As obvious as that fact may seem, it is easy to look at others who are thriving in their freelancing field and forget that in the beginning they had no idea what they were getting into. Sure, they may have developed their skills in the corporate world, or acquired some type of education that equipped them for their chosen profession, but they did not know everything there is to know about freelancing on day one. Heck, I’ve been at it on some level or another for over 15 years and I’m still learning or encountering something new almost daily.
So, how is one supposed to get started in a field that, regardless of their skill level, is brand new to their life experience? In this post, we will look at some tips to help the newborn freelancer take their first breaths, crawl and eventually walk down the path toward success.
Answer Key Questions
Before you decide to pursue freelancing, there are some key questions that might help you decide if it’s really the right move for you. Here are a few I can think of:
- Why do you want to freelance?
The answers to this may include, “Because I hate my job”, “I have control and authority issues and want to be my own boss,” “I want to try something new” or a bevy of others. While these are understandable reasons to pursue freelancing, I firmly believe they are not enough on their own. Not that there is only one correct answer, but I believe a key ingredient to a freelancer’s success is the answer, “Because I want to make a living doing what I am most passionate about.” If this is at least part of your answer, then it usually will provide the motivation, drive and stamina for all the unexpected that will come your way. And believe me, it will come.
- What do you hope to achieve by becoming a freelancer?
Determining your goals beforehand is always an excellent place to start, as well as a solid way to examine your potential for achieving them. If your goal is to no longer deal with clients, or to get rich, or to work less, then freelancing is probably not the best choice for you. If your goals include independence, personal satisfaction, fulfillment of your passions, and the like, then freelancing may be your ticket.
- What is your backup plan in case your freelance attempts fail?
This is a trick question. I am a firm believer that once you create a backup plan you will almost always need it. I would be the first to answer this question with, “I don’t need a backup plan. I am determined to succeed and I will.” There are obviously different schools of thought on this, but my experience has proven this to be the best answer for me.
Scout the Terrain
Once you are satisfied with your answers to the above questions, you should take some time to explore the field you are endeavoring to enter. The best way I know to do this is to identify and get to know your ‘competition.’ I’m not a fan of that word, because I have learned that if I engage and interact with others in the same field, they become my community instead of my competitors. I have gained so much and my business has grown immeasurably due to the relationships I’ve built with other freelancers in my field, and I continue to do what I can to get to know as many of them as possible. Their experiences have benefited me, and I have been able to avoid some of their mistakes. In turn, I do what I can to share my experiences and I believe it has been helpful for some others.
Get to know your field, other freelancers in it, and educate yourself all about it. You may find reasons that steer you away from the freelance life (and save you in the process), or you may discover a wealth of motivation to continue your pursuit. Either way, the odds are pretty good that you will at the very least make some new friends.
Take a Trial Run
When I first started freelancing, I was doing it on the side–nights and weekends. This was great preparation for several reasons: I wasn’t yet relying solely on my freelancing income, I was able to make and learn from mistakes and I was able to get a taste of what I would be dealing with should I ever go full-time with it. This method allowed me to gain the experience I needed along the way, so that when it came time to go full-time I was more than ready, and pretty experienced at that.
I would suggest simply trying your hand at a freelance project as a way to get started and reap these benefits. For me, this meant actually doing a number of jobs for little or no money because I did not possess the experience of other web and graphic designers, so it was the best way I could get my foot in the door. You may or may not have to take this route, but regardless you should give freelancing a trial run to determine if it’s really the route for you.
Go for It!
In the end, the bottom line is that it takes guts to start freelancing, and without them you will obviously never take those first steps. If you have followed my advice in the previous paragraphs and still have the gnawing hunger to pursue a freelancing career, then I say, “Go for it!” No one else but you knows what you are capable of, and there is no one size fits all solution or path. Take your strengths, weaknesses and motivation into account and head off in the direction your heart desires. In the end, if you fail, at least you have the satisfaction of knowing you tried and did not give up without ever starting. If you succeed, well…congratulations!
If you are currently freelancing, please share any other tips you have for those who are considering taking the plunge. If you are one who is considering freelancing, please share any thoughts or questions you have that weren’t covered. Let’s help each other become the best freelancers we can be!
Image by CRASH:candy