By Rhonda Campbell
Earning an income performing freelance work is becoming increasingly popular, but the gig is not for the faint at heart. You’re not going to get a regular paycheck simply because you spent eight hours sitting in an office. Land the wrong clients, and you burn through 16 hours of back breaking work only to hear “Can you do one more revision?” from the client, followed by, “We’ll pay you after you do another revision.” Yet, those downsides aren’t taking the sexy out of contract work.
Already, about one in three Americans freelance. If employers continue to send jobs offshore and acquire other firms then lay workers off to recoup some of the associated purchase costs, don’t be surprised if the number of people who freelance increases.
Types of freelance jobs skilled and confident professionals like you take on include contract work and consulting jobs. Think marketing consultant, contracted happiness manager (yes! there are happiness manager jobs), outsourced recruiter and offsite insurance agent.
Why do employers find freelancers attractive? Most labor laws don’t require employers to pay freelancers’ benefits, including health insurance, worker’s compensation or unemployment insurance. Employers also generally don’t have to provide freelancers with a place to work. (Note: If you think you’re an employee who’s been misclassified as a freelancer, check out the Bureau’s Wage and Hour Division.)
Freelance success doesn’t come to everyone
Employer advantages aside, there is little as empowering as being able to decide the type of work you’ll take on and when and where you will work. Imagine telling your boss “no” when she ask you to perform a task you don’t like. Imagine having a dozen or more bosses, and having the ability to decide which bosses you want to let go, should one or two of them start making unreasonable demands on you.
Experienced contractors have the power to call those types of shots. They also have concerns that employees don’t have to deal with. For starters, whether you compliment the salary that you earn from a traditional full-time job with one or more freelancing gigs or contract full-time, to be successful, you’re going to have to build a reputable client list.
It could take months, sometimes longer, to consistently generate enough income to cover all of your expenses. (Looking for guidance with expense tracking? This might help.)
If you’re short on resilience, contract work may not be for you. To build your client list and start earning money, consider attending local networking events. Chamber of Commerce, eWomen networks, industry membership organizations and college alumni associations hosts networking event that you could attend and distribute business cards and introduce your services to paying members. (You can find information on the National Chamber of Commerce and upcoming events here.)
However, attending networking events doesn’t drum up business for everyone. If freelancing proves to be a good fit, you may have to try different strategies until you find a strategy that works best for you. I encourage you not to stop trying if being an independent professional is the right fit for you, that’s a big IF.
Be honest with yourself when answering these questions
To find out if the freelance lifestyle is a good fit, research trends for freelance jobs you want to work. Also, speak with people who are already doing the type of freelance work you want to do. Get clear and ask these people about steps they took to build their clientele, where they go to source for open gigs and how they manage their cash flows. Hear the downsides and the challenges that they share with you as much you hear the advantages and benefits. Don’t put up blinders, as these could come back to haunt you.
If the feedback that you receive from experienced freelancers doesn’t scare you off, you could be on the right track. Other signs that you may be ready to freelance full-time include a desire to get out and network with business owners. Working as a freelancer is similar to owning your own company. It’s not the time to be shy.
You’re going to need the confidence to step right up to business leaders, including executives at the helm of Fortune 500 firms, and tell them about your services. You’re going to have to become comfortable with selling yourself. It should only take you 30 seconds to get your point across.
Success as a freelancer could also be yours if you possess a willingness to take more control of your taxes and the ability to focus and work 8 to 10 hours a day 5 to 6 days a week from home. Additional signs that you may be ready to freelance full-time are:
• For you, business acumen is as strong as your talent or craft.
• Marketing your services appeals to you.
• You have a minimum of eight months of gross income saved.
• Inner beliefs that limit the amount of money you’ll let yourself receive aren’t a part of your experience.
• Only networking online is not for you.
• Talking with other people feels natural.
• The quality of your services is unsurpassed.
• Continuing to learn is right up your alley.
• You know what a job contract looks like and you understand contract legalese.
• Should you need it, you know where to go to get legal support.
• You’ve done your research and understand tax deductions that you can take advantage of as a freelancer.
• You have the space and the lifestyle to support a full-time freelance career.
• Managing a budget effectively is something you have been doing for years.
If you have a history of working in sales and also have strong administrative skills (you’ll need those to organize paperwork, file important documents, etc.), a freelance career could prove perfect. Why? You’re going to have to keep detailed records to accurately track your expenses, understand which client relationships are profitable and stay abreast of legal filings. Don’t go it alone. Seek out a mentor, someone who doesn’t feel threatened by your future success.
Ask questions and be flexible. After all, what works for you during the first few months of your freelance career might not bring in the dough should market changes occur. Above all, should freelancing prove right for you, commit to regularly marketing yourself and your skills (not to mention be consistently confident and uncommonly resilient) to gain clients. The rewards could be huge.
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