You’ve been working hard over the past few months. Meeting work deadlines by day and learning to code by night. Between your 9-5 and time spent brushing up on your skills, you’ve lost touch with what it feels like to have free time – but your design portfolio certainly isn’t complaining. All of this, just to prepare yourself to go freelance__. So when are you finally going to commit?

Why Are So Many People Turning To Freelancing?

People around the world are increasingly turning to freelancing. In the U.S. alone some53 million people, or 34 percent of the workforce, freelance, up from 42.6 million in 2004. In the U.K. 4.6 million professionals, or 14 percent of the workforce, are freelancing, up from 3.9 million in 2008.

What’s driving workers to go independent? There are plenty of reasons why people are breaking away from their office jobs, not the least of which is the ability to ditch the office suit (and occasionally work in their pajamas). Here are just a few benefits driving our students here at CareerFoundry to leave their office jobs in order to become freelancers:

  • A flexible work schedule
  • Control over their salary
  • Opportunity to make a name for themselves in their field
  • Ability to learn a vast amount in a short time
  • Freedom to work from anywhere, be it the beach, the train – or even thousands of meters above sea level in a hang glider (note: CareerFoundry does not condone coding while soaring through the air)

Are these benefits essential to your work-life balance? Do you see yourself succeeding as your own boss? Are you ready to go it alone? Here are a few steps to help you on your way to freelancing.

How to put an end to your 9-5 and go freelance

Leaving your office job to take up freelancing will require a certain amount of planning – and doggedness. To succeed as your own business, you’ll need to come to a deep understanding of your work and your working style, sharpen your networking skills, and build up your confidence. Below are seven steps we use to guide students who aim to go independent. Let’s get to it!

1. Practice setting (and sticking to) goals

Once you leave your office job and go freelance, you’ll have no one pressuring you to complete tasks or strive to make your numbers. As an independent contractor, that job will now fall to you!

Before you leave your office job and go completely freelance, get yourself in a freelancer’s groove by setting daily goals. A great way to do this is to spend a few minutes each evening making a list of three crucial tasks to complete the next day. To start, your goals might simply be to connect with X amount of people on LinkedIn, or email X number of contacts about your availability for new projects. Form a habit of sticking to these small goals now, and down the line large goals like building X number of webpages for a client won’t make you break a sweat.

2. Beat the competition: define your niche

In between working at your day job, brushing up on Ruby, and networking with potential clients (no one said freelancing was easy!), take time to research your competitors. What are their selling points? What are their weaknesses? How can you make your offerings stand out?

For example, maybe a competitor with a similar skill set presents himself as an all-around skilled developer, but doesn’t do a good job of explaining the particular tasks he excels at. If this is the case, you might want to focus on a particular task, or niche, that you specialize in, like optimizing load times for web development. Or, if you specialize in working with certain business types, like startups, retailers, or sports-related businesses, you might consider offering them special pricing packages. Defining a niche at the beginning can help launch your freelance career for a number of reasons:

  • It makes you easier to find: Using targeted, little-used keywords for niche services can give you more exposure within LinkedIn and Google Search. For example, there is slightly less competition for “WordPress developers” than for a “web developers.”
  • Your skills are in demand: as a specialist, few or no competitors will provide exactly the same services you offer
  • You can charge a higher rate: since your services are more in demand, you’ll often be able to charge a higher rate than a generalist > Did you know? There is slightly less competition for WordPress developers than for web developers. > > > > Lindsay Van Thoen of The Freelancer’s Union gave us some great advice: > > > > “I think the single most important thing is to set the right project or hourly rate. Many new freelancers charge what they got at their 9-5, and don’t account for extra things like marketing, taxes, healthcare, etc. New freelancers also tend to try to stand out from the competition based on price, not understanding that in most fields, you’re competing based on value. If you’re in a field that heavily competes on prices, you should try to specialize to differentiate yourself rather than lowering your price. [tweet_dis]So take what you think you should charge…and just add 50%.[/tweet_dis] This can sound like bad advice for a new freelancer who’s just trying to stay afloat in the first couple months, but unless you’re brand new to the working world, you should not be charging less!” 

3. Build your network

Once you’ve decided the services you’d like to offer, it’s time to make a name for yourself. Build your network by letting everyone you know – friends, family, co-workers – that you’re on the market for freelance work. You can also reach outside of your network by attending local networking events (Meetup.com is a great resource) and turning to your alumni directory. Even if the people you get in touch with aren’t looking for your design or development services now, they might be able to put you in touch with someone who does. And, if you do your job well, they will keep you in mind in the future when they do need your services.

