If you’re a freelancer, or thinking about becoming one, you are not alone. There are over 53 million freelancers in the United States today – nearly a third of the total workforce. By some estimates, over 50% of the American workforce will freelance one way or another by 2020. For some, working the gig economy will be a full time thing. For others, it will be a little side hustle to make ends meet, or have a little pocket cash to burn on the weekends. But the bottom line is, if you are not freelancing right now, chances you will be in the near future.  So get ready.

Wade In

Don’t read this, quit your day job, and expect to cover your rent, car payment, and Verizon bill right out of the gate freelancing. Freelancing, as great as it is, can be a tough gig. Being an effective freelancer takes time, talent, discipline – and a plan. Whatever your line of work is – writing, designing, coding, etc. – take stock of its value on the market.  Find out how much your time is worth, and gauge how much you would have to work (billing hours) to make ends meet. If you are already working in the field you want to freelance in, get the word out that you are becoming available. Have a portfolio of recent work that you are proud of readily available for prospective clients to see. Remember, a third of the workforce is out there freelancing already, and more are joining the market every single day. Expect that you are going to have to market your skills hard right out of the gate.

Shake your Market Maker

The “free” in freelancing doesn’t mean you have to do everything by yourself. When you are starting out, you likely won’t have the clientele and market exposure that you need to make a living, or to earn money consistently on the side. Fortunately, you don’t have to go it alone right out of the gate. There are dozens of companies and organizations that help freelancers market their skills, get connected to clients, and start earning money. Upwork, the largest freelance marketplace in the world, is one of the best examples of these companies and a great place to start freelancing. It allows anyone, from new to veteran freelancers, to market their skills, bid on jobs, and safely bill their clients. It even has an eBay-like feedback mechanism to help the community police itself. Upwork, also provides innovative tools that help you track billable hours with ease, or even evaluate your productivity relative to the competition (if you so dare). Other sites, like Freelancer or Toptal, offer similar services, with varying levels of support and entry into their respective marketplaces. One word of caution on these sites, however: they make their money taking a cut of the transaction. If you are just starting out, painful as it is, it is probably worth the fee.

Are You Ready?

The 20th Century notion of the 9 to 5 job is rapidly dying, and the age of the gig economy is coming. Technology and social change are driving this revolution faster than many people expect. Freelancing truly is the future for most of us, so get ready. And if you already have a job, and you feel like sitting in your cubicle and being on salary is a prison, remember, it doesn’t have to be this way. Choose something marketable you love to do, find a way to sell your services, and start freelancing today. Thousands of people are making this leap every day, by necessity or by choice, so the sooner you get here, the better.

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William Lipovsky owns the personal finance website First Quarter Finance. His most embarrassing moment was telling a Microsoft executive, "I'll just Google it."

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