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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  1. says

    thanks for sharing the useful tips, some of the time get depressed and not able to think properly. Its a though decision to work full time in freelancing, better to work partime. becuase this will need more dedication and consistency in your work.

  2. says

    It’s definitely scary leaving the safety of a 9-5 job but so worth it if you are passionate about the work you do as a freelancer. When I hit a rough patch in my business, I sometimes start doubting myself and wonder if I’ve made the right decision. After I take time to review my goals and reflect on why I’m freelancing, however, the doubts vanish. Going freelance is still the best decision I’ve ever made.

  3. says

    I started my freelancing career while in college and I haven’t looked back since. I would recommend three great books to college students who are interested in life beyond the 9-to-5. These books have definitely served as a catalyst for my continual drive to create my own path and career:

    1. “CRUSH IT” by Gary Vaynerchuk
    2. “Never Get A Real Job” by Scott Gerber
    3. “The Art of Non-Conformity” by Chris Guillebeau

  4. says

    This is a great article and confirms I’m on the right track. I’ve just gone part-time at the day job to concentrate on the business a bit more, and the thing that’s convinced me I’m doing the right thing is having kept a corner of my incoming/outgoing spreadsheet to show me earnings (monthly and cumulative) against replacing 1/5 and 1/2 of my salary. This showed me it was better to drop one day a week to start off with – and yes, you do end up taking on too much work or too many hours, but that does drop back again once you make the step to adjust the work-work balance.

  5. says

    I decided to freelance after being laid off twice in a seven-month period in 2008, so it was kind of dropped into my lap. The only “preparation” I had was freelancing part-time for about 3 years before that, and I’d been saving every penny I could so I could refinance my house.

    I’d advise anyone thinking about this to work full-time one more year, and get your business started during that time. Build your Web site, design your business cards, start networking and building contacts. Research health insurance costs, retirement, taxes, etc. And save your money for those “rainy” times when things are slow. In other words, do everything I didn’t have time to do with the backup of full-time employment!

    I am very fortunate that 2 1/2 years later, I am still in business and loving it! Right now, I’m so overwhelmed from a very busy summer/fall that if I wasn’t able to take vacation next week, I’d be looking at burnout. And January is already booked full!

  6. says

    You’ve got a very encouraging points, yet jumping into full-time freelancing is not yet in my list right now! So far, I’m learning a lot from strolling around but I just can’t set-up how to start everything in my own.

  7. says

    When I made the turn from part-time to full-time freelancing I found that scheduling my own working days was definitely the most difficult thing to get used to. I had plenty of ideas of what I could do, I knew the to-do-list would be a crucial tool, but I made the mistake of just writing what I would do, not when. It might sound like a small mistake, but it made it easy to think “ah! I’ll do that later sometime…”. Now I do two things to structure my days. I use the calendar for planning every working day in detail (I even schedule when to go for a brake) and I write down in detail what I’ve accomplished at the end of every day.

  8. says

    Great post. I’ve just made the jump, and most (the extra few will be dealt with shortly) of these points you raise are in place and ready. The first week has gone well, however most people are in holiday mode, particularly here in New Zealand where it’s 32ºC everyday right now. I look forward to seeing how things pick up in the new year.

  9. says

    The working days plus outside work at nights & weekends brings back memories. Just be careful the work in the dim hours of the night is high quality. Check in the morning before you send.

  10. says

    Useful tips as always; thank you! Though I didn’t exactly transition from a part-time to a full-time writing career – I leaped into full-time freelancing leaving behind a full-time corporate job – I have some tips for newbie freelancers on my blog,

    Btw, I love Freelance Folder – it always promises valuable advice, entertaining reads and loads of handy tools! Thank you!

  11. says

    Leaving my job to work full time for myself was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. It was kind of the same gut decision that drove me to start my own business. You don’t have to have everything on your side to do what you really want to do. I turned my job into a business and quitted my job. Then, I turn my old job into one of my clients. Anyone who wants to do it can do it. Work on the side for as long as you can handle. If you think your business is demanding more of you, it is time to give one up. But first you have to lighten your load. (Pay all your bills and loans).

  12. Charlina says

    I work harder than I ever have, but I wouldn’t trade my freelance life for a 9 to 5. I get to listen to loud music while I work, control the temperature in my office, sip tea at my desk and eat as much garlic as I want.

    Sweet freedom!


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