The Geek Girl’s Guide to Freelancing, by Kristi McKinney

Freelancing can be simultaneously the best and worst job. When contracts are plentiful you can charge a fair rate, but you’re self-employed and without health insurance and other benefits. You have the flexibility to work the hours you want and at the pace you want, but you don’t get paid when work is slow.

I chose to start freelancing because my financial situation is changing.  My husband is a medical student. Up until now, he’s been amazing enough to be able to hold a part-time job and help contribute to our mortgage and other expenses. He’s now entering the phase of his education where he won’t be able to do anything other than school. That leaves me the primary breadwinner. Though I’ve been bringing in the majority of our income for the last year, it’s never been solely up to me to ensure our financial future. Talk about scary.

I still have my full-time job and am grateful.  I have a reasonable salary and good benefits, but without my husband’s contribution it isn’t enough. A few months ago, I decided it was time to find more sources of income. The easiest way for me to do that without incurring further transportation or other costs, was to freelance from home in my spare time.
You can freelance in a variety of job specialties, everything from Web design to film. I chose writing because it comes so naturally that it’s absurdly easy for me. That means I’m highly productive and can get more contracts done in a small amount of time.

Here is what I’ve learned:

  1. The market is full of freelancers who are willing to work for any price. That means your pay-per contract will likely be lower and the rare contracts that offer really good money are going to be extremely competitive.
  2. The market is full of companies seeking bloggers for little to no pay. I can’t tell you how many blogger positions I’ve applied for in the last several months. Everything from technology blogger to environmental blogger to corporate blogger, I’ve seen and applied for it all. The offers I received back were insane. Most wanted to pay me per article or blog, usually around $10 or less. I had to do the math and figure out if the amount of effort per article required would greatly exceed the compensation being offered. In most cases it wasn’t worth it.
  3. The market is full of companies and sites that contract out freelance work and sell it off for much more than they paid you. There are many sites out there where you can “apply” to be a freelancer, choose projects, and then get paid a flat fee or sometimes a revenue-shared fee for each one. In theory, this is great.
    Again, you have to take into account the effort per project and the pay you receive. For me, there were some projects that were good and some that were not. It took a fair amount of investigation to figure out which was which. Beware of sites like this that ask you to pay to join. You should not have to “buy in” to a Web site or company to get freelance projects. Most companies that ask this are a scam or just not worth it.
  4. There are a lot of good Web resources to help you. For most professions, you should be able to find a helpful blogger or two who list open jobs and opportunities across the country. I found and to be incredibly helpful with job leads. I subscribed to their RSS and set up RSS for postings on Craigslist. This kept me abreast of new opportunities so I could get my application in ASAP.
  5. Write your cover letter/email carefully and target your resume. You’re definitely not the only one applying for these positions. That means you need to stand out. Make sure to address the requirements listed in the ad and illustrate how you fit the bill. Provide all of the information required, and for Pete’s sake PLEASE check your documents for spelling and grammar.
  6. Think about how much you need to make. Effort vs. pay will be different for all of us. In my case, a lot of effort for little pay isn’t worth it. I could spend that time being productive on another job, doing my full-time job better, or searching for new jobs. For some of you it may not matter, a dollar is a dollar.
  7. Watch that non-compete. I signed a non-compete agreement when I started my current job. That means I have to be careful about the freelance projects I take on.

I’m currently working for a company that pays freelancers to write SEO articles. It’s boring and repetitive. The pay isn’t great, but it IS pay. The longer I’m with the company, my pay increases as does the opportunity for me to write about more interesting things. It’s steady work and for right now, it’s the best option for me. I’m also doing Web design contracts as I happen upon them. I get to work from wherever I’d like whenever I like. That gives me the flexibility I need.

Good hunting.

Kristi McKinney, Geek

Kristi McKinney currently works at Forte, LLC, writing and managing She recently received her MA in Journalism and Mass Communication from the University of Minnesota where she studied Russian journalism.  Kristi has had many geeky odd jobs over the years, including helping to write content and build web pages for the University of Minnesota Cancer Center. Kristi received her BA in Communication and English with a minor in Russian from the University of North Dakota.