How to Be a Professional Freelancer

I get asked the question almost every day: “Just how does one become a freelancer?”

While most sites will post a boring write-up on being on time, being nice and networking, I’m here to tell you the “real” nitty gritty of just what it takes to become a “real” professional freelancer. Here’s your very own copy of the Professional Freelancer’s Guide To Professional Freelancing.

But beware, ignore these steps, skip over a few, or do them out of order and you’re doomed to fail and return to that crappy cubicle making logos bigger and adding pictures of cute animals to gas station websites for the rest of your life.

So, here it is. Pay attention now!

Step 1: Dress Like a Freelancer

More important that anything in the world, wearing the correct attire makes all the difference between the “professional” freelancer and those other losers out there.

So what does a professional freelancer wear? A suit? Nope. How about casual khakis or jeans? Nope and nope. A professional freelancer sticks to a strict dress code of just a few quality items:

  • Pajamas–Preferably ones that have been worn more than once.
  • Sweatpants–Stained ones are the mark of the super professionals.
  • Geek glasses–Even if your vision is perfect, you must wear a pair of black thick framed plastic glasses…or else.

Never brush your hair, never take showers, and never brush those teeth… hygiene is for the poor unfortunates who have to attend a regular nine to five. And exercise? Forget about it! You’ve got 36 hours of Lost reruns to watch.

Step 2: How to Handle the “Work”

They’re expecting you to do work? Preposterous!  No professional freelancer ever does work–that stuff’s for the little guys.

If you do decide to bend a little to put in some hours minutes of work, there are a few basic principles you should remember to follow:

  • Deadlines are like expiration dates–A best guess, but not always accurate. Sometimes you have a week more, maybe even two.
  • The design the client hands you to code? Yuck! Go ahead and improve upon it throw it out the window and come up with something you know is better.

Step 3: Finding Work

The real professional freelancer should never actually care about finding work. You’re too cool for that. You know that as soon as your site goes live, the worldwide web will stop immediately and flood to your super awesome portfolio. All you need to do is sit back and wait for all the clients who’ll beg for you to work with them. (Although it’s not likely you will actually agree to work for them. You’re too cool for that.)

Step 4: Setting Your Work Hours

The Professional Freelancer’s Guide To Professional Freelancing is very clear on this one. You should never be expected to awake before noon and don’t forget to remind your family that you’re too busy to spend time with them because you’re working until 4 a.m. Who cares if it’s Christmas? You’ve got sites to design!

Step 5: Your Equipment

The newest and coolest Mac is required for every “real” professional. You get bonus points if it’s got all of the upgrades and you persuaded your grandma to buy it for you. A smartphone, iPad and $20 Moleskin notebooks are required as well. Don’t waste money on a desk or proper lighting though, just work on the floor, or your mom’s dining room table.

Step 6: The Client

The most unfortunate part of being a professional freelancer is that you have to deal with clients. I guess nothing is perfect, right?

Well, just because we  have to deal with these blockheads, doesn’t mean we have to be nice about it. It’s time to show you’re large and in charge.

Make sure you never answer the phone, their IMs or their emails…unless you want to and until you feel like it. Don’t ever greet them, that’s the sign of someone who doesn’t know how to run their business. Instead, put on your most haughty tone and let them know where they stand–which is right underneath you. Treat them properly and they’ll go away.

Step 7: Downtime

Never waste your downtime on work or clients. Never use it to learn new things or read books. Instead, fill all of your downtime surfing Facebook, playing WoW, and fighting with 14-year-old kids over Xbox Live.

You’ve worked hard the whole week so it’s time you paid attention to #1–Yep that’s you, buddy!

The Bottom Line

As you’ve probably figured out by now, this post was written in fun.

What’s the real secret to being a professional freelancer? Doing the opposite of every thing described above! ;)

Your Turn

What “real professional freelancer” habits do you plan to break? :)

Image by pheaber


  1. says

    Very amusing! I think if you turn all those right around you’d have a good set of rules!

    (I went out and bought a set of casual, comfy, but new and flattering, working at home clothes when I first went freelance!)

  2. says

    Sweatpants? I haven’t figured out how to go to the toilet without getting then all wet? They are for girls. Pants with a fly, that is for me.

  3. says

    well i don’t think there is any set of rules for a freelancer…just be honest with what you do and you can follow any rules or bend any rules

  4. says

    Funny and sad article Amber.
    Perhaps a reflection of our times. Attitude and desire are still the backbone of success.
    My freelance ” hay days” were back in the old manual “cut and paste” assembly changing over to computer assembly on Mac’s.
    My studio Pinpoint Design in Toronto was a “transitional” design studio back in 1991.
    Very interesting and hard times.
    I am now a noted freelance Canadian Landscape Fine Artist (my true lifelong passion)

  5. Rob says

    I actually prefer waking up around 11 and when the workflow exists will work until 4-5am. If it can be avoided, wearing nothing more than sweats a t-shirt and socks is optimal, though Iced Coffee is a requirement.

    I’ve limited my overhead by not owning a Mac though.

  6. says

    Haha! Absolutely hilarious stuff you got here Amber.

    I actually follow Step 1 from time to time, wearing a comfy sleeveless shirt, a pair of comfy shorts, unkempt hair, and wobbly glasses that I have yet to get fixed.

  7. says

    “And exercise? Forget about it! You’ve got 36 hours of Lost reruns to watch.”

    Made me stop and look around to see if you’ve got my house bugged!! Yikes, I’m a cliche! Must take walk ;)

  8. says

    Popping back in to say I can’t be a proper freelancer because the only time I see 4 or 5 am is from the other side: I’m a morning person and am quite happy to wake up super-early to get on with my projects or other tasks, but I usually stop at 9 pm as I start to flag then (even if I haven’t been up since 5). We’re all different (but we all do seem to work in our pajamas … )

  9. says

    This is really funny yet sooo true! Especially Step# 1, that’s how I look every morning. Then I’ll transform myself like magic when going outdoors. Wearing contact lens is my special trick in hiding my geeky self :)

  10. says


    I have some problems with freelancing to.
    No teeth brush, and my hair is 1cm now and all messy on my desk
    I sleep at 4:00 AM and wake at 2 PM. Only junk food and no sport…

    I respect my deadlines and I have a desk with a powerfull PC.
    I think the only way to get out of this bad habits is to get a full time job witch I never had since I stared web development life (I had a full time job as electrician (: )


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