The rumors are true: I've been working as a freelancer for over a year now! I have mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, I like that I'm not starting absolutely everything from scratch. I have clients who know me, trust me, and pay Gracie's vet bills. I've found my favorite local coffee spot and I know when the mail lady comes each day. I've spent more time than I care to admit researching health insurance options, finding a CPA, and obsessing over estimated taxes.
With all of this newfound "wisdom," of course, comes the fear that I'm supposed to know what I'm doing. I may have found my skill set — writing and editing — but I'm still not sure if I need a more specific niche. I've been in the market for a new printer for months but am dragging my feet on making a decision. I have a complicated relationship with social media (yes, including blogging!). And there's always the looming fear that there's a box I haven't checked, or some fee that could come out of nowhere.
I had similar anxiety around the idea of Chris and me phasing out of "newlywed" status after one year. We like being married to each other, but by no means do we know what we're doing! Some kind soul comforted me by saying a couple is considered "newlyweds" until they have their first child. I'm not sure what the business equivalent of that is for me — my first book contract? My first Sicilian beach home? OK fine, I'll go with the latter.
I've shared a few lessons in other blogs, but I wanted this one to focus on what I would tell someone about to quit their 9-5.
10 Things to know before you go (freelance)
If you're considering going freelance, first of all yay! I always get excited when I hear this because 1) I want more friends I can telework with, and 2) I'm excited for others to discover the unique joy of being their own boss — even if it's not for them in the long run. As you know, I haven't been doing this for the long run either ... but I'm treating it like I will be.
Second, I like to share the little that I know with others who are going freelance. I had some wise counselors advise me in my early days, and I'm so grateful for their guidance. I figured I'd pass along what I have, both from what I was told and what I've learned so far.
1. Remember you're a small business owner.
I wasn't thinking in these terms the day I quit my job. I knew I wanted to work on my own terms, set my own hours, and have more work-life balance. My then-boss and forever-role model mentioned casually that she was sure I already knew this, but I would need to form an LLC, get my EIN number, start a separate banking account, and "all that." I assured her I knew all that. I didn't. But I eventually jumped through the hoops and became a small business owner, just like that! Sometimes I still call myself "just a freelance writer and editor," as if it's something I fit in on the weekends and at night, but the truth is, I'm running a small business, wearing all the hats, all of the time. If you want to "go freelance" and get paid enough so that it's your one and only, you're going to need more than creative talent. You're going to need to start thinking about your rates, cash flow, expenses, and deductions. And you may never love it, but you're going to need to embrace it: Excel, Excel, Excel.
2. Get a website.
You probably already knew this one, but I didn't until I went for an interview with a creative temp agency. The interview went great until the very end, when I handed over my paper samples. "Do you have these on a website?" the hiring manager asked. I said no. She pushed the samples back toward me. "Well these aren't going to be any good until you have one." I made that my first priority. Second priority: putting it all over my new business cards.
3. Keep it updated.
This includes blogs, of course, but I'm talking about other page content, too, like your portfolio and even "about me" page. After half a year, I realized I hadn't updated anything other than my blog, even though I had been working on new projects and honing skills that should have a place on my site somewhere. I set up a calendar appointment so that I now do this type of updating at least quarterly.
4. Lean on your spouse/family/roommate/kindred spirit.
I'm comfortable admitting 100 percent that I could not have done what I'm doing without my husband. I'm not just talking about his job, though it does help to have some stability when you're setting out on a new venture. From the start, he told me he believed I could do this. In good times, he celebrates with me and in harder times, he assures me that it will get better. In busy times, he helps me cut out what's not necessary and in slow times, he encourages me to use that time for creative writing (my abandoned love child). You don't have to be married or even have an awesome roommate for this kind of support, but I do think you need someone extremely close to you who knows what you're capable of, and holds you to that. My family has also been incredibly supportive of my business, and I am incredibly fortunate to have them close by.
5. Join a professional network.
Beyond the kindred spirits, family, and friends in your life, you're going to need to stretch a bit further out to people who can help you grow in what you're doing. You won't have annual reviews with your boss anymore or mandatory staff trainings on the latest digital marketing trends — but that doesn't mean your clients deserve any less from you. I try to stay connected to the Freelancers Union and attend meetings of its DC chapter, and am a part of several online writing/freelance communities that share job opportunities, articles, and just enough interesting tidbits to keep us dangerous. In whatever field you're in, find a professional network and get plugged in!
6. Be around other people.
By this, I mean people in between kindred spirit and professional contact. Friends you can telework with, or the ladies you dance with at zumba class, or the people you see at the coffee shop. I think this has been one of the hardest parts of this list that I'm still trying to figure out. Working in an office comes with distractions that many freelancers are eager to leave behind ... and I'll be the first to admit that I'm more productive when I work in silence, at home. But I don't think I realized that leaving behind the distractions and meetings also meant leaving behind the people popping into my office just to say hi, the water cooler chat, the spontaneous lunch dates and happy hours near the office. Sometimes calling a friend on the phone is enough to remind me that I'm not alone; other times, it takes a heart-to-heart with someone from church or a midday break to visit family.
7. Get a dog.
I think this one is pretty self-explanatory. Not only does Gracie keep me company and listen to all I have to say during the day, but she also is a living, breathing creature who needs to be fed, watered, and taken outside for walks several times a day. And fetch, if she's good. On the days that are harder to get motivated (looking at you, Mondays), sometimes tending to Gracie is the only thing that makes me drag myself out of bed.
She also helps me get my steps in (see #8 below) and talk to neighbors (#6 above)!
8. Get exercise.
I've written about this before and I feel silly saying it again because I'm not a health nut who loves doing push-ups. But when you're in a job where it's way too easy to sit in your chair all day (see #10 below), exercise becomes even more crucial than when you were in an office and commuted to work, walked to meetings, walked to your coworkers' offices to watch YouTube videos, etc. Having a dog can help with this if you're able to go running together. I also recently re-discovered my love of zumba, and am trying to discover a love for yoga somewhere inside of me. I just haven't dug deep enough.
9. Talk about what you do.
At weddings, at parties, in coffee shops ... everywhere. If you're a fellow freelance writer or editor, chances are you're not in this business to talk about yourself (which will also make blogging interesting ... but that's beside the point). You probably love listening to others' stories and writing about what they do. That's good: you'll always need that to be a good writer. But to be a good writer who makes money (see #1), you need to be comfortable marketing yourself face-to-face sometimes. Here's why: every single one of my clients has come from a prior personal connection/word of mouth except two. I met each of those two clients at in-person events I was attending socially. It's true that it's who you know — but remember that this includes strangers you may come to know in unexpected places. Be open to talking about what you do. If you're not a natural networker/marketer, don't even think about it in those terms: it's just talking about what you do (and why you love it so much you quit your job and are doing it full-time)!
10. Find a comfortable chair, a good printer, and a calm workspace.
I told you I'm still working on the printer, and usually the portion of my house that's not my office stresses me out. But my office itself is calm, and my chair is comfortable. And that has made all the difference.
I'll probably need to update this blog frequently because there is so much more that I learned this past year. But these are some of the must-haves that I share with others who share that they're going freelance.
If you've taken the plunge, what's your No.1 recommendation for those just getting started? If you're considering going freelance yourself, what else would be helpful to know before you go?