5 Things Freelancers Do (That You Don’t) to Supercharge Their Careers

UPDATED: June 7, 2023
PUBLISHED: November 8, 2016

As a freelance journalist and copywriter, I can set my own schedule and choose who I want to work with. Those are benefits most full-time employees think of when they hear about independent workers, but there are more they don’t consider, and it could be to their detriment.

Employees have some advantages over freelancers. For one, they don’t have to worry about a regular paycheck. But while they’re collecting checks, there’s a breed of savvy freelancers working and advancing their careers in the process.

Related: The New Normal: Why We’ll All Be Freelancers One Day

For many of them, the career boost they’re getting from freelancing allows them to do things that traditional 9-to-5ers might never attempt. Here are a few of those perks:

1. They’re attending conferences.

Zina Kumok, a freelance writer, speaker and coach from Denver, invested in attending a few conferences prior to getting started as a full-time freelancer. She said the face-to-face networking allowed her to quickly build a roster of clients.

“I was able to make so many in-person connections that led to paid work,” Kumok says.

Companies don’t always invest in sending employees to conferences, which is where they can network to advance in their field. (Many that do go are busy representing their company at the event and less focused on making connections to propel their own careers.)

2. They’re getting published.

Ilima Loomis, a writer from Hawaii, went beyond writing articles for a living and leveraged her writing clips to break into more prestigious publications in the science field—and even landed a book deal out of it.

“Once I got a couple of clips at one science publication, I could use that experience to pitch somewhere else. I can work up to bigger and bigger publications,” she says.

As a freelance business journalist from the San Francisco area, being on her own gave Marina Krakovsky time to write a book.

“If I were holding down a full-time staff job, it would be nearly impossible,” she adds.

3. They’re diversifying their talents.

The best part of being a freelancer for Wes McDowell, a Los Angeles-based designer, was being able to take different roles. When he launched The Deep End, it was as a general graphic and web design agency.

Being the boss allowed me to change the direction of the company into more of a web strategy consulting agency, and allowed me to adjust my title accordingly,” McDowell says.

Now his experience in web strategy and internet marketing allows him to specialize in those fields and offer more services. That wouldn’t have happened if he just worked a traditional job as a designer.

Having multiple streams of income under the umbrella of “communications” allows Liz Alexander, a writer and speaker from Texas, to parlay that into other opportunities.

“With folks in traditional jobs, their mindset is bound by their title or their domain of expertise,” she says. “They either don’t see tangential opportunities—because they’re not looking for them—or turn them down because they don’t see themselves as qualified.”

When she was asked to develop the communications certificate program for the University of Texas at Austin, she dived in.

“Was I a course developer? No! Had I ever taught adults in this way before? No!” she says, adding that she was more apt to try because of her broad range of skills.

Related: 10 Things You Didn’t Know About Freelancing (That You Should)

4. They have bragging rights.

When an employee takes on a new project, it’s only corporate news, if that. But new clients and projects give freelancers a reason to tweet or send out a newsletter, which can boost and build business.

Von Glitschka, an illustrative designer from Oregon, says almost everything he does is a way to promote his services and, in turn, garner more business.

“I can pull off work projects and immediately respond to a marketing opportunity or share something on social media that will become free promotion or have a positive effect on my business image,” Glitschka says.

Glitschka uses communicating about projects and accomplishments to connect with—and help—others through what he calls “goodwill marketing.” When he encounters a fellow creative struggling or sees a nice comment on a post, he’ll send a copy of his book, stickers he designed or a link to some design resources.

“All of this… helps the bottom line in terms of building a business,” he says.

Attending local Rotary meetings is also something he has time to do as a solopreneur. “I’m meeting new potential clients and learning new things about other businesses in the process. I could never do any of this ‘working for the man,’” he adds.

5. They’re fast-tracking their careers.

“As a freelance writer and business owner, I’ve advanced my career much faster and much further than I ever could have done if I had stayed in corporate America—and I’ve made a lot more money,” says Aubre Andrus, an author from Los Angeles.

She worked for a publishing house that used freelancers and senior-level employees to author books. Within a year of leaving her staff role, she had four book contracts from the publishing house. Being a freelancer allowed her to highlight her talent instead of capabilities within her lower-level role, so it paid off. That led to more book deals—she has written 13 books for three different publishers.

We’re not trying to diss the 9-to-5 life, but if you are self-motivated and looking to build a career on your own terms instead of working a job, freelancing could be answer.

After all, the freelance workforce grew from 53 million in 2014 to 55 million in 2016—and currently represents 35 percent of the U.S. workforce, according to a report from Freelancers Union and Upwork.

Not too shabby for pajama workers, eh?

Related: Sick of Your Day Job? Looking for Freedom? The Answer Is the YouEconomy