Main image of article 5 Steps to Become a Freelance Project Manager

If you crave more variety in your day-to-day work and the chance to implement different project management approaches and methodologies, there may never be a better time to jump into the world of freelance project management.

It’s estimated there are 128,931 job openings for freelance project managers in the U.S., with plenty of growth on the horizon. Even better, the average salary ranges from $54,000 to $90,000 per year; the earning potential goes up as you gain experience, certifications and repeat clients. The top 10 percent of freelance project managers make over $112,000 per year.

Despite the obvious benefits, you might be wondering if someone with your career background, skills and temperament can make a smooth transition and succeed as a freelance project manager.

To help you make the right choice and chart a path to success, we solicited tips and strategies from experienced project managers who know the ins and outs of freelancing.

Get Some Project Manager Experience Under Your Belt

When companies hire a freelance project manager, they need someone to take charge of a project with little to no direction and not waste time hitting goals.

In short, you go in as subject matter expert and the client expects you to deliver, noted Uma Hiremagalur, PMP, freelance project management consultant and COO/chair elect of the Washington DC Chapter of the Project Management Institute (PMI).

Freelancers generally need at least three years of hands-on experience to recognize the most common challenges and patterns you may encounter over the course of a project and overcome them, agreed Kayla McGuire, who had 10 years of full-time experience before becoming a freelance project manager and career coach. Having an official title from a reputable company helps establish credibility, too.

You never know when you might encounter unexpected challenges or scope creep that you need to work through. For instance, Hiremagalur recently found herself in an organization with extremely low project management maturity. What they really needed was someone with the knowledge and experience to help them navigate the journey to a higher level of maturity, she explained. Fortunately, she was able to leverage her previous experience to bring them along.

Plus, having an outside perspective gives you the ability to see problems differently and apply past knowledge to new situations—which is another reason why freelancers with a track record of creativity and experience are in such high demand.

Consider Specializing

While the skills you acquire as a staff project manager are transferable to freelance work, specializing can help you establish a personal brand and distinguish yourself from the competition.

For instance, Hiremagalur specializes in digital transformation projects for federal agencies, while McGuire focuses on projects for startups with fewer than 12 employees. McGuire says that founders seek her out because she speaks their “language” and understands their unique ways of doing things.

While it’s important to remain flexible to the needs of the market, the success of these two freelancers is proof that positioning yourself as an expert in an industry, niche or perhaps as a “capable rescuer of troubled projects” can be a smart move.

Commit to Continuous Project Management Learning

You’ll need business acumen, expert power skills, and mastery of project management best practices and ways of working to succeed as a freelancer, noted Karla Eidem PMP, a 20-year project management veteran and North America regional operations manager at PMI.

A great way to gain new experience and skills is to volunteer, she added. Many nonprofits, community organizations and small businesses have small projects that need managing on a part-time basis.

However, because it takes expert communication skills to lead through influence and navigate through ambiguity, if you’re going to concentrate on mastering one thing before you venture into freelancing, make it the art of communication.

If you’ll be working in tech, it helps to have a solid understanding of the Agile project management framework and the application of Scrum in various phases of a project. Having experience with a work management platform like Asana or Jira is helpful, as well. If you haven’t worked with one of those platforms, you can always use a free tool like to learn the basics.

The good news is that you don’t have to know everything to get started as a freelancer.

It's important to continuously sharpen your knowledge and skills. It’s possible to upskill and enhance your resume at the same time by taking online courses or earning micro credentials.

Network Your Way In

Because your first projects are likely to come from people you know or have worked with, it’s a good idea to start expanding your network in anticipation of making the jump to freelancing. You’ll also need an online portfolio highlighting your track record of success and the value you are capable of delivering. And that’s in addition to your project manager resume. Consider registering with a few staffing firms who specialize in placing project managers. They can help you break into new industries and forge new connections to grow your client base.

When Certifications Make Sense

Although practical hands-on experience and a proven track record is the ultimate litmus test, many freelancers find that earning a project management certification not only gives them confidence but opens the door to assignments in regulated industries that require certification.

When you’re just starting out, investing in a certification is a great way to validate your skills and establish client confidence and trust. As your freelance career grows, maintaining your certification will force you to keep your skills relevant too.


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