Making the Transition from Part-Time Freelancing to Full-Time Business

So you’ve been doing your freelancing thing on the side, relegating the work you are most enthused about to nights and weekends, sleeping less than any human should, and dreaming of the time when you can walk away from your day job and dive headlong into working full-time for yourself. As enticing as the prospect sounds, taking that leap can be one of the most stress-ridden moments in one’s life.

In this post, I will share some tips taken from my own experience in making the transition from freelancing as a side gig to what has become my full-time business.

Questions to Ask Before Going Full-Time

You have to start by identifying your own ability to no longer rely on a steady paycheck, to manage your own business, to generate opportunities for growth and income, and many other elements of running a business that will be required. Here are some of the questions you should ask yourself.

  • What will be the immediate difference in income once my regular paycheck is gone and I am relying solely on my own business?
  • How quickly do I need to make up that difference in order to survive?
  • How good of a salesman, accountant, multi-tasker, and self motivator am I?
  • What are the real reasons I want to work full-time for myself?
  • Should I incorporate or be a sole proprietor/contractor?
  • How many hours a week am I able and willing to work in order to grow the business, and what are my eventual goals for optimal working hours?
  • What steps do I anticipate in getting from here to there, and how will I handle each of them?
  • How many clients will continue to use my services and how many will not?

Start Making Plans

Once you’ve answered all of the initial questions, it’s time to start laying a solid foundation for the transition. For some, this may mean saving a considerable amount of money to provide a cushion for the rough times. For others, it may mean setting up a home office in anticipation. Whatever the case, plans must be made; keeping in mind that flexibility is key since even the best-laid plans will run into some changes along the way. Here are some suggestions for stones to build your foundation with.

  • Gather all of your references from current and past clients. Be sure to get as many letters of recommendation and/or testimonials as you can. This will help you sell yourself to new clients.
  • Focus some time each day growing your network–online and off. Use social networks online and local business networks offline to strengthen your personal brand identity, influence and recognition. Do what you can to make it known that you are a go-to person in your niche.
  • Read and research all you can about your options for how to establish and manage your business, how others in your field do it, and anything else that will best equip you for the new era.
  • Talk to other full-time freelancers and get whatever insights will best apply to your own situation.
  • Grow your client list. This may mean taking on extra work to the point that sleep becomes a distant memory for awhile. When I prepared for the transition I was working eight to ten hour days in one job, then nights and weekends freelancing to the point that I was lucky to get four hours of sleep a night. It didn’t kill me–it made me stronger–but it certainly came close.
  • Discuss all of the details with your family, spouse or anyone else that depends on you. Help them understand the benefits of pursuing your dream, not only for you but for them as well.
  • Line up future work. The more work you can get scheduled on your calendar before you give notice at your job, the less stressed and more enjoyable the transition will be. Freelance job boards, Craigslist, and the other usual haunts are still a great place to troll for work.
  • Set your pricing somewhere between competitive and necessary. Determine what you need each month to survive (or even thrive) and what it will take to accomplish this, and then set your sights on the amount of work you will need to do in order to make the income you need. Having a clear understanding of this will prepare you for the ride ahead.
  • Prime your portfolio. Whatever your business, you must make sure to have the best samples of your work readily available for prospective clients.

Let the Countdown Begin

Once you’ve laid your foundation, set your goal date and get busy working toward it. Be sure not to burn any bridges in the job you leave–often your former employer may end up being a client and/or a great source of referrals, even if they were unhappy about your departure. One of the most important things you can do in this business building process is to make many friends and few (if any) enemies. Word of mouth is a powerful marketing tool, and often the most valuable. Be aware of the potential for ‘short-timer syndrome’ and refrain from acknowledging all of the things you dislike about your current situation in comparison to where you are heading. Walk the high road and everyone wins!

I know there are other experiences and suggestions that other full-time freelancers can contribute. Please do so in the comments below and help pass the torch on to the next generation of freelancers waiting in the wings. Together we can all benefit from each other’s knowledge.

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