Are You a Typical Freelancer?

When Thursday Bram approached me with the idea of a post exploring the idea of the “typical” freelancer, I was intrigued. I’m of the mind that there’s no such thing as “typical,” that the best freelancers carve out their own, unique path, and that a successful freelance career can look different to every freelancer. But as Thursday points out, beginning freelancers often want to know the right way to do things. They’re desperate for answers. So what does the typical freelance path look like? Thursday — a full-time freelancer and the co-founder of  Enhanced Freelance, a membership site for freelancers ready to up their game — has your answers.

“So, are you a typical freelancer?”

The question honestly threw me. It came from a woman who was considering becoming a freelancer herself, who was trying to figure out what she needed to make the leap.

I told her no, explaining that I started freelancing in high school, continued (along with some odd jobs) through college and went full-time right after graduation. I didn’t know a lot of freelancers who hadn’t had a solid nine-to-five for quite a while.

But the question got me thinking. What’s the typical career path of a freelancer? Is there a right way to do things that guarantee that, when you’re ready to strike out on your own, you get it right?

There’s a lot of standard advice that seems to point to a “right” way to freelance: You’re supposed to take a decent enough job that will let you get established and earn some money. You’re supposed to start taking on freelance work on the side, building up a killer portfolio and a client list that keeps you busy every single hour you’re not in the office, along with a nice fat savings account. And then, when you’re about to collapse from the workload, you’re supposed to quit your day job — probably negotiating to keep your ex-employer as a client — and freelance full-time.

The problem is that while I know a handful of freelancers who followed that route, they’re something of a rarity. It’s definitely not what I did. It’s not the path taken by anyone who decides to freelance so they can stay home with the kids. It’s not what happens to someone who gets fired and starts freelancing so there’s still money coming in. And, it’s really not what happens to anyone who gets fed up and tells the boss where to stick it on the way out the door.

Once you’ve gotten started, the question of where your freelance career can take you gets complex. For many of us, the goal is first and foremost to build up a list of clients that pay us a lot of money — but just how much is a lot can vary. There are freelancers who make six figures a year just from client work. That route requires choosing high-paying clients and work. But because most of us bump into the fact that there are literally only so many hours in the day that we can work, there are a lot of other paths that freelancers take:

  •  Teaming up with other freelancers to create an agency
  • Subcontracting out work and building a team of your own
  • Creating products that answer some of your clients’ questions
  • Building products based on your expertise in other areas

The different routes a freelancer can take are endless. The only one that I would recommend against is not moving forward at all. It can take some trial and error to find the right approach to freelancing for your personal interests and priorities, but the alternative is just picking up work as you come across it. That approach can make you money but it can also let you stagnate. Don’t be the freelancer who doesn’t make a change in her career for years at a time.

Related: Wanted: The Career Equivalent of an Open Marriage


  1. Wow. Great question. I love your response.

    For me, typical freelancers are people who run a business with a business mindset. Their careers encompass writing certainly, but also marketing, accounting, admin, janitorial (someone’s gotta clean that desk), you name it. And you’re right – the flavor of “a lot of money” is subjective. For me, it could be $60K. For you, maybe $120K. For someone else, maybe $35K is more than enough.

    Cool post. Thanks, Thursday!

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