The route to becoming a full-time freelancer will be different for every person. But if you’re going to make a success of being self-employed, it helps to do your research, set clear goals for your self-employed career and to listen to the experiences and advice of more seasoned freelancers.
Steve Ash, content writer at CommsBreakdown and author of ‘Going Freelance: Building Work Around Your Life’, has been freelancing for nearly six years. In this guest blog post, he tells us about his journey and what he’s learned about the key steps to profitable freelancing.
Leaving the corporate world behind
Becoming a freelance content writer was one of the best moves I ever made, but I didn’t always lead such a flexible and fulfilling working life. In fact, I came from a very different background.
I spent many years working in safe and predictable corporate roles, first in a series of administration roles and then in brand, marketing and content editing for nine years at professional services giant PwC. I had a solid salary behind me, and all the security of an excellent benefits package, but I always felt that I wasn’t quite in the right work environment.
As someone who likes the flexibility to work on my initiative, I felt like a fish out of water in the corporate world. So, in 2014, I took charge of the situation and found myself a new job – this time as the content writer for Xero UK, an ambitious cloud accounting software startup.
I loved the startup mentality and I had a huge amount of freedom to come up with exciting content and campaigns. Every day is different in a new business and you face new challenges daily. That might sound scary, but it’s actually what makes the startup sector so exciting – and I knew from that point onwards that the small business and startup sector was where I belonged.
However, my career was about to change once again…
Mixing a salaried role with a side hustle
At the end of 2014, my role at Xero was made redundant, forcing me to reassess my career path. And this is when freelancing first became a viable option for me.
I’d often been told that I should start my own business, and that I had the determination, entrepreneurial spirit and people skills needed to become a freelancer. However, I’d always worried about whether I could generate enough income to actually make this a reality.
But with no job and no income, I had nothing to lose at this point, so I began working on small pieces of one-off freelance work. To my amazement, I began to get some regular customers, but not enough at this point to make freelancing a full-time option.
The presented me with a quandary:
- I loved my introduction to freelancing
- But I needed a more stable income
- So, I needed another job.
I figured that the best compromise was to find a permanent salaried job, but to also continue freelancing on the side – and that’s how I ended up working at The Profitable Firm, a marketing agency for the accounting industry. I spent two years there as a digital content manager, working three days every week as an employee and two days running my own freelance business, now named CommsBreakdown.
How to start your own side hustle
Having a ‘side hustle’ is a great introduction to freelancing. Mixing a salaried role with a self-employed side hustle meant I could dip a toe into the waters of freelancing, but still with the security of having a regular monthly salary as my financial foundation.
If getting your own side hustle sounds like an enticing idea, I’d definitely encourage you to explore the possibilities – it could be a route to a brand new career path.
To plan your side hustle, it’s important to ask yourself a few vital questions:
- What skills do I have? – to market yourself as a freelancer you need to offer a clearly defined service. So, it’s important to think about the skills you have and how you could monetise these capabilities to create some income.
- Do I love doing this thing? – to make a success of your side hustle, you need to LOVE what you do. It’s likely that you’ll be working evenings and weekends to complete your freelance work, so your service needs to be something that you have a real passion for.
- Who can I target as a customer? – being skilled at something is a good starting point, but who is actually going to buy your services? Some real consideration must be put into defining WHO you’re selling to, and how you’ll market yourself to these people.
- What value can I bring to my customers? – to turn your abilities into a side hustle, it’s vital that you can add value for your customers. If your customers have a specific business need, you must meet that need, exceed expectations and make their lives easier. If you can nail this then customers will come rushing back for more work.
Going freelance as my main job
Over time, my solo freelance work began to grow and become my main focus, leading me to leave the agency and take the plunge into being a full-time freelancer.
The move to being 100% self-employed wasn’t a decision that I took lightly. I have a small family to support and rent to pay, so I couldn’t be in a position where my income took a huge cut. As a result, I had to be very sure that starting my own freelance business would work.
There will ALWAYS be challenges to the freelance lifestyle, and it’s best to acknowledge those and learn them early on in your self-employed career:
Key challenges will include:
- Struggling to find enough customers – your sales pipeline won’t always be full, so it’s crucial that you put some hard work into marketing your services. It’s also worthwhile searching a job site like AppJobs to find new work, opportunities and potential customers
- Not getting paid on time – late payment is a big headache for freelancers, and you’re likely to spend long periods of time chasing up customers for money. There are proactive ways to make getting paid easier, so learn these quickly and get proactive.
- Having to make ALL the decisions – when you’re self-employed, you’re the CEE (the Chief Executive of Everything), so it can sometimes get stressful. The key is to be as organised and efficient as you can, so you stay in control of your business.
If the idea of going full-time freelance and setting up a self-employed business still sounds inviting, there are some foundational elements you should get in place.
Key considerations include:
- Your business plan – i.e. knowing what you aim to achieve as a freelancer, how you will do this and what resources and equipment will be needed to get you started. It’s your route plan for creating a viable freelance service that can be offered to customers.
- Your value proposition – as I’ve mentioned already, it’s vital to define the value that you intend to bring to your customers through your services/products. Knowing this value, and who your target customers are, is at the core of your success.
- Your income and funding – work out how much money you need to earn and set yourself a monthly income target. This will help you set prices, plan out your budgets for customer work and define how much investment will be needed to get started.
- Your tax and insurance – getting your compliance in order will save a lot of headaches later down the line. Get yourself insured as a freelancer via an insurer like Thimble and make sure your taxes are in order by working with a tax filing provider like Tax Keeper.
Why you should give freelancing a try
A freelance life isn’t always plain sailing, and I’ve certainly had my fair share of ups and down. But, for me, the core benefit of being self-employed is the freedom and flexibility that this lifestyle brings you. As I highlight in my book, ‘Going Freelance: Building Work Around Your Life’, my work/life balance has been hugely improved by stepping away from the corporate treadmill and exploring a new path as a freelancer.
If you want to inject some life into your career, I’d definitely suggest giving freelancing a go – it’s worked for me and has given me a lifestyle I simply couldn’t have achieved in any other way.
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