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Whenever I approach a new venture or a change, I like to minimize risk. I prefer taking small and calculated steps rather than big risky ones.
So… rewind about 12 years..
I’d been doing a bit of freelancing online, and was doing OK but not earning anything significant – somewhere in the range of $400-$600 per month. I decided to compress my freelancing projects to Saturdays and evenings, and I took a job at a small wireless networking company.
After a couple of months, my hunger to be doing my own thing was back. See the problem is, I work very quickly and efficiently. I would get my day’s work done in a couple of hours, and spend the rest of the day just passing the time in the office, dreaming about what else I could be doing. Sure – I could always be getting more done, but what for? I wasn’t going to get paid any extra. I guess the passion was lacking, but how passionate can you be about someone else’s venture?
Anyway, after a while I plucked up the courage to go to the Director and tell him that I wanted to leave my employment role but continue working for them in a contract/freelance capacity. The crunch was that I was going to be working remotely and offsite now. I felt confident – I knew I’d proven my value there, and I knew they wouldn’t find someone else with my skill set easily or at the same rates.
After a lot of huffing and puffing about it, the Director agreed. So, what made this happen?
- It was a very small company (4 staff) with reasonably flexible schedules.
- I had already proven my value.
- The work could easily be done remotely.
I would have had much less chance of pulling this off if I’d been in a larger company, particularly if all the employees were working a standard 40 hour week in the office. Even if he’d said no, I could stick it out for longer until I had built up a bigger client list. Worst case – I could fall back on the few freelancing clients I already had. At the time I was 18 and still living with my parents.
As soon as I made my break for it, I was sure to provide that extra bit of value and responsiveness. I didn’t want the Director having second thoughts and coming back to me with reasons why it wasn’t working out.
I then got my work done in 3 solid hours each day, leaving me the rest of the day to look for other projects and grow my business.
So on that note, let’s look at what not to do.
Don’t Quit Your Job!
Don’t hand in your notice because you’ve got a great freelancing idea. Whether you love or hate your job, if you’re here and looking at moving in to freelancing, chances are that your job has run its course. Don’t lose sight of the fact that your job is paying your bills and providing you with a steady and stable income. No matter how great your freelance idea or offering is, it’s just an idea. Don’t chuck it all in for an idea!
Instead, look at ways to gently transition into freelancing in your spare time.
Don’t Spend Any Money!
Don’t spend thousands of dollars on websites, business cards, and home-office furniture. Start by gauging interest and finding potential customers, and don’t spend any money on anything not directly related. There’s this myth that starting a business means:
- Incorporating a business name
- Setting up a beautifully designed website
- Printing business cards in high quality, matte finish
- Getting fancy logos designed and custom stationary printed
- Buying adverts in prestigious (and expensive) magazines and journals
- Setting up Twitter and Facebook pages
- Trademarking your business name
- Setting up business phone lines and automated messaging systems
Don’t do it! You’re keeping busy doing “businessy-type-stuff” in the hope that clients will just arrive and start giving you money. They won’t. You’ll waste a month, spend thousands of dollars and get no closer to finding real paying clients.
What you really need:
- An email account
- A computer
- A phone
And if you want to get slightly more fancy:
- A domain name ($10/year)
- Hosting ($5/month)
- A WordPress website and theme (free)
That’s it. You’re now set up in business and ready to start finding clients willing to pay you to solve their needs. The rest of it comes much later down the line, when there is a very specific purpose and benefit in having those things. Get out and start talking to some clients with problems that you can solve. Find them on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, freelance sites and niche forums.
Don’t Steal Clients!
Don’t phone up clients at your current job, tell them you’re starting out on your own and ask if they want to jump ship with you. Worst case, you’ll end up in financial and legal trouble due to non-solicitation or non-compete clauses in your employment contract. Best case, you might win some clients and leave a bad taste in the mouths of your employer or your new clients.
Your employer’s clients are company property. You can’t steal them any more than you can walk out with your office desk and PC.
Hope for The Best, Plan For The Worst
Make sure you have savings set aside and a path back to a job if necessary, even if only temporarily. Specifically, don’t burn your bridges with your boss or co-workers. Tempting as it might be, don’t tell your manager to “go f* himself”, as you never know when you might want a reference or the opportunity to go back.