Working as a Freelancer in 2024: Your Guide

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

Interested in starting a career as a freelancer? Read on to learn what freelancing is, which industries hire freelancers, and how to get started.

[Featured Image] A freelancer works in a coffee shop, researching new freelance opportunities on his laptop.

A freelancer is an independently-contracted individual who is hired for their services and expertise in certain fields. While many people choose to freelance in their spare time to earn extra money, others make a career out of freelancing through hard work and a lot of networking.

With enough experience and determination, you can earn a full-time salary and turn your skills, hobbies, or passions into a profitable career. Starting this journey is straightforward with the right tools and a little guidance, making today a great opportunity to launch your career.

Read on for information on the various industries and jobs that hire freelancers and some strategies to get started.

What is a freelancer?

A freelancer is a self-employed individual. Unlike a regular job where you’d be working for a company a certain number of hours a week, freelancers make their own schedule, choose their own work location, and take on as many projects or clients they need or want at any given moment. As a freelancer, you’ll be hired for your knowledge and specific skill set in your preferred field or niche. 

An estimated 58 million Americans have decided to start their journey as freelancers, rejecting the nine-to-five lifestyle in favor of a flexible work schedule, according to McKinsey's 2022 American Opportunity Survey [1].

Which industries hire freelancers?

As freelancing has grown in popularity in recent years, a number of different job industries may be open to hiring you as a freelancer, depending on what skills you have to offer. Following the freelance boom entering 2023, roughly 78 percent of companies would rather hire freelancers than grow their staff during times of economic uncertainty [2]. These are the industries that typically hire freelancers:

  • Accounting and finance

  • Business

  • Creative arts and design

  • Digital marketing

  • Health care

  • Media

  • Real estate

  • Technology

Types of freelancers

A freelancer could offer almost any service imaginable, and most industries have job listings that are specifically geared toward freelancers. By freelancing, you can turn your passions into profitable projects and use your skills to help clients resolve their problems. From accounting to writing to interior design, you can typically find a freelance position that is right for you.

*All annual base salary data is sourced from Glassdoor as of September 2023 and does not include additional pay, such as commission or benefits.

1. Accountant

Average annual US salary: $58,998

A freelance accountant performs the same tasks as a regular accountant but works independently from a firm. Some standard job offerings for freelancing accountants may include bookkeeping services, preparing invoices, filing taxes, and creating budget reports. As a freelance accountant, you can choose your offered services and rates.

2. App developer

Average annual US salary: $81,385

As a freelance app developer, you’ll create, manage, and improve digital applications for a select client base. The type of app you develop as a freelancer will determine the kind of app developer you are, specifically in regard to software specialization. If you specialize in iOS software, your job prospects may be different than someone who works with Android applications. If you work with a variety of platforms, your job prospects may be wider, and you might work to develop cross-platform applications.

3. Data entry specialist

Average annual US salary: $39,819

On a day-to-day basis, data entry specialists organize and analyze data in spreadsheet format. A vast number of industries need data entry specialists, so the type of data you work with as a freelance specialist may vary, but the work of managing the data will not. This versatile role allows you to adapt your skills to diverse data-related projects while maintaining the core principles of data management throughout your freelance career.

4. Graphic designer

Average annual US salary: $48,346

Freelance graphic design is all about digital image content creation. As a freelancer, clients typically hire you on a project-by-project basis. Therefore, all of your work would depend on a client’s needs and expectations so you can assist them to bring their ideas to fruition. If you specialize in visual arts like drawing, painting, or digital art, this might be a good position for you.

5. Interior designer

Average annual US salary: $51,119

Freelance interior designers work with a variety of clients to aid in home and office decorating, furnishing, and styling. Similar to graphic design, you can bring client ideas to life, working closely with them throughout the design process. It is recommended that interior designers have a bachelor’s degree in fine arts or interior architecture to boost credibility, but not all clients or companies require it. If you’re interested in home decorating or design, this might be a great option for you.

6. Photographer

Average annual US salary: $46,126

Clients hire freelance photographers for their skills in photography and image editing. As a freelance photographer, you may work on different scenarios such as weddings, family portraits, sporting events, or food or wildlife photos. Versatility is always great when it comes to creative positions, but here it might benefit you to specialize in one or two types of photography to build a solid network of clientele.

7. Public relations specialist

Average annual US salary: $45,455

As a public relations specialist, you’d help maintain the public image of an organization or private client. In today’s ever-growing digital age, public relations is centered around technology and social media. A successful public relations specialist is good at coordinating with people and will be able to help clients promote and manage their company or brand’s image.

8. Social media manager

Average annual US salary: $56,231

Freelancing as a social media manager typically entails the management of brands, products, companies, or other clients through social media marketing. As a social media specialist, you’ll work closely with clients to help them build and promote their brand across various social media platforms, whether it’s Instagram, X (formerly Twitter), or TikTok.

9. Translator

Average annual US salary: $46,637

Freelance translators often work on a client-by-client basis to translate different types of writing or audiovisual materials from one language to another. As a translator, you may specialize in the creation of subtitles to make movies or TV shows more accessible for people who speak different languages. You could also translate a written document word-for-word as a freelance translator.

