As military members leave the service and enter civilian life, they have many career options. Some veterans will translate their military experience into a full-time job. Others may follow their passion or interest and start their own business. Still others choose to adopt the flexible schedule and the ability to work for multiple clients that are offered by working freelancing jobs.
Freelancers work at one or many companies at a given time, in a full-time or part-time capacity, but they are not employees, so they don’t receive the standard employee benefits of paid time off, health insurance, and retirement benefits. For example, a marketing firm may hire a graphic designer to work on a specific project but make no offer of permanent employment. The designer is not guaranteed any work once the project is completed. A freelance writer may contribute articles and other written materials to various publications for years without being hired by any of the publishers to work in a full-time, permanent capacity.
The flexibility to work in different roles for many organizations over time makes freelancing a strong option for veterans seeking employment. According to Forbes, more than one-third of workers in the U.S. economy are working in “gig” positions, most of which offer only part-time work with no guarantees of future assignments.
Veterans who are interested in freelancing will find the resources presented in this guide helpful as they seek out freelance opportunities to begin a new chapter in their careers and their lives.
Benefits and Challenges for Veterans Looking for Freelance Jobs
Freelancing jobs can be a viable and rewarding career option for members of the military after they leave the service. Here are answers to some of the questions veterans may have regarding how to find freelance work, the challenges of a career as a freelancer, and the benefits of working as a freelancer rather than as an employee.
What Is the Difference Between Freelance, Contract, and Full-Time Employment?
A full-time employee is hired to work for a company on a permanent, forty-hour-per-week basis (or whatever number of work hours the company considers full time). Many employers restrict the ability of their full-time employees to work elsewhere in the same or similar capacity, such as a full-time copywriter for a healthcare organization being prohibited from writing for a competitor.
Full-time employment often includes certain benefits, such as health insurance, retirement plans, and paid vacation time. Full-time employment ends when the worker leaves the job willingly, the person is terminated from the position due to poor performance or some other reason, or the position itself is ended.
In contract employment, an employee is typically scheduled to work for the contracting company for a predetermined amount of time, such as three months or one year, or for the duration of a specific project. For example, a teacher who takes on additional work during summer school may be hired as a contract employee by an educational institution for two or three months, or a ski resort may employ staff on a contract basis for eight to twelve weeks each winter.
Contract positions may be full time or part time; they may include health insurance and other benefits, and they sometimes lead to full-time employment. Initially, however, the employment contract stipulates that the employee is to work at a particular job only for the specified time.
Freelance work is often project based or short term, such as a web developer building a site for an organization over the course of a few weeks or months. Payment for freelancing jobs is typically handled through the submission of an invoice after the work has been completed rather than via a standard payroll check. Freelancers can take on as much work as they are able to accomplish (unless the freelance contract states otherwise), so a freelance editor may work for several organizations and total more than forty work hours a week, for example. Freelance work often requires specific skills, so a freelancer must demonstrate competence in that area before being awarded a contract.
How Much Do Freelancers Earn Compared to Staff?
The pay for freelancing work varies, unlike the steady paycheck an employee receives. For example, a freelance writer might earn $500 for a completed article for a website, while an in-house staff writer might work ten hours on the same assignment at an aggregated rate of $50 an hour. (Keep in mind that freelancers do not receive health insurance and other benefits, which they must pay for out of pocket.) Writing for Forbes, Abdullahi Muhammed states that location, experience, industry, and a personal website can all impact a freelancer’s pay rate.
Freelancers may go periods of time without working as many hours as they would like, so if a freelancer earns $50 per hour compared to a full-time employee who makes $35, that freelancer is still making less than the full-time employee overall if they’re able to work only twenty-five hours or less per week. Some weeks, a freelancer may receive fifty or more hours of work, while in others, they will get only five or ten hours. Also, freelancers often submit invoices only to wait several weeks to get paid, whereas employees receive a consistent paycheck.
Do Freelancers Work at an Office or Remotely?
Some freelancers work in an office or a remote-work environment, while others work out of their home. A freelance project manager may need to go to an office every day or once every few days to meet face-to-face with staff. Conversely, freelance writers may work remotely for years and never meet in person the staff members they interact with remotely.
Remote freelance work can be completed in many different ways. Some companies require that remote workers log on to a collaborative office chat platform, such as Slack, at a certain time. Others mandate that freelancers be available to field calls and emails starting at a particular time every work day. In some remote work situations, there is no set schedule or regular communication necessary between freelancers and their clients. The only requirement is that the freelancer complete the project by the deadline. In addition to working from home, freelancers may complete their assignments at a library, a coffee shop, or other public location.
For some assignments, a freelancer may have to speak with multiple parties, whether in person or over the phone. Such situations require a quiet environment. Many times, a remote worker can be more productive than one working on-site. “As long as the job is one that can be performed from home, most people are more productive when working from home, but that productivity is strongly subject to the policies put in place by the employer,” Larry Alton writes for Forbes.
