Freelance data scientist: how to become one and why you should consider it

The term “data scientist” has recently been coined and is considered a new breed of analytical expert.

At its simplest, a data scientist understands how to turn data into useful information.

More intricately described, a data scientist uses a variety of creative, analytical and technical skills to ask the right questions and solve complex problems. A good data scientist is curious enough to figure out what problems need to be solved.

If you’re a data scientist, you may have come from the world of computer science, or programming, or statistics, or another branch of mathematics. You may have IT experience, business experience, or both.

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You’re also part of an expanding field, as companies who want to use big data to their advantage increasingly seek data scientists.

Just having the information isn’t enough. Corporations need experts who can understand the data and turn it into useful business information, or advance a public sector enterprise like health care.

Another sign of the times is that data scientists are like many other fields — they are expanding into the world of freelance work. You may currently work for a company, but you’re interested in moving into the ever expanding world of freelance work.

So let’s look at how you become a freelance data scientist, and why.

Becoming a freelance data scientist

If you’re reading this article, there could be two reasons why: 1) you are looking at entering the field of data science, or 2) you have experience working as an employee and want to move into freelance work.

It isn’t completely necessary, but it’s probably best to gain experience working in the field before embarking on a freelance career. Getting the knowledge, skills, training and mentoring, along with the steady income that comes with being an employee, is a good place to start.

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Once you have the confidence that you can take on a variety of assignments, you can start to think about moving into the freelance environment.

Here are some things you will need to establish:

Experience with a variety of assignments

This experience can come as a result of your schooling, your career with a company, or even volunteer work. If you’re a beginner, you can offer service to a local business to gain experience. You can work for a company while exploring what it takes to be a freelancer. But it’s essential to have experience to demonstrate that a company would want to hire you, often remotely and without ever meeting you. You’ll also need the experience to complete the next requirement…

A portfolio of work

It’s essential that you have a portfolio that displays a practical application of your skills. This should include several different types of projects that showcase your ability to do multiple kinds of work, such as developing and testing various hypotheses, cleaning and analyzing data, and explaining the value of the end results.

A way to display that portfolio

Since one of the benefits of being a freelancer is the ability to work remotely, there’s a good chance you will be finding jobs remotely. That means your first contact with potential clients will probably be online. A good way to showcase your work is through a personal website. Make your portfolio section easy to navigate, and make sure you clearly display how to contact you. Including key search terms will help your site appear when clients are searching for data science freelancers.

An online platform to find work

It’s likely that you will want to use an online platform or freelance directory to find work. There are many out there, where clients post jobs and freelancers bid on them, or where clients contact freelancers with work in mind. Determine which will be best for you, and ensure you create a quality profile that also includes work samples.

The initiative to find work

While online platforms will provide an opportunity to bid on jobs, you can also think outside the box in your search for valuable and enjoyable work. Think local for instance, and find entrepreneurs or start-up companies who could benefit from your skills. They may not be able to hire large agencies but they could hire you.

Perhaps you offer your services at a lower price to start, with the benefit of having a freelance project to add to your portfolio. Perhaps you can negotiate a percentage of profits from a new company. You have to be proactive to secure your success. Think beyond bidding online and you may be surprised at where you’ll find work.

The know-how to run a business

Besides the fun stuff about being a freelancer, like finding exciting work and actually doing that work, you will also have to balance doing other administrative tasks like accounting and preparing for tax time. There are many resources available to you as you set out to run your freelance business.

This can include using local business resources, as many communities have organizations that support entrepreneurs. There are also online resources, your community of peers, and freelancer resources available to you.

The ability to schedule your time

This means being motivated to work at sometimes odd hours, compared to a 9-5 workplace. You need to be sure to meet deadlines for clients, and also leave time for administrative work, to find new work, and to look after other aspects of your life. Working on your own can mean a heavy workload, particularly as you establish your business.

A presence as a leader in your field

As you build your business, you should showcase your knowledge and technical skills in the data science field. For instance, you can be active in online forums for data scientists. You can write blogs or thought leadership articles for your website or as a guest on established sites. Employers will note your knowledge, insight and participation when they’re looking for a freelance data scientist.

And, you will share ideas with and learn from your peers. You may even be asked to work together on a project. Having a professional network is valuable to your business.

A drive to continually learn

Being in a new and exciting field means you’ll have to be open to always learning, about data science, running a business, meeting client needs and more. Be sure you have the time and resources for professional development, such as technical training. And communicate with your clients so that you can learn from them.

Why become a freelance data scientist?

Now you know some of the key steps to take to set out on a freelance data scientist career. But why would you do it?

After all, setting out on your own can be a daunting proposition. It can be scary to wonder where you’ll find work, and whether you will make enough money to make it worthwhile. Will you miss your current employer, colleagues and workplace?

Here are some exciting reasons to embark on a freelance career:

The marketplace

The market for freelance work in general has increased, for a variety of reasons. Employers are getting more comfortable with a remote workforce, and are more open to hiring contractors instead of employees. The market for data scientists has also increased. Businesses are increasingly understanding the value of data science and want your creative efforts serving them in providing analysis and translating information into ideas.

The flexibility

As a freelancer, you have a flexible work schedule. Sometimes you’ll have to work weekends to get the work done, but sometimes you can take an afternoon off to go for a hike. That’s a real benefit to many. The flexibility to work remotely, from anywhere, is another advantage.

The diversity of work

If you like to do a variety of work for a variety of clients, a freelance career can be the ideal choice.

Be your own boss!

For those who can handle some uncertainty, stay motivated, work alone, work remotely, and manage running their own business, embarking on a freelance career is an exciting prospect.

Final Thoughts

The rise in demand for data scientists provides the opportunity to gain valuable experience in a field you love. It also means there are a variety of opportunities available for those who want to be a data scientist, or those who have entered the field of data science.

The rise in demand for freelancers in general, and for freelance data scientists specifically, also means an opportunity to establish your own business and embark on a new path. Our tips will help set you on the right track to becoming a freelance data scientist, for all the right reasons.


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