alex. Don't worry. I will. Getting paid. A lot of people wonder about this. How do they get paid? What are they worth? How do you go from being an employee of a company who has set your rate of pay to doing this on your own? How do you know what you're worth? That's an interesting question. So here's the answers. Negotiating contracts will become a very important part of your career as a freelancer. You got to look at your years of experience, first and foremost. When you reach the point of having two, three, even four, five, upper in those years of experience and plus, you're able to command obviously higher rates. And you can negotiate your contracts based on that. One of the things is that we try to instill in people is analyzing the market. It's really easy to do, actually. You can go out and look at what the pay rates are now. Interestingly enough, if you go look at what companies are paying, let's say a senior react developer, when you're freelancing, you have to understand you raise that rate by about 20 to 30% because you have to account for your own expenses. So that's really important to know. We have something called the 80% rule. And it's really simple. If you get more than 80% of the jobs you apply for, you're priced too low. You need a bunch of clients to reject you. I know that sounds crazy. I know that actually sounds odd to say. But if you're getting too much work, you're not pricing yourself of value. And you might think, yes, but I need all this work. Actually, no, you just need good work. And good work can mean less. So it's a strange rule, but it actually works. Here's a tip, best practice tip. Calculate the minimum amount of money you need monthly and yearly to live comfortably. What is the minimum? What is your base? I can pay all these things, all my bills, all my everything, have some savings, because your income will likely fluctuate based on your projects. So you want to just calculate that minimum amount and then build from there. Start from there. Work backwards, if you will. Always put some away. Not because you may not get work, but because you may want to take a month or two off. Some people do that, believe it or not. They do. And they may do that to increase, to learn a new skill. They might, for various reasons. So getting paid is obviously one of the most important parts of this. And there's many ways to actually do it. And at TopTal, we have put together a calculator for freelancers. So when they join the network, we have a pay rate calculator that takes all of this into account. So let's say you are a javascript expert, and you have five years of experience, and you want to know what your rate should be on the platform. What are you going to put your rate at? You can plug in the factors, and then it will show you the mid-range, upper-range, and lower-range. And then it will also tell you how much work you can expect to get. Okay. I had a little internet blip, but I'm back. All right. So next, I'm going to talk about building your brand. Not a lot of people think about this. This can be something that you may not even have ever thought of. You may not have encountered before. But think about how important it is. It's beyond your resume. It's you as a person. You're representing yourself. And you've got to build that brand. And I have some great tips to that, and why. Because everybody has to build their portfolio and their brand as they go along. And it's really important. And I'll tell you why it's important. It's important to get continuing work. As a freelancer, you represent you. And when you do that, it's important to remember that every interaction you have with a client is key to furthering that relationship, but also letting the client talk about you and market for you. And they will. Most of the clients you work with will know other people. They'll know other companies. They'll have colleagues. And the best thing you can ever have is a referral. It's the best thing you can get in many cases. Not all cases. So think about your brand. Think about who you are as a freelancer and what you want to kind of put out there into the world. You may be frustrated with a client. You may be frustrated with the work. You might even be frustrated with some aspect of what you're having to do or this project is going. But remember to always think about your brand first and foremost. It's really important. And again, it does go beyond the resume. Think about this too. If a client is going to hire you for a project, so think about something. Think about while you're working as a freelancer and you're doing your work. Think about far beyond your resume and think about every interaction you have anywhere. Because if somebody is going to hire you for a really big project, they're going to do their homework as well. And they may look on LinkedIn. They may look on Twitter or wherever and they want to learn about you. And all of those things are your brand. So think about that as you're building your brand. It's not just about your resume. Very important point to make. We talked a little bit about freelancing. I showed you some stats. I think if you haven't gotten the hint by yet, it's increasing. And for many, many, many, many reasons. So we talked a little bit about getting paid, how to set your rate, also building your personal brand and a little bit about why people freelance. When I say freelance, just for anybody that's new, I'm talking about contracting, freelancing, there are different terms used for different legal reasons. When you freelance, you're starting a business. That might scare a lot of people. Some of you probably already have a business. It's not a scary thing. You're just a sole proprietor. That's really what it