Freelancing: A Viable Way To Make A Living -- Or A Lost Cause?

freelancing while unemployed

By Lindsay Olson

Because we're still seeing pockets of high unemployment all over the country, job seekers are biting their nails, hoping for a brighter outlook sooner rather than later. But many of those out of work are finding creative ways to earn income-online.

In states with high unemployment rates, like North Carolina (currently at 9.6 percent), something interesting is happening. Workers are turning freelancers and finding virtual jobs through sites like Elance and Guru. In Elance's quarterly Global Online Employment Report, results show a steep increase in earnings in areas like North Carolina, where Elance earnings grew 47 percent.

Elance reports that in areas the hardest hit by unemployment, like Fresno, Calif., where it's 12.3 percent, earnings skyrocketed. For Fresno, specifically, earnings went up 5,674 percent.

Often, the areas hardest hit by the economy and unemployment are more rural and lack the number of stable companies that can support the local workforce. This is where working online is a boon: Because your location doesn't matter, you can work with clients anywhere and still bring in money.

More:7 Part-Time Jobs That Pay Up To $40 An Hour

"On Elance, your earnings aren't tied to where you are located. What matters most is what you can do, and how well you do it," says Fabio Rosati, chief executive officer of Elance. "Skilled professionals around the world are tapping online work to find interesting jobs with leading companies."

Shifting your thinking. If you're one of the unfortunate many who is out of work thanks to the economic conditions, stop limiting yourself by looking only for local full-time jobs. Consider what freelance skills you could develop, and start searching for gigs or virtual jobs online. Sites like Elance, Guru, and oDesk provide everything from small one-time projects to ongoing work.

For employers, the benefits of hiring virtually are many. They aren't required to provide office space and equipment for you, nor provide benefits. And if they only need occasional work, they can pay just for that, rather than for a full-time salary.

For you, freelancing gives you the opportunity to work with as many clients as you have time to work with. Whether you're designing websites, programming code or writing copy, you can decide what you want to work on and set your own rate.

More:7 Part-Time Jobs That Pay Up To $40 An Hour

Freelancer or business owner? Many freelancers are happy being just that: Individuals who take on projects as they come. But many others find they get more work when they officially become a business. Many clients feel safer giving money to The Writing Company rather than Joe Schmoe, even if they're essentially the same thing. Setting up a business shows you're professional enough to take the time to do so, which can build more trust with potential customers.

If you do decide to create a business around your freelance work, consider your business entity structure. You can set it up as either a corporation or an LLC. Doing so will protect your personal assets: If you were to be sued by an unhappy client, your personal assets can't be touched with these business structures. If you operate as a sole proprietor, you're at risk. It's good business to take as many precautions as possible to protect yourself and consider what makes sense for your situation.

Once you've established your business structure, add in the marketing components that make you a company:
  • Get business cards printed
  • Give yourself a title
  • Create a website that shows off your portfolio
  • Use social media to establish a network of potential customers
  • Set up profiles on freelance sites as a business
  • Network locally to find clients

Whether you go freelance or full-on business, you've opened yourself up from being completely tied to the job market and the hiring trends in your city.

Lindsay Olson is a founding partner and public relations recruiter with Paradigm Staffing and, a niche job board for public relations, communications, and social media jobs. She blogs at, where she discusses recruiting and job search issues.

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