Shop Talk: Freelancing (How Not To Do It)

shoptalk copyI cringe every time I hear about hopeful writers who’ve just quit their day job to start a freelance career — BEFORE they have any steady freelance income rolling in. BEFORE they have any backup savings set aside for an emergency. BEFORE they’ve meticulously thought things through and battle-planned out how they’re going to stay afloat. Listen, how you make the leap to freelancing full-time can have a huge impact on whether or not you ultimately succeed.

Enthusiasm and drive are great things, but you can’t go all kamikaze and play fast-and-loose with your work life OR your income stream. You need a plan — even if it’s just a fluid one.

I still maintain that, unless you’re independently wealthy or are in a situation where someone else is footing the bill for your living expenses, the best way to transition into the freelance life is to dabble in it part-time while you hold down a steady job. You want to ease into the waters, not belly flop your way in upside-down.

Don’t quit your job and THEN decide “Hey, I’m going to be a freelance writer, wheee!” Yeah, NO. That’s setting yourself up for a big heaping spoonful of failure and frustration stew.

It takes time to:

  • Build a steady income stream from multiple freelance sources
  • Establish a baseline savings fund for emergencies
  • Get a feel for the ins-and-outs of the freelance life
  • Get a handle on the day-to-day business end of things

You really should do all of those things before you seriously consider making a go of freelancing full-time. Even then, it’s important to make sure you have enough steady work and potential sources of fresh work to be able to pick up the slack when you do eventually transition. This means giving yourself that oh-so-important room to settle-in and establish a foundation to build off from. You can’t do that if you dive in blindly. I know it’s tempting. Believe me.

Back when I was pushing towards taking the plunge, I was working full-time as a news reporter while pitching freelance work on the side. Once I landed those first few paying assignments and got a taste of freelancing, all I wanted to do was cut loose and focus on it full-time. But I knew that was dangerous, so I waited, and pushed, and saved, and planned, and worked my ass off.

About a year or so later, I was working close to 60+ hours a week between freelancing and daytime work. I had a few steady freelance gigs and was making decent earnings every month from freelancing. Then I got to the point where I had more freelance work opportunities on my plate than I had time to tackle. That’s when I made the decision to cut loose and dive into freelancing full-time. I made the leap and never turned back.

Point is: you have to build a long enough runway and gain enough speed before you can take off. Otherwise…FOOM! Crash and burn.

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4 thoughts on “Shop Talk: Freelancing (How Not To Do It)

  1. Hi Nathan!

    This is exactly what I am living now, working part time and tackling some freelance work, preparing myself to dive in working freelance full time by the end of the year and yes, it is really tempting to quit the part time job,

    It seemed that you made this article for me, since the timing was perfect lol. For this, thank you for sharing it :).

    • Thanks for commenting and glad this post jived with your own experiences. You really only want to take the plunge once, so it’s good to make sure you’re fully ready before doing so! Stick with it, and you’ll get there soon! Good luck!

  2. Some folk will tell you that you should have living expense saved for no fewer than three months — but I advise much, much more. At least six, and I would go for one year if you’re serious about becoming a full-time freelancer.

    • Yeah, totally! Sock it in the bank and don’t touch it. And keep doing that for as long as you can before it’s “go time.” Six months to a year is a pretty good idea.

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