Whether your decision to become a full time freelancer was months in the planning, or a sudden epiphany following some unintended career or life change, it’s important to remember that this is the beginning of a chapter in your life and not the end of your career.
When you get into the swing of it, it can be a deeply fulfilling and exciting lifestyle change, and a way to choose the kinds of assignments that make you happy on your own terms.
Of course, getting to that point is not without its difficulties: you may find yourself weeks or months between assignments followed by unrelenting stress and work, or fretting about finances (constantly).
You may feel the weight of isolation, away from a traditional office structure. You may even find yourself overwhelmed by having to negotiate your own rates with every project you get involved in.
However, ultimately, it’s important to remember that you’ll be better in so many fulfilling ways for having traversed these choppy waters. After all, 53 million freelancers in the U.S. alone can’t be wrong. Here’s how to jump start your freelancing career today.
1. Build a Professional Website for Your Services and Send It to Everyone You Know
Applying for jobs and looking for new freelancing contracts require you to dress for success, and online, the best way to look your most professional is by building a sleek website for yourself.
Your site doesn’t need to include your resume, but present samples of your past work, as well as contact information and a few words about yourself. And make sure it reflects your personality: whether you’re a cool creative with a penchant for Warby Parker's, NPR and funky café workspaces or a classic buttoned up professional rocking corporate chic and nursing Nespresso, freelancing is about leaving your unique touch.
2. Organize Your Finances
Unfortunately, freelancing comes with its own, way more complicated set of financial expectations. Rather than getting your taxes automatically deducted from your paycheck and getting your annual earnings back in a neat little W2, you are now in charge of your own taxes.
A way to keep track of your earnings is by compiling your income and business expenses in a spreadsheet that makes sense for you, and use a personal invoicing and time tracking program to consolidate your invoices.
3. Make a Promise to Yourself Not to Accept Free Work
The basic difference between a hobbyist and a professional is the transaction of money, and implied within that transaction is the guarantee of quality. That’s really it. If you were working at a company, you would never consider taking on work from your boss without the implied agreement of being paid. And yet, many new freelancers or recent graduates in creative industries are often being fleeced for their work, with the promise of experience or exposure.
Free work, people will often reason, is necessary in fields like copy writing, journalism, or design and illustration or translation. This is plainly not true (even the most inexperienced copywriter can find a blogging gig for $25 a pop) and realizing your worth is fundamental in the acceptance of yourself as a freelance professional. When you make a promise to yourself never to accept work for free, you are validating the value of your time and work.
4. Find a Community Online
With the rise of freelancers across so many different industries in the country and beyond, there are plenty of support networks available online to help support you as you navigate this phase of your career. Whether it’s a professional writing or editing circle on LinkedIn, or a forum or association elsewhere online, these industry networks can really help you get on your freelance feet.
Here is your community of colleagues after all, full of people who are happy to field any questions you have about the industry, and perhaps willing to pass on any leads. More important, the encouragement they give you will be more valuable because they know exactly what you’re going through.
5. Figure Out Your Peak Hours and Create a Workspace for Yourself
Freelancing is great, because you can choose your own hours and how you wish to work. This is also dangerous, because it’s too easy to succumb to yoga pants and a laptop on a bed. Most people have been hardwired to work at a desk, with little to no distraction around them during hours that resemble a nine-to-five workday, but you may not.
What’s important is that you figure out when your peak hours are, and carve out a dedicated work space for yourself so you don’t get tempted to Netflix and chill on the clock.
6. Spend a Day Looking Up and Signing Up for Resources for Freelancers
Okay, so you’ve got a desk, a chair, maybe a website, and a day full of hours ahead of you. What now? Do you wait for the emails soliciting your work to roll in? How long will that take? In the meantime, there are plenty of resources available online for people looking to work remotely.
7. Be Patient and Practice Self Care
It’s important to view freelancing as establishing a new career for yourself. And, much like the first one, it takes a while. In the beginning, it will feel like you’re busy the whole day but not amounting to much (or anything, in terms of income). Some days, you will get responses and get so fired up shooting off cover letters, applying to short-term gigs, and planning new projects. Other days, you’ll be sitting at your computer, just paralyzed while waiting for hours.
This turbulent time can take its toll on people, and freelancing is a constant exercise in maintaining a balance. But be patient and know that great things take a while to build to. Find one thing to be proud of every day, but don’t beat yourself up if some days you can’t.
And, while it can be easy to let your career consume your life (especially if there’s no physical barrier between your workspace and your home), maintain outside hobbies, and make room to breathe. Always remind yourself that you’ll get where you want to be eventually.