Guides & Tools
Oct 13, 2023

Landing Your First Full-Time Data Freelance Role

From the research stage to the CV, interview, and onboarding tips, to where to find roles, mitigating risk and the admin you should complete before taking on your first full-time data freelance role.

Landing Your First Full-Time Data Freelance Role

The ultimate online hub for Data Freelancers & those looking to hire them.

Consider how much you want to earn

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Choose your pricing strategy

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Every project is different

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Create rate charts

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If you're thinking about making the switch to becoming a full-time data freelancer, or you have recently made the switch, and you're wondering how best to set yourself up for success, this guide is for you. In this guide, we will cover the data freelance landscape, how to get yourself market-ready, how to find full-time roles, an overview of the risks of this line of work and how you can mitigate them, as well as tips and tricks on how to negotiate your contract, what to expect on your first project and how to land successfully. We will soon create more in-depth guides for each point below, so watch this space. Let's dive into how to get your first data freelance role.

The Data Freelance Landscape

If you're reading this guide, no doubt you've already done your homework and you understand the pros and cons of this line of work - but to make sure everybody is on the same page, here are the top three reasons people get into data freelancing, and the struggles they face.


  1. Freedom to choose the clients you work with
  2. Often, the pay can be twice as much as the same perm role
  3. Flexibility to choose your schedule


  1. Lack of job security can cause financial uncertainty
  2. Skill stagnation as you're generally just using skills you already have
  3. Having to do the admin of running a business alongside your role

Before making the jump, it's important to research the market. You can start by identifying the line of work you are interested in - for instance, are you planning to offer your services as a Data Engineer, Data Scientist, or Data Visualisation expert? Are you planning to niche down to a specific toolset within this, or maybe a particular industry?

Once you are more explicit on this (and it doesn't have to be your final answer), you should begin familiarising yourself with different job descriptions within this domain to understand what clients typically ask for from a skillset and experience perspective for these types of roles.

Doing this not only helps you assess your skillset against what the market is asking for, but it will also help you see how much clients usually pay for this type of work, how long a project tends to be, and other criteria, such as if the role is remote or typically Outside of IR35 (for UK Contractors). This, in turn, will help you to understand how to price your services to reflect current market rates and the kind of skills and additional information you should include on your CV to increase your chances of being selected. For instance, you might find that alongside your PowerBi skills, most clients are also looking for SQL. Knowing this, it would be good to call out your SQL experience on your CV or perhaps undertake some training or certifications in this particular skill.

If you are looking for a job board dedicated to data freelance and contract roles, an excellent place to look is on the Data Freelance Hub job board, where we collect all of the best roles from around the web into one convenient place, helping to save you the time and energy of searching.

Steps to Get Market-Ready

Once you have a solid understanding of the data freelance landscape, it's time to get market-ready. There are several steps to do this, from enhancing your skill set, building a solid portfolio, collecting testimonials, crafting a strong CV and cultivating your online personal brand, amongst others - let's look at the headline steps together.

1. Enhance Your Skillset & Get Certified

If you're considering moving into data freelancing, you've undoubtedly already got some experience working in data and analytics. Having performed a skill gap assessment based on the type of roles on the market within your niche, it's a good idea to begin to address any of the gaps you might have. Whilst you won't (and probably shouldn't) position yourself as an expert in any new technologies you are learning, being able to demonstrate you have some understanding of ancillary tools to the primary tool the project requires shows you may have what it takes to be successful in this role - particularly true if the skill is a nice to have.

Similarly, certifications are a great way to demonstrate your proficiency in technology and effectively demonstrate to the potential client or recruiter you have what it takes to do the role successfully. If you are still in a perm role that offers training opportunities, getting certified in any technologies you feel you are proficient in could be a good idea.

Don't overthink this step too much. For many people reading this, you will already have the skills needed to do the role. Don't be too hard on yourself, or use this as a reason to pause putting yourself out there.

2. Build a Strong Portfolio

Demonstrating your experience and skill through portfolio items is a great way to build trust with potential clients. Try to create a few portfolio items that show the skills you are trying to sell to clients, and consider making them industry-specific if you are specialising in a particular industry. If you are wondering what you should include in your Data Portfolio, then check out the Online Branding Blueprint for Data Freelancers, where we dedicate an entire module to data portfolios, showing you great examples online that other data freelancers have put together, as well as how to build your own.

