Quitting Your Job to Become a Freelancer

The day you’ve been dreading has finally come–your alarm goes off at 5:30 to get you up for work and instead of jumping out of bed to greet the day you groan and through a pillow over your head. You no longer look forward to getting out of bed at the crack of dawn, fighting hour long traffic and going into work just to be stuck in pointless meetings all day.

It’s true, you’ve hit a job rut. So, what do you do? If you’re like most people, you start looking through job websites for another full-time job. A year later, you’re back at the same place. Now you know just going from job to job isn’t satisfying you. What do you do? Perhaps it’s time to start freelancing.

It’s important to know that freelancing isn’t for everyone, but perhaps it’s for you. I wanted to start freelancing because I was tired of never getting to work on what I really wanted to. I was forced into doing design work, when all I wanted to do was code. It was time for a revolution.


Identify the Enemy

The first thing you need to decide is why you really hate your job. Do you just hate the people you work with or the clients they hold? If so, perhaps you really do just need a job switch. But, what if you want to control your own potential for making money, choose your own kinds of projects and decide where and when you want to work? Then freelancing might be perfect for you.

A good way to succeed in your own business is to watch other businesses, so before you decide to leave, do some reconnaissance. What  does this business do right and what are the mistakes they make?

For example, the last place I worked at was a joke. They refused to pay their employees a fair wage, they held back yearly raises and yearly bonuses they claimed were part of the “benefits” package. The clients were a joke as well. They charged businesses an upwards of $20,000 for a crappy designed site that barely worked. They also refused to hire a designer once the regular designer quit, or a developer once I quit. So, now they have two employees doing all of the web work.

However, they did do some good things. They had a yearly fun trip they took their employees on. The people who worked there got a long very well and we often went out to lunch together.

This helped me to realize several things when I decided to go freelance. First, I knew I would be partnering with other freelancers when my clients wanted services I couldn’t provide. I would make sure I paid a fair wage to all of them, instead of paying them the minimum so I could keep the rest. I made sure that clients would get the quality of work they paid for, and I would never overcharge or give them subpar work. I would also turn down projects I wasn’t interested in.

Prepare Your Camps

If you’re going to start freelancing, it’s important to have a quiet place to work. Not only that, but it’s important to enjoy the place you work. When I worked downstairs, it started to drive me nuts because the office was dark, cold and bare. I’ve moved into the sunniest room in the house. It’s actually decorated nicely and I look forward to going into work every morning.

It’s also important to make sure you have a couple of office spaces outside the home. For me, I prefer the cafe in the local Books-A-Million or the Starbucks. Working from home is great, but you’ll find that every once in a while you get a bit tired of being home all the time, so it’s great to have a place you can go and work in quiet.

Round the Troops

When first starting out, it’s good to partner with a few other freelancers. Not only will they be someone to refer your future clients to when they ask for work you can’t provide, but they may end up being the source of your first clients. You should aim to partner with a few freelancers of each service, in case your first choice is out of budget or overscheduled.

Declare War

You can prepare for freelancing as much as you want, but if you never actually start, preparation is pointless. Decide when you want to start and do it–and don’t make excuses. Yes, you may have a family, mortgage and kids to pay for. Did you think that all freelancers are single, homeless and childless?

Freelancing can be scary, but take solace in the fact that thousands have done it and succeed it. The most successful entrepreneurs didn’t get to where they were by taking the easy, predictable road. The jumped into the abyss with both feet and eyes closed.

If you’ve made the decision that freelancing is right for you and you’re ready to take the next step, make sure you give your two-week notice at work, or a month’s notice if possible. You don’t want to burn any bridges and I’ve heard that a lot of freelancers were able to have their previous employer as their first client.

What Next?

So this is it–you’ve put in your two-week notice, quit your job, got your office and your contacts, now what? Here are some articles that will help you get started.

Your Thoughts

How did you quit your job to start freelancing? If you’re stuck on whether or not to do it, what’s holding you back?

Image by Chris Denbow

Comments

  1. says

    The wild west of an article. I reckon jumping off the horse with a soft place to land would be advantageous. You make a solid point about burning bridges, you never know who is going to refer your best clients to you.

  2. says

    I absolutely love the way you wrote this! The whole thing is right on the money.

    Preparation is key to getting it your new business off the ground. You might want to save a little extra cash in the meantime, too, just for when you hit unexpected bumps.