Next get your name out there by filling out your social profiles with your new job skills : take advantage of the projects feature on LinkedIn to highlight your work and add in your skills and your freelancer title to your existing social profiles, i.e. Facebook, Twitter, Behance, Instagram, Tinder – just kidding about that last one. Kind of.

During all of this network-building, don’t forget your niche! Your niche, your skills, and your personality are all part of your personal brand. Determine what kind of experience you’ll strive to offer your clients, and make sure to describe that in all of your communications.

4. Get experience

In order to go freelance, you’ll need to have clients to freelance for. Don’t wait until you’ve left your job to start seeking projects. Take advantage of your time as a salaried employee to build your Rolodex. Email friends, family, previous co-workers and other contacts about your career change, and ask them if they could use any help from someone with your skill set. For example, if your mother’s friend runs a DIY blog, you could offer to develop a mobile-friendly version of her website. Maybe your first few gigs will be unpaid, but the experience and positive referrals you’ll receive can serve as a springboard to future paid jobs.

5. Set your rate

Once you’ve worked your first gigs you should be able to estimate the number of hours you’ll spend on different tasks, which will play a big role in helping you set your rate.

To determine how much to charge clients, you’ll need to make a budget that outlines all you need to maintain your standard of living. This includes:

  • Everything you need to live (rent, heat, food, health insurance, an emergency fund)
  • What you need for work (electricity, coffee, special equipment)
  • Things you want (spending money for the occasional night on the town, that new pair of running shoes you’ve been drooling over)
  • Taxes and fees you’ll owe

Add up these expenses, and you’ve determined the minimum amount you should strive to make each month.

Next determine how many hours you want to work on projects each month (remember that as a freelancer you will spend a lot of your time networking, maintaining your personal brand, chasing clients, and administering accounts, so you will probably spend fewer hours each week actually working on projects). Divide the sum of your monthly expenses by the number of hours you’ll spend working on projects each month, and you’ll have the minimum rate you should charge per hour.

And what’s great about freelancing is that over time as you gain more referrals you’ll be able to charge a higher rate!

6. Line up your first big project

Once you’ve gained your first clients, mapped out your expenses, and set your hourly rate, you’re approaching the end of your full-time job and the start of your career as a freelancer. The only question left is this: when are you going to take the plunge?

Determine the safety net you’d feel comfortable living with, a develop a timeline for leaving your job based on how long it will take you to build that net. For example, some freelancers plan to save up a financial pillow large enough to live off of for three months after going solo. This gives them enough time to put their freelancer wheels in motion. Other freelancers feel more comfortable with a safety net they could survive on for an entire year.

My tip to you? Make sure that your safety net is large enough so you are not stressed about the necessities (freelancers gotta eat!), but not so large that you have no financial motivation to find work. If you’ve done your homework and build your network, saving three months’ worth of grocery and rent money is a fair enough way to prepare yourself to quit your day job. Just land your first big project, and go for it!

7. Understand that you might fail

Freelancing is a marathon, not a sprint. The process of finding clients and completing projects will have its ups and downs, and succeeding as a freelancer will not happen overnight. Some weeks it might seem like your work will never end, while other times will bring anxiety-inducing dry spells. Unhappy clients will come your way from time to time, and not every job will work out the way you hope.

Make sure to leave room for error (this is where your financial safety net and emergency fund come in) and be prepared to motivate yourself through failure. At some point, though, you have to throw caution to the wind and put yourself out there. Your freelancer self is waiting!

Jump in at the deep end: go freelance

Kate Hamill, a freelance writer with the Freelancers Union gave us this advice:

“If you really want to go freelance full-time, and you’ve already gotten a few clients - build up some savings, do your research, and jump. It’s never going to feel like the ‘perfect’ time!”

If you’ve made it this far, chances are you are ready to bet on your abilities as a creative business leader and go freelance. By setting goals, constantly honing your skills, targeted networking, and careful financial planning, freelancing could soon become a stable source of income for you.

Interesting in kick-starting your freelance career? Consider signing up with CareerFoundry. All CareerFoundry students are matched with mentors in the industry who know exactly what it takes to make it as a freelancer. Learn more about CareerFoundry courses today.