3. Collecting Testimonials

As you begin working as a data freelancer, you will have the opportunity to ask clients for reviews and testimonials you can use to convince other potential clients you are a trusted pair of hands. But, as this is your first role, you won't yet have these. A great substitute is testimonials and recommendations from previous colleagues you have worked with that can attest to your skills - think previous managers or other peers in the data industry. Ask them for a short paragraph stating why they liked working with you and what skills you bring. You can then show this to potential clients as social proof of your skills and use it on your website and other marketing forms.

4. Build a Professional Online Presence

Creating a compelling professional profile can be the difference between desperately searching for roles and having opportunities come to you. Start by properly setting up and optimising your LinkedIn profile, making sure you are clearly stating in your headline the services you offer; think: "Freelance Data Engineer | SQL | Python | AWS | Talend". Then, spend time updating your experience and about section and using keywords throughout your profile, taking advantage of the 'add skills' feature. Doing this makes it easier for potential recruiters to find you and makes it more likely they come to you when they need somebody for a specific role. Again, our flagship course, the Online Branding Blueprint for Data Freelancers, has been designed specifically for Data Freelancer to help them build a standout online brand, from LinkedIn to Upwork, personal websites, data portfolios, social media and more; we go through example after example of successful data freelancers, and breakdown exactly how they attract clients to them - our quick and easy exercises then help you to apply this to your personal brand, allowing you to stand out from other data freelancers.

Financial Risks and Building Security

As you move into full-time data freelance work, you should understand the financial risks of this line of work and take steps to mitigate them. Here are four things to consider.

1. Plan Your Finances

Create a realistic budget that accounts for both your personal and business expenses. Once you get a complete picture of how much it costs to run your life and your business, you can work backwards to figure out how many days in a year you need to work to cover your costs. For instance, when I first started, my yearly personal costs were around £30,000, and my business costs around £5,000 (including capital expenses). This meant I needed to generate revenue of around £50,000 a year before tax to cover these costs. My initial target day rate was £500 (pre-VAT), which meant I needed to work 100 days in any given year to break even on my living and business expenses. This works out to be around five months of work. Knowing this figure lets you more strategically decide which projects to take on and which to pass on. For instance, if a project is paying you £750, but it's not a line of work you are interested in, but it helps you to get to your baseline cost figure quicker, it might be worth taking.  

2. Factor in Sickness, Downtime & Holidays to Your Rates

When considering what rates you should charge for your services, it's essential to factor in sickness and downtime between roles and holidays. It's easy to take your expected day rate and multiply that by all the working days in the year to come up with a potential figure you could earn, but it doesn't reflect reality. For instance, you might factor in one week of sickness, six weeks for holidays, and another six weeks in between roles - this gives you roughly 13 weeks of the year that you won't be working. You will need to decide the number of sick days, holidays, and time between roles you think is realistic for you. Doing this is a good exercise, and it will get you to a more realistic figure of what you can expect to earn, and it allows you to see the buffer you have between your costs detailed in point 1 and your potential earnings.

3. Build an Emergency Fund

When you first get started, depending on your experience and contacts, you may find it takes a while to get some traction and win your first project. You still need to live, pay bills, and incur other costs during this period. Building up an emergency fund before starting is a good idea as it gives you that financial buffer and makes it less likely you'll need to make rash decisions. Saving between 3 to 6 months of your monthly expenses (all bills and living expenses) before you start that you can fall back on will give you a lot of mental breathing room. This ties in with point number 1.

4. Consider Insurance and Retirement Plans

Insurance is essential to creating security for both yourself and your business. You might need various types of insurance, which will differ depending on the country you are operating in and working with. If you live in countries like the USA, in addition to indemnity insurance, you must consider private healthcare - this is less relevant in countries like the UK, where public healthcare is widely available. There will be more detailed guides on what insurance you need coming in later weeks; for now, you can ask other members by posting in the community what insurance they currently have. It's also important to consider saving for retirement and setting up your personal pension plans. As you are self-employed, it falls to you to put money aside for your later years, and it's wise to make up the difference that an employer would typically put in on your behalf. If you want to talk about the best way to save for retirement, use our UK-based "Ask an Accountant" chat channel to get advice from a qualified accountant. Putting money into a pension pot is also a great way to reduce your tax bill.

