It’s estimated that self-employed freelancers will make up half of the U.S. workforce by 2027. Although this estimate may surprise you, there are clear benefits of freelancing that make it an appealing work style:
- Greater flexibility to balance work and life needs
- Direct control over your pay rate
- Unmatched ability to pursue diverse projects
As tech brands continue massive layoffs and companies across industries grapple with the uncertain economy, freelance consultants—especially in marketing and communications—are uniquely positioned to weather this economic turbulence.
Whether you’re looking for entry-level freelance content marketing work or are a senior-level executive ready to step into a fractional chief content officer or chief marketing officer role, let us help you build a lasting and fruitful career as a freelancer.
Thank you to these rockstar freelancers and self-employed marketers who shared insights for this post—be sure to check out their sites for more advice on creating amazing content:
- Tod Cordill, principal of Moderno Strategies
- Michelle Garrett, PR consultant at Garrett Public Relations and host of #FreelanceChat
- Erika Heald, founder of Erika Heald Marketing Consulting
- Carmen Hill, founder of Chill Content
- Shane Shaps, founder of 520 East Brands
How to Prepare to Go Freelance
“Before you can thrive as a freelancer, you first have to be able to survive. If at all possible, plan ahead before making the leap,” Carmen advises. She recommends that you put away enough money to cover six months of basic living expenses as a cushion.
She adds that you should find a certified public accountant, which is especially important if you plan to open a business. “A good CPA can not only help you plan for taxes, but also provide guidance about what type of business entity makes most sense for you, [such as] sole proprietor or LLC,” she says.
In many cases, it may make sense for you to test out your freelance aspirations by taking on some moonlighting gigs while you are still employed.
“I always joke that I never had just one job,” Erika says. “I pretty much have had freelance content marketing projects or writing assignments starting with my first job out of college. Having had these successful forays into the freelance side of my work made it a lot easier for me to gauge the right time to finally take my self-employment full-time.”
Tod mirrors this advice, recommending that you “do as much freelance work as you can while you are still employed. You will be building your referral network and learning how to work with a variety of clients. Getting a few steady clients will make it easier to step into freelancing full time.”
14 Tips For Succeeding as a Content Marketing Freelancer
Based on our team’s decades of content marketing freelancing and advice from our network, below are expert tips to help you thrive as a content marketing freelance consultant.
Alert Your Network That You’re Available for Freelance Assignments
Tell your network that you’re freelancing through emails, social media posts, and 1:1 outreach. Update your social media bios to reflect your new work and the type of projects that you’re excited to pursue.
Consider Having a Website
Michelle had a simple website the day she launched her business, and it has served as the hub for all her marketing since. “I like having a place to share blog posts and I can send prospective clients there to learn more about me and my services.”
Book At Least One Retainer Client
“The hardest part of thriving as a freelancer is that your business is likely to ebb and flow unpredictably. I think every freelancer experiences alternating bouts of anxiety about getting enough work—and panic over getting all the work that you already have done,” Carmen says. “Booking one or more retainer clients provides a bit more stability and steady, predictable income. Then, you can fill gaps in your schedule with other projects.”
Create Templates To Streamline Deliverables
You’ll likely conduct the same type of work across your clients, including writing blog posts, developing thought leadership platforms, and conducting SWOT analyses. Save yourself considerable time and ensure a consistent quality of work by creating content marketing templates that guide you (and your clients) through your common deliverables.
“By crafting templates that take all of the elements of content production into consideration—from planning through publishing and distribution—we give our clients peace of mind,” says Erika. “They know that none of the small details will slip through the cracks. And as a plus, it makes our work go faster!”
“Providing templates that guide the work positions you as an expert,” Tod adds. “This builds trust, increases your likelihood of landing new clients, and makes it easier to expand the work you do for a client.”
Embrace Saying ‘No’
Ask any freelancer about the benefits of freelancing, and they will likely mention the client flexibility. The control to say “yes” or “no” to your liking is a unique, and sometimes invigorating, perk of freelancing.
“Be fussy about what kind of clients you want to work with and what kind of work you want to do,” Carmen reinforces. “Learn to say ‘no’ and decide what kind of work and clients you want to take on and when to take a pass. If you say ‘yes’ to everything, you don’t have capacity for cool new opportunities.”
Establish Freelance Referral Networks
You won’t be able (or want) to take on every potential project that comes your way, and that’s OK! Develop a network of fellow freelancers that you can recommend when an opportunity isn’t the right fit for you.
“I’d much rather refer a potential client to a colleague I’ve worked with that I know will be the perfect fit for their project than take something on that’s not in our wheelhouse,” Erika says.
Building your network can be tricky, though.
“Don’t sell when you’re networking,” Tod adds. “Freelancing is a B2B business, and people don’t buy until they have a need. The chances that someone has a need for your service the day you reach out to them are slim. My approach is to ask people what their biggest problems are and refer someone in my network that may be able to help. If you can do this, people will want to reciprocate and are more willing to introduce you to someone they know or anyone that can benefit from your services. You also build trust and they are more likely to think of you when their own needs fit your service.”
