Preparing for a Freelance Career

I’ve been planning to become a freelancer since college. During my second year of school I picked up a copy of Media Bistro’s Get A Freelance Life (by Margit Feury Ragland) and decided to do an independent study around learning to become a freelancer.

I studied it the same way you might study math or a Victorian novel. I picked apart the pieces of what it meant to become a freelancer; the ways all the great freelance writers shared in their books. I bought a copy of Writer’s Market, practiced writing queries and pitch letters and even wrote a few articles that were reviewed by my advisor.

Yet after college I took a job at a trade magazine company as an editor. I need some experience, I told myself. After three years at that magazine, I’ve begun to think about freelancing again. I’ve been taking assignments part time for the last year and have begun to build a solid client base. I’ve begun to plan and put together the things I need to make the leap.


Research

While I’ve been reading everything I could get my hands on about freelancing for years now, nothing is as helpful as finding a few freelancers who you can bounce ideas off of and chat with about the problems you encounter.

Knowing you have someone to turn to with questions, for feedback or who you can brainstorm with, can help you overcome many of the doubts and insecurities that every freelancer deals with from time to time.

Twitter is a great forum for finding other freelancers. Talk to them about the challenges they faced and what it was like for the first few months. Their personalized experiences can help you know what to expect. After you’ve chatted a few times, ask them if it’s okay to contact them with any questions you may have once you’ve gotten started.

I currently have three wonderful ladies who are all full time freelancers. I’ve learned an incredible amount just by being friends with them. All three are more than willing to chat occasionally about ideas and are helping me prepare for when I join their ranks.

Create a Budget

Once I was fairly confident that I understood the how-to of freelancing and had been successfully making money doing it part time, it was time to think about whether the switch was financially feasible.

Sit down and carefully examine your expenses. Figure out the minimum that you need to make each month to keep a roof over your head, the lights on and food in your mouth. Scale back your spending habits, so you begin to adjust to making less than your current income. According to just about every book out there on freelancing, it’s likely that for at least your first few months as a freelancer your income won’t quite equal your previous salary. This way, you won’t feel the crunch all at once.

You should also set aside some savings to help make ends meet. Most freelance advice books and blogs recommend having at least six months of expenses set aside in savings. I’m planning on having just a little more than six months of expenses set aside before leaving my day job.

Build Your Business Beforehand

Money isn’t the only thing you’ll need once you’ve gone freelance fulltime. You’ll need a website, business cards, a brochure, a client base, a list of prospects… I created most of those things when I began freelancing part time. But, before I hand in my resignation, I’ll also create a list of prospects to pitch during that first week of working from home.

In the near future, I also plan to partner with a few other businesses to help drive income during my first few months. For example, local print shops might be willing to keep a few of my cards on hand, since I offer proofreading services.

You can also gather recommendations from past clients and send out letters of introduction to potential clients that tell them who you are and what you do–especially if you’re a writer looking to pitch magazine articles. That way, when you pitch those editors a few months down the road, they’ll recognize your name.

Many freelancers keep a business account for their freelance earnings and then pay themselves a regular paycheck from this fund. Any money they make over their “paycheck” stays in the account for months when they make less than they need. Since I’m setting aside money for the first six months, I already have a savings account that I’ll use this way. Using this method helps compensate for the up-and-down reality of freelancing.

While I’m sure there are things I haven’t anticipated and that there are problems I can’t possibly foresee, I’m fairly confident that once I make the leap, I’ll have the tools I need.

Your Turn

Whether you’ve recently started freelancing or you’re a seasoned pro, I’d love to hear your tips for getting started. Please share them in the comments.

Image by roanish