So you want to be a fulltime freelancer? If you think hooking up your Nespresso machine, investing in a onesie and setting your alarm for midday will set you up for freelancing success, think again.
This may come as a shock, but freelancing is still work. It’s not just boozy lunches and working from the beach (although they are perks of the job!), it’s also undeniably tied to the stress of income, loneliness and perpetual fear. Becoming a fulltime freelancer comes with being the fulltime finance team, marketing manager, business manager, accounts extraordinaire, receptionist and admin assistant – after all, who else is going to answer all those emails filling your inbox?
The good news is, you’ve come to the party at the right time. With the rise of the gig economy, forward-thinking companies are on the lookout for people who can jump in, solve a specific problem, then disappear. Connectivity is being blown out of the water, with the rise of the Cloud, ridiculously fast Internet, and chatting tools like Slack and Skype enabling business to get done even if members of a team are spread across the globe.
So are you ready to work for yourself, by yourself and with yourself, all day, every day? Here’s how to ditch the cubicle, quit your job, and become a successful freelancer.
1. Have an emergency fund
We’ll start with the not-so-fun stuff – money. Before taking the plunge, save up to six months of salary in a bank account separate to your usual savings. This is your safety net for when you’re finding clients, building relationships, meeting with prospects, and everything else that doesn’t translate to a line item on an invoice.
One of the joys of the job is to expect late invoices, start dates being pushed back, or clients vanishing entirely. Preparing for the worst-case scenario means you can relax, and not stress about when the next pay check will come in. If you didn’t have a backup cash cow, you would likely do two things – you’d take clients you don’t want to take, and you wouldn’t charge the rate you deserve, for fear you’d turn clients away. So treat yourself fairly (after all, you’re the HR manager) and insure yourself.
2. Spread the word
Tell everyone you’ve ever met that you’ve become a freelancer. Literally, everyone.
As soon as you’ve committed to becoming a fulltime independent, start taking on projects to build your portfolio almost immediately. While you hustle at your daytime gig, start lining up potential projects and build a client base in the PM. The bigger your little black book, the easier it will be to break free from the daily grind. After all, strangers in need of your services are more likely to pay top dollar if you can prove your experience, show past work and provide glowing references.
Finding work becomes easier when you’ve built a network – you’ll inevitably always know someone who needs someone! Try shooting your contacts an email each year to remind them you’re around, so that when they’re in need of a professional, you’re front of mind.
3. Get branded (it’s not as painful as it sounds)
Stop seeing yourself as a person, and start seeing yourself as a brand. You’re no longer just selling services, you’re selling yourself, so how you come across online will directly impact your success.
One of the hardest parts of being a freelancer is convincing businesses to work with YOU, instead of contracting a more experienced company. It’s simple, if they don’t like you, they won’t buy what you’re selling.
But how do you build your brand? It’s easy! Pick an online platform, and make a profile. Fill it out with every bit of information you can, every detail of your experience, and every slice of your life that could be construed as relevant. Now choose another platform and fill it out, too. Now another. And another. Keep choosing until you have an army of LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Google+ profiles hollering your conquests at prospective clients.
Now delve deep into these platforms you’ve created, and engage. Like, comment, question and answer across your platforms, and begin to build a community. Gone are the days where you fill your nights with face-to-face networking events – social sharing works at lightning speed, and allows you to pinpoint your audience down to their eye colour, maximising the time you spend networking and creating your online brand.
You won’t get the chance to shake hands with every client who passes your homepage in Internet suburbia, so it’s imperative that your online profiles establish you as an expert and influencer in your field.
4. Make a plan
Never underestimate the importance of having a plan. Each day in the lead up to ditching the day job, set yourself a goal. Whether it be to expand your network by three new friends, join another four groups on LinkedIn, attend a creatives meetup, or get in touch with an expert for advice, have a plan to grow.
Next, create a business plan. Identify what your minimum cash flow needs to be each month, and what your personal goals are. Knowing that you need to acquire at least three small projects a month will relieve stress, silence uncertainty and give you a goal to work towards. Not sure where to start? Reach out to your network, and ask the simple questions, like how much should you charge, where can you find the good clients, how do you close the deal, and is it okay to template your pitches?
Infographic courtesy of Visually.
Success is doing what you need to do, even when you don’t feel like it. It’ll be easier to find the motivation to get things done when your goals list is sitting in front of you with actions waiting to be checked off.
5. Think about how you’re going to grow
When you’re surrounded by peers in an office environment, it’s easy to gauge your skills and learn from people with experience. It’s still possible to learn and grow as a freelancer, it’s just much harder.
Set aside time in your monthly calendar to research industry trends, read blog posts (like these ones), find gaps in your skill set, and commit to training. Be self-aware, and very, very candid – nobody is good at everything, so learn to understand where your weaknesses lie. Know yourself, know where you are in your career, and invest in education – regularly.
6. Keep your friends close, and your competition closer
The simplest way to be successful as a freelancer is to deliver projects that are better than anything your competitors are producing, both in the work that you do, and in the way that you act.
Pay close attention to your competitors so whatever they are doing, you can do it ten times better. It’s easy to get sucked into the rabbit hole of research, but try to keep yourself afloat by identifying what their weaknesses are, and make those your strengths.
How do you make friends with your enemies? Play nice! Leave the defences at the door and share, trade and exchange your knowledge with a community of freelancers in your industry. Not only will it drive you to do better each day, and have a wealth of previous experience to learn from, but it will also quell the feelings of loneliness that come with working for yourself. You may even find yourself a mentor!
7. Have grit
Freelancing isn’t all rainbows and unicorns – it’s going to be hard. You’re going to question what the hell you were thinking leaving that cushy day job. Don’t get us wrong, breaking free of the worker bee mould can be liberating – but it can also be terrifying. You have to learn to embrace the fear, and transform it into passion.
Before you dive into the unknown, know your why. Delve deep, and find out what makes you long to work for yourself. Is it being your own boss? Setting your own rules? The flexibility, or the challenge? Write this down on a sheet of paper, and pin it above your desk. Ultimately, your success will be driven by your ability to keep sight of the bigger picture, even when obstacles are thrown your way.
And now it’s up to you! All that’s left to do is to start. Remember that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to freelancing - fit the puzzle pieces together however you see them fit, and you’ll set yourself up for freelancing success!