Gradually Raise Your Rates
Pricing your services as a freelancer can be a challenge, especially as you’re getting started. Start with a rate that you feel comfortable with, but increase that rate with each new potential project to see how much companies are willing to pay for your services.
“Be realistic about your needs when setting your rates,” Tod says. “You not only need to cover your hourly wage—consider the cost of health insurance, vacation pay, setting money aside for retirement, and your computer, software, and other services you need. Your rate also needs to cover your sales and marketing time and expenses. When starting out, have a goal to charge at least 50% above the hourly rate you had when employed. As you gain experience and get busier, your rate can be twice your employed wage or higher.”
Join Freelance Networking Groups
One of the potential drawbacks of freelancing is that it can be lonely. Find an online or local networking group of fellow freelancers to seek advice, share opportunities, and build a support system. Carmen says that social media chats like #ContentChat and #FreelanceChat are great places to start or a local chapter of the Freelancers Union.
“It is SO important to have a support system that includes other freelancers,” says Michelle. “Not only can you lean on each other when you have questions—which always come up no matter how long you’ve been freelancing—you can also refer work to each other when you’re too busy to take on new clients or projects. That’s why I started #FreelanceChat, which turned four in September 2022.”
Prioritize Your Mental Health
Freelancing is not without its stresses, and the benefits of freelancing mean nothing if your mental health is deteriorating. “Thriving isn’t just a matter of your financial well-being. It’s also about taking care of your physical, mental, and emotional health,” Carmen says. “Build time into your schedule for exercise, meditation, and non-work get-togethers. One of the best things about freelancing is you can do all that without asking for anyone’s permission!”
Reinforce and Respect Your Boundaries
As a freelancer, you are your own boss. Yes, you have client deliverables to meet, but you can largely guide that process and discuss the best way to work with your client. Some of your client contacts will treat you like a full-time employee and send messages after hours. Hold your ground on any boundaries you set, such as working hours or the expected time for you to respond to messages.
“It can be helpful to include working hours and communication expectations in your working agreements,” Erika says. “For example, in one social media playbook I created for a client, we documented our service level agreements with each other for time to respond, when weekly content would be reviewed, etc. This helped reinforce each other’s boundaries and work schedule, and instill confidence in the process.”
Treat Your Freelancing Work Like A Business
Thriving as a freelancer requires you to develop a clear business identity. As Carmen said to us, “treat your freelance business like a business. Develop a business plan. Define your niche and differentiated services. Develop your own brand, including messaging and content strategy as well as visual design. Create an elevator pitch.” All of these areas are vital for attracting and pitching new business.
Consult an Accountant
“One of the first things I did when I launched my freelance business was to consult with an accountant who understood how to work with self-employed people,” said Michelle. “He helped me set up my quarterly tax payments—which freelancers are responsible for—and also did my annual tax return. It wasn’t that expensive and well worth the peace of mind.”
Be Active on Social Media—But Not ALL Social Media
Michelle says it’s important to be active on social media, but be sure to choose your platforms wisely. “Try to post and engage on EVERY social media platform and you’ll quickly find yourself overwhelmed,” she advises. “Choose one or two platforms where your potential clients may be spending time. For example, if you work with B2B clients, that might be LinkedIn and Twitter. Then, post—and engage—consistently. It really can help you build a network that can bring clients and projects your way.”
“Social media, especially Twitter, is the easiest way to grow your network,” according to Tod. “It’s easy to engage, and then connect, with people on social media. You don’t need a huge network, you just need an engaged network that is relevant to your services. Comment on people’s posts, share their content, and then reach out to them.”
Surround Yourself with People More Knowledgeable Than You
“As your freelance gigs grow, you’re going to need help. Bring on hourly people who are hungry for experience or extra cash—BUT be sure to bring on people who fit a need, and not someone who needs training,” Shane recommends. “Bring someone into the mix that has a different skill set than you do. Diversify your services by offering something someone else is great at (even if you don’t altogether ‘get’ it). Your clients will thank you, and your agency will be better for it. Don’t be afraid to admit you don’t know how to do something—hire someone who does.”
Join #ContentChat To Thrive As A Content Freelancer
Your first few weeks and months as a freelancer may be uncomfortable, but it will get easier with time. Lean into your skills and remember that you have the ability needed to thrive. Not every client will understand or appreciate your approach, but you’ll get better at finding the right client fits the more that you explore new opportunities.
If you’re looking for a network to help you grow as a freelancer, we’d love for you to join #ContentChat. We’re a community of content marketers and other content professionals who love to discuss the latest trends, workshop our content, and share resources to help us all succeed. Check out our recent chat recaps here and join the conversation on Linkedin weekly on Mondays at noon Pacific/3 p.m. Eastern using #ContentChat.