Starting Strategies for Would-be Freelancers

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Few freelancers get there by waking up one morning and deciding to start a business that day. On the other hand, to the part-time freelancer longing to sever the ties of paid employment, the decisions involved in moving to full time freelancing can seem intractable.

There are a few common transition strategies you can use to make the change. While everyone’s experiences are different, because each of us is an individual with our own competing priorities and challenges, hopefully you’ll be able to take some elements of these ideas to formulate your own approach.

Save a buffer

Yep, that old chestnut. If you can swing it, great! But for many of us, there’s simply not enough spare cash in the budget to save enough of a buffer to support ourselves for three months without work, or whatever it is the pundits advise.

Land a whopper

Landing a whopper of a freelance job — one that’s big enough to justify you resigning from work, as a sort of freelance stepping stone — is a nice idea, and again, if you can manage it, good on you.

For me, this wasn’t an option. My work tends to entail smaller projects, and I’m happy with that as a freelancing model: it means variety. Also, for many freelancers who may have done a few jobs as independent operators, the chances of landing a job that’s big enough (or pays well enough) to justify leaving secure employment completely are slim.

Take a short contract

A short-term contract that uses the skills on which you’ll base your freelance income can be a good alternative strategy — it’s the one I used to transition to full-time freelancing.

By taking a contract, you can build up your folio in certain areas, make new contacts in the industry, and establish your reputation in — and potentially beyond — an organization that needs your skills. If they ever have extra work, they’ll know where to come!

The other benefits of this approach are that it can get you out of entrenched-employment mode, provide mental space for network-building and strategy-making, and give you the time to take on additional, smaller jobs that can help build your business before you make the leap.

Supplement your income

Plenty of freelancers I know subsidised their freelancing during the initial phases by taking part-time work in unlikely places. Some taught their profession in night school, others worked casually in cafes, others built small online businesses that were comparatively self-sustaining and generated a reliable, if small, income that they could use to cover some expenses.

Sites like 99designs, Learnable, and the SitePoint Market might be worth looking at if you want to take this approach — but there are plenty of options out there.

Many business owners argue that this approach distracts you from your business — that if you’re going into business for yourself, you need to plunge in and spend all your time making it work. Fair enough. But for those who are interested in pursuing an untethered lifestyle, and don’t want to build a growing business so much as a freelance income, this can be an option. It does require discipline, though — otherwise, you may wake up one morning and find that your freelancing dream has seen you quit a good job to bus tables three days a week, get lonely, and live on cup noodles.

Something you should know…

An assumption that’s implied in many conversations about freelancing is that if you get the transition strategy “right”, you’ll be set up — you’ll be off and running, and you’ll never have to worry about money again. As if your transition strategy should springboard you to freelancing security.

Those words — “freelancing security” — are something of a contradiction in terms. Ultimately, security is a state of mind, not of circumstance.

But whatever strategy you choose, you may find x months down the track that you’re struggling to find work, you’re not generating the income you need, and you’re down to the cheapest brand of cup noodles. That may not happen, but it may. That’s something to be aware of — not to worry about.

None of these strategies is a silver bullet. You have to be your own silver bullet. When times get tough and work dries up, you’ll need to rely on your own skills and integrity to get things going again. It sounds like a small thing, but for those who have never been self-employed, it can be extremely intimidating.

Do you have what it takes? Yes. The more you freelance, and the more earning approaches you try, the more clearly you’ll be able to see that you can rely on yourself to earn an income. Just don’t make the first leap bigger than you can manage.

Do you have a strategy to transition to full time freelancing? Have you already done it? Tell us how in the comments.

Image courtesy stock.xchng user lusi.

Georgina LaidlawGeorgina Laidlaw
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Georgina has more than fifteen years' experience writing and editing for web, print and voice. With a background in marketing and a passion for words, the time Georgina spent with companies like Sausage Software and cemented her lasting interest in the media, persuasion, and communications culture.

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