Freelancing: How to Choose a Gig and do a Great Job

Any good personal finance guru knows that pulling in side income is a great way to improve your financial situation, pad your savings, or fund your fun fund (say that 3 times fast!).  J. Money calls it a side hustle, others call it a part-time job, either way, it’s making money aside from your full-time job and there ain’t nothing wrong with that.

Before I started blogging, my part-time jobs were always with “real” employers.  I’d apply for a job, they’d interview me, hire me, and then pay me.  And when they paid me, they did all that tedious stuff like deduct all those payroll taxes from my income.  But, when you freelance, you are the boss (to a degree), so in addition to doing the work, you’ve got to do all the tedious stuff on the side (like pay your taxes).  But that’s not the point of this post – the point of this post is how to choose a freelance job.  No one freelance job is like the other – they all come in different shapes and sizes.  Some are great and turn into awesome working relationships, but others could turn out to be nightmares.

Freelance work does come with a lot of perks:

  • you set your own hours
  • you do something you love
  • often leads to self-improvement in your field
  • networking opportunities

But, even with all those perks, there are some jobs that just aren’t worth your time.  Here are some tips to help you choose the best freelance gig and know which freelance jobs to avoid:

Go With Your Gut

My gut is such a know-it-all.  It/she/he is always right.  And I’m guessing that everyone’s gut is worth listening to the majority of the time.  So if you’re gut is telling you to “GET OUT!” and that this is not the opportunity that you had hoped for – listen to it.  It’s just not worth it to get into an agreement that will end disastrously.  If you have to give notice for the agreement, do just that in a professional and a polite manner and end the job amicably.  You may be bummed about losing out on what seemed like an awesome opportunity, but something better will come along before you know it.

Set Your Standards

Freelance work is still a job.  It’s important to think of it that way.  Even though you may be working for a friend, family member, or acquaintance, it’s important to treat your “boss” with as much respect as you’d treat any other boss.  Likewise, they should treat you just like any other employee.  Set your standards early on the agreement.  Some example might be: How you’d like to be paid, when you’ll be paid, your rate of pay, when you are available for work/to be contacted, when your assignment should be due – things like that.  If you don’t set the groundwork early in the relationship, the lines could become fuzzy and the professional relationship could crumble.  Since freelance work is still a job, it’s very important to treat it as such.

Get An Agreement

Almost more important than setting your standards is getting an agreement in writing.  I like to ask about these agreements as soon as possible and am always pleasantly surprised when they either send me one before I even ask or have one ready to go upon my request.  If your new “employer” doesn’t have an agreement, this may or may not raise a red flag.  It could just mean that they are new to the business, or it could mean that they are unorganized and unprepared.  If you’re comfortable, you could provide the agreement, but for the most part, I would just walk away from the situation.  As a freelancer, it’s not technically your job to create an agreement for your new employer.

Once they send over an agreement (if they have one), be sure to read it over with a fine-tooth comb.  Take special note of payment mechanisms, how they expect you to end the agreement and if you should give notice, and how they describe the job.  You could also have a lawyer look over it if you are really uncomfortable.  If you’re not okay with what’s in the agreement, discuss it with your future employer before signing on the dotted line.

Ask For A 1099

Make sure your employer knows that they need to send you a 1099 form if they pay you $600 or more in any calendar year.  They can still send one if they pay you less, but it’s not required.  Since it’s illegal to not pay taxes on any income you earn, and I’m guessing you don’t want to end up in the slammer next to a crazy serial-killer, it’s important that you discuss this issue with your employer.  If they won’t agree to send you a 1099, then it’s probably not a good job to sign up for.

Don’t Agree To Be Underpaid or Unrecognized

Sometimes, freelance work takes more time and effort than you’re paid for (which I usually don’t mind since I really enjoy the work).  Usually, rates are good, but it’s easy to spend a lot of time on a job you actually care about.  However, there is a difference between earning every penny and being underpaid.  Don’t settle for low-paying or no-paying gigs if you don’t have to.  I’m always looking for excellent writing jobs, and there are mind-boggling amounts of job postings for writers on the web; however, many of them pay rates that are equivalent to a slap-in-the-face.  If you can’t find a good-paying gig, look elsewhere.  Similarly, it is not okay if someone will not recognize you for your work.  Writers should be recognized whether they’re guest posting (for free) or a contributing writer (being paid).

