By Kate Hester

What is the first word that comes to mind when you hear “freelance”? Journalist? Artist? Photographer? Agent?

According to Statista, there were 59 million freelancers working in the United States in 2020.

This past summer, I entered the freelance world. As a fresh college graduate preparing for grad school, I honestly had no intention of stepping into the shoes of a freelancer. But before I knew it, I was teaching myself how to send invoices via PayPal.

Webster’s Dictionary defines freelancer as “a person who pursues a profession without a long-term commitment to any one employer.”

My freelance journey began in July when I started working for a political campaign. I went into the first meeting thinking I was just going to be a volunteer writing thank you notes and knocking on doors. But I came out of that meeting with the agreement that I would create graphics, take pictures and run the candidate’s Instagram account as a freelance social media manager.

However, that was not the real curveball. The team asked me, “what is your rate?” My rate? I had not considered a rate since my babysitting days, and even then, I was never positive on an answer.

I went home and immediately called a friend who had worked for a campaign to find out the typical freelance rate for such work. I knew I wanted more than the $11 an hour I was making working part-time in retail, but I did not know how much more. I decided to wait and see what they offered me. We settled on a rate of $12 an hour, and I became a freelance social media manager.

My current freelance job is with a small sports media startup. Here, I wear the cap of a freelance customer support specialist, running the company’s weekend customer support desk. Deciding on this rate was easy because the company knew exactly what they wanted, someone to work six to eight hours a weekend at a rate of $15 an hour.

The beauty of freelance is that you can be whatever type of freelancer you want to be at any time of the day. Since the beginning of August, I have chosen to be a freelance artist in the evenings.

I picked up painting while in undergrad, never looking to make any money. However, a close friend getting ready to move into her freshman dorm commissioned me to do a portrait of both her and her roommate’s dogs. Much to my surprise, my phone exploded with messages after my friend posted the final portrait on Facebook.

Now I regularly pick up commissions, but I still have trouble separating the concept of earning an income from feeling like I am taking money from my friends when I charge them for my art. I have learned that the best way to quote my clients is to take all things into consideration: cost of the canvas, cost of supplies, hours of work, complexity of the project and time to be completed. This helps justify my rate for my work.

The freelance industry makes up almost 5% of the United States GDP according to a press release from Upwork. And 64% of full time freelancers have said that their health has improved since they began freelancing, according to Forbes. As my confidence grows in my gig-based income, I have noticed greater happiness in my decision to embrace the freelance world. 

Kate Hester is a master’s student in journalism at the University of Georgia.