The Best Places to Find Full-Time Roles

When you're looking for your first full-time data freelance role, there are a few places I recommend starting. Whilst job boards like Upwork and can be great for shorter-term roles, particularly part-time roles, longer-term contracts can be best found using the methods below.  

1. Job Boards

Yes, job boards. It can be a painful process, searching through multiple different places each day, and the hit rate of getting replies can be low, as they are often inundated with hundreds of applications, and yours can be missed. But they are still one of the best ways to find roles. Hundreds of Data Freelance roles are posted daily on the web, and once you have your CV in place and a good cover letter (which you can then quickly customise for each role), it shouldn't take too long to apply. At the Data Freelance Hub, we've made our own job board where we search the web for the best data freelance and contract roles from around 20 job boards each day. In other words, check here once daily, see which roles you're suitable for, apply, and save yourself the effort of looking across multiple places. You can access it here: Data Freelance Hub Job Board.

2. Recruiter Network

Like them or lump them, recruiters are a great way to find roles coming onto the market. They are often the gatekeepers for roles, and the client contracts them to filter out unsuitable candidates. Building relationships with recruiters in the Data Freelancing space, nurturing that relationship and keeping yourself top of mind makes it more likely they contact you when roles come across their desk. Generally, recruiters only make money when they have successfully placed you in a role which is paid by the client, not you. You have nothing to lose by working with a recruiter and a lot to gain. The key to a successful relationship with a recruiter is to remember it's a two-way street.

3. Your Network

When you're starting, who better to turn to than your network? They know you better than any recruiter or potential client online. They know your skill set, strengths and weaknesses, and the value you could bring to their team. Drop a few trusted people a message letting them know you are looking for a full-time role, provide information about the type of role you are looking for and your rates, and ask them if they would be willing to refer you for any roles that may come up. When you're working with your network, transparency is key. You want to be clear on what you can and can't do so there are no surprises or bridges burned if the role is unsuitable. You can read more on that below.

Why Starting With Your Network Could Be a Good Idea

Finding your first role can be challenging. It can be hard to convince people that you have the skills to do the role and that you are an excellent person to work with and can be trusted. One way to shortcut this process is by contacting your network and seeing if anybody knows of any roles you might be suitable for. This approach has one significant benefit - these people know and trust you. They know you have the skills to get the job done and that you are a good worker and team player, and thus, they are more likely to recommend you to a role they know of, lending their credibility to you.

This is how many people get their first role (either part-time or full-time), and the reason for that is it's effective. Think about it: if you had a room in a flatshare that you were trying to let, and you had strangers pitching themselves to you online, or you had a friend that recommended a friend to you that they said you might get along with, which one are you more likely to pick? Your friend's recommendation, of course.

A word of warning - whilst this is a great way to get the foot in the door, you want to make sure you feel comfortable in your abilities to deliver the work, and you should have an honest conversation with the person from your network that puts you forward about your skills and experience. You don't want to burn a bridge or lose a friend who's put their credibility on the line by delivering poor work, which may reflect poorly on them.

Make a list of five to ten people you can ask, sending them a message to say you are moving into data freelancing and offering your services as X, and do they know of any roles or openings they think I might be suitable for? When you pick these five to ten people, be strategic - think about their level and if they would be aware of hiring decisions in the company - junior to middle management is generally a good shout.

Spend Time on Your CV

Even today, with most job applications being online, having a well-crafted CV is still one of the most, if not the most important, determining factors in whether you will be shortlisted for a role. Most recruiters and clients will request to see your CV or have you upload it online to get an understanding of your experience. It's your first opportunity to show them your experience, how you communicate, and the care you put into your work. Spend time on your CV, consider what you include and leave out, and don't forget formatting. We will soon be writing a more detailed post and providing examples and templates for how to write an excellent CV for Data Freelance roles, but before then, here are some pointers:

1. Tailor Each CV to the Application

When you apply for a role, tailor your CV to the requirements. For instance, if the role asks for solid stakeholder management skills, ensure you include evidence of this - simple. The same is said for technical skills - if it emphasises a need for strong SQL skills, then make sure you're demonstrating this in your CV, not just alluding to it once. It takes time to tailor your CV for each application, but it helps increase your chances of landing the role. Once you have done this five or six times, it will become much quicker as you can make a Frankenstein of the different variations that will cover most roles you are applying for.

