I am currently going into my second year of working for myself. For those of you who are imagining that my days were spent sitting in front of the computer, wearing sweatpants, and typing away frantically trying to meet a deadline that snuck up on me... you're partially right.
Freelancing has become more enticing as the U.S. business landscape has become more unfriendly to its employees. I decided to work for myself because I felt that I should be fairly compensated for the amount of work that I was willing to do.
In a nutshell, freelancers work on short- or long-term projects for businesses as contracted labor. They are typically paid at a higher hourly rate, but also take on the tax burden that comes with self-employment. On top of that, they're not afforded any of the benefits of a full-time employee.
The main benefit to freelancing is that in theory, as you become more and more proficient at finding good gigs, selling your work, connecting with organizations, and building your portfolio, your income should go up.
I was drawn to freelancing because it represented an opportunity to create a healthier, more livable work style for myself. I was commuting daily, gaining weight, super stressed out, and really exhausted in my previous career. I wanted to professionally transition to a career that would allow me to have more control over my work output, earnings potential, and - most importantly - my time.
If you’re looking to become a freelancer yourself, consider the following:
Pitching - How comfortable are you with pitching your services and looking for more clients? A a freelancer, you are in constant sales pitch mode, and successful freelancers are strategically pitching new clients each week in order to maintain a constant stream of projects and income.
Project culture - As a freelancer, you may still be part of a team and have to be an active participant in the project that you’re working on. Will you be comfortable attending weekly virtual meetings, touching base with clients, and being accountable to multiple stakeholders during your time working on multiple projects?
Self-discipline - Are you able to manage your time and projects in order to complete tasks that you have been contracted to work on? Do you work better with someone telling you what to do and when to do it?
Income flow - This is the most challenging part of working as a freelancer. You can make a lot of money over the course of a year, but the income may flow into your bank account differently than you expect. Some months might be dry and others might be big winners. Managing your cash flow and properly budgeting your personal life to account for these income disparities is the hardest part of freelancing.
Social life - It’s very easy to become a shut-in and never leave the cozy comfort of your house. I am an extrovert, and even I’ve had to work actively on making sure that I’m spending enough time with friends and family. Freelancing can trap you in a bad cycle of staying home all day.
Freelancing is not as easy as most people imagine it to be. It takes an extreme level of self-discipline, mental toughness, ingenuity, and optimism. If you are easily discouraged, need constant validation from others, or turn into a nervous wreck when things get tough, this is not the professional route for you.
In my first year of freelancing, I discovered that working for yourself is one of the most exciting and exhilarating processes you could possibly go through as a professional.
The idea that I didn’t need to work directly for a business to earn a living was a huge mental shift that occurred over a long period of time. Along the way, I made some accidental changes that proved immensely helpful in making the shift from employee to self-employed:
Connected with like-minded people - In retrospect, being connected with people who were doing similar work to what I was doing was a huge help. I basically found myself in a community of professionals that supported me in what I was doing, provided technical information that helped me grow my business, and offered feedback on different business related issues that unexpectedly came up through out the year.
Joined a mastermind group - I was randomly asked to participate in a mastermind group. In case you’re wondering, a mastermind group is a group of like-minded people who hold each other accountable for achieving different business related tasks that they share with the group. Each group functions differently, but one key component is monthly meetings. Meeting with my group each month kept me focused and on task.
Knowing when to invest - There were moments when I had to pay money in order to make more money. I decided to attend different conferences (frugally) and was able to make back the money I invested in different projects that I was contracted to work on after each one. Knowing when to invest and take risks has been a very scary and exciting process that has been an important part of growing my business.
Kept learning - No one knows everything. Being aware of that helped me continue looking for ways to learn new skills that would aid me in my business endeavors. I focused on inexpensive or free information tools and courses that helped me provide more value to my clients.
Finally, if you’re truly interested in freelancing, spend some time networking with and talking to other people who are currently working as freelancers. Pick their brains for information, ideas, and the negatives and positives of working for themselves. Their prior experience, knowledge, and feedback will help you as you transition into freelance work.
Freelancing is not for the timid. It is a workspace that requires you to take some bold and uncomfortable risks. If you feel that you can embrace a certain degree of risk, then freelancing might be for you. Either way, take time to really assess how much risk you can tolerate-be honest with yourself. Good luck!