10 ways to ease yourself into freelancing
Rachel Smith, freelance writer and editor and founder of media recruitment site Rachel’s List, offers her tips on how to take the leap into freelancing from the security of a day job.
Deciding to freelance can be exciting. You’re looking forward to the flexibility to choose your own hours, the chance to work from home, and the freedom to fit work around family or other commitments. That said, the thought of not having a secure income can put a dampener on the buzz, as can wondering whether you’ll find enough work to get by.
That’s why there’s no better way to dip your toe in the freelance world than while you’ve still got a day job. Safe in the security of a regular income, you can use your time outside your job to set up work connections, take on projects and mentally prepare for the day that you’ll hand in your resignation letter and start freelancing full-time (as long as these activities don’t breach your existing employment contract). It’s pretty much how I did it, and, like the 88 per cent of freelancers polled in this US survey, I’ve never looked back (and I’ve been freelance for over 15 years!).
So, whether you’re itching to start setting up your home office, or are still figuring out if freelancing is right for you, here are my strategies for getting started while you’re still working 9 to 5.
1. Save. Then save some more.
Even if you have the support of a working spouse or partner, it’s smart to go into freelancing with at least a 3- to 6-month financial buffer in the bank. It can take a while to get the work rolling in, especially if you’re heading out there with few contacts.
2. Sort out an online portfolio.
Editors and clients are time poor, and if you can’t be found in online searches, you’re essentially invisible. LinkedIn is a no-brainer, but your own website (on your own domain) sets you apart and shows you’re serious about what you do. Look for options like WordPress.org if you want something slick and substantial to sell yourself and showcase your work.
3. Stick your finger in all the pies.
Your next gig can come from literally anywhere, so put yourself out there. Send a blanket email to friends and family letting them know you’re looking for freelance work. Set up alerts on job sites. Join networking groups like Freeline. Attend MeetUps and the MEAA’s networking events in your state to forge new connections (and don’t forget to have a business card to hand out!).
4. Build a reputation.
While self-promotion or ‘building your brand’ feels icky to many creative types, it’s essential if you’re operating in today’s online world and want to stand out. So, along with all your offline networking, make your mark online too: be a voice in your niche by blogging regularly, and joining relevant conversations on social media.
5. Get the financial side of things sorted.
As a freelancer and a sole trader you need an ABN, which you can easily apply for here.If you don’t have one when you start freelancing, there may be tax implications. It is wise to consider talking to an accountant to ensure you’re setting yourself up correctly and understand your tax obligations.
6. Start doing side projects.
Yes, you’ll have to work nights and weekends, but the end goal – your own business – is worth the hard graft now. Are you free to proofread a book manuscript? Absolutely. Can you pull together a blog post for a brand about hot new bars in your city? Of course. Rack up those clippings and contacts before you take the leap into full-time freelancing.
7. Get a regular gig, if you can.
If your boss is sad to lose you to the freelance world, they may agree to commission you regularly or even offer you a set amount of work each month. This is gold to anyone starting out. Once you know the rent and bills are sorted with a regular gig, you have the freedom to start slotting other projects into your workload.
8. Update your skills.
If the mere words ‘content management system’ and ‘SEO’ strike fear and dread into your heart, you could really benefit from doing a course so you can step into digital jobs with the confidence and knowledge you need. Hit up Google to find a range of courses – there’s everything from online webinars to weekend workshops at universities.
9. Think outside the box.
In our last survey, a whopping 50 per cent of respondents told us they had to reinvent themselves to stay afloat. Long-time print journalists took on corporate writing. Others supplemented their income with university lecturing or doing social media for brands. So take stock: what other creative skills can you build on to potentially bring in extra income?
10. Find your tribe.
Working for yourself, it’s easy to feel isolated away from the hubbub of an office – and that’s where a trusted posse of freelance colleagues can be invaluable. They can pass on work, offer valuable advice, or be another pair of eyes on copy you’ve written. So reach out to those you know and set up regular professional pow-wows. Once you’re in the swing of freelancing yourself, you’ll be so glad you have that support network to call on.