By Maggie Christ
Five months ago I graduated with my masters in PR & Advertising. Three months later, I quit my full time job to become a freelancer. While no one seems to believe me, I hadn’t planned to become a freelancer until shortly before that and had no clue how to make it happen. I simply started by writing a few hours a week for an agency. Then, a former coworker referred my first client and things grew from there. Once I was working almost 60 hours a week, taking conference calls during lunch and staying up far too late writing, I had to make a decision. This is how I quit my job and became a full time freelancer.
1. Tell everyone you know.
Don’t hold back. Let everyone know what you’re up to. Tell your former coworkers, friends, classmates, random people you meet at events. Tell them all. Someone is bound to say, “Oh, you do social media? My friend just started a business and needs some marketing advice.” Or “I’ve been looking for someone to write blogs for me.” Or even, “Good for you! If I hear of anyone who needs that, how do I connect you?” No matter your industry, or what you’re offering, share it with your network and you’re bound to get some referrals or advice.
2. Figure out what you can and want to offer.
You can’t do everything and you don’t want to do everything. The beauty of freelancer is you can offer solely what you know how to and want to do. For me, this means I do not have to offer media relations, fundraising or event planning. You’re allowed to say no and you’re allowed to make the rules. It’s pretty great. It’s also hard, but it’s an important thing to narrow this down early on. Sit down and ask yourself what you enjoy, what you’re good at, and what you want to do. Then, offer those things only.
3. Ask for more than you’d expect or need.
One thing freelancers talk about a lot is the price they charge. There is so much secrecy and game-playing with money that it can be very difficult to navigate. It’s also hard to know how much you’re going to need. Do some budgeting and math; figure out what you need to live on. Then ask for more than that amount. Taxes are a whole other thing, so do some research first. Start higher so you can negotiate down if needed, but I’ve noticed that if you’re confident with a price and say it as though it is your set rate, you don’t get a lot of push-back. People will take it or leave it if they can’t afford you. If you find people are accepting your rate without hesitation, bump it up the next time. There are tons of articles, blogs and podcasts about this, so again, do some research and ask around.
4. Pace yourself.
Freelancing work ebbs and flows, but it’s especially stressful at the beginning. My first week, I had big goals of working 30 billable hours. I barely got 15 but it took some serious reflection to realize that 15 billable hours was pretty good for my first week as a freelancer! I realized I was expecting too much of myself before I had any idea what was possible in a single week. Plus, I only had a few clients and it would take serious non billable work to get more of those. I quickly learned how to take it just one day and one week at a time.
5. Forgive yourself.
I’ve made mistakes. I’ve delayed responding to emails and lost motivation too early on a Tuesday afternoon. It’s really hard freelancing and figuring out how to run your business, find clients and get stuff done. Forgive yourself. Forgive yourself every day and then start the next day the best way you can. Each evening and then at the end of very week, I write down my accomplishments. I write down my goals for the next week, the must-dos and the deadlines. I also write down where I fell short, but not to harp on myself. I put them down to forgive myself and to try again the next day.
There are still days I consider going back to a full time job at a company. Truth be told, I probably will. Some days and weeks are slow, it’s true. I’m still figuring out how to pay all my bills. But then I have a great day where I land a new client, accomplish a project or get a blog published. When that happens, I can’t imagine doing anything else. I am so glad I took this risk, if only for the lessons I’ve learned.
Maggie Christ is freelance social media and content strategist for nonprofits and small businesses. She saves companies time and makes them money by positioning them as a resource and increasing exposure to the clients and customers they want. She earned her MA in PR and Advertising from DePaul University. You can find her online at maggiemchrist.weebly.com or on Twitter @maggiemchrist.