I want to become a freelancer — what should I do?

Closing the door on your day job and becoming a full time freelancer may sound like a dream. That entrepreneur bone rooted deep inside of you may be tugging at you to ‘start your own thing’ while you’re sitting at your 9–5.

Taking leaps and risks like leaving the comfort of a day job is good for your soul, but it’s also important to be smart about which risks you take.

For example quitting your job and buying a house at the same time isn’t a very smart risk. Nor is not buying your partner a Christmas present in the hope that Santa Claus will do it for you. Risky.

Overlap

Anytime someone tells me they’re thinking of making the leap from day job to full time freelance, I always ask them if they’re already freelancing on the side.

Surprisingly — the majority aren’t. They may have dabbled in a project here and there for a family member or close friend, but not much else. To these aspiring freelancers, I always give the same advice:

Before making the jump, start overlapping. Pick up freelance projects in the mornings, nights or weekends, while still showing up at your day job.

Overlapping is not only a great way to test the waters to see if you actually enjoy freelancing, but also prepares your mind for making the inevitable jump. It helps you explore and fail from the comfort of your day job supporting you financially.

Leaving a day job to pursue freelance with zero experience in freelancing is one of those risks that just isn’t smart. If it is something that you’re going to do, at least making sure you have a good financial runway first so you can afford to take time to find your feet.

Finding your feet

Whether you’re overlapping with the day job or all in — finding your feet as a freelancer can take a few tumbles and turns. Freelancing is business, and business isn’t easy. Announcing on twitter “I’m available for freelance projects!” and not doing much else isn’t going to work well for you in the long run.

To help find your feet, it helps to develop a long term mindset. What do you want your freelancing business to look like two or five years from now? What are the goals you want to achieve, and how can you start working towards them?

Putting a tweet out on Twitter is a short term strategy. Within 30 seconds it’s no longer in view on people’s timelines and it’s over. Investing in a long term strategy and finding your feet in terms of where you’re at and where you want to be, will steer you on a path to win big — and keep that pipeline filled.

Invest in yourself

If you’re freelancing for the first time chances are you’re not going to have people flooding your inbox with amazing creative briefs. You’re going to have to put in some hard work first to attract clients and work out what your value is.

Investing the first couple months of freelancing in yourself will pay off. Spend time ironing out your creative process, how you onboard new clients, what your value is, how you’ll price your work, how you’ll charge clients, what systems you’ll need to use, automating your email responses and of course, practicing your creative skills.

Spending this time investing in yourself is going to help you in the long run when it comes to taking on real clients. Instead of fumbling through the first project, you’ll have all your processes in place and be ahead of the game.

Demonstrating your efficiency and effectiveness throughout the process is not only going to save you time, but your clients as well. In my experience, they’ll be pretty grateful that you know how to steer the ship.

5 things every new freelancer should do

So if you’re new to freelancing here’s some things you can do to prepare yourself for client work:

Create a portfolio website
What type of audience do you think you’ll attract if you’re only showing your work on Behance or Dribbble? From experience, the majority of people who spend time on those sites are designers themselves.

As a freelancer, you want to be attracting clients, not other designers who are in search for some eye candy. Creating a portfolio website for yourself positions you as a professional and also makes you more discoverable. This gives you more freedom and flexibility to communicate how you work, show your work and make it easy for leads to contact you.

Write case studies about past projects
Create something at design school you’re super proud of? Maybe you’ve got a side project that you’ve been working on. Creating case studies is a great way to show your work and talk a bit more in depth about the project, challenges and opportunities within it.

Case studies are more than just a little introduction to the project — go deep and explain what decisions you made during the creative process and why. Talk about the challenges you faced in the project, and perhaps how you overcame them. Here’s an example.

Work out your value
What uniqueness and value do you have to offer to clients? How are you going to price your work? Whether it’s per hour, a day rate or via value based pricing (which I recommend), you’re going to need to work out the value of your time and skills. Once you have, communicate that in the form of a creative process or services you offer on your portfolio. You can also collect and use testimonials from past clients.

Create a client onboarding process
How will you manage and deal with clients? What is your sales process going to be? Ironing out how you’ll communicate the client and what steps you’ll take to get from initial enquiry to having the client sign the dotted line is going to help make the process smooth for both you and your future clients. Write down a step by step flow and create some proposal, invoice and contract templates in preparation.

Network
The majority of freelancers refer other freelancers for work. Create relationships with those in your industry can lead to not only more work, but friendships (which you’re going to need if you’re working by yourself!) and collaboration. Other freelancers are company, not competition! We can all learn from each other and and have a good time along the way.

Whether you’re overlapping or diving head first into freelancing, spending some time in the beginning on yourself is going to help make working with clients so much easier. Spend time figuring out what your value is, creating an onboarding process, developing website and communicating who you are and what you offer.