Freelancers working in a cafe

Do You Have To Give Up Your Day Job To Start Freelancing?

Rosie Allabarton

Thinking about going freelance? You’ve got to give up your job first, right? Well, actually, not necessarily.

Freelancing is taking off in a big way. More and more people are realizing not only the benefits to their work/life balance from working freelance, but companies are beginning to appreciate the flexibility and availability of freelancers who they can hire for short periods instead of taking huge financial risks on new members of staff.

As Beckie Holmes, a Virtual Assistant and Founder of Occasional Assistants(a company that specializes in finding freelancers for different companies) said:

I knew that offering this type of flexible service would be useful to small businesses who, during difficult economic times could take advantage of my experience as and when they needed it, rather than worrying about the overheads associated with permanent recruitment.

When thinking about making that break for freedom and going freelance most people would assume giving up the day job an inevitable part of making the transition from full-time employee to being your own boss possible. However a growing school of thought suggests that taking the leap into the world of freelance is something that can actually be staggered - as in, built up slowly over time while still holding down a regular job - which involves a great deal less financial risk and gives the wannabe-freelancer a cushion to fall back on should things take a while to get off the ground with their freelance work.

There are many other advantages to not hurling yourself head first into going it alone. Taking your time and keeping a regular income coming in while you find your feet can give your freelancing career the steady and stable beginning which will ensure it is a long and profitable one. So stop, take a minute and read why you will ultimately benefit if you don’t hand your resignation letter in right this second.

1.) Support network

If you carry on working while you start up your freelance business you will continue to have the support that comes from colleagues. These are people who, having worked with you, have an idea of your working patterns and skills and are good people to go to for advice when you begin to take on work outside of office hours. Bounce ideas off them, tell them projects you are working on, get as much feedback as you can about what they would expect when hiring a freelancer in your industry. Contacts of any kind are invaluable, so use these people for the people they know. Attend every work function and event as you will only meet more people who may in the future become clients. Collect email addresses. Many freelancers cite one of the disadvantages of their career choice as feelings of loneliness, so as someone who is still working in a team make the most of all this face time and hang out with your colleagues. Arrange social events now for times in the future when you will no longer be working together to keep these connections up. Most importantly, if the company you are currently working for is in the same industry as the one you are hoping to freelance in then these people could become your link to your first clients. Garner advice. As tempting as it may be, don’t burn any bridges. Former employers and colleagues can very often be your link to work in the future.

2.) Financial security

As Laura Spencer, freelance expert, said when we spoke to her earlier this week:

Starting out as a part-time freelancer while you still have a full-time job can relieve some of the financial worries many freelancers face. It’s not unusual for a new freelancer to have gaps without work between projects while they build up their client base. For a full-time freelancer without any other job, these gaps can spell financial disaster. Part-time freelancers still enjoy a steady income while they start their business.

Laura makes a valid point here. The freelance work you’re doing is great experience, while the full-time job you’re doing alongside supports it when there are gaps in job offers. Not only that but by working two jobs (one full-time for someone else, one part-time for yourself) you have the opportunity to save some money to cover yourself for when you do go freelance full-time. By putting this money aside, when you come to working freelance full-time and work slows down a bit, you have a security blanket for those unexpected bills and expenses. It is actually less likely that work will slow down by the time you make the break and go freelance full-time, as by that point you will have already built up a list of clients and contracts (by starting to take on jobs before you leave your fulltime one). However, as a freelancer you always need to budget for more than your outgoings. Not to mention tax. Give yourself a financial goal; how much money you will need as a buffer before you can go freelance full-time and work towards this goal with the extra money you are making from freelancing part-time. Once you have worked out how long it will take you to reach this goal, that is when you know you can quit your job and start your full-time freelancing career, a great deal more secure in your finances.

As renowned writer on freelancing and author of Freelancer’s Survival Guide, Kristine Kathryn Rusch advises:

First, you figure out how much money you need to live each and every month. Then you add half again as much for unexpected emergencies. Multiply that number by twelve, and that’s what you need for a year.

3.) Time to look around and see what’s out there

Get to know your environment. Now is the perfect time for you to check out your competition. What are they doing well and what could you be doing better than them? How do they market themselves and who are their clients? The more information you have about the people you will be up against the better prepared you will be when the time comes to for you to go freelance fulltime and pit yourself against them. Do they have a good online presence? Do they advertise or rely on content marketing? Who do they have in their network and might these people be able to help you too?

4.) If it all goes wrong, you still have a job

This may seem obvious, but the one huge benefit of not quitting your job before testing the water with freelancing is that if you realise freelancing is not for you, you struggle to meet deadlines or find it hard to motivate yourself, then you do still have that 9 - 5 job to fall back on. Although it’s disheartening admitting failure, the person who gives up their job to work freelance before even seeing if they’d like working for themselves - let alone know if they’d be any good at it - has lost an awful lot more than the person who has tried it, failed, but not quit their job in the process.

Again Laura Spencer had some great advice for us on this:

What if you’re not sure whether you want to freelance? If you’re ‘sitting on the fence’ wondering whether freelancing is the right choice for you, start taking a few freelance projects while you’re still employed. Starting out as a part-timer can help you explore freelancing while avoiding some of the risks of jumping into freelancing full-time. Plus, you’ll discover how marketable your skillset is.