  3. says

    Hi Amber,

    I became a freelancer a few years ago. Looking back, the most important thing was to actually have a plan. Even if the plan wasn’t very clear at first, it eventually became clearer and it supported me in getting results.

    I think that in the end, becoming a freelancer is definitely worth it, but you need to use your head a lot, which is something many employees have lost the habit of doing.

  4. says

    I am still a student and gonna finish my high school next march. So according to you should I start as a freelancer or get some work experience first and then do work as a freelancer.?

  5. says

    A colleague of mine who had been working for himself for about 10 years told me the day I was “forced to resign” from my full-time job to go out on my own, “Don’t look back. Ever.” Good advice, it gets you through some of the stressful times of starting out on your own.

    I’m also a fan of financially being able to support yourself, whether it be savings or an existing book of business. It’s better to have already hit the ground running

    Great article, wonderful points!

  6. says

    @Techfudge I would get some agency experience first. While you could technically start off as a freelancer, the things I learned by working at a couple of agencies first were invaluable. How to treat the client, how to do business, etc, etc.

  7. says

    Great article, Amber! I am currently one of those who is working full time and freelancing on the side. The way you have this written is great…clear that a plan is a necessity. I think it is important to have a plan before quitting and becoming a full time freelancer. While the idea of just quitting your job to start freelancing without a plan seems like a fun adventure, reality is, bills don’t care that you just started your freelance career. You mentioned a lot of important elements that people may not be aware of.

    Thanks for sharing another great article!

  8. says

    I have been freelancing since I have graduated from college. I have never worked at a web firm myself but I have had some friends that have. Personally I think I have learned more from freelancing (since I am a 1 man team) than some of my friends who have worked at web firms who specialize in only 1 thing. Just my 2 cents.

  9. says

    @Amber Thanks for the suggestion. I aspire to become a graphic designer/php developer and a professional blogger.
    Now, can you give a more detailed suggestion.
    Thanks for help! :)

  10. says

    Wonderfully written. Personally, I never had a plan. After my MBA, I worked in a marketing firm but the whole idea of selling and marketing just did not appeal to me. I kept pushing myself for 10 months and one fine day, just quit. Had no plans to vision, nothing but yeah, I knew I like to write. So got into freelance writing. It’s still a struggling period but very satisfying. Though, there is no financial security in it unless you have established yourself in your chosen genre but it’s fun, a wild ride.

    Thanks for sharing.

  11. says

    As a person who had a wife/2 kids/mortgage, the pre-war battle plan included about 9 months saving as much as I could prior to firing the cannon on my corporate life.

    My dad put it best, back when I was griping about my first job out of college: “You should ALWAYS have enough money in the bank to tell your boss to go to h*ll.”

    Interestingly enough, I didn’t end up using the emergency fund, other than a 5-week vacation to clear my head between quitting my job and starting my freelance life. But knowing that it was there was a key component of my wife’s comfort in my decision to dump a 6-figure income for an unknown.

  12. says

    @Mary Jo I would save up a 3-6 months cushion then. and FYI, you can often find as cheap or cheaper health insurance on your own…shop around ;) Mine is $50/month with an HSA and $2500 deduct.

  13. niubi says

    It’s also good not to put all your eggs in one basket – the internet offers a lot of opportunity so it’s not a bad idea to find something to supplement your income – I use dubli network which works for me.

  14. says

    “My dad put it best, back when I was griping about my first job out of college: “You should ALWAYS have enough money in the bank to tell your boss to go to h*ll.””

    Me and my wife we’re talking about this exact thing the other day. How we never wanted to be in a bad work environment where we weren’t able to just walk away. Remove the stress. It will kill you.

  15. says

    Great article, Amber!

    I recently quit my job to start my own business and this article sounds very familiar. Luckily I had the luxury of time as I had been considering this for a good while and made sure to have my preparations in place before I made the leap.

    Haven’t looked back once!

  16. says

    @Mary Jo, that’s exactly the same situation I was in. Both of my kids were under 5 and my wife was a stay-at-home mom.

    The key to my comfort–and my wife’s–was to build a healthy emergency fund. I *wanted* to quit my job in the winter of ’98, but didn’t pull the trigger until fall ’99, when I was confident that we weren’t going to be eating cat food if things were slow.

