When people start thinking about a freelance career, they usually focus on three things; the service they're going to offer, how they'll get new clients, and what they'll do with all that new-found money and free time. These are all fine things to think about. But there's one more to consider, and I'd argue that it's the most important. How are you going to spend the minutes, hours, and days of your working life? I believe that your approach to this question is ultimately what determines your happiness in a freelance career because if you're not happy with the minutes, hours, and days, you won't be happy in life.
It's hard to know how things will go until you actually start working freelance. But some practical preparations will improve your mindset and then you can make changes as you go. I've made a list of questions to get you started. It's available as a worksheet in the exercise files titled Mindset. You've probably already answered most of these questions subconsciously, but now it's time to write your answers down. That will be an important motivational tool after you've been working freelance for a few months, and you start feeling bogged down in the details.
The first question is why do you want to freelance? Your own answer might seem obvious to you, but there are many possibilities; to make more money, to have time to travel, to be at home with your children and so on. Whatever it is, knowing your answer will help you make decisions as you go forward. The second question is why can't you get that in your current situation? Maybe you can with some small changes. But let's assume that freelancing is right for you. Four simple questions will help you be ready for your freelance career.
First, where will you work? Even if you're happy working in just one place, I recommend scouting out secondary spaces just in case there's a problem with your preferred space. Keep in mind that you'll probably need a place where you can meet clients face-to-face once in a while. It should be a quiet, private place that shows that you take your client's time seriously. If you have a colleague who will let you use their conference room, that's great. Otherwise, look into co-working spaces and business incubators in your area.
On that note, what do you need for your work? If you're a digital artist, maybe that's a flat space for your tablet along with an electric outlet. If you're like me, you also need Internet access and a place to have phone meetings. Going on, figure out when you'll work. Do you want to take long lunches? Will you work weekends? Do you like to stay up late or get up early? Keep in mind that you'll have to work a certain number of hours every week, and those hours have to happen some time. Finally, figure out who else will be affected by your move to freelancing.
This is especially important if you live with anyone and plan to work from home. But even beyond the home space, freelancing could affect your personal relationships. Once you've got this all down, your next step is to actually practice your work habits. It's one thing to say that you're going to get up at 8 AM and work from the local cafe. It's quite another to get yourself out of the house when that time arrives, so actually start doing it even before you have any clients. Get to your workplace at the appointed times. Then you can work on your own projects if you like, but you'll be getting used to the circumstances of client work.
So, start discovering the work habits you enjoy as early as possible long before you have any clients. Then when the work starts arriving, you'll find yourself happier to do it.
A bonus chapter covers common questions freelancers have when entering the field.
- What is freelancing?
- Defining your career goals
- Funding your startup
- Getting licenses, permits, and insurance
- Setting prices
- Finding work through agencies
- Getting referrals
- Working with time and project management tools
- Increasing your rates
Skill Level Beginner
Q: This course was updated on 3/20/2013. What changed?
A: We added a bonus chapter that covers common questions freelancers have when entering the field, such as "How do I use Craigslist or other job boards to grow my freelance business?" and "How do I find clients?"