This is a guest post from my friend Jeffrey who recently quit his day job to become a full-time freelancer. You can check out his writer site to find his work all over the web.
Freelancing full-time means no pay unless you find your work, constantly dealing with clients’ needs, and increased expenses for health care and taxes, too. Terrifying, right?
I’m not going to tell you full-time freelancing is easy or always incredibly lucrative from the get-go, but I can tell you that it’s been incredibly rewarding and well worth the challenges.
Here are my best tips for leaving your job and turning your side-gig into a freelance career.
Know why you want it
Earlier this year, I achieved my dream of quitting my job and going freelance full-time. I’ve always valued flexibility and my free time over the money or stability of a job, and this helped me find the motivation to leave my job as soon as I could afford to.
My major reasons for freelancing: working on my terms with the freedom to live and travel before retirement, wherever and whenever I want. For example, I just camped for 3 days without turning on my cell phone or computer even once. Now I’m writing this post in Colorado where I’ll be for 2 weeks without having to worry about conserving vacation days at a desk job.
You need to think about what gets you motivated and excited. Just being sick of your job won’t cut it. Maybe it’s being your own boss and only wanting to work on things you’re excited about. Or do you want to work at home because you have kids? Decide your own reasons, and you’ll be much more likely to succeed as a freelancer.
Make saving money a priority
Having savings as a cushion is, without a doubt, the best decision I made prior to quitting my job. If you’re planning to make freelancing your primary income, I’d definitely recommend planning and saving as far ahead as possible.
I paid off $6,000 in student debt by December 2011 and saved another $7,000, all in less than a year and before I quit my job in May 2012. This would provide about 6 months of living expenses for me while covering gaps in payment from my freelance work.
Here’s my nearly foolproof plan I used for hitting a goal like this:
- Set a concrete goal – If your goal is to quit your job and freelance full-time, set a target number for savings then set a target date to quit your job. Be serious about committing to quit your job by then.
- Cut spending – While I don’t live a ridiculously-frugal life, I get by on a reasonable budget each month. I lived in the cheapest apartment out of all my friends, never ate out for lunch at work, and I own a bike instead of a car. You don’t have to do these exact things, but the lower your monthly expenses, the better. This will help after you make the leap, too.
- Increase income – Not only is starting out freelancing part-time necessary before trying to make it a full-time option, but freelancing will increase your income and help reach your savings goal faster.
- Automate – Making the goal automatic was a huge factor towards making this a success. I saved 50% (about $700) of my paycheck every two weeks by setting up an automatic transfer to a savings account. Don’t rely on memory, set up a system.
Line up just enough freelance work
Instead of just quitting your job and attempting to live off zero income until you figure things out, I like the approach of what I call being a “part-time quitter.”
The idea is that you’ll have enough income from your freelancing gigs to cover your monthly living expenses. Trying to fully replace your income may take longer than necessary is a drag if you’re miserable at your job.
Plus, I don’t recommend completely booking yourself up and potentially being overwhelmed with work. For me, freelancing is about improving quality of life, not just money, so I didn’t want to jump into filling my days with work and feeling like I was back at a full-time job.
In my case, I wanted to have some time to enjoy the summer, so I was happy to work a little but not afraid to rely on savings a bit. My freelance work only took about 15 hours a week to complete when I first left my job, and this allowed me to travel and explore a lot more than if I’d had double or triple just the amount of work. Now I’m increasing my work load as I settle into my new lifestyle.
Be mentally ready
Making the switch is going to provide some challenges no matter how prepared you are. Your life might not be exactly as you imagined after leaving your job.
If you’ve taken a cut in your income, there are going to be times when dealing with money will be stressful. You may hit periods when freelance income slows down a bit, too. I’ve kept myself up at night a few times worrying over this, but having the 6 months of living expenses saved up eventually allows me to relax.
Also, having my fund allows me to make level-headed decisions and avoid undesirable freelance clients that I’m not excited to work with. I have faith in the process, and giving myself more time to get it all figured out is well worth the money I have saved.
Of course the whole experience of quitting your job and striking out on your own is incredibly invigorating. Even if things are a bit tumultuous, don’t forget to take it all in and enjoy the ride.
Have you thought about freelancing full-time and quitting your job? What’s stopping you from making the leap?