is. And again, this is different in every single country. And I realize that. And so it's not an all-encompassing thing. But for the most part, you are starting a business. Whatever country you're in, you are a sole proprietor. And what does that mean? Well, there are certain steps you want to take. And the first step is you want to register your business. Now again, I 100% understand that in every country that's different how you do it. In the US, you do it in the state you live in. So for Colorado here, I went to the Colorado government website and I registered a business. It really doesn't cost that much money. And you register it in your name. You will most of the time, you can do this online these days. It's really pretty fast. Once you register your business, you then want to get a business license. Again, all this is is just setting yourself up so there's no legal issues or challenges in the future. A business license is usually done with the city you live in. And so you want to make sure you have that. Now once you have your business registered and you have a business license, I put the third bullet point here because this is really, really important. Most people do not have the time or the interest in figuring out the whole issue of taxes. It's a sticky issue because there's so many different ways to do it. Suffice it to say, find a good accountant, somebody. Find another freelancer that's an accountant. Support your local freelancers. If you want to do this on your own, it's totally OK. Here's the rule. Whatever your tax rate is in your country, your location, just take that amount out and set it aside in a savings account. Again, you're going to be charging more money when you're working on your own. So you can take that amount and set it aside. Then deal with taxes at the end of the year whenever your location does taxes. So another tip. Here's a tip. Anything you do as a freelancer, work meals, work travel if you have any, your home office, all of these things you do are things that in most cases, again, I'm talking about more of a US-centric here, you can use to reduce your tax liability. So there's a lot of advantages to this as well. So it's not all bad. OK. That said, I'm going to just very, very, very, very briefly cover this because I understand that this is more of a US issue than anything else. Once you get outside of the US, most people have health insurance provided for them. I will say, however, having been to many conferences and events, this is a number one question on top of a lot of people's minds. How do I deal with this? Because my company dealt with it. So I'm going to mention these briefly for the folks that this might be an issue for. There are options. In the United States, we have And again, this is state by state. You can buy your own health care insurance. Your freelance rate that you set will help you cover some of this. We also have COBRA. Many people have heard of that. A lot of freelancers go on their spouse's policy. Or in some cases, if you're younger than 26, your parents' policy. Domestic partners. Any insurance allows for you to be on their insurance. There is also, believe it or not, private health insurance. Yes, it's a little more expensive. I totally realize it. But as a freelancer, as a business, you can purchase these plans and adjust them however you see fit. And lastly, there's group coverage. Freelancers Union has been working on, for many, I think it's been for several years, a group plan for freelancers. So what they do is you join the group plan with the Freelancers Union, they call it. And in certain states, this applies. And you can get a group discount on health insurance. So the main takeaway is if health insurance is something that is on your mind as a worry, just understand that there are many avenues you can take. Don't let that be a major barrier. OK. Big topic. Probably something that a lot of people wonder about, finding work. This one is huge, because this is probably the most daunting thing about going on your own. How do I find work? And not only that, let me just say this. How do I find steady work so that I'm not struggling? So OK, a couple of tips. Continually source clients. What do I mean by that? What I mean by that is going back to building your brand that we talked about earlier. When you're working for a client, and you've got your first freelancing job. And by the way, I'm talking to developers here on this call, and some designers, I realize. I'll shout out to the designers as well. Because of the increase in demand in freelance work, getting your first client won't be as hard as it was five years ago. That first anchor client is important. You can utilize them to give you referrals. And don't be afraid to ask. Don't be shy to ask them for referrals. As well as they will talk about you to their colleagues. I guess that is a referral. And what you want to focus on during this engagement is really over delivering. I can say this also from personal experience of doing website work. When you over deliver, they will go the extra mile for you. It's really amazing how much they will value you and talk about you and get you more work. It will come. And that's part of your professional reputation, if you will. There's also job boards. Job boards are fair game. Let's say Indeed. You go on Indeed and you see a company looking for developers. Well, a lot of freelancers have gotten creative with reaching out to those companies and saying, I know you're hiring for developers. I'm a freelancer. I can help. And in many cases, they will be willing to talk to you. Again, people have done this. Freelance talent platforms. Let's talk about that. We all know the big names out