For many people, freelancing represents the final frontier of career progression, something they’ve been working towards their entire career. Freelancing holds numerous possibilities. Autonomy. Flexibility. Control over the projects you take on. And the ability to chart your own course.
Every year, more and more people join this growing sector of the workforce. The gig economy, of which freelancing is a part, encompasses more 55 million U.S. workers. That’s 35 percent of the American workforce, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and that fraction is expected to reach 43 percent by 2020.
Indeed, freelancing is becoming a significant part of our economy, making it an exciting time to become a freelancer. Nonetheless, taking this step can feel like a leap of faith. The uncertainty and steep learning curve freelancing brings requires careful thought and, above all, planning. Here are seven things everyone should consider before becoming a freelancer.
1. Why do you want to become a freelancer?
Okay, so this one might seem obvious, but asking yourself “why” should be the very first thing you do. Everybody has their own motivation for transitioning to a freelance career, and there is no “correct” answer. But you’d be surprised how important your answer is in shaping your trajectory.
Do you clash often with your boss or coworkers? Is your commute a nightmare? Are you just not a morning person? So often, people are motivated by the negatives of their current situation; freelancing becomes their ticket out. That’s fine, but what if you really stopped to ask yourself what freelancing means to you? Are you not passionate about the work you’re doing? Do you have a unique voice or talent that freelancing lets you share with the world?
Finding something about freelancing that really stokes a fire within you—something that makes it an aspiration, not just an alernative—can make for a far more rewarding experience.
2. What can you offer, and why are you the one to offer it?
What services are you going to provide as a freelancer? Are you a copywriter? A graphic designer? A web developer? If you’re even considering freelancing, you’ve probably already given some thought to what you’ll do, but it’s incredibly important that you hone in on your niche.
Freelancing is extremely competitive; in most cases, there is already a multitude of people offering similar services. You need to stand out from the crowd and figure out what you can offer that other people aren’t. Before you begin, scope out the competition: see what services people offer that are in line with yours, and see how you can do it differently.
3. Do you have a business plan?
You don’t necessarily need a formal business plan to start freelancing—although many people do prefer to structure their enterprise as an independent business, opening an LLC and recruiting staff. Regardless, your strategy needs some structure. In the excitement of freelancing, it can be easy to forget that there is a business side to this endeavor.
The Freelancers’ Union offers some helpful resources for understanding the business aspect of it, including navigating taxes, structuring contracts, and more.
4. Do you have a backup plan?
Freelancing, by nature, is turbulent. Your prosperity as a freelancer depends on your workflow and client load, and even the most successful freelancer experiences lulls. If you’re well situated—financially and within your network of support—to weather the dry spells, then great. Some people thrive on the “feast or famine” workflow, drowning in work one moment and having very little to do the next. But it’s not for everyone.
Understanding that there will be highs and lows in your business, it helps to have an idea of what you’re going to do if things get too turbulent. What will it mean for you if it’s difficult to find clients, or the work isn’t enough to pay the bills? How much time will you give yourself to see how things play out before making another career move?
5. How are you going to get clients?
Getting clients can be one of the scariest and most exciting parts about freelancing. The idea of choosing who you work with, and the projects you undertake, is empowering. However, in a competitive market, finding new clients requires a lot of legwork and an entrepreneurial spirit.
Every freelancer should have a website: a place to highlight their services and background. But to actually retain clients, it helps to be proactive in promoting yourself—on social media, in job boards. Word of mouth goes a long way if you’re in a smaller industry, and connecting with former colleagues or people who know people in need of your services is a great way to get clients. And, of course, there are so many freelancer networks for you to join, which we’ll get to in a moment.
6. Do you have the discipline to be successful as a freelancer?
Being your own boss is almost overwhelmingly exciting. For many, freelancing is synonymous with freelance and flexibility. This is true, to an extent, but the most successful freelancers are those who still approach their work with structure and stability.
Freelancing requires you to be a self-starter—to be disciplined. Working in your pajamas is fine, but rolling out of bed seven minutes before a kickoff call with a new client? Not so much. Managing your time, being respectful of deadlines, and focusing on your work when the world is literally your office are all essential to success as a freelancer.
7. Are you aware of the resources available? Hint: there’s a lot of them.
The gig economy is here to stay, and the job market is evolving to support freelancers in their endeavors. There is a plethora of online resources available for you to find work, connect with other freelancers, and seek advice on some of the logistics of freelancing (i.e. insurance and taxes).
UpWork is one of the largest and most popular job sites for freelancers. Mediabistro, Fiverr, CloudPeeps—there’s a lot out there for you to take advantage of. Business News Daily has compiled a list of some of the best sites you should consider.
Freelancing is always a challenge, but it doesn’t have to be scary. Taking the time to explore your options and reflect on your motivations can help you make an informed decision and lead to a rewarding freelancing career.