First steps to breaking away from the 9 - 5

Make it easy on yourself and prepare as much as you can before the day arrives when you do decide to go fully freelance. Many freelance experts suggest starting this process between six months and a year before making the final break from regular work. Whatever time-frame is right for you, there are a number of ways in which you can do some of the groundwork before the big day comes.

1.) Personal branding / getting your name out there

Your personal brand is something you can definitely start working on while you are in fulltime work. Getting your CV online and your Facebook page updated to include your new skills is a good start in getting the message across to friends and acquaintances that you are available to start taking on projects as a freelancer. Email everyone you know with the news that you are taking on work; word of mouth is the very best way for you to get business (and repeat business) and you never know where that first client will come from. Although these days most things are done online, it’s important to keep your offline presence visible as someone who needs to have a website built for them might not have much online presence themselves. Speak to co-workers, they can also be a great source of contacts and knowledge. By taking on small projects part-time (which you have perhaps found through friends or acquaintances who do not do rigorous reference checks!) you are able to build up a decent portfolio and a substantial backlog of references before you’ve even gone full time as a freelancer. This will be a huge help for when you make the break as you will have an array of references and projects to show to future clients.

2.) Get your first big contract lined up before you quit

If you have been steadily and successfully taking on small projects while staying in your regular job and feel like it’s time to quit, make sure you have a big project lined up for the first day of your new freelance life. It can be tempting to treat the first few days like a holiday, but it’s important to get to work straight away to keep your momentum going. By setting up a job for your first day as a freelancer will mean you can spend your first few days as a freelancer doing the thing you love, rather than looking for work or panicking. The satisfaction of doing the thing you love fulltime will remind you why you made the break in the first place and increase your motivation levels to make your career choice work.

3.) Network

Make sure everyone you know knows that you are going freelance: ex-colleagues, friends, old classmates. Work is much more likely to come through a contact than by applying through a recruiter or agency and people prefer to use someone they know. Utilize social media: Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn and think about keeping a blog charting your experiences as this can be a great way to build up an audience and then a client base. The more ways people have to contact you or hear about you the more work opportunities will come your way. Don’t be shy about putting your business out there, asking for work or advertising. It can be hard, but being a salesperson is part and parcel of being a freelancer, even if sales is not where your skills lie, or where you feel comfortable. As a freelancer you have to learn every part of running a business, from accounting and administration to, yes, sales. If people don’t know what you are offering they won’t know to call you when they need your services.

4.) Be careful of people asking for ‘freebies’.

First of all experience is great, and at this stage you want to build up all of the experience you can get within your freelancing field to build up your portfolio. But if you find people are asking you to do things for them for free and you are not getting anything out if - a good reference, experience at a different type of project, good contacts - it might just be a waste of your time (of which you don’t have much). Don’t say no to someone just because they can’t afford to pay you at this stage, but see what you can get out of the deal. You are in a strong negotiating position - you have something they want - so think about what they can do for you in return.

Finally, Krystine Kathryn Rusch has a great check list of things you will need to be sure of/have set up before you go freelance.

  1. An ability to take risks
  2. Health Insurance
  3. Familial support
  4. Health Insurance
  5. Enough money to get through hard times.
  6. Health Insurance
  7. An established client base
  8. Health Insurance
  9. An understanding that, the first few times you try to go full-time freelancing, you will probably fail.

And a final word about how to juggle working 9-5 and freelance contracts without upsetting your boss or your clients.

Be honest with your clients

It’s up to you whether you share your new freelancing career with your boss (unless it says otherwise in your contract, in which case read the paragraph below), but be honest with your clients about the hours you are available. You don’t want to get a reputation as being hard to get hold of, slow to respond or late with projects because you are simply unavailable between 9 and 5. Simply explain from the beginning the hours you can work, the hours you will get back to them and the hours they can get hold of you. If you are clear about this from the beginning everybody knows where they stand and what to expect. It’s important not to be tempted to check your personal emails, and especially to pursue your freelance work when you are in the office or workplace of your full-time employer. If you want the support and advice of your colleagues don’t let them down by slacking off on your own work while you are still there.

Check your contract

Does your contract state that you are not allowed to take work on on the side? If so, you have to consider if starting to work freelance is worth losing your current job over. However many employers are relaxed and as long as your freelance work doesn’t impact on your job, and there’s no conflict of interest, for many bosses that is enough. Some employers simply ask to be informed of your work you are taking on outside of office hours. Just be sure you read your contract, then you know exactly where you stand with your current employer. As Lindsay Van Thoen of the Freelancer’s Union eloquently put it:

The trick is making sure that your freelance life doesn’t interfere with your day job. As someone who’s juggled freelance & full-time before, I can say that this is tricky. The temptation to check your private email account at work can be rough; this is why it’s so important to set expectations with your clients so they know that you’re not available at certain times.

Do you have experience of transitioning from full-time to freelance? We would love to hear your stories, so get in touch and leave a comment in the box below.

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Rosie Allabarton

Rosie Allabarton

Contributer to the CareerFoundry Blog