This series of ‘Becoming a Better Freelancer’ articles will take you on a journey that is designed to take a potential freelancer from a tentative ‘is this the life for me’- right through to becoming the best freelancer in their genre.
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So – to the first article in this series. As Shakespeare (probably) once asked – ‘To freelance, or not to freelance – that is the question.’
Sadly, there is no magic formula or scoring system that can provide the answer for you. Perhaps – like starting a family – there will never be a ‘perfect’ time to start; although freelancing can be as rewarding – albeit with a lot less physical pain! You do need to consider a number of very important factors, and put some foundations in place before taking the plunge, however – and I’ll discuss these in turn, and hopefully help you to decide.
Support network. Underestimate the importance of having a good support network at your peril. You’ll need the blessings of your nearest and dearest – to put up with the long hours, your mood swings, and your worries (we all go through it at the start); and having a great bunch of friends or family members who you can bounce your ideas off is imperative. Be warned though – you don’t want a group of sycophants to be giving you feedback; you’ll need honest appraisals when you have a really dumb idea!
Financial Security. I’m not talking the freedom to never have to work again, but if possible you should be able to survive financially for your first 3-months of freelancing. The reason for this is most clients pay invoices on 30-day terms. This means there may be two months without income if you don’t invoice until the end of the month – with the third month giving you some headroom to find the right ‘gig’ as you embark on a freelance career. This is in an ideal world of course, and if you are ‘forced into freelancing’ (I’ll discuss this in later articles) then clearly don’t wait; and if you’re prepared to start freelancing anyway without this reserve in place – well – go get ‘em! Just beware of the potential pitfalls.
Be mentally ready. The freelancing lifestyle can be hugely rewarding in so many ways – but it can come at a huge cost to your free time initially. In the early stages you’ll need to spend a significant amount of time establishing your brand and letting people know that you are that go-to expert they need (see the article on Effective Networking for the Freelancer for some top tips). Moreover, you’ll probably encounter some opposition to your decision to ‘go it alone’, and you may have to cope with knockbacks from potential clients at the onset. You need to be sure that you have the drive, passion and determination to succeed; and you will need to remain mentally robust.
Identification of potential clients. Many freelancers’ first client is their former employer (beware of IR35 legislation however – see this recent article for links to the government website), or alternatively you may have dealt with 3rd party agencies that hired in freelancers for previous employers. Pick up the phone to your contacts and do some research to gauge whether there is a need for the genre of freelancing you’re about to embark on. It’s also important to talk to current freelancers in your genre or to 3rd parties to try and gauge how much you can reasonably expect to charge for your services. Most people will be glad to give you ‘industry norms’ – even if they don’t want to tell you how much they charge. If you don’t get any joy – drop me a line and I’ll give you some facts (warts and all!)
Happy so far? So, to freelance or not to freelance? How will you decide?
Make a simple decision matrix. This is a great way of mapping out the pros and cons of freelancing and will help you to decide whether is is the right path for you to take. I’ll outline some of the benefits and disadvantages of freelancing in the next article; but for now you can simply take a piece of paper, draw a vertical line down the centre, and list as many ‘pros’ down one side, and the ‘cons’ on the other. Just start writing – you’ll soon have plenty to consider. This is a tried and tested method that is simple, yet effective – one that will undoubtedly help your decision-making process.
In ‘The Benefits and Disadvantages of Freelancing’ I’ll provide some further insight into this world – but keep adding to that decision matrix for now!
Are you a freelancer? What did you put in place before you made that leap? Perhaps you didn’t really have any choice? Why not share your experiences and lessons-learned in the comments section below?
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My advice for those thinking about going freelance is simply go for it! The simple fact that you’re considering it means you’re ready to some point. Of course, that doesn’t mean you should quit your job immediately, some kind of financial security for a couple of months in the beginning is still necessary.
Good advice – thank you! Sometimes you do have to just take the plunge, and roll with the dices (if your commitments will allow of course).