How to Become a Freelance Data Analyst
Data is integral to millions of businesses.
Without a professional analyst, this information is embedded in a sea of unusable computer code.
You have the ability to make that data useful, and companies around the world need you. You’re in the ideal position to build a career as a freelance data analyst.
As a freelancer, you avoid the grind of clocking in and out and working under a boss’s supervision. You’ll work with clients as an independent contractor, setting your own rates and schedule.
It’s a surefire path to success in today’s data-driven world, as long as you set your business up strategically.
This guide shows you how to become a freelance data analyst.
1. Expand Your Skill Set
The field of data analytics is vast, full of micro-subjects and specializations. The more knowledge you have under your belt (or on your resume), the wider your target market.
A data analyst’s job is to identify patterns within data sets and to help clients understand these patterns. The client uses these insights to make informed decisions on everything from marketing to product development.
Data Analyst or Data Scientist?
Most clients will expect you to have evidence of your skills. They may require a degree.
As you search for jobs, you’ll see listings for two types of roles:
- Data analysts
- Data programmers or scientists
Unless you have a master’s degree in coding or mathematical modeling, stick to applying for analyst jobs.
If you do have the higher-level certification, you can apply for better-paying jobs as a data scientist. Many analysts eventually move into this field after enough years of experience.
Skills You Need to Become a Professional Data Analyst
Analysts scan data and identify trends through data mining and macros.
The numbers tell a story that you can read and translate to your clients, often visually through basic charts and graphs. Your clients use those stories to make informed business decisions.
To build this story and communicate it with your client, you’ll need certain skills:
- Data visualization/Tableau
- Python (as well as any modern programming language)
- Machine learning algorithms
- Microsoft Excel
- Predictive modeling
- Statistical analysis
- Data engineering
- Data modeling
- Problem solving
If you’re self-taught and not confident in these areas, look into free or low-cost online courses to build your knowledge. You’ll need all of these requirements before you can tackle a paid data analysis job.
Certifications help you compete for freelance jobs. They prove to clients that you know your stuff, and they put you ahead of self-trained candidates.
Look for certification courses in areas where you’d like to grow your skills. You might also want to take courses in areas you’re already comfortable in to get an official certification.
If you already know the content, take a self-paced online course and jump right to the exam. Otherwise, go through the course, learn new things, and take the test to prove your abilities at the end.
Certification courses and exams will pay for themselves over time, as they’ll help you get more jobs and allow you to charge higher hourly rates and get more jobs.
Related: How to Start a Freelance Business
2. Take a Crash Course in the Business Side of Things
Taking on freelance data analyst jobs requires you to understand business.
You’re running your own company (employees: one, so far), and some business knowledge will help you thrive.
A quick course in Business Management 101 is worth your time and investment.
Registration, Licensing, and Taxes
If you only focus on the data analysis side of things, you’ll have trouble managing your business. There are certain tasks you can’t ignore, though.
Business intelligence is vital to running a startup. Every dollar counts, and things like choosing a business structure and organizing tax receipts matter.
Here are some tasks you have to complete to start your freelance business:
Whether this is your new full-time job or you’re starting a part-time gig, you need to register your biz with the IRS as soon as you start collecting money.
Right now, you might be the only person connected to your company, so a sole proprietorship structure works. This disconnects your personal assets from your business accounts and gives you access to a new tier of potential tax deductions.
If there’s a chance you’ll grow and bring in stakeholders, consider a limited liability corporation (LLC). The LLC business entity keeps personal assets and business assets separate but includes partners.
Check out the self-employed section of the Internal Revenue Service’s site for more help with this process.
Licensing and Taxation
The small business licensure process varies from state to state. You’ll need a different license for an online-only business than an in-person business.
At a minimum, you’ll need a general business license that permits you to operate your company in your city, state, or county. The requirements and fees vary by state.
You may also need a license to collect taxes. Since you’re providing a service instead of a product, you might not need to charge your client sales taxes. Check with your state’s regulations.
You’ll still have to pay taxes, but that’s different from sales tax.
3. Buy Insurance to Protect Yourself
You’re probably asking this question:
Why would a freelance data analyst need insurance?
It might sound unnecessary at first, but analysts need protection more than most professionals.