How Hard Is It to Get Freelancing Jobs?
Finding freelancing clients is easier for people who can demonstrate skills in a particular subject or trade. Often freelancers spend many years as a full-time employee before pursuing freelance work. This gives them the opportunity to develop an extensive portfolio illustrating their accomplishments and abilities, which helps them be taken seriously by employers. Additionally, freelancers need to develop a strong professional network and have solid contacts within the specialty in which they want to freelance.
How difficult it is to find freelancing jobs depends in part on the pay rate the freelancer is willing to accept. If a company is in need of a freelance software developer, for example, an experienced candidate may request $100 per hour while another candidate with a lighter portfolio may offer to do the work for $45 an hour. Even though the first candidate is more experienced, the company may choose the candidate who is willing to complete the assignment for less pay. Conversely, the firm may decide to pay the first candidate, whether to ensure high quality or because the person can complete the assignment in less time.
What Challenges May I Face While Freelancing?
Freelancing jobs are typically short term and inconsistent. A freelance worker may not receive a steady income throughout the year. It is more difficult for freelancers to form long-lasting relationships with coworkers, generally speaking, because most freelancers are part of the organization for only a short time. Freelancers working remotely may sometimes feel isolated from coworkers in the office or located elsewhere.
The lack of employee benefits requires that freelancers pay for health insurance. Freelancers sometimes have difficulty switching back to full-time employment status because employers may favor candidates who currently work in an office setting as permanent employees. Some freelancers need access to advanced technical tools to perform their jobs, such as video editors and producers who may have to purchase multiple cameras or expensive editing software. These out-of-pocket expenses do not exist for an employee whose employer supplies all required equipment. Struggles in finding clients, lack of finances and connections, and lack of available time are among common freelancing difficulties, Abdullahi Muhammed writes for Forbes.
Freelance Industries/Types of Freelancing Jobs
Many different industries offer veterans the opportunity to find freelance work. These are among the popular freelancing jobs for veterans and others:
- Writers and Editors
Freelance writers and editors prepare copy for businesses, organizations, and individual clients in a range of industries beyond print and online publishing. Freelance writing and editing assignments include creating and correcting copy for articles for news or entertainment publications and sites, print and digital marketing and support material produced by businesses, and advertising and promotional publications for nonprofits.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) Occupational Outlook Handbook, the median pay for writers and authors in 2018 was $29.89 per hour. The agency notes that 64% of those writers and authors were self-employed.
Similarly, the BLS reports that editors had a median pay rate in 2018 of $28.60 per hour. However, while nearly two-thirds of writers were self-employed, only 20% of editors worked for themselves rather than as an employee of a publisher (39%) or other organization (21%).
- Programmers and Web Developers
Programmers and web developers write the code that powers systems software, applications, and websites. Typical projects include designing a mobile application for a company, maintaining a SQL database or other business program, and helping to design and implement the interface of an interactive web page.
The median pay for programmers in 2018 was $40.52 per hour, according to the BLS. However, only 5% of programmers were self-employed in 2016, while 38% worked in computer systems design and related services, 7% worked in the finance and insurance industries, and another 7% were employed by software firms.
The BLS researchers found that in 2018, the median pay for web developers was $33.48 per hour. The bureau notes that as of 2016, only 16% of web developers were self-employed, while 17% worked in the computer industry, indicating that two out of three web developers work for a company outside the computer field.
- Graphic Designers
Graphic designers create the imagery and visuals that brands, businesses, and organizations use to promote their product and services, and themselves. The designs they create include large banners, logos that allow a business to stand out from its competitors, and the images used to help market the company’s products and promote itself.
The BLS reports that the median pay for graphic designers in 2018 was $24.21 per hour. BLS figures from 2016 indicate that 17% of graphic designers were self-employed, followed by 11% who worked for specialty design services, 8% who worked in advertising and publication relations, 7% who worked in the printing industry, and 6% who worked for publishers.
Accountants manage the sensitive financial data of individuals and businesses. They help families and individuals prepare their taxes, participate in short-term accounting projects for large accounting firms, and manage the financial records of businesses. The BLS states that in 2018, the median pay for accountants was $33.89. However, only 7% of accountants were self-employed in 2016, according to the BLS, while 25% worked for accounting and bookkeeping services, 8% worked in government, and another 8% were employed in the finance and insurance industries.
- Marketing and PR Professionals
Marketing and public relations professionals help shape the public perception of a person, product, brand, or company. They write press releases and prepare promotional material intended to increase public awareness via various media. The position also is responsible for devising and implementing marketing strategies and campaigns to promote company initiatives. PR pros maintain relationships with the press and other key marketing partners.
The BLS reports the median pay for public relations specialists in 2018 was $28.85 per hour. The agency notes that as of 2016, 15% of PR specialists worked in advertising and public relations, while 11% worked for educational services, and 9% for business and professional organizations.
