By the time I walked across my university’s graduation stage, I had a job offer in hand. That next week I went straight to work and could not have been more excited (read: relieved). I had just finished an internship with the same company, and loved my coworkers and the work I would be doing.
But as I started my 9-to-5, two things surprised me. First, I had so much free time after work and on weekends now that papers, group projects, reading assignments and exam prep were behind me. And second, I missed the creative outlet of journalism I had in school.
So, I started picking up some freelance writing jobs, which quickly turned into well-paying gigs. A few years and a job change later, when I had the chance to join my fiancé on a months-long travel opportunity, I realized freelancing full-time could give me the flexibility I needed.
While I had fantasized about this transition for years, actually doing it meant getting serious about my finances — since quitting also meant saying goodbye to a steady paycheck and healthcare. Here’s how I prepared to take the leap to working for myself.
I STOCKED MY EMERGENCY FUND
At the height of my part-time freelancing, I made about $1,500 a month, plus my full-time salary. Rather than spend this extra cash on expensive dinners (tempting) or spa days (even more tempting), I put all my freelance earnings into savings.
The first order of business was my emergency fund. I didn’t know when I started saving that I would one day become a full-time freelancer, but I knew I wanted a solid fund for whatever life threw my way.
When I gave my notice to my employer, I had two years’ worth of living expenses put away — enough so that if I had a slow couple of months or a check was delayed, I’d still be able to pay my bills.
Freelancing is inconsistent and requires a lot of unpaid work, like creating proposals, pitching myself and applying for gigs. The first three months of freelancing, I made less than I had at my corporate job (of course, I was also traveling), but the emergency fund meant I could take my time establishing my business.
I TOOK CARE OF FUTURE ME
As soon as I had the opportunity to contribute to a 401(k) after college, I took it. And since I had my supplemental income, I automatically upped my monthly contributions, even though I would surpass the amount my company matched. This helped my 401(k) grow quickly, which got my savings off to a strong start, and — thanks to compound interest — will continue to grow.
Once my retirement savings were in a good place, I turned to my other investments and I doubled the money I was investing each month in my personal stock portfolio. By setting automatic deposits toward my investment portfolio each month, I think of this contribution as a set part of my budget.
My goal right now is to not touch the money earned from my investments until I retire, so even though I’m no longer contributing to an employer-sponsored 401(k), I’m still saving for my future. And because I’m looking at long-term growth, I don’t have to worry every time the stock market takes a dip.
I BUILT A SOLID CLIENT BASE
One of the main benefits of freelancing while you’re still working full-time is that you can be selective when choosing clients. It also gives you more authority to have full-time employment backing up your skill set.
Once I knew I wanted to freelance full-time, I didn't keep it a secret. I contacted every client I’d ever worked with, met old colleagues for happy hour and reached out to my network on LinkedIn and via email. I wasn’t pitching every person I talked to, but by letting them know about the changes in my career, connections and opportunities started to arise and I quickly had a healthy roster of clients.
Even now, I continue to share career updates with my network and recently a LinkedIn connection reached out to congratulate me and offer me work. A lot of my work comes via word of mouth, but I also cold-pitch editors, apply for freelance positions and engage with recruiters. My goal is to leave no stone unturned.
This article was originally published on LearnVest.com.