Making the decision to go freelance feels like taking a leap into the unknown, but it’s a lot less scary if you lay the right foundations before you take the plunge. Here are some of the things I did when I was preparing to become self-employed; they’re all things you too can be doing while you’re still working full-time to help make the transition go smoothly.
Set up a website
A website is an essential for selling your services, and it’s something you can get in place long before you actually become officially self-employed. Brand new websites don’t tend to rank well in search engines, so the earlier you can get your website up and running, the better. It’s also a great opportunity to start blogging about your area of expertise, which could help bring in sales prospects, as well as giving you a way of demonstrating your knowledge to potential clients.
It’s easy to set up your own website, and it needn’t cost anything thanks to free templates on platforms such as WordPress. You don’t need anything too complicated; a homepage introducing you and your services, an ‘about me’ page, a page with more in-depth information on your services and a contact form will be sufficient to begin with. It’s worth paying for your own domain name rather than using a default free extension such as .wordpress.com, as this will make your site look more professional. Read our advice about getting online to get started.
Build your portfolio
Potential freelance clients are probably going to want to see samples of your work (even as an experienced freelance copywriter, it’s something I’m often asked for), so another thing you can do to prepare is to start putting together a portfolio. If you’re already employed doing the job you want to take freelance, you’ll probably already have some samples to show; it’s just a question of pulling them together into one place, and finding out what you can and can’t talk about (if you work for an agency, some projects may be under a non-disclosure agreement, so be careful about what you share).
If you’re new to the profession, you may not have anything suitable for putting into a portfolio. To this end, it’s a good idea to start taking on small freelance gigs in your spare time to build up experience. Some wannabe freelancers choose to do a few free (or low-paid) jobs for family and friends, or for charity, in order to build a portfolio. Don’t forget to connect with all your clients on LinkedIn, and request recommendations if they’ve been happy with your work; these are great for use as testimonials on your website.
This is a good time to start gaining accreditation in your field. Are there any qualifications or courses you can do to prove you know what you’re talking about? In my case, even though I already had copywriting experience from a full-time job, I also chose to complete a copywriting diploma in my spare time to give me a concrete qualification for my CV. If there are any organisations supporting your profession, these are worth signing up for as well; professional memberships help to instil confidence that you’re serious about what you do.
Business is all about contacts, so engaging in some diligent networking while you’re still employed will pay dividends when you take the plunge into the world of freelancing. Find out what local networking groups there are, not just in your own field but in related fields; for example, as a copywriter I might want to network with digital marketing or design agencies, who are often on the lookout for freelancers. If you’re feeling confident, you could even look out for speaking opportunities that would enable you to share your expertise. It’s a sure way to get yourself noticed, and you’ll come away with plenty of new contacts.
Social media can be a great place for networking, too. You might find, for example, that there’s a networking hour on Twitter for your local area, where you can introduce yourself and contribute to discussions using a particular hashtag (#OxfordHour, for instance). LinkedIn Groups are another good place to get involved in discussions relevant to your industry.
Save some money
Finally, if you’re able to save some money before you go freelance, this will help take the pressure off financially. Even if you’re lucky enough to get lots of work from the word go, it may still be a while before you’re paid – and you’ll always need to factor for delayed payments, which are a fact of life when you’re self-employed. On the other hand, as I found, if you don’t save anything then you’ll have even more of an incentive to make a success of freelancing!