Remote work has become the new normal for many of us — but so has uncertainty in the job market. That may have you wondering if this is the right time to transition from a traditional 9-to-5 job to that full-time freelance career you've been dreaming of.
Having a flexible schedule and being your own boss may sound enticing but taking the leap will also require several sacrifices, from giving up the security of a regular income to a host of health and savings benefits. Before you commit to making a change, you’ll need to ask yourself these key questions to determine if freelancing full-time is right for you.
WHAT IS MY EXPERTISE?
Before you do anything, you’ll need to figure out what unique (and in-demand) skills or services you can — and want to — offer.
"A niche helps people understand exactly how you can help them," says business architect Luisa Zhou, who specializes in helping people turn their skills into coaching, consulting and freelance businesses.
"For example, if you offer web design services to software businesses, you will immediately stand out to these businesses,” Zhou says. “A software client can trust that you understand their specific needs. And because the benefits of your services are clearer to your clients, you can charge higher rates.”
HOW WILL I LAND CLIENTS?
Don't get too hung up on perfecting your brand — at least not at first. Instead, put all your energy into establishing a solid clientele.
"Focus on the few steps you need to take to get clients fast instead of wasting time on building your website or printing business cards," Zhou says. "My main client-acquisition strategy was to get clients from Facebook groups. That's why my main daily activities were to build relationships in those groups and post content. For you, it might be engaging on LinkedIn, cold pitching clients or reaching out to your network. Either way, focus relentlessly on that one activity."
Speaking of social media: Do revise your social and professional profiles to reflect your new venture.
"Does your LinkedIn page make it clear to even the most casual observer that you're freelancing in your given field?” asks career coach Carlota Zimmerman. “Does it give people info on how to hire you, and reasons they should? Do not expect that people will contact you if they can't immediately find the information they need. They'll go on down the list to the person who makes it easy.”
HOW DID OTHER FREELANCERS MAKE THE LEAP?
Seek out friends, relatives or anyone in your professional network who has made the jump to freelance work so you can pick their brains about how they got started and what they wish they'd known before they made the transition, Zimmerman says. This is a great way to get a sense of the potential obstacles in your path.
And be sure to show them that you respect their time.
“Make sure to have Googled them, join the calls on time and send a thank-you follow-up note or a gift card to Starbucks," Zimmerman adds. "For freelancers, this time they're spending on you is time that they are not making money."
WHAT IS MY FINANCIAL BOTTOM LINE?
Once you’ve determined that you want to pursue full-time freelancing, take a hard look at your financial situation.
"The more realistic you are with yourself about what responsibilities you have to meet every month, the more focused you can be in organizing a plan," Zimmerman says. "It's hard enough to start freelancing from scratch, but almost impossible if your bills are out of control." Create a budget so you know what your expenses are each month and what financial goals you’re trying to fund so you know how much income you would need to cover those.
It's also crucial to identify all the tasks you'll need to take on to become your own boss — or if you'd need to outsource those responsibilities.
"At first, you're going to need to find clients, serve those clients and do all the back-office stuff," says psychologist Kate Sullivan of Constellation Careers. "If you feel overwhelmed just thinking about that, you may want to put your energy into looking for a more satisfying regular job instead of starting up a freelance business."
HOW LONG SHOULD I KEEP MY DAY JOB?
Even though starting your own business while continuing to do your job will have you burning the candle at both ends, try your best to hang onto your current gig for as long as you can to build up a financial cushion.
Having an income while you’re getting your business up and running gives you the chance to hunt for clients and handle any startup expenses without stressing about when the next check is coming in, Zhou says. It will also give you some breathing room to learn the new skills you will need to master, from working with clients to selling your services, which will help speed the transition.
Before you strike out on your own, make sure your earnings at least exceed your current salary so you’ll be able to cover the expenses your employer previously handled.
"My strong recommendation is that you aim to double your salary with your freelancing income," she says. "As a freelancer, you have business costs and taxes, so to ensure that you have enough income coming in, this is the safest way to go."
WHERE AND HOW WILL I WORK?
You may already have a home office space set up because of shelter-in-place orders. If not, now's the time to figure out where and how you'll work.
That includes creating a routine where you set specific work hours — when you'll stop and start working each day, and whether you'll need to bank hours in the early mornings and late evenings to work around kids' schedules or your own energy.
“You must have a space apart from your regular sleeping-and-relaxing spaces to help your brain get into work mode every day, and to help you maintain your sanity and productivity — especially as a new freelancer,” says Sullivan.