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How to Become a Freelance Data Scientist (pt.1)

Discover the hard and soft skills you'll need as a freelance data scientist, as well as the pros and cons of choosing this independent career path.
Apr 2022  · 11 min read

Introduction

Advantages and Disadvantages of Being a Freelance Data Scientist

Skills of a Data Science Freelancer

Top Platforms for Finding Freelance Data Science Jobs

Conclusion

Introduction

According to Glassdoor, the demand for remote work has increased by 360%. The way the world works has critically evolved, especially in the field of data science and software development. As one can gather from the statistics, many professionals are currently making an effort to catch up with what this change brings to the table.

A big number of companies have switched to the remote work model, which allows employees to invest more time in their personal lives while staying productive and committed to the company. As for those who have been actively looking for a job, they have been met with a wide range of new job opportunities not only in their own countries but also abroad. One could say that employers and employees have found a win-win situation, based on flexibility and trust.

With the advantages of working from home becoming so well-known, more and more people have been wondering if it is now the time to try out freelancing. As a result, online freelancer platforms, like Upwork, have gained a lot of popularity.

Currently, Upwork has around 900 data science jobs available. This is already a relatively high number but, as a data scientist, you can also enroll in other kinds of software development projects that are not limited to data science, which offers an even better outlook for potential freelancers.

As a data science freelancer, you will find that there’s a wide range of interesting project postings to apply for, shared by companies and individuals alike. The job postings already state the pay and the desired completion date, which makes it very easy to decide if it’s worth taking on the project or not. Of course, you don't need to work on only one project at a time. You can set your own rules and manage your time as you prefer in order to reach your maximum efficiency without sacrificing your work/life balance.

Working as a freelancer, however, can also have some disadvantages, like the lack of company benefits, and it is worth seriously considering this before taking the leap.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Being a Freelance Data Scientist

By working as a freelancer, you are actually creating your own brand. In addition to completing the tasks you accept, it is also your responsibility to ensure the development of your brand, plan your income and expenses, and make every decision, like choosing the program licenses you will use.

Successful freelancing means a lot of hard work but, just like other employment options, being a freelancer has both advantages and disadvantages. 

Advantages

  1. You can work from anywhere as long as you have an internet connection.
  2. You choose the jobs you want to take and that have suitable conditions for you.
  3. You can plan your workload and holidays yourself and you can work as much as your energy and time allow. If you want to be a freelance data scientist as a part-time job, you will also be able to find jobs that only take a few hours of your day.
  4. Since freelancers work globally, they can sometimes benefit from opportunities with better incomes than they could achieve locally in their home countries.
  5. Given the variety of tasks that you receive, as a freelancer, you can improve your competencies in different ways, as opposed to the rather monotonous tasks that you could end up performing when working as an employee. Additionally, your research and development skills can develop quickly, since you train them daily in your active task searching.

Disadvantages

  1. Freelancers have certain tax liabilities that they need to keep track of on their own, which can potentially be overwhelming, especially for new freelancers.
  2. Lack of benefits. Since you will be running your own business, there will be no company to provide you with the usual employee benefits. This means you will need to provide certain things for yourself, like health insurance.
  3. Projects may take longer than you expect, or your clients may want to finish a project early. This will eventually make you develop your adaptability, but in the short term, you may also feel a lack of stability in your business life.
  4. You will encounter good clients, and you will also work with clients that may cause you problems. Whatever the case, you need to make your client happy. The scores they give you on freelance platforms, and the public reviews they might share, can significantly impact the likelihood of you being employed by other agencies in the future.
  5. Time zones. In some cases, you may need to adapt to the timezone of the country where your client is located, which could be disruptive to your private life.
  6. Very often you won't have a colleague working next to you, which could make you feel lonely at times. It is important to pay attention to your mental state and social needs, otherwise, you may find that both your motivation and health gradually decline.
  7. There is always a risk that you may encounter clients that don’t stick to the conditions that they originally agreed to, including regarding payment. This is generally a small possibility, but you still need to keep it in mind and take the necessary precautions to ensure you are always treated fairly.

Skills of a Data Science Freelancer

As a freelancer, you will need a good mix of soft skills and hard skills. Your technical knowledge will of course play a very important role, but other aspects, like your social skills, your language command, and your basic accounting knowledge, will also be crucial.