10. Virtual assistant

Average annual US salary: $43,641

Working as a virtual assistant can mean a variety of things, but essentially a virtual assistant works to support a client or business from a home office. As a virtual assistant, you might manage social media or email accounts, schedule appointments, book travel accommodations, or aid in digital marketing. Some freelance assistants choose to specialize in marketing or social media management while others work with the full scope of tasks.

11. Web developer

Average annual US salary: $67,621

Freelancing as a web developer is a great way to use your coding and computer skills to build a career or make some money on the side. Web developers are typically tasked with the creation, improvement, or management of websites to streamline business success. To be a successful web developer, you should be proficient in things like coding, programming, and graphic design. These skills will help you help your clients bring their goals and ideas to life.

12. Writer

Average annual US salary: $54,142

Various areas of specialization exist within the realm of freelance writing, making it one of the most widespread freelance roles. As a freelance writer, you may take the role of a copy editor, social media manager, or journalist. You may also create technical documents, film scripts, or short stories.

Pros and cons of freelancing 

As freelancing becomes more popular each year, initiating a career as a freelancer is now more straightforward; however, it's vital to consider its advantages along with its disadvantages.

Pros of freelancing

There are a number of benefits to freelancing. Working as a freelancer is a great side gig to bring in some additional income. Depending on what your regular schedule looks like, it may be possible for you to generate more income without adding too many working hours to your day.

As a freelancer, you’ll have a lot of independence and freedom to coordinate your workload. When you’re self-employed, you’ll get to choose which clients to take on, what type of work you want to conduct, and how many projects to handle at once.

Starting a freelance career can also be very affordable if you already possess the right tools and skills for the jobs you want.

Cons of freelancing

While there are many benefits to freelancing, you should also be aware of a few of its drawbacks. One of the biggest things to remember if you plan to take on freelancing full-time is that it will take time for you to generate enough clients and projects to obtain full-time pay.

Also, your work stability and income can be inconsistent, depending on your field or skill level. Full-time freelancing does not come with any additional benefits paid for by a company since you are working independently.

Freelancers have to report their own taxes. According to the IRS, self-employed individuals must file annual returns and make quarterly payments on estimated tax [3].

If you’re serious about becoming a freelancer, don't let the drawbacks deter you. With confidence, dedication, and organizational skills, you can start your freelance journey.

How to get started as a freelancer

Here are some strategies to help you get started as a freelancer:

1. Determine if freelancing is right for you.

The freelance work style sounds great on paper—flexible hours, being your own boss, choosing your own clients—but, like in any other career change, it’s important to weigh the benefits and drawbacks and consider how freelancing might fit into your current lifestyle. You may be very well-prepared to be a full-time freelancer, or you may choose to freelance on the side. Regardless, consider easing into freelancing to see if it’s right for you.

2. Choose which services you'll offer.

Freelancers are hired for their expertise in a specific industry or skill set. Because freelancers can offer almost any skill, it’s important that you determine which skills you feel most equipped to offer clients. If you have a clear set of skills conducive to freelancing, it will be easier to build a portfolio and take on new clients.

3. Define your target market.

When setting up your freelancing business plan, especially if you plan to do it full-time, you’ll need to choose a specific market and set of services within that market to offer to your clients. Once you've chosen a target industry, you can market yourself more effectively to potential clients.

4. Obtain licensing/permits.

Whether you need specific licenses or permits depends on where you live and where you work from. Typically, you don’t need any permits to work under your legal name, but if you are working under a business name, you may need to look into obtaining the proper licensing before conducting work.

5. Organize and promote your business.

After you’ve chosen a target market and determined what skills you’re most equipped to offer, it’s time to set your prices and start marketing yourself. One way to create a strong online presence is to build a website that displays your credentials, resume, and portfolio of your work. A website link is easy to include in messages to potential clients and will help boost your professional credibility.

A portfolio is a great way to demonstrate your abilities to potential clients. A strong portfolio may include things like past work examples, testimonies, mock-ups for future projects, and accomplishments. Think of your portfolio as your way to show (not just tell) your clients the real value of your work and how they can take advantage of it. 

It's crucial to maintain a LinkedIn profile because it provides a specific online space for marketing and networking among professionals. If you haven’t updated your LinkedIn profile in a while, now may be the time.

6. Find and retain clients.

It’s important to actively pursue jobs as a freelancer. Although you may receive offers through your marketing efforts, actively pursuing projects or clients aligned with your interests can further enhance your network. A great part of freelancing is getting to turn your passions into a career, so be sure to pursue projects you’re passionate about.

After establishing a client base, it's crucial to maintain those relationships while actively promoting your services to expand your professional network. Take advantage of resources that are available to you. Many freelance websites like Fiverr,, Guru, and LinkedIn, can help you find job listings in your niche. 

Freelancing can be unpredictable at times, since you’ll work on a project-by-project basis. This is why it helps to build a larger network, to avoid missing out on work opportunities for extended periods of time.

Next steps

Check out some introductory freelancing courses on Coursera like Building Your Freelancing Career Specialization or Making Money as a Freelancer to help you start your freelancing journey.

Article sources


McKinsey & Company. “Freelance, side hustles and gigs: Many more Americans have become independent workers,” Accessed October 11, 2023.

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