With the amount of time it takes to commute to and from work every day, you’ve probably daydreamed about quitting your day job to work on your own time. But is it doable? Read on for tips for making the switch from full-time employee to freelancer.
1. Know where to look for work.
Gigs won’t just magically fall into your lap. Do your research and seek out sites that farm out jobs. Freelance writer Leah Angue (WhiteSkyProject.com), who started with Upwork (formerly oDesk), recommends sites like BloggingPro.com, FreelanceWritingGigs.com, ED2010.com, TheWriteLife.com, and LocationRebel.com. “I found these sites really helpful and also found jobs I really liked via their job boards,” she says.
Virtual assistant (VA) Jillia Ruste (www.jilliaruste.wixsite/cvresume) agrees that the internet is your best friend. You can answer ads on Craigslist (just make sure clients are legit), advertise your skills and services on various sites, join online communities, or work with companies that recruit VAs. “The pros of working with these companies are you get training and have a support team available, you get placed with reliable clients that match your skill level, and they have a pool of clients so if it doesn’t work out with one client, they can place you with another,” she says. The cons are the company gets a cut of your salary, and you won’t be able to control your work hours.
You can also leverage your network to find work, says writer Elaine Natividad Reyes (elainenreyes.com), who previously worked in the magazine industry. “I’m friends with many of my work contacts, and these relationships have really helped me land freelance work,” she says. A SAP consultant who wishes to remain anonymous says that while LinkedIn helps, her personal connections are her main job source.
One important thing to keep in mind: Deliver quality work every time—you’ll turn clients into repeat customers, and they may even recommend you for other gigs.
2. Go pro.
Some clients might require receipts, so registering your business is a good idea. But while it’s not necessary to register, it is crucial to exude professionalism. A website with your portfolio (even if it’s just a blog containing personal musings at first) can showcase your skills. VA Ruste says that simple CVs are fine, but “a website is a great way of saying that you’re a capable and internet-savvy professional. Always remember that the best work attracts the best and higher-paying clients.”
Writer Bubbles Salvador recommends handing out old-school calling cards. “A friend of mine gave me a pack of calling cards for my birthday. I laughed at it! But I would give them out when people exchanged business cards,” she says. “Some are impressed that I have one, and I think it’s a good addition to exchanging mobile numbers on the spot. That business card may land on the desk of someone who was not in that meeting but may need your services some day.”
3. Know your worth.
There are many jobs, particularly for writers, that pay fees that aren’t commensurate to the work, and you might have to take these on in the beginning just to build your portfolio. “Use it as a learning experience to get a taste of content-writing work,” says Angue. “But I’ve learned that there are companies that will pay more for quality work. Freelance writers just need to put in the work to find and get these kinds of jobs.”
Once you’ve gotten enough experience, you can adjust your fees. “As long as you have a solid body of work, I feel that you don’t have to settle for peanuts,” says freelancer Chinggay Labrador (cest-super.com; practicalmagic.co).
4. Invest in the tools of the trade.
Freelancers whose work depends heavily on connectivity definitely need a reliable laptop or PC, and a high-speed internet connection. “You will also need a backup in case something happens to your main internet provider,” advises Ruste, who recommends having prepaid pocket WiFi handy.
Noise-canceling headphones are ideal for those who have to make phone calls. And if a dedicated workspace at home isn’t feasible, a coworking space is your best bet. “They provide fast and reliable internet speeds, a professional working environment, and some even offer food and drinks,” says Ruste.
5. Change your mindset.
The flexible schedule and the remote working setup might lull you into thinking all this is just a hobby, but you have to treat freelancing as a real job. Angue says, “Being a freelancer may mean different working hours, different work methods, and different workplaces, but it still involves working. If you want to make it a viable full-time job, you have to treat it as such, and that means working hard to build your portfolio, working hard to find jobs and get jobs, and working hard to do those jobs and do them well.”
Ruste adds that you have to be able to motivate yourself to get things done: “As a freelancer, sustainability will depend on your willingness and drive to seek out opportunity.”
6. Make it work!
Don’t be daunted by the thought of the number of clients you’ll need to match the income from an 8-to-5 job. Outline a strategy to make freelance work feasible, from determining what kinds of jobs you’re aiming for, to figuring out what to do during lean periods.
“It’s hard at first, but it’s worth it in the end,” says the freelance SAP consultant. “Just aim to learn and be an expert in what you do every single day.” Ruste likewise says that it’s important to keep learning and improving your skills, perhaps by taking online courses, as this increases the value of your services.
If you’re shifting from being an employee to a freelancer, Reyes’s practical advice is to have an emergency fund to tide you over while you try to get your footing. “But my number one advice would be: Be brave! Don’t go into it feeling fearful.”