Hard Skills

Technical Skills

Most data science skills come from computer science, IT, mathematics, and statistics backgrounds. However, it’s not limited to these fields since they can also be gained from different kinds of engineering career paths. The required basic skills for every data scientist are:

  1. Programming and packages
  2. Data visualization
  3. Machine learning
  4. Probability and statistics
  5. Linear algebra
  6. Data wrangling

Language Skills

Proficient language skills are the basis for good communication. As a freelancer, you will regularly work with clients located in different countries. If you take a look at job postings on any freelancer platform, you will see that most, if not all of them, are in English. 

It will help you to have an English level that allows you to understand the given jobs and respond to clients in writing. At some point, however, a limited level of English proficiency may not be enough. In medium and large projects, you will usually need to make video calls before, during, and after the project. Clients will give priority to candidates with whom they can communicate smoothly during the hiring process. For this reason, if English is not your native language, it can be greatly advantageous to improve this skill.

Accounting

Freelancers have to pay taxes and freelancer fees, which depend on their country of residence. As your business grows, the types of taxes you have to pay may change. It is essential to have good accounting skills and keep track of changes to tax legislation, as not keeping to these laws can result in legal issues.

Soft Skills 

The set of abilities considered ‘soft skills’ can be the key to earning a client’s trust. Here are the ones that you will need to learn to master in order to be a successful freelancer:

Communication

A common denominator of all good freelancers is their distinctive way of communicating. Before accepting a job, it is important that the freelancer and the client understand each other’s demands and needs. Both parties need to communicate clearly in order to avoid ambiguities or misunderstandings from the very beginning.

Negotiation

Learning how to negotiate requires experience. Negotiations can sometimes be a sensitive topic and they must always be done in a respectful way. Freelancers can only learn this with practice. It is important to set out your needs and expectations without being too abrupt and, if mistakes happen, it is vital to learn from them. The desired result should always be contract clauses that are fair for both parties.

Emotional Intelligence

Being able to anticipate how clients will feel when faced with an issue will help you plan the solutions you could suggest, as well as how to present these to them. There may also be situations in which your client will not be able to express their thoughts for different reasons. In such situations, the freelancer’s empathy can make the client feel understood and in good hands.

Abstraction

Abstraction is a skill widely used by engineers and scientists, which consists of thinking about a complex problem and dividing it into several high-level simple components. Then, just by focusing on these simpler components, it becomes easier to approach complex problems. 

Clients may not have as much technical knowledge as a freelancer, and even if they do, they may have trouble fully understanding every step of the work that’s done. This is why freelancers need to be able to provide a clear summary of their approach and the architecture of their project, and this is where abstraction comes into play. Clients appreciate it when they receive a clear overview of the process and this can help build a strong bridge between both parties. 

Top Platforms to Find Freelance Data Science Jobs 

Freelance websites provide a platform for interaction between job posters and freelancers. These platforms allow you to filter job offers in order to adapt the search to fit your skills. All stages of a project happen on these platforms, including the final payment, which makes them a very useful and reliable tool for professionals. The current top platforms for data science jobs are listed below.

Upwork

There are approximately 900 open data science-related job postings on this platform, as shown on Upwork’s data science webpage. Job offers are usually finalized rather quickly in Upwork. Negotiations can last from just a few minutes to one week. This means you could have around a thousand data science jobs to apply for every week.

Toptal

Unlike other freelance platforms, Toptal conducts a rigorous technical interview with all freelancer candidates. As a result of this interview, only the top 3% of applicants are accepted to the site. This ensures that only the most successful and professional freelancers can do business on this platform.

Fiverr

What makes Fiverr different is that on this platform the freelancers are the ones who usually offer the kind of specific jobs they can perform in basic, standard and premium plans. As a result, the business dynamics are in some ways more stable than on other platforms as the freelancer can set out exactly what task they will perform, for exactly how much time and for what fee.

Conclusion 

Beginning your journey as a freelance data scientist can be challenging, but can result in a rewarding career in data science where you enjoy the independence of being your own boss.  Stay tuned for part 2, where we'll provide a detailed roadmap for becoming a data scientist, additional helpful tips, and answers to frequently asked questions.  In the meantime, you can begin your journey today by signing up for our Data Scientist Career Track.  

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