6 things to know before you start freelancing full-time
Sure, the thought of going out on your own can be scary. The unknown is intimidating. Fortunately, there are people out there — probably in your own backyard — who’ve been exactly where you are today and who are more than willing to help. That’s the true value of community — it’s about being a part of something bigger than just you. It’s about having a network of people who support each other around a particular topic.
Our “Peep” freelancer community is one of the strongest, most supportive communities we’ve ever seen. Fellow freelancers communicate with each other in the CloudPeeps Facebook and Slack communities to share best practices, tips, experiences, and lessons.
Recently, one Peep posted to the group asking for the more experienced freelancers to share the one thing they wish someone had told them early on in their career transition. Not only was the response rate tremendous, but the quality and helpfulness of the replies were bar-none. They were so good, we just had to share them with the world.
Here’s six things to know when transitioning from full-time employee to working for yourself.
1) You can (and should) be confident in reaching out
A great place to start when looking for clients is your personal network and friends of friends, as they’re most likely to trust you and be willing to have a conversation. However, the work that’s most meaningful to you may not always be the low-hanging fruit. If there’s potential clients you’ve dreamt of working with that aren’t in your network, don’t be afraid to reach out. Tricina Elliker said:
The process of identifying and reaching out to potential dream clients is going to look different depending on your industry. Start by creating a short list of companies you want to work with, check their website to see if they’re hiring in the area of your expertise (even though they’re looking to hire full-time, they’re likely open to considering freelance work instead or need interim help), identify the lead of that department, then look on LinkedIn to see if you have any shared connections that could introduce you. Yes, this seems a little stalker-y, but it can be an effective approach, and it demonstrates how badly you’d like to work with them.
For example, the subjects that excite Tricina are science and technology, so she looks to Twitter, AngelList, and Product Hunt for potential clients. And sometimes she Googles things like “Science edtech” or “Girls STEM” or other keywords that might lead her to clients who are doing good work in the world. Then she uses LinkedIn or Thrust.io to find the email of the managing editor, or a content/branding/growth person at the company.
When reaching out, keep it short, personal, and demonstrate your value. For more, check out these pitching tips from freelance pros in the CloudPeeps community.
2) You need to start building your portfolio ASAP
It’s worth repeating — it’s crucial to quickly and clearly demonstrate your value when pitching a potential client, especially a cold lead. Case studies and a solid portfolio are a good place to start. Put together a basic website using Squarespace or WordPress (or any of the other options available) and create a page for “work” or “case studies.” David DiGoivanni said:
“Start building case studies for the type of work and client that you want. Each case study should explain all of the key decisions you made and why you made them. This is critical to set yourself up for the kind of work that you want to do. Get started now while you have income from a job so are not tempted to take jobs outside of your desired domain or work for people that you don’t want to work for. If you need help finding clients in the beginning I recommend 1) Offering pro-bono work and 2) Networking locally if you can (some one is much more likely to hire you if they can meet you face-to-face).”
David added that if you’re unable to take pro-bono work or don’t have existing experience, you could create a hypothetical client and develop a case study around that to demonstrate how you would approach and execute on the challenge at hand. We suggest saying that the client is hypothetical upfront so you don’t find yourself in an uncomfortable position. Another option is to use yourself as the client to showcase results you’ve achieved for yourself.
3) Taking breaks really does avoid burnout
Having freelanced full-time myself in the past, I’m all too familiar with feeling as though you have to always be on, always be available, and always be working. Not true.
Working around the clock when first getting started with freelance work does nothing but burn you out — responsibilities will start slipping through the cracks and the quality of your work will decline. Take time to rest up and recharge — it’s worth it in the long run. Kara Harms said:
“When a client would send an odd email to me at 8pm on a Saturday night, I would always feel like I had to act on it right away. But if I worked FT in an office, I wouldn’t see that email until Monday morning. I wish I had learned early on that it’s ok to be turned “off” even if your office is the next room over. Everyone needs their off time!”
To avoid working too much and burning out, take a day every couple of weeks to plan out how you’ll execute on the work you have on your plate. Create a routine and schedule out different time in the day to accomplish different tasks.
By visualizing your work load, you’ll be able to identify gaps in your week for rest and self-care activities like exercising or spending time with friends or family. I’ve also always really liked the concept of scheduling your energy rather than your time.
Carrie Jones also added that creating and clearly communicating boundaries with your clients will help make room for rest. She says:
I wish I had sat down and created a better budget for myself as well as set those boundaries like Kara said. I’d say the majority of us get into freelancing for the lifestyle it allows us to have, but if you have no boundaries, you cannot preserve that lifestyle. Communicate things upfront about this (i.e. don’t just ignore your client on the weekend if they’re emailing you and you don’t want to work weekends; instead, in your initial notes, say you don’t work weekends).
4) Setting up your business takes time, do it in advance
If you’ve always held a full-time job, it’s likely that someone else has always handled things like taxes, payroll, billing, and other administrative work for you. And unless you worked in sales or business development, you probably never had to go out and find the client for whom you did work for.
If you worked at agencies, you were assigned accounts, or you worked in-house for a brand. Either way, when going out on your own, you’re presented with a whole host of new responsibilities that should be accounted for before getting to work. Kat Loughrey said:
“From my experience, I’ve found that initially you don’t have much free time, you work most of the time on building your business – it takes time to set up platforms, systems, processes, templates, documentation you want to use etc, plus you are always tweaking (I still am, it’s ongoing) as you continue to try to find the best (and most efficient) to do everything. This is all happening while seeking out clients or kicking off with new clients, so it can be pretty hectic. Good to start doing more of that thinking prior to making the leap so you’re ready.”
If you’re starting from scratch, try networking with some experienced freelancers or find a mentor can help guide you in getting started. There’s a ton of great resources out there to help with the business-side for freelancing as well, such as Freelancers Union.
Laura Gluhanich added:
“Get the right professional support sooner than later (tax accountant/bookkeeper, financial advisor, insurance etc.). It took us nearly a year to find the right lawyer and we’ve gone through more than one accountant. For us, we wanted someone who understood what we did, was comfortable online (one wanted us to FAX things!?) and reasonably priced.”
5) Always charge more than you think you’re worth
The number one tip I can recommend when getting started is to not undervalue yourself. Do your research and consistently remind yourself that you are the expert and you’re worth a lot.
Tricina said, “Within my first year of full time freelancing, I more than doubled my rate and got better clients and produced better work. If you charge a lot you can give a lot to those clients and in return they’re likely to pass on your name as a top-notch freelancer.”
Ask people who work in a similar field as you who you respect what they charge. Check out resources like CloudPeeps to see what potential clients are willing to pay (on the platform, you can see what client’s budgets are for a given job).
6) Take a deep breath and have faith in yourself
Just remember, you’re making this leap because it’s the right thing for you, now. You’ve worked hard to get here. Do what you can to prepare the business side of things and to have a pipeline f clients ready for when you make the jump. Set up your work space the way you want, and get excited! You’re about to start the journey of a lifetime. 🙂
Are you looking to land freelance work? Check out the jobs currently available on the CloudPeeps platform. Already have plenty of work? Leave your tips in the comments below!
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