What is a Freelancer?

What is a freelancer and what are the benefits of freelance work? Find out what a freelancer does and how you can get started yourself.

If you have mostly worked traditional jobs, then you might be wondering, what is a freelancer? Freelance work is very different from any other kind of work. First of all, many freelancers work from home, but that doesn't mean they never leave their home office.

Some freelancers have a home office where they work remotely, while others are constantly on the go. There are so many different kinds of freelance jobs out there, but what is a freelancer and what does it mean to work freelance instead of working in the traditional sense?  

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What is a Freelancer?

The simple answer to the question, what is a freelancer, is that a freelancer is someone who does freelance work. Freelance work is any kind of self-employed work. This can include things like editing manuscripts, selling products you made on an Etsy account, or working for yourself as an interior designer.  

person working on a laptop in a home office

What is Freelance Work?

Now that we know what freelancers are, and that they do freelance work, let's answer the question, what is freelance work? A freelancer is someone who is self-employed, meaning that freelance work is a form of work done by the self-employed.

When you work for yourself, you can most often call it freelance work, or sometimes contract work. Instead of working for a single employer, you get contracted or hired to work temporarily on various projects or tasks for different companies.  

Freelance Work vs Traditional Work

The biggest distinction that needs to be made when answering the question of what is a freelancer, is understanding the difference between freelance work and traditional work.  

Freelance work is very different compared to traditional work. Traditional work is the typical kind of employee and employer relationship. An individual gets hired as an employer at Company A and is given a work schedule and expectations from their boss for the work they do. They are also expected to work primarily for Company A and will fill out a W4 form with Company A and receive a W2 each year from Company A.  

A freelance worker takes part in a nontraditional type of work. They work primarily for themselves rather than any 1 company. They can get hired by companies for their services and talents, but they aren't an employee of the company. Rather, they're a third-party contracted worker who is paid for whatever their expertise may be.  

Freelance Pros

  • Make your own hours  
  • Be your own boss  
  • Do work that you enjoy  
  • Work from home  

Freelance Cons

  • Have to do extra work filing taxes  
  • Have to deal with contracts as an independent contractor  
  • Have to deal with invoices and customer payments  

How Do Freelancer Taxes Work?  

Another big distinction that needs to be made when discussing what is a freelancer, is how taxes work differently for freelancers. A freelancer is a 1099 employee, which is different from a W2 employee who works in a traditional job for a single employer. The way that taxes work for freelance workers vs regular workers is very different.

A traditional employee fills out a W4 form when first starting out at a new job. This form helps the employer know what withholdings to include in that employee's payroll taxes. Payroll taxes are one of the primary ways W2 employees pay their taxes to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).

A freelance worker is not an employee to an employer. Rather, they are self-employed. They work for themselves and are their own boss.

They sell their services, products, or know-how to others, but they work for themselves rather than any single company. To report freelance income, freelance workers will need to get 1099 forms from each of their clients. But, freelance workers only need 1099 forms from clients that paid them more than $600 in one year.  

1099 tax form

What if I don't get a 1099 from my client?

If you haven't received a 1099 form from a client, then double check your own records to see if you earned more than $600 in that year from that client. If you earned less than $600 from that client, then they might not send out an official 1099 form to you.

If you don't receive a 1099 from a client, then you'll report this income on a 1040 Schedule C form. In the case that you should be getting a 1099 form, and it hasn't come, then try sending a message to your client to remind them. All 1099 forms should be sent out to contracted workers by the end of January each year.  

How You Can Work for Yourself

When you understand the answer to what is a freelancer, you can suddenly open up so many different doors. Working for yourself can come with many pros and cons. Starting your own business can be a lot of work, but it can also be extremely rewarding.

You can potentially provide employment to others, make your own hours, work from home, and be your own boss. Side hustles can also be a great way to make some extra money. This extra income could go toward a savings account, retirement savings, or toward a personal allowance just for fun!  

Step 1: Decide Where You'll Offer Your Services

We've discussed what is a freelancer, but what would this kind of work look like for you? To work for yourself, you'll first need to decide to offer your services yourself as your own boss, and figure out what those services will be. For example, maybe you love to paint and decide to start a side hustle as a freelance painter.

Once you know what services you want to offer, you'll need a place to formally offer those services. Maybe you'll make a website or a Facebook business page to outline what you can do and how much everything costs. Or maybe you'll create an Etsy account and have customers visit your Etsy page to buy your products.  

Step 2: Learn About Independent Contractors

The next thing you'll want to do is learn as much as you can about how being an independent contractor works. If you take on contracted painting projects, then you'll need to know how to set up a contract for a project proposal and decide on your own terms and conditions for that contract.  

Painter with color samples

Step 3: Figure Out How You'll Get Paid

Getting paid is an important thing to not forget when starting out in the self-employed, small business world. You don't have an employer making sure customers pay anymore, so now that job lies with you. Set up a formal and professional system for getting paid by clients.  

Usually this involves sending a freelance invoice that outlines the project or services involved and how much everything costs. Sometimes a freelance invoice might also outline how someone should pay you, but this could also be discussed on a client-by-client basis.  

Step 4: Decide Your Work Hours

Once you know what you want to do and how you'll do it, it's time to decide on a freelance work schedule. This will all depend on how much you want to work, another perk of working for yourself! Maybe you'll want to work full time as an artist, or maybe you'll want to work part-time doing your painting, and part-time at a traditional job too.

In Conclusion,

Everyone's work situation looks differently. We all have different talents and expertise to share with the world and freelance work can be a great way to do that and get paid doing it! Carefully consider the freelance pros and cons and how taxes work for freelancers, and maybe you'll be able to start an awesome side hustle you end up really enjoying.