Going freelance has its perks: you can work in the middle of the night, take more than 2 weeks vacation, and hang out with your cat all day. About a year ago, I quit my comfortable nonprofit job (with stellar benefits) to pursue my web development dreams. Here are 5 pieces of advice I’d give anyone else looking to strike out on their own.
1. Start now, without quitting your job.
I left a role as a Communications coordinator to become a web developer. I had been coding in my freetime for about 2 years before quitting my job, and continued learning for 3 months after leaving my job before fully opening for business. You may not need such a long runway (if, for example, you write grants for your job and want to continue writing grants as a freelancer). If you do already have the skills you need, then work on building a client base. Start up a nice side gig. Once you get too much work to complete in your free time THEN go freelance. (Real talk: this is especially true if you don’t have a significant other who would be willing and able to support you for a few months.) Of course, before you quit your job, start saving. You should have enough set aside to cover a few months of living expenses before quitting your job.
2. Plan A, Plan B
Before you quit your job, stare into the icy depths of failure and let it sink in. Not to put you into a depressive coma, but seriously think about what happens if your business fails. How will you know it’s not working out? Set some parameters! How much of your savings are you comfortable spending before you will need to find a job? Decide on a number. How marketable are your skills, how much experience do you have, and how quickly can you find a job again after leaving your current one if your freelance plan fails? You need to be comfortable with all of this before taking the plunge.
One thing I realized after launching my business is that I pay at least $1,000 a month for the privilege of being an entrepreneur. That goes towards buying my own health insurance, making up for the lack of company match on retirement contributions, paying twice as much into Social Security and Medicaid. Not to mention the benefits I just don’t have at all anymore (dental, vision, life insurance, paid maternity leave, paid vacation days, basically any paid days I’m not working…). Because they are automatically taken out of your paycheck, taxes and health insurance might be out of sight / out of mind for you right now. To have the same quality of life, you will need to make MORE money per month than you do in your current job. Make sure you know what that your monthly income goal looks like, and figure out how many freelance hours you’ll need to work to get there.
This might seem minor at the outset but if you’re extroverted, or even just sort of an extroverted introvert (that’s me!), think about what it will be like to work from home. I work from home. It’s awesome, I get to toss laundry in and be physically present to receive packages. That said, as soon as my husband gets home I’m all, “HIHIHI I’ve been alone all day how you!?!” and he’s all, “I’m really tired. I just spent all day talking to coworkers and customers…” I miss having a team and coworkers and the ambient socialization of office birthdays and chats. This isn’t a dealbreaker for me, just something I learned as a freelancer and wanted to pass along! If your energy comes from being around other people, factor that into your plan.
5. Business Development
We all gotta. You might be the best grant writer/freelance evaluator/communications strategist in the world, but if no one knows about you, you won’t make any dollar bills. How are you going to network, advertise, meet people, build a referral network? Once you go freelance, this will be your part time job!
In the words of Scar from the Lion King, basically just BE PREPARED. Freelancing is a lot of work, a lot of extra expense, and a serious risk. But for me, and many other entrepreneurs, it’s also totally worth it.