Since becoming a Croudie on Croud’s global network of on-demand digital specialists in the summer of 2021, Johanna has contributed SEO content as well as translation support for a number of projects. In this blog post, she shares her experience of becoming a digital freelancer in Germany and joining the Croudie Network.
How it all began
If you feel like freelancing might be a good fit for you, don’t be afraid to at least explore the idea. In fact, I didn’t begin as a full-time freelancer either. In 2016, I was in a comfortable position with a part-time job that offered me the flexibility of accepting freelancing gigs, while still providing me with some financial stability. I was mostly working as a proofreader in content marketing, which allowed me to develop my skills and establish those first – and extremely important – contacts.
Two years later, I finally went all in; I quit my part-time job and became a full-time freelance content writer, proofreader and translator, working for a number of clients and agencies, including Croud. Since then, I can’t even begin to imagine returning to a “normal” job. Becoming a freelancer has allowed me to grow as a person, use my time more wisely and fully realise my creative and organisational potential.
While I’ve naturally experienced some ups and downs throughout my freelancing journey, I’ve come to learn that becoming a digital freelancer in Germany isn’t actually all that difficult. There are just a few things to keep in mind when taking that first step.
The German freelance market
According to Statista, around 3.9 million Germans were self-employed in 2019, with another 2020 report by the Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs (BMAS) indicating that solopreneurs are slowly on the rise. That means that increasingly more people are choosing to have independent career paths.
The rise of the internet and increased focus on digital services – not least due to the COVID-19 pandemic – can be seen as a key factors in this development. Working as a freelance copywriter, graphic designer or virtual assistant doesn’t require you to rent an office space or hire employees. Croud in particular, is a full-service digital marketing agency that even allows freelancers to join their crowd-sourced network, which offers opportunities to work for well-known brands and strengthen existing digital skillsets. You can find out more on how to become a Croudie here.
In some ways, the risks and costs associated with self-employment are slightly lower for freelancers – of course, depending on the type of freelance work you do. Being a freelance photographer surely requires you to buy a lot of equipment or even rent a photography studio, while for a content writer like myself, a desk and laptop will suffice (although I would recommend purchasing some extra gear, like a computer screen and an ergonomic keyboard – trust me, your back and neck will thank you). But, what else do you need to become a digital freelancer in Germany?
Key steps to becoming a digital freelancer in Germany
To be completely honest, Germany isn’t exactly known for being an innovation- or startup-friendly country. But whilst building your own company usually requires a complicated, lengthy process, becoming a freelancer, at least in my experience, is quite different. Here are some key steps to kickstarting your freelance journey:
Register with the tax office
Regardless of whether you want to try freelancing as a side hustle or become fully self-employed, you need to get a tax number from your local tax office. Please note that a tax number is not the same as your tax ID (Steueridentifikationsnummer). A tax ID is an 11-digit number issued to everyone registered in Germany, regardless of the type of work they do. The tax number (Steuernummer), on the other hand, consists of 10 digits formatted like so: 00/000/00000. You can request this from your local tax office by email, phone or post. If you have an Elster account, you can also complete the questionnaire within the Elster portal to request your tax number.
Register as a business
It’s important to note that this next step only applies to you if you are a business (a so-called Gewerbe). Let’s say that you create beautiful bags from recycled materials and want to sell them online, or you’re a true wizard in the kitchen, aiming to make it big with your uniquely designed cupcakes. You would qualify as a trade business, and would have to register with your local trade office (Gewerbeamt), to receive a business number and pay commercial taxes.
Artists such as writers, journalists or musicians as well as lawyers, doctors, consultants and other people in the free occupations (Freie Berufe) are exempt from this rule, so if you’re planning to become a digital freelance writer, you won’t have to register as a business. However, I’d advise you to double check with your tax advisor.
If you want to become a full-time freelancer, you are in charge of getting your own insurance. This includes health insurance, pension insurance and care insurance. I would also strongly advise you to look into unemployment insurance. You can request this via the BMAS, or Agentur für Arbeit, – but only within the first three months of self-employment. While it does add to your list of expenses, it’s always good to be on the safe side.
If you want to become a freelance writer, you can apply for membership in the Künstlersozialkasse (KSK), or the Artists’ Social Insurance Fund. This type of insurance truly is one of a kind, and I personally have found great benefits through it. What makes it so unique is that it supports freelancers in the arts by acting like an employer. For example, when you pay €500 each month for your health, pension and care insurance, the KSK will double that amount. This means that even though you only pay €500, you will have €1000 “in the bank”. It’s the same concept as when you’re employed by a company, where €500 is deducted from your gross salary with another €500 provided by your employer.
Join the Croudie Network
Building your own clientele can require a strenuous amount of work. While you can always build your own website, create a LinkedIn profile or skim through job offers on freelance job platforms like dasauge, you may run into some difficulty landing jobs, especially in the beginning. With only a few clients or job experiences to add to your portfolio, it may be difficult to leave a lasting impression on prospective clients.
This is why digital agencies like Croud are truly a blessing. Joining the Croudie Network will not only give you the opportunity to work for some of the world’s leading brands and gain first-hand experience, but you will also have access to Croud Control, the agency’s proprietary tech platform. Here you can find a number of courses that span the full range of digital channels, through which you can improve your skills, and gain access to even more projects.
Last, but certainly not least, the dedicated teams you work with at Croud will always have your back and support you. I once ran into an issue while working on a project and the team did not hesitate to arrange a quick video call so we could work through the problem together – et voilà! The bug was found and I was able to continue completing the project. That’s what I call support!
Start building your network today
The reasons why you may want to become a freelancer might change over time, but if freelancing is in your bones, circumstances won’t really matter. What you need is the right mindset and a strong network – and opportunities, like the Croudie Network, will naturally arise. If you’re interested in becoming a digital freelancer, learn more about the Croudie Network and start onboarding today.