There is something to be said for the comfort of the corporate world. The steady income, 401K, vacation pay, sick leave and many other benefits are all strings that make up the employee safety net. Like many things in life, these bits of security come at a cost. In most cases, employees have their work schedules set by others, vacation time requires a seal of approval, higher-ups are in control of the pay rate and when (or if) pay increases are given.
Maybe you love the corporate world but personal circumstances have you rethinking your options. Are you a new mom wishing to work from home? Are you thinking of retiring but want to continue to work part-time when you do?
While not the only option, becoming a freelancer is certain one option that would allow you to enjoy the freedom and flexibility you desire. To say that making a decision to cross over from employee to freelancer is scary would be a colossal understatement. Before making the leap, take a look at a few things you may or may not have considered.
What you have to offer: Many people think they cannot become a freelancer because they don’t have the skills or experience that is needed. Malarkey! You are providing a service to your current employer and that is the same service you are experienced to provide to others on a freelance basis. You also have extensive knowledge about your personal hobby and other outside interests. Start by writing a list of what you would enjoy doing should you decide to make a living as a freelancer.
How to get started: One benefit to becoming a freelancer is that you don’t have to immediately quit your day job. Starting any other business would require you to dedicate 40+ hours a week to building the new business. With freelancing, you can go on a test drive by taking assignments that can be completed on nights and weekends. This will allow you get your feet wet, collect feedback, develop a time management system and build a clientele. Freelancing part time allows you to slowly build your income level until you are comfortable with cutting ties with your full time employer.
How to determine your worth: A major mistake many freelancers make is undervaluing their work. There is a formula that should be used to determine your hourly freelance rate of pay. While there are many worksheets and rate calculators on the internet that you can use, here is a quick and easy way get a peek at your potential hourly fee.
- Determine what you would like to bring in as your annual income
- Add additional expenses that you may incur such as health insurance, office supplies and retirement savings
- Take that number and divide it by 1000 billable hours (This gives you a 20 hour work week)
The number you receive would be your freelance rate of pay. Of course, this may need to be adjusted based on your geographical area but that is your decision to make. You may also want to consider increasing the rate if your expertise is in a very specialized area.
Hours: The number one reason people have for wanting to venture into freelance work is the ability to create their own work hours. We all have a time of day that we consider our peak performance window. The beauty of freelance is to be able to work in that window every day and to avoid timeframes that are notoriously bad for your productivity. There will be deadlines, so time management is critical. There is a misconception that freelancers work willy-nilly with no set schedule. That may be true for some but not so for successful freelancers. To avoid burning the midnight oil to meet a deadline, you need to have the discipline to set a schedule and stick with it. This will allow you to optimize your work time and still enjoy more quality personal time.
Setting up your office: It is critical for a freelancer (or anyone who works from home) to designate an office area. This should be an area that is not used for anything else. You do not have to have an entire designated room if your living space does not afford that luxury. A shared room space is fine as long as others know when you are working and respect your home office area. It is often necessary to have a change of scenery in order to keep forward motion going on a particularly tedious project. A quiet local coffee shop or a library is a great option if you want something casual. Many cities now offer office space that can be rented by the month, week, day or even hourly if a more structured environment is needed.
Where to find work: Freelance assignment can be found both on and off the internet. Word of mouth is a great way to start catching the eye of local clients. Tell your friends, family and whoever else will listen that you are available for freelance work. Have inexpensive (but impressive) business cards made with all your contact information and keep them on hand at all times. Online, Elance, Ifreelance and freelancewriting.com are just a few of the many sites dedicated to helping freelancers find assignments. Do your homework when using any online service.
Resources: In an office setting, colleagues and bosses often act as your professional support system. As a freelancer you will still need to have resources and support for times when a client may make a request that takes you outside of your area of expertise. This can include online forums as well as local freelancer groups in your geographical area.
Boundaries: The biggest pitfall of freelance work is that you are never away from your office. You must have self-discipline in order to work within your set work hours. It is all too easy to work on the laptop during family television time or to bring work to bed with you. This alone will be the biggest contributor to achieving freelance burnout. If you set your work schedule, use good time management skills and set reasonable deadlines with your clients than there is no reason for your personal life to suffer. After all, isn’t that why you are considering freelancing in the first place?
Tough decisions are never easy. Take time to weigh the pros and cons. Freelancing is a great option for many and not an option at all for others. Where your career path will take you is for you to decide. You are in charge; you are your own boss.
Michele Lawson, Contributor