2. Demonstrate Experience Using STAR

Situation, Task, Action, Result. What was the broader context, the task you were set, what action did you take, and what was the result of that action? Use numbers to demonstrate effectiveness. For instance:

Working with senior leadership raising capital for a new business venture, tasked with creating compelling stories from a proprietary data set to demonstrate concept. Built 4 Tableau dashboard demonstrating POC, pitched alongside leadership in 8 meetings with large institutional investors, helping to secure over £200 million in funding.

3. Use Keywords Throughout

Whilst you should avoid keyword stuffing, repeat keywords from the application in your tailored CV, where appropriate. This will help you if your CV is screened before being read by a human and will also help recruiters or hiring managers quickly understand within 10 to 20 seconds if you have the skills they require and if they should take a more detailed look at your CV.

4. Format Your CV

Make sure your CV is no more than two pages long. A one-page CV is also OK, but you're limiting your opportunities to demonstrate your experience. If you use two pages, make sure you don't just use one and a half; it looks messy. Stick to one complete page or two pages, not more, not less. Following a chronological flow is logical for most CVs, with your latest experience first to your oldest experience further down the page.

Navigating Your First Freelance Contract

There are a few things you want to do before signing your first contract that will better help you understand what you are signing up for and how you will get paid for your services. This will be a combination of research by yourself and talking with the client/the entity representing the client. The key here is to be honest and open with all parties about your abilities, the value you bring, and, thus, what you expect in return. Do your due diligence, and remember you can walk away before contracts are signed if you are unhappy with the terms offered.

1. Research the Market Rates

Some job adverts will include the proposed pay range they are willing to offer, with a lower end for less experienced candidates and a higher end for more experienced candidates. This range reflects what the client wants to pay but doesn't necessarily reflect the market rates or the maximum they are willing to pay for the right candidate. Before applying, it's a good idea to understand what sort of rates you could potentially charge and what you would be happy to accept for this type of role. One way to work this out is to ask for other rates people typically charge in the community chat channels for this type of work. Another way is to look for similar job postings on the Data Freelance Hub job board and look for the rates being offered on these roles. You can also use a website like IT Watch and search for the primary skills listed in the job advert. Remember, the aim is to understand what the market typically pays for these skills - your circumstances and experience will ultimately dictate what you are happy to accept. Armed with this knowledge, you can speak to recruiters/potential clients about the rate you would be willing to get to take on this role.

2. Clearly Define the Scope of Work

Getting clear on the scope of work upfront is essential. You need to understand what is and isn't expected of you in this role. You want to feel comfortable that you have the skills required to do the role and can complete it within the outlined timeframe. This is your opportunity to confirm with the client that you can meet the role or if you have any concerns about the project's feasibility. When the scope is established, it's essential to have this in writing and agreed upon between you and the client. This is important for ensuring you have an agreed starting point and a clear idea of what you aim to achieve and for then later being able to identify scope creep. In some countries (the UK, for instance), if your role begins to move outside the pre-agreed scope, this could have tax status determination implications.

3. Understand the Chain of Compliance

When negotiating your contract, it's essential to understand the chain of compliance - i.e., who's in between you and the client. Often, you'll find that companies will hire a recruitment company not to help find suitable candidates but for compliance reasons - to handle tax, legality of employment, and payment. Understanding who sits in between you and the client will determine who your engagement is actually with and, in turn, will determine who you need to invoice, the risks for not getting paid, and, in some cases, which jurisdiction your contract is governed under, i.e. your client might be in the US, but as a UK contractor they put your contract through a local partner and any disputes would be settled in a UK court. You might need to think about VAT, etc.

4. Payment Terms & Conditions

Ensure you know the payment terms and how this process will work. You want to understand who you need to invoice when you need to invoice, what evidence you need to submit alongside your invoice and how long it will take you to get paid. This will help you forecast your finances and when you can expect to get paid for your work. The closer the time between submitting the job, raising the invoice and getting paid, the less financial risk there is on you, and the better it is for cash flow. Understanding how people in the chain get paid is also good practice. For instance, does the middle party handling payments have to get paid before you get paid, or will they pay you regardless of whether they have been paid? This helps you to understand any risks associated with non-payment.