    As it happened, the pressure of being the sole income was an extraordinarily powerful incentive to go out and find work. We lived below our means and bought the cheapest decent healthcare insurance we could find. And ironically enough, now that my wife is back in the workforce, sometimes it’s a bit harder to get motivated. (Shhh. Don’t tell her that!)

  17. says

    @Dr Freelance and @ Amber : THank you!! We do live below our means now, so not much of an adjustment there, plus my husband has been doing freelance design and remodeling work for years, so I think it’s my turn to break free from the cubicle!

  18. says

    When I quit my full time job to start freelancing I had one good client and zero plans. Luckily I had my then-husband’s income to fall back on if things got bad. And very luckily I had a strong work ethic and desire to succeed. I’d worked in the industry long enough to have the skills I needed to do the work, but had to learn about customer service, setting expectations, drawing up a contract, doing my own invoicing, etc on my own. It was a learning experience for sure, but one I’d never trade for anything. I actually took a full time job once thinking I’d prefer it, but I quit after 3 weeks…I couldn’t stand having someone else tell me what I had to do and who I had to work for. I love freelancing!

  19. says

    Great article! I did this a few months ago and it was definitely the right decision. I agree about the importance of having a good workspace — I love my home office because it gets a lot of natural light, and it really doesn’t feel at all like I’m “at work” if I sit there for hours on end.

  20. says

    The “decisions” to quit were made for me. I’d been working as a proposal writer for 8 months when my employer laid of 10% of its work force in January 2008. I got another job 4 weeks later, and lost that job six months after that. So after losing my job twice in a seven-month period, I decided to take my fate into my own hands and start my own business.

    Ironically, my biggest client is the first company that laid me off. They wiped out the proposal writing department with the layoffs. Four weeks later, they figured out they still needed someone to respond to proposals. So I started freelancing for them and continued throughout the year. I got a job from them right after losing my job the second time, and that’s when I figured out that working at home, at my own pace, and being there for my son was the best thing on earth.

    My boss is still a great guy to work for. He has a daughter my age who is also a single parent and has a son who is my son’s age, so he watches out for me and my son, too.

    I just celebrated my second anniversary. Health insurance has been a challenge, has have a lot of other things. My advice is those considering this is: Start your business a year before you quit your full-time job. Save all the money you can. Get your marketing in place: logo, business cards, Web site, social media, etc. Start networking and getting clients. You’ll work a million hours, but then by the time you quit full time, you won’t be as worried about the safety net.

  21. says

    I’ve been working as a hospice social worker for five years, and I suspect I’m starting to get a little burned out. I would love to go full time as a freelancer, and I think I have enough clients to do it. The only problem is, I’m diabetic, and I can’t get health insurance because of this pre-existing condition. Maybe in 2014, if President Obama’s healthcare plan holds up and insurance companies have to stop denying people with pre-existing conditions…

  22. says

    Looking forward to the day I do it! I’m working full time and freelancing in the evenings, good to gain skills but pretty full on. Hopefully it will help me hit the ground running.

  23. says

    Interesting article, very helpful – thanks. Have you heard about JobsFor10 (www.jobsfor10.com)? Seems like a new concept. I’ve joined it recently and they’re pretty cool. Has anyone had any experience with them?

    Thanks,

    Jennifer

  24. says

    My job contract is for six months. I will be building my freelance on the side in the meantime. I like the people I work with, but I NEED freedom. The daily commute, someone else dictating my hours, and the minimum wage aren’t ideal. I wish I could quit tomorrow, but it’s just not reasonable.

  25. Danai Panagiwtopoulou says

    I totally applaud becoming a freelancer..I’ve been so much happier since i quit my job and started taking over freelancing jobs! I started my career in http://www.peopleperhour.com.. I highly suggest it to newbies in the freelance world! ;)

  26. says

    I really want to quit my soul sucking day job. I find misplaced when I’m at the office. I have nothing to connect with there. I love technology and arts. So I want to make a living out of it, that’s right I want to literally live doing what I love. I plant to quit this month and move forward with my life. Wish me luck!

  27. Caroll Dowless says

    I am no longer sure the place you are getting your information, but great topic. I needs to spend a while learning more or working out more. Thank you for fantastic info I was searching for this info for my mission.

  28. says

    Great site. Lots of helpful information here. I am sending it to several buddies ans additionally sharing in delicious.

    And of course, thank you in your effort!

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