If you’ve been fantasizing about fleeing your cubicle and working your dream job as a freelance writer or graphic designer, the following tips are essential for successfully transitioning from a full-time day job to the freelance life. Before making the plunge into the world of self-employment, consider what your ideal work day might look like and work toward that goal. It might seem scary to ditch a steady bi-monthly paycheck, but if you long for a more flexible schedule and becoming your own boss, the freelance world might just be for you.
1. Set Up Informational Meetings. Reach out to your own personal and professional network to connect to people in your desired field. If you want to start your own graphic design business, ask a few pros out to coffee or get on the phone for a chat and get their advice. Build relationships now and do a few freelance gigs while you’re still working full time. Over-deliver on every project to guarantee repeat work in the future.
2. Do the Math. What’s your ideal yearly income? While transitioning from a day job, your steady pay will transition too. Figure out exactly how much you want to make per month. Those numbers will help you decide how many projects you should take on in one month or a week or even your hourly rate.
3. Create Organizational Systems. When you’re just starting out, a simple Excel spreadsheet could be all you need for keeping track of your income, deadlines and invoicing system. For knowing how much money you have to set aside for quarterly taxes, Quick Books Self Employed is useful software. FreshBooks is a simple invoicing and time-tracking tool.
4. Create a Professional Work Space. The great thing about working from home is the portability of your office. You can work from your favorite coffee shop, a nice nook at your local library or in your kitchen. Spruce up your work-from-home desk with some cute cubicle DIY projects that make your office space a little prettier. If you don’t have a ton of space to create the home office of your dreams, make over a closet into your coveted corner office.
5. Enroll in Classes. Online classes are ideal for picking up the skills you’ll need for your new venture. Mediabistro has a wide range of workshops from magazine writing to public relations. UPOD Academy is the perfect place for freelance writers to virtually meet with big-time editors (Hint: Join the UPOD Yahoo Group for a great community of fellow writers). Snag tech, design and business skills from General Assembly or check out web designer Paul Jarvis’s popular freelancers class.
6. Join the Freelancers Union. Membership is free. Networking events and workshops happen all over the country. The blog is a wealth of valuable information, like a guide to taxes for freelancers or common mistakes freelancers make. Plus, the union offers benefits such as health insurance, life insurance and retirement plans.
7. Make a List of Goals. It’s easy to get overwhelmed with a giant checklist of what you need to do and accepting jobs that you don’t love to cover the bills and rent. Be clear about what you want to do professionally by creating a list of goals. Who are your dream clients? What do you achieve in your first few months and year as a freelancer? Those goals will come in handy when you need a reality check.
8. Network Offline and Online. A few months before you quit, hit in-person networking events like BinderCon or Ed2010 to meet like-minded professionals. Make it a point to talk to as many people as possible. A casual conversation before a workshop could turn into a potential client. Plus, check out these five apps to take your networking to the next level.
9. Read Up on Expert Advice. There are tons of great bloggers who have made the leap and share their advice from the trenches. Jennifer Keishin Armstrong is a former staff writer for Entertainment Weekly and her blog has some fantastic suggestions for would-be writers. Her super-detailed post on the ultimate guide to setting up a freelance business is everything you need to get started. This blog post from All Digitocracy has the basics, including financial advice.
10. Treat Your Freelance Life Just Like Your 9-to-5 Job. Take it seriously. Freelance writer Julie Schwietert Collazo made the career switch from psychotherapist to journalist in 2003. Julie suggests these basic tenets: “Get up and take a shower before you do anything else. Don’t wear your pajamas all day (no need to wear a suit, though!). Schedule appointments with colleagues and contacts to build your network. Relish the freedom that freelancing offers while also creating the structure for yourself that will permit you to be efficient, effective and successful.”
Have you made a triumphant jump from full-time work to a booming freelance career? If so, share your secrets to success with us in the comments!