The Admin You Should Have Sorted

Before taking on your first role, you should consider a few legal and compliance steps. You might find that having these things in place is a prerequisite for starting a contract. Depending on what you choose to set up, you may also find there are lead times, meaning it takes anywhere from a few hours to a few weeks to get these things in place. Once you know you are ready to leap into full-time freelancing, we recommend getting these items in place a couple of weeks before you want to start your first contract. It's also wise to consider the below, even if you are freelancing part-time or on the side of your current job. Working through platforms like Upwork, Freelancer, etc., does not negate your need to have these items in place.

1. A Legal Structure

Whilst it's recommended to have a legal structure in place for any work you're doing, whether part-time, full-time or just on the side, it's even more critical when you decide to take on a full-time role. This could be setting yourself up as a sole trader, a limited company, creating an LLC or an S-corp, or one of many other legal structures you can have. There are pros and cons to each type of legal structure, and your circumstances will dictate the route you decide to take. We will soon be writing some helpful articles on the different legal structures you can set up to help you make a more informed decision. You should note that often, it's required that a legal structure is in place before a client can work with you.

Similarly, the legal structure will often be a prerequisite for purchasing insurance. It might take a few hours to a few weeks to set up your legal structure, so it makes sense to set this up once you have decided to take on a full-time role and a few weeks before you want to start. Failing to have this in place could delay your start date and potentially cost you the contract if you cannot begin on the date they are looking for.

2. Insurance to Protect You

If something goes wrong, you will want insurance to protect you. Even if you are working through platforms like Upwork, Freelancer or other similar marketplaces often, you're not covered or have limited protection if something goes wrong between you and the client. You'll also find that when working with larger clients, going through recruitment agencies, or other professional bodies, having insurance is needed before you can start the role. Depending on the details of the position, you will need different insurance coverage levels, covering different amounts. For instance, if you take out insurance in the UK, it typically covers you to work worldwide, except for the USA, where you would need to take out an additional add-on.

Similarly, for one client, you may be required to have £1 million in liability insurance, and for another, maybe £1.5 million. It should state in your contract how much insurance you need to have, and you can ask the person handling your contract how much this is likely to be before receiving the contract so you can get a head start on buying this. We will soon have more detailed guides about the different types of insurance you might need. It's likely to purchase insurance, you will need to have a legal structure set up.

3. An Accountant for Finances

Whilst this isn't essential, having an accountant in place before starting your first full-time role is good practice. They can help you to decide which type of legal structure best suits your particular situation, set you up with any payroll, invoicing or billing systems you might need to have in place, and generally advise you on sound financial practices. While monthly fees are associated with having an accountant, asking questions about your business and personal finances and getting advice on best tax practices will save you money in the long run. Inside the Data Freelance Hub, we have a channel called "Ask an Accountant (UK)", where you can ask any accounting question you want, and a qualified accountant will answer you within 48 hours, free of charge. Please note that this doesn't replace having your accountant; the information provided is only for informational purposes. We are setting up a similar chat channel shortly for USA-based accountancy practices.

Nailing the Interview

If you've got through to the interview stage, it's highly likely, based on your CV and initial conversations with the gatekeepers (recruiters), that they believe you have the skills and experience to do the role. The interview allows you to validate their belief and demonstrate what it would be like to have you in the team on a personal level. There will likely be a couple of other people who have made it to the interview stage that you're up against, and you need to demonstrate why you should get the role instead of them. Whilst this is very similar to an interview for a permanent job, you need to remember you are there to provide a service, and this is a pitch - you need to sell them on you.

1. Do Your Prep on the Role & Company

Do your homework. By the time you get to the interview stage, there's a good chance you will land this role if you interview well. Whilst on the hunt, it's common (although not always recommended) to apply for many roles without doing much research on the company. Now you're through to the point of speaking to the ultimate decision-makers, it's time to invest a few hours into understanding more about the company you will be helping. Read some of their blog posts and case studies, read up on their industry and go through their website and other assets readily available online. Armed with this information, you can weave in some of what you have learned about the company into your conversation with the decision maker - "Ahh yes, you did a similar thing with company X, or with Y product you released a few months ago". This is about demonstrating that you take the time and effort to understand the business and are likely to put in a similar level of care and commitment to the role.