Types of Insurance You Don’t Want to Skimp On
Your clients trust you with their data. One security breach in your firewalls could make things ugly for you.
At a minimum, make sure you have these three types of coverage before you touch another person’s sensitive data:
Cyber insurance limits your out-of-pocket personal responsibility if your business is liable for a data breach.
Professional Liability Insurance
This is essential for any advice-giving professional. Any client claiming they lost money due to your insights can sue you. Professional liability protects you from financial responsibility.
Equipment Damage Insurance
You need your computer to do your job. While it’s out of commission, so are you. Use equipment damage insurance to cover the cost of repairs or replacement, as well as lost income.
Health insurance is essential for all.
As a self-employed worker, you don’t get paid for sick days. You’re more likely to head to the doctor for preventative care and wellness check-ups when you have an insurance policy.
Catching problems early can save you dozens of hours of missed work in the future.
4. Upgrade Your Hardware and Software
The job you’re doing is easier when you have the right equipment. You can’t mine for data on a dinosaur; you’ll waste time and money.
On top of that, older computer systems can’t support the level of cybersecurity protection you need in your line of work.
Upgrade your hardware and software to protect your clients’ data and speed up the results of your analysis.
Data Analysis Computer Requirements
Invest in a computer recommended for data analysts. You’re self-employed, so you can write the purchase off as a tax deduction.
As you’re searching for the ideal hardware, make sure whatever you buy has these specs:
- Enough RAM to process your active memory in real-time, with a minimum recommendation of 16GB (32GB is better)
- Storage solid-state drives (SSDs) to write your data to the hard drive quickly; look for 4-5 times increased speed
- A CPU that can handle the RAM and storage drive you choose; since you can’t upgrade a CPU, opt for the best in your budget
As for accessories, your laptop keyboard and mouse won’t keep up with the workload you’re putting on them. The angle of a traditional mouse and keyboard isn’t healthy for your wrists and shoulders, either.
Get an external, ergonomic, wireless setup, and combine it with a 15-inch monitor. You’ll also need to add a USB Type C port (called a “thunderbolt”).
Newer laptops have this as their default design. Check for it, though, because you’ll need the thunderbolt to transfer data between external drives.
Recommended Computer Software
There are dozens of data analysis software programs on the market. Some are free, while others are sophisticated and expensive.
Since this is your bread and butter, you should aim for the best you can afford that does what you need, plus a little more. You’ll grow your skills over time, so what you need right now might not be all you’re going to use.
Try out these interactive software programs and see which ones work for you. The R Project and Tanagra are free, making them a great place to start. GraphPad, XLSTAT, and SPSS are popular paid options.
5. Market Your Business
Here comes the exciting part:
You’re ready to create a portfolio and build your online presence.
In the meantime, join Kaggle, and get familiar with this community of data analysts. Kaggle gives you access to tens of thousands of free data sets, mini-courses, and peer competitions.
Compete in as many competitions as you can. List any wins on your work profile pages to land more jobs.
Building Your Brand
As you establish your presence on social media sites like LinkedIn and Twitter, you’re building a personal brand. Your brand includes your logo, colors, and voice, as well as other factors that define your business.
Are you personable and approachable? Professional and detached? Fun and humorous? These are all examples of styles of voice.
Whatever brand you choose, keep it consistent throughout all of your communications.
Take your branding further by including your logo in your contracts. (Since you’re working with sensitive data, you’ll need to have your clients sign a contract before starting any job.)
Most new data analysts have never designed a contract template, but don’t get intimidated by this part.
You’ve made it this far; the rest is simple!
Use Selfgood for Your Contract Design Needs
Your Alliance of Gig Workers membership gives you access to discounted legal services. There, you can design legally binding contract templates. Keep them on your digital dashboard to access every time you start a new job.
In the event your client attempts to skip out without paying or claims misrepresentation, you have a legal document that shows they agreed to your terms.
It never hurts to have too much documentation, but not having enough is always dangerous.
Related: How to Set Payment Terms
You already know that market research shows the field of data science and analysis is booming. Businesses need analysts like you to interpret metrics for them.
With your intelligence and some business sense, you can have a lucrative career in freelance data analysis.
Join Selfgood to take advantage of benefits designed for freelancers, including health and wellness and everyday discounts. With Selfgood on your side, you’ll be thriving in no time!
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