Don’t Be A Pushover

If you’re somewhat of a timid or passive person, you might need to push those tendencies aside when you freelance, because you won’t have anyone else to stand up for you but yourself.  You won’t have a boss or CEO in the office next-door protecting you from mean, scary people.  Stand up for yourself, be confident enough to know when you should disagree or speak up about something, and be prepared to not accept a job if it does not meet your standards.  On that note, most of the time, your freelance boss will be great!  I’ve seldom run into people that are difficult to work with, but you just gotta be prepared, because, they’re out there… There are tons of opportunities available and you don’t have to put up with someone that doesn’t treat you exactly how you would like to be treated.

Be Professional

Freelance work is brimming with network opportunities.  You are networking with your boss, their business contacts, and anyone who sees your work – all just by doing your job.  So, it’s very important to take the job just as seriously as your 9-5 – especially if you plan to expand this side business of yours.  Meet your deadlines, be professional towards your boss and co-workers, ask questions if you don’t understand what’s expected of you, and, of course, provide awesome work.  This is your chance to put everything you have into something you love and have people actually see it, so take time to make your work shine.  If you work hard, it’ll always pay off in the end.

In the end, it’s important to think realistically and practically when you are looking to freelance.  Freelance is still a job, it’s just a job that you have more control over individually.

If you take anything away from this article at all, it would be these three things: Take the opportunity seriously, do your best work, and be professional.

What are your tips for being a great freelancer and finding great freelance work?  Share your tips in the comments!


  • I’m in the business of writing and editing, both FT and PT.

    99 per cent of all those online writing and blogging jobs are worthless. Traditional print rates are awful as they are (haven’t changed in decades) but online? Forget about it – do these people not realise we’re trying to earn a living?

  • Love it! Esp “Go with your gut” – so true, even though it’s hard as hell sometimes 😉 Guts are funny like that – you pretty much know which is the right way to go most of the time, but you still question it and try to out-do it. But hey, it’s all a learning experience!

    Long live The Hustle.

  • I LOVE doing freelance work (and my dream would be to do it full-time), but my problem with it is that at least for me, my clients don’t have steady work. I might not hear from them for months, but all of a sudden I’ll have 3 projects at once. I’d like some advice from someone in-the-know about getting and maintaining a steady stream of income!

  • All I do is freelance. I (now) write PF articles for Investopedia, and I also freelance as a consultant which is the bulk of my income.

    The best advice I can give
    1. Keep your books and taxes clean. Call if you are unsure, or hire a pro if you are willing to fork over that kind of money each year (I’m not and I am a control freak).

    2. Stay cool, calm and professional
    Don’t let people at work (especially clients) get your goat. Vent on a neutral friend.

    3. Do your job well
    Don’t goof off, and be cognizant that you are working as a freelancer, not an employee. It’s not the same thing.

    4. Save. Save. Save. Save.
    There will be lean years and years. Hopefully more fat than lean, but you don’t want to be caught without an emergency fund

    5. Manage your time
    Don’t take on work you cannot finish unrealistically in a good time frame. Don’t promise what you cannot over deliver on, and stay organized.

    That’s about it..

  • Excellent advice. My husband has had his own business now for two years and he gets those “gut” feelings and I’m glad he listens to them. He feels guilty sometimes for not taking a job, but he’s also learned it isn’t worth the hassle. Congratulations on joining the Yakezie!

  • Hey there!

    Hopefully you’ll be able to answer my question… how does one actually get into freelancing? How can I START freelancing? I have no professional writing experience but I really want to try it.

    Any tips you can give me to break into it would be great.

    My email is [email protected]


  • It’s funny, but now that you mention it, my gut is always right! My husband owns a graphic and web design company, and though we don’t necessarily sign agreements with all of our clients, we do send over formal estimates and require deposits on most projects before we begin. That way we are insuring they are serious. We’ve had success using this strategy. You made some excellent points for anyone thinking about freelancing.

  • This is a great post! I’ve been thinking of freelancing with photography which is one of my passions but didn’t know how to start it while I’m a student, don’t have much background and capital to start. But reading your post is extremely motivating and inspiring!


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