Photographers capture high-quality images that help promote a product or business, or that serve a client in some other way. Typical freelancing jobs for photographers include taking photos of such major life events as weddings and children’s birthday parties, capturing headshots of executives for use in corporate communications, and documenting sports, concerts, and other public events.
The 2018 BLS pegs the median pay for photographers at $16.35 per hour. The agency reports that as of 2016, 68% of photographers were self-employed, while 18% worked for photographic services, 2% worked in broadcasting (except the Internet), and 2% worked for newspapers and other print publishers.
- Teachers and Tutors
Teachers and tutors help students gain knowledge in academic and other subjects. They may work privately with a student in their own home or the student’s own home, teach lessons for students in a classroom, or provide instruction through remote-learning platforms while working full-time or part-time in another job.
The median pay for high school teachers in 2018 was $60,320 annually, according to the BLS. That is slightly more than was earned by kindergarten and elementary school teachers ($57,980 annually), middle school teachers ($58,600), and special education teachers ($59,780). The BLS figures indicate that greater than 90% of teachers work as employees, so freelance opportunities for teachers may be limited.
Consultants typically possess a great deal of knowledge about a particular business, market, or subject area. They conduct research, develop business strategies, and offer their opinions to companies regarding the best ways for the firms to reach their goals. Consultants may assist clients in devising strategies for expanding into new markets, provide insights on planned advertising campaigns, and help inform the company’s financial decisions.
The BLS reports the median pay for management analysts, a position similar to consulting, was $40.20 per hour in 2018. In 2016, 17% of management analysts were self-employed, while 30% worked for professional, scientific, and technical services, and 17% were employed by government agencies.
- Ride-Share Drivers
Ride-share drivers use their own vehicle to transport passengers. They connect with riders via a mobile app platform, the two most popular of which are Lyft and Uber. While some ride-share drivers make driving their sole source of income and spend several days during the week transporting passengers, others work on a part-time basis to supplement their income earned from another job.
According to the BLS, the median pay in 2018 for taxi drivers, ride-hailing drivers, and chauffeurs was $12.49 per hour. However, the amount of money ride-share drivers earn varies depending on their location, the type of vehicle they drive, and the times of day they work. As of 2016, 36% of drivers in this category were self-employed, the BLS reports. The percentage of self-employed drivers has likely increased since then because ride-share services have continued to grow in popularity.
Resources for Finding Freelancing Jobs
As stated above, veterans are often at a disadvantage in the competition for freelancing jobs. However, assistance is available to veterans looking for freelance opportunities.
Job Search Sites
The first places for veterans to look for freelancing jobs are the big-name job sites: Indeed, Monster, ZipRecruiter, LinkedIn, Craigslist, and CareerBuilder. On these and similar recruitment sites, veterans search for the type of freelancing work they’re interested in and add their location, when appropriate. For example, a veteran in Los Angeles looking for freelance writing jobs would enter “freelance writer” in the site’s search field and specify Los Angeles as the location. (Note that since many freelance jobs are location-independent, entering “remote” for the location or leaving it blank can provide other options.).
Freelance Employment Sites
Sites that cater to freelancers exclusively include Upwork, Hubstaff, and Toptal. Freelancers may upload to these sites a portfolio showcasing their work and skills. Freelancers select a desired pay range when applying to certain assignments. The number and range of opportunities listed on the sites varies, so check them frequently to find job opportunities soon after they are listed..
After years in the military, veterans have an in-depth understanding of how the government operates. This is in addition to the specialized skills they gained during their time in the service. Military experience makes veterans a strong fit for many freelance opportunities offered by government agencies.
GovFlex provides veteran freelancers with connections to government contractors and other government freelance opportunities matching their skills. USA Jobs is a useful directory that lists a variety of government job opportunities for freelancers as well as for people seeking full-time or part-time employment. (Note that many government opportunities are listed on Indeed, Monster, ZipRecruiter, and the other job-search sites listed above as well.)
Many freelancing jobs are found by word of mouth or through an individual’s professional or social network. Social networking platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn allow veterans seeking freelance work to establish connections that can lead to freelancing opportunities. The networks can also be used to share work samples or links to portfolios.
Beyond digital social network platforms, veterans can find freelancing jobs by expanding their personal network. Attend career-related events, such as seminars or conventions. Establish contacts with people who work at companies that you would like to freelance for.
These organizations help freelancers connect with potential clients, land interviews, and sometimes earn a higher pay rate than they would receive by applying for the same position on their own. Major staffing agencies include Robert Half and Adecco. Specialized staffing agencies operate in particular locations or cater to freelancers with specific skills.
Success as a Freelance Requires Perseverance
One skill nearly every veteran acquires during their time in the service is persistence. It can take a great deal of time and effort, not to mention failed attempts, to reach important goals. As with any job skill, finding success as a freelancer entails some trial and error. As the challenges and rewards of the work become apparent, freelancers are able to spend more time doing the work, and less time drumming up freelance business.