There is a day in the life of every self-employed person where they finally make the leap. After deliberation and planning, they submit their notice, finish up their tasks, and leave the world of regular employment in favor of the life of a full-time freelancer.
That first blissful morning working in the comfort of your soft-pants. That successful client meeting at 11am where you breeze in and out of an office, knowing you have the rest of the day left to your own devices while the other 9-to-5 workers are chained to their desks. That first 3am crunch toward an 8am deadline where you really should have been putting in more work during the day time but your life got in the way — these are the markers of freelancing as a way of life.
But before you get to the many rewards (and a few drawbacks) of working for yourself, you’ve got to get to that first day where you’re no longer waiting for a regular paycheck. So how do you do it? What does it take to go from standard employee to full-time freelancer?
The first thing it takes, according to basically everyone with even a modicum of common sense, is some degree of savings or an otherwise solid financial safety net. If you’ve got rent due at any time in the near future, you’re going to want to make sure you’ve got some money set aside, or a guaranteed revenue stream beginning on Day 1.
In a Quora thread on the subject of freelancing full-time, writer Amit Banerjee noted that “when I was a freelancer, there was no steady positive cash flow. In some months I made 10X of my normal income while I didn’t make any for the rest 4 months.”
“Its a rocky ride down there,” he explained.
That ebb and flow (or feast and famine, if you’d prefer) is extremely common in freelance life, which means you have to be prepared for those lean months. Author and artist Austin Kleon advises that savvy artists, and especially those who are thinking about freelancing, follow the advice of his father and “live below your means.”
“Spend less than you make. Save, save, save,” he told a fan on Tumblr, “Stay out of debt and keep your overhead low.”
Of course, avoiding debt can be difficult when you’re first starting your own business, but keeping in mind that money in the bank is worth a lot more than “the check’s in the mail” (an all-to-familiar mantra for freelancers) will get you a long way toward your goal of self-employment.
Once you’re sure you’ve got enough saved, it’s also a good idea to begin amassing clients before you take the leap. In your spare, outside-of-work time, start picking up work. Shoot weddings on the weekends, or pick up writing jobs in the evenings. Build websites early in the morning before work. Having a stable of clients who are ready to send more work your way — either for their own purposes, or in the form of recommendations from friends or colleagues — will make the transition much smoother.
If you’re not sure where to find clients, you’ve basically got two choices: Either tap your inner circle, or use websites that help connect freelancers with employers in need. Or, you can do both. Be sure to let your friends and family know that you’re looking for work, and make it readily apparent on your website that you’re available for hire. Then, consult some of the databases where jobs are posted.
“Check out websites like Elance, PeopleperHour and Odesk,” advised one full-time freelancer who offered advice during a Reddit AMA. “They are platforms designed to connect freelancers with the people who need work done. Create a profile with your CV and your writing samples and then you can bid on the jobs available.”
With clients locked down and a clear idea of what you’ll be working on, the next smart move is to put systems in place to take care of yourself and your needs. Look into your insurance options, either by the Freelancer’s Union, through your local or federal government, or through a spouse. Ensure that you’re prepared for that first day of working from home with an appropriate space and a schedule for what you’ll do when you begin your day. Start that first wonderful day as your own boss like any manager would — with a plan — and you’ll be just fine.
The self-employment boom is helping lots of writers, developers, photographers, designers, and all kinds of other creative entrepreneurs find flexibility and independence — and plenty more who haven’t made the jump are feeling the pull of the myriad perks. But before you tell your current boss you’re quitting, it’s a good idea to have a plan in place for what your new life actually looks and feels like.