How I Became a Fulltime Freelancer,
And How You Can Too
I’m often asked how one can make the switch from fulltime work to fulltime freelancing. They usually want to know if it was easy, but mostly they want to know if it’s possible to make a living at it.
Here’s a brief version of my story – how I went from suit and tie to fuzzy bunny slippers and pajamas.
I started freelance writing while I was completing my degree in Professional Communication at Royal Roads University, and continued after graduation when I was hired by a local ad agency as an account coordinator/junior copywriter. Going to school/working 9-5 and then coming home to find or work on new projects let me be brave in my search. I already had a job, so anything I could pick up was gravy. The only real cost was sleep deprivation…
I used many of the online job boards; elance, freelancer, odesk, etc, to find new projects. While most of these sites cater to an audience looking for below bargain basement prices, there were a few jobs that actually paid a decent rate (well, what I considered decent), and the more projects I successfully landed, the more discerning I could be when choosing projects to bid on.
Knowing that your work is worth something is a fantastic feeling, and these sites helped make that possible. Upon completion, buyers are required to rate your services. If they’re not satisfied, they will definitely say so.
Repeat business is/was the best form of flattery. Or an indication that your rates/quality are not quite in synch – and certainly not in your favour. You’ve got to figure out which one it is for yourself.
Once the volume of my contracts became close to steady, I approached the management at the agency and requested a part time position. I didn’t feel that I was being fully utilized there, but wanted to still have that sense of security that a regular paying gig provides while working with a great group of people. They couldn’t give me this part time role, but promised to find more projects for me, since I was interested in doing more. This didn’t happen, so a few months – and a few more freelancing gigs – later, I again requested a part time position. Again, this wasn’t a viable option in their eyes, so I offered my resignation. I had a few established relationships online and was confident I could find more, especially if I could claim back the +10hrs (including travel) per day working in the agency.
soo…getting back to the initial question: What is the best way to start a career in freelance writing?
Step 1: Ask yourself if this is really what you want to do?
If you think freelancers are just people “in-between” real jobs, or you might do some freelancing until you can get hired somewhere else, do yourself a favor and keep your day job. Freelancers are self-employed. They’re entrepreneurs. They’re small business owners. They’re not interested in working for one company until they can collect a pension and gold watch, unless it’s their own company!
If you’re still interested, please keep reading.
Step 2: Create/build/fake/imitate – confidence.
Since copywriting was the field I was entering, it was important that each pitch sold my services. If I effectively show you how writing can compel you to buy my services, chances are you’re going to be convinced that my writing will help sell your services. The more I wrote, the more confident I became, which brought new, and better, jobs.
Step 3: The answer to “how’re you doing?” is always good, great, or exceptional. Nothing less.
When you make the transition from corporate drone to freeminded entrepreneur, your friends, family, business associates, and everyone else will ask you how you’re doing, how your business is doing, and if you regret jumping ship. Nobody is going to give you new business or refer you to anyone if you’re moping around, complaining about projects going overseas and how the economy is in the toilet. There’s the old saying – if you want something done, give it to the busy person. see step #1.
Step 4: Network. Lots.
If you’ve still got a fulltime job, network as much as possible. Make contact with the people that might be potential clients. Find out what they need, learn about their business, and listen to them. Do.Not.Pitch.Them.
Use this time to figure out what they need, who the decision makers are, and what direction they are taking their business. It will be extremely valuable when you do make the leap to fulltime freelance, and a quick note when you’re leaving could be very useful then. If your current employer has a non-comp clause, make sure you are careful not to alienate these potential customers, but don’t focus on them for now. You’re going to need business when the non-comp clause expires, and that’s a great time to approach these folks.
Step 5: Hit your deadlines.
No excuses. Deliver before or on the day you promised. Every time.
Step 6: Write. Write more. Rewrite. Do it again.
A good friend of mine told me that writers write. If you want to be successful, you’ve got to put pen to paper (fine… fingers to keys) and find a way to effectively bleed your thoughts into the page. Read lots, write more.
I’m sure this is the same regardless of your field. In his book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell says it takes 10000 hours to become an expert, and the best way to get there is practise. Lots and lots of practise. Graphic designers draw, coders code, and freelancers freelance. Whatever you do, make the time to refine your craft.
Step 7: Work with good professionals.
Find yourself a group of professionals that you trust. An accountant and a financial planner can help you avoid tax issues that could cost you a lot of time and money. A good lawyer can help you steer clear of any potential liability issues, or protect your IP from unlawful – and profit robbing – infringement. As your income grows, so will your need for these professionals.
Step 8: Don’t get frustrated.
You might be lucky enough to land a fantastic gig on your first try, but chances are you’re going to have more slow periods than busy ones, especially in your early years. Remember, freelancing is a career choice. You can’t realistically expect to start out at the executive level in an industry you’ve never worked in, so don’t get frustrated when you’re doing jobs that might not have the cachet you were dreaming of when you started your new business. There’s nothing wrong with taking the work that pays the bills. It’s what you were doing in your corporate job, and there’s a chance you’ll have to do some of it occasionally. In the beginning, you might be doing more of the jobs you don’t like so that you can get to the jobs you do like. Eventually you should be able to pick and choose your dream projects, but you’ve got to make a name for yourself first.
Step 9: Save Money.
Just like any other entrepreneur, you’re going to have times when you’re too busy to eat, and times when you don’t have a project to work on. Plan effectively so you’ve got the funds to carry you through the slow times. Choose contractors instead of employees, so you can adjust your expenses as needed. Find additional income streams early on, so they’ve got a chance to grow into something that can help pay your bills. Affiliate marketing, books, and webinars can all be effective income streams for you.
Step 10: Have fun.
You’re going to be spending a lot of time on your new business, but make sure you plan to have fun while you’re doing it. Enjoy the stress and frustrations as much as you enjoy raking in the profits.
Freelancing is an excellent career choice for me, and it might be for you, too – but it’s going to take a lot of hard work, good pitches, and great results in order to find success. It probably won’t come quickly, but when it does, you can enjoy the fact that you earned every drop of it.
Good luck and keep freelancin’