2. Demonstrate Your Experience for the Role

Most clients aren't interested in having you learn on the job for freelance roles, although there are a few exceptions. Generally speaking, they want you to demonstrate you have the experience and skills needed for the position and that you have done something similar in the past. Think through how your previous experience relates to the requirements for this role and how you can demonstrate that in the interview. For instance, if you know this role heavily focuses on SQL, make sure you focus on this when you recollect your experience. Similarly, if you have any experience with the data tools they use and the industry domain, remember to highlight this. If you don't have the domain experience, where possible, try to make connections from your experience to this role - this could be working in a small team or as part of a large project - anything that shows this won't be your first time working in this kind of situation and that you can handle yourself.

3. A Chance to Ask Questions

This is also your chance to ask the hiring manager questions to ensure this is the type of role you want to work on. It's best to come prepared with a handful of questions you want to clarify or questions that demonstrate you've done your research on the company. Asking thoughtful questions can be a differentiator compared to other freelancers going for the same role. Again, remember that you're not an employee; you are an independent business providing a service to another business, so your questions should centre on the business problems and understanding more about how you can help rather than on company perks or working styles.

A Successful Onboarding Experience

So, you've successfully landed yourself your first full-time data freelance role. It's your first week, and you want to make a good impression on your client. Unlike permanent jobs, in data freelancing, clients can often terminate your contract with only a few days' notice, so you need to hit the ground running and give the hiring manager confidence in your skills. The three-pointers below will help you get on the right path.

1. Familiarise Yourself with the Company & Team

If you're working as part of a team, spend some time getting to know the other people, learn more about them professionally and personally and begin building a rapport. Even though they didn't hire you directly, you should think of the other people in your team as your clients because, directly or indirectly, they will have a say on your perceived performance and, thus, chances of an extension or repeat work in the future. Building a good rapport with the team whilst keeping it professional will not only increase your chances of securing further contracts but will also make your time on the project more enjoyable and boost the chances of it being successful as you'll meet less resistance.

2. Understand the Project Requirements

Before starting the project, you should have outlined the scope of work and have a pretty good idea of what you have been brought in to help with. When you arrive, however, it's time to get into the nuts and bolts of the work. Your first week is your opportunity to understand the project requirements better and build the roadmap for what will be delivered and by when. Use your first week or first few days, depending on the contract's length, to get to grips with what needs to be delivered. You can then open an honest conversation with the client about the proposed plan for tackling this list and the order for prioritisation. This will also be your first opportunity to check the scope of work you agreed on is aligned with the reality on the ground and that you feel comfortable having the skills needed to deliver on the project.

3. Deliver Value Quickly

Once you have identified the project requirements in more detail and understand more about the different stakeholders in your team, see if there's a part of the scope of work you can deliver quickly that has a high impact. Look for high-value hanging fruit that you can deliver quickly and to a high standard, demonstrating your value to the project. Whilst this isn't always possible, it's never a bad idea to demonstrate to the team and the hiring manager why they bought you into the project, and a great way to do that is with a big-hitting, low-effort task. For instance, when building dashboards in the past for clients, I first created an on-brand template for the business that we could use going forward and redesigned one or two of their existing dashboards in the new style. This is an example of a low-effort task perceived as high value and gives the team confidence (rightly or wrongly) in your abilities.

Wrapping Up

Starting your first full-time data freelancing role requires more than just turning up and helping clients with their data. From researching the market, getting market-ready, creating a compelling CV, understanding the different elements of your contract, where to look for your first role, and ensuring you have the correct legal structures in place, there can be much to consider. Hopefully, this guide has given you some insights into the types of things you should consider and some tips and tricks for ensuring your first full-time data freelancing role succeeds. In the coming weeks, we will write more detailed guides about different areas related to Data Freelancing to help you step-by-step with the above mentioned elements. If you have any questions about getting started, post them in the "Freelancing Support" chat channel inside the Data Freelance Hub community.