by Paige Hobey
You may be a full-time journalist or brand manager, administrative assistant or graphic designer, speech therapist or CPA, but you’re ready to exchange full-time security for flexibility. Freelancing could be for you.
There are currently over 10 million U.S. freelancers and outsourcing to independent contractors is on the rise in a variety of fields, according to the Department of Labor. Which makes sense. You have a laptop, a cell phone and clients in five different time zones anyway. Why not work when and where you want?
As a freelancer, you can set your own schedule, choose your projects, take holidays when you prefer, and work with a variety of clients. Ideally, once you’re established you’ll have a steady stream of work that keeps you as busy as you’d like to be.
But there are some questions to ask yourself before you take the leap.
1. How would I feel about erratic work and income—particularly as I’m getting established?
2. Can I afford to give up my health insurance, paid holidays, sick days and other company benefits?
3. How much could I realistically make offering freelance services in my industry? Is that income comfortable for me and my family?
4. Would I enjoy working independently, without the security and structure of a full-time position?
5. How do I feel about all aspects of freelancing, from pitching new business to dealing with contracts and billing?
6. Have I done what I can to hit the ground running as a freelancer? Before leaving your job, assess your potential client contacts, portfolio and experience. An occupational therapist I spoke with did advance research by asking local hospitals and nursing homes if they could use a freelancer with her expertise. When she received several positive responses, she felt comfortable quitting her job and offering her services as an independent provider. She now has enough work to consistently fill her ideal three-day-a-week schedule.
Still interested? Here’s how to repackage yourself as an independent provider.
Decide what services you want to offer. As an administrative assistant, you could add value to a variety of projects from efficient data entry to creating PowerPoint presentations. As a journalist, you could pitch work from Internet copywriting to freelance magazine reporting. Brainstorm with your skill set in mind.
Create a killer resume or portfolio. Be ready to succinctly demonstrate your skills to potential clients. Maintain samples of your work and an updated resume, either in hard copy or on a personal Web site. A Web site requires domain name, development, and hosting fees, which can be relatively minimal, and allows you to quickly e-mail your link when seeking new business.
Pitch your old management. Begin with an easy pitch. Your former employers know your skills—meet with them and offer your services. If they can’t use your help, they may at least offer references for other project work.
Work for free. As you’re getting started, build your resume and make new connections by volunteering your services for local non-profits or small businesses.
Then, create a cost strategy. As a freelancer, you can charge clients by the hour, day or project. Hourly and daily payment ensures your time is covered, but you’ll still need to provide an overall cost estimate before starting a project. Submit invoices bi-weekly or monthly. If you’re charging by the project, request a portion of the fee upfront with incremental payments as you achieve agreed upon goals.
Get the word out. When you’re ready, invest in some targeted advertising in trade journals or local publications. Have business cards made and pass them out at industry events.
Promote your services online. There are a variety of Web sites connecting freelancers with projects. Do your own industry-specific searches, check out the major job posting sites, and don’t miss freelancing hubs like guru.com. If you’re inspired, blog. Post entries about your experiences and your field.
While freelancing isn’t risk-free, it’s hard to beat working in your sweats on your own time. Do some initial research. If your prospects look good, make the leap and give yourself a designated period of time to get established. Keep in mind there’s a safety net: You can always head back to that full-time job.