Moving from employee to freelancer is one of the biggest hurdles wannabe business owners face. Leaving the comfort of a regular paycheck and stable working hours feels very much like a leap of faith – because it is.
As becoming self-employed is all about being self-reliant, it follows, then, that you need to have faith in yourself. Nobody can make or break your business but you. But what groundwork should you lay before thinking about handing in your resignation? Whether you’re starting from scratch, moonlighting or looking to get the information you need before making the final break with your full-time job, there are lessons you can learn to make the decisions easier.
A financial buffer
Monetary uncertainty is a worry experienced by most new business owners. Your clients have no obligation to give you more work, and good gigs rarely fall out of the sky into your lap (although sometimes they do – and it’s lovely).
The “feast and famine cycle” is a well-known freelancing phenomenon – you work like crazy for a few weeks, finish your project, then are left high and dry with no work to replace it (because you’ve been too busy working to look for more work).
The worst thing that can happen is making the jump to full-time freelancing, and diving right into a dry spell. It’s terrible, but it does happen – so it’s important to have some cash in the bank to tide you over until you can rustle up another contract.
Enough money to last you three months is advisable. A great way to build up this buffer is by moonlighting – you can build up your client portfolio and create a nest-egg at the same time! You can check out our list of 11 freelance sites that pay well.
Get a website
We’ve written before about how to set up a website on the cheap, and your options are myriad. A website can be as basic as your own URL pointing at your LinkedIn page (a method espoused by our founder Darren), or you can spend a few hours putting a basic WordPress site together.
The important thing is you have somewhere to send people if they enquire about your services or a way to be found if people Google you. I’ve worked for years to make sure my name is near the top of a Google search for Jon Norris – I’ve only got that damn fishing supply shop to beat now.
More and more business is conducted online now, and your website is your storefront. Make sure it includes the basics – what you do, who you do it for, and how to get in touch. If you’re a freelance writer, we’ve got a handy list of portfolio websites you might want to consider.
Let your network know
It’s well worth putting some feelers out amongst your friends and contacts before quitting your nine-to-five. If one of them is able to point a big contract in your direction, it could be just the push you need to launch your business.
Add “Looking for contracts” to your LinkedIn job title, send an email to your contacts before leaving the office for the last time with your new contact information and details of your new venture. You may even be able to take a few of them with you as clients, do make sure you check the terms of your existing contract – you don’t want to get in trouble before you’ve even started..
So you’ve diligently saved up a cash buffer, set up your personal brand – complete with snazzy business cards – and told everyone you know that you’re planning to launch a business. What next? When should you pull the trigger?
Will the clouds part, angels descend, sound their trumpets and announce that henceforth you will be a freelancer? If I were a betting man, I wouldn’t put money on it.
Some people have self-employment thrust upon them – they’re made redundant or suddenly find their hobby is turning into a business – and some will intentionally make the switch from salaried employment for a variety of reasons.
The main thing to remember, though, is that there is no “normal” way to start freelancing.
Some people do it to enjoy their work more
Brain Casel, a web designer in Connecticut, USA:
“I left my job at a web agency in 2008 to go freelance. It was a conscious decision. I was excited by the prospect of working on my own and pursuing a variety of new and different opportunities.
“For the first few years, that meant taking on my own clients. But I later decided to transition once again and build a more scalable, products-based business. My favorite aspect has been the never-ending learning experience, and that’s why I’ve begun to focus more on writing and teaching lately.”
Ahmed Taouti, a graphic designer working in Paris:
“I had experienced all sorts of professional environments; big agencies, small agencies, 2 / 3 month projects, 2 days projects, yet I never felt at ease. Each time I managed to to change the role to my liking, for example by reducing meeting hours.
“I moved to Paris and quickly found a job, but the commuting was killing me, the atrophied projects too. I was never challenged by any project, so I gave it all up with no preparation, borrowed money and settled as a sole trader.”
Some people do it to get away from a negative situation
David Nikel, a communications consultant in Trondheim, Norway:
“After 10 years as an IT consultant I knew it was time to quit when my previous job began to affect my health. I had so many doubts about branching out alone (especially in a new industry and a foreign country) but what I didn’t doubt was this – I couldn’t stay in a job that was doing me damage.
“So even though the business plan was a long way from perfect, I struck out alone, and I haven’t looked back.”
…and some people just want freedom
Vicki Hughes, a PR consultant in Brighton:
“I remember toying with the idea to set up alone for a long time, but it took a while for me to build the confidence to just go for it. There was a crucial six months, involving many conversations with people that had ‘done it’, gaining inspiration and getting tips on making it work from them and, most importantly, discussing it with my partner (without whom I would not have had the confidence and practical home and work support to get it going).
“The need to gain authority in making decisions and advancing the business was a major driver, but the final push was probably the need to take control of my life and destiny. I had reached a stage of life where I wanted overall autonomy in managing my working life, fitting it in with family responsibilities and making the business decisions that felt 100% right in my mind.”
Ben Matthews, a freelance digital consultant in London:
“For me, going freelance was a conscious choice. I’d been working in the busy world of agency land at various companies, but felt that I’d settled into a routine and wasn’t pushing myself to learn or develop.
“Going freelance soon put an end to that, as I was constantly learning from day one – everything from sales and new business, through to client relations and freelance finances. Going it alone felt like a real challenge, but I feel like I’ve gone from strength to strength as a freelancer and wouldn’t look back.”