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What Is Freelance? (+Common Freelance Roles)

July 9, 2019

The term “freelancer” means different things to different people, as there is no set industry, style, or career path in which freelancers have to work.

Rather, the most universal definition of a freelancer is someone who is self-employed and is hired to work for other people or corporations. All freelancers are self-employed individuals who work in a variety of industries and sell their services at a contracted or hourly rate.

This can mean they work as a contracted employee, or they have their own business and are hired to do various one-off assignments. Freelancers can be full-time, but many hold down a regular 9-to-5 job and freelance in their spare time.

In today’s U.S. economy, where everyone is hustling to survive, there were an estimated 57.3 million freelancers in the workforce in 2017, according to Forbes.

Whether you’re starting out as a freelancer, have been part of the workforce for years, or are just a curious bystander, this article can serve you by offering additional insights into the world of self-employment.

What is freelance?

As I previously stated, “freelance” is a catch-all term used for anyone who is self-employed, whether on a part-time or full-time basis.

Freelancers do not have to exclusively work for themselves to be considered freelance. They can hold other jobs with other companies, and still qualify as a freelancer due to any self-employed work they do outside of those hours.

TIP: Check out the ultimate guide to becoming self-employed here! 

Common freelancing jobs

Freelancers are not limited to any one industry or profession. In fact, there is a whole host of freelancing opportunity out there for people who want to take matters into their own hands. You will most commonly see professionals choosing to freelance in the following industries:


Freelance writers are typically hired for their backgrounds in english or journalism and can be contracted to work over time, or can submit articles on a one-off basis.

There are few limitations as to what kind of work a freelance writer can find. Whether it’s an article for a magazine, an op-ed for a newspaper, or a guest post for an emerging tech blog, it’s clear that companies are always looking for fresh voices to contribute to their publications.


Freelance teachers or tutors offer their instructional skills for hire. Whereas contracted teachers work a set schedule throughout the school year, freelance teachers are available as-needed, and are typically paid hourly.

Freelance teachers - especially tutors - don’t need a degree in teaching to start their own business. Rather, you need knowledge of and familiarity with the topics you choose to tutor students on.

Say for example you minored in French in college, and you now have a job as a translator. You would be perfectly qualified to tutor middle and high school French students, as you have studied the language yourself and have an above-average understanding of it.

Project management

Freelance and even virtual project management are becoming increasingly popular as companies become more accepting of remote employees.

Freelance project managers are typically hired on a project-by-project basis, although companies may ask particularly successful project managers to stick around for future work.


Marketing as a career has a multitude of options for the kind of work you can do. Content marketing, event marketing, email marketing; no one subset reigns supreme. So when it comes to being a freelance marketer, trust that you have options as well. Roles such as public relations specialist, copywriter, and digital marketing assistant can all be performed as a freelance employee.

Graphic design

Many companies are in need of logos, websites, and merch designs, but are incapable of hiring a graphic designer in a full-time, salaried position. Enter: freelance graphic designers, who are commonly utilized for company rebrands, or initial logo rendering.

Freelance graphic designers can also be contracted to help develop presentations, create graphics for articles or ads, and help create the images for campaigns. Armed with a good work ethic and sufficient knowledge of the most popular design tools, freelance graphic designers can find work at virtually any company. (See: 8 Best Free Graphic Design Tools)

Find the best Graphic Design software on the market. Explore Now, Free →

Social media platform management

Social media management is no longer an emerging industry: it has emerged. These days, a company without a social media presence is actively putting themselves at a disadvantage. It’s free marketing and customer engagement!

For those businesses that want a social media strategy but aren’t sure where to begin, freelance social media managers are a great place to start. As a freelance social media manager, you might be hired to execute a specific social media marketing campaign, or simply get a small business up and running on Instagram.

The specific platforms you work with and projects you accomplish will, again, be determined by the businesses that hire you. Those with a developed understanding of multiple platforms and best strategies will be more likely to find consistent work.

Web development

Plenty of business owners have a vision for what they want their website to be, but have little to no understanding on how to execute it. As a freelance web developer, it’s your job to come in, soak up that vision, and create a user experience that fulfills that business owner’s dreams.

As a freelance web developer, you can expect to be responsible for developing both the front and back end of a website. You’re also in charge of website testing and ensuring everything works.

The more CMS tools (content management systems) you’re familiar with, the higher the chances are of you booking a role.

Find the best CMS software on the market Explore Now, Free →

You’re free to freelance

Of course, there are more freelancing opportunities than the few I listed in this article. Hopefully understanding these possibilities puts you in a good place to get started.

And if you’ve never seen someone do what you want to do, but as a freelancer? Be the first. Someone always has to be.

Interested in graphic design specifically? Learn more about how to become a freelance graphic designer

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