there. Upwork, Fiverr, Guru, There's several. There's several. And then there's TopTel. I'm going to save TopTel for last, because obviously that's what I know the best. I will say this. Choose your platform wisely. Do your research. It's very tempting to jump onto one of these platforms and you can quickly get dismayed with freelancing if you don't do your homework and understand the audience on these platforms. Some people have had a lot of success creating a really fantastic profile on Upwork and they get work. Some haven't. And I think that it all comes down to how you really want to take your career. So again, do your research. These platforms are there, but realize a lot of them are, you know. I guess this is feedback I've heard from people. They get in there and everybody's like, you know, competing with rates. And that's never fun to do because you don't want to undervalue yourself just to get work. You know, and so, yeah, just I would do my homework is what I would really do. And don't forget to investigate TopTel. And speaking of that, I'll tell you why. And this will answer your question, hopefully, Andrew. Okay. So all of these people in this photo, by the way, are freelancers working in our network. They got together. They had a meetup recently. I think this was about the end of 2021, I believe. Why is TopTel any different? What makes it different than Upwork or Fiverr or Freelancer or any of those others? And what do they do for you? So why? Why are you going to take the time? TopTel takes care of a lot of the things that I talked about earlier. Number one, you may have heard this. We have a very stringent process to get through the TopTel into the network. I can tell you a little bit about that process, actually. We do look for people with greater than two years of professional paid experience. There is an online test. There is also a technical interview. And there is also a project. Now, in many cases, you're working with a fellow developer through this process who works at TopTel, who used to be a freelancer, and in many cases still is. They just are doing two things at once. We see a lot of people come in, and they are already working full time. And they come in, and they set their hours at 10 hours a week. They set the rate of pay, and they just want to try it out. And that's perfectly fine. The difference, the main difference with TopTel is you join an exclusive network that is not a race to the bottom. You are paid by TopTel. You are supported in your career path. And you have a massive community behind you. Also, we have matchers that send you work. So how that looks in real life, you will, we have a platform. And it's obviously, it's mobile, like most other platforms. And you have a profile. We also have profile editors that help you create a really good profile. We have a whole team dedicated to that. And then we have matchers. Our matchers look at your skill sets. They look at your work. And they look at what current clients are demanding. And they will match you. And they will send you the work. And you can look it over. And if you're interested in the role, you will go ahead and put your name in to be a part of the team. In some cases, clients hire teams of freelancers. So you're not alone. You could be on a team with other freelancers. And in many cases, a lot of our freelancers prefer it. They have made really lasting partnerships and friendships. We also have a huge community. Our freelancers are all in different various Slack channels together. We have a whole team that works for TopTel that sets up mixers, meetups. We have community leaders. Some of our freelancers are leaders in the countries and cities that they live in. And we support doing all of these things. I mean, we put ourselves behind this. So we also take care of a lot of the administrative overhead. So you don't have to deal with all the taxes and all that. We take care of that. Because you are paid by TopTel, not the opposite. So I think those reasons alone. The other thing is, too, to note, we vet the clients as well. So you're not going to be in the situation where you're trying to chase a client for pay. Because TopTel is paying you, we will chase the clients. But we don't really have to do that. We have really good companies that you'll be able to work with. I mean, I can say a few of them, Airbnb, large pharmaceutical chains. We have a whole list. It's on our website. You can see the list of companies that we work with. And really good projects that allow you to upskill and stay engaged. So very last, I want to share this little video with you that we produced. These are real freelancers. We had them agree to shoot this video. It's short. It's like a commercial. And I wanted to share it with you guys. Because it's a really good video that sums up very well the freelancing experience. And what I'm going to do here is play it. But I also want to make sure, I want to make sure that this is coming through my sound at the same time. Because I think in some cases, that does not happen. And so I just want to make sure that everybody can hear this. Actually, I may have to actually take my, well, what I'll do here, I don't think you guys will be able to hear this. So here's what I'm going to do. I'm going to just post this into the chat. And you can watch it. Because I know it'll be a disaster if I try it. Because I'm using two monitors, et cetera, et cetera. We all know how that goes. We've been down that road. OK. Just post this in chat. OK. Feel free to watch that on your own. It's a good, good little video. And they are not actors. They are actual freelancers in the video. So I will point that out. OK.
39 min
15 Feb, 2022

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