The “decision” to start working freelance wasn’t entirely mine. Due to a toxic work environment, I quit my job. I was suddenly out of work at 23 years old with little saved and no backup plan, but with a lot of knowledge and skills that I’d been building up over the last year. I had worked about a mile from my house, so I would walk every day. I couldn’t find another job that was within that distance and couldn’t afford a car. Instead, I drifted for a while, getting a few small writing jobs to earn some money. I slowly came to realize that I had the resources within myself to freelance and make money doing what I’d always wanted to do – web design and photography. All I needed were the external resources.
The transition definitely wasn’t smooth and isn’t close to being over. But I genuinely believe the worst of it is behind me. That being said, there are a lot of things I wish I knew before that shift in my life happened. If you’re thinking about quitting your day job or even think it may be a possibility, read this list of things I wish I’d known and prepared for. If may make your transition smoother!
Have Money Saved Up
Every list like this will touch on this. And that’s because it’s probably the most important thing to consider. I quit my day job six months ago and I’m still not breaking even. I wish I had been better about putting away savings before I found myself unemployed. Even though I’m working constantly, the first year or so of freelancing and/or starting your own business involves a lot of work you won’t get paid for. Take writing this blog post, for example. No one is paying me to do it. But blogging is a great way to drive traffic to your site and build an audience, which will hopefully end up in sales being made.
If you’re thinking of quitting, save some money up so that you have something to live on while you’re building your business up.
No One Cares As Much As You
I’ve realized in the last six months two very important things about running your own business: 1) No one cares about your business and if they do, they don’t care as much as you do and 2) Many people will appear not to care about their own business as much as you care about yours.
To the first point, it seems obvious now, but it’s something I have to keep reminding myself is normal. People can be very kind and may try to help you out, but overall, it’s every man for himself. We all look out for our best interests most of the time. It’s up to you to work hard and not depend on the kindness or weakness of others for you to benefit from. You also have to realize, especially when you’re just starting out, that people are probably not going to take you seriously. I have a lot of clients who don’t hold to deadlines or pay me on time because they don’t see me as a legitimate business. It took me a while not to take it personally.
To the second point, I often get incredibly frustrated when it seems like other business owners aren’t doing what I think is best for them. Having a good website is important! Paying extra for good SEO is important! Quality photographs are important! When clients drag their feet or seem to only want the bare minimum, it makes me feel like I care more about their business than they do. And sometimes, that’s the case when people don’t understand the value of a product or service. The only way I’ve found to solve this problem is to try to educate them and if that doesn’t work, let it go. It’s their business, after all.
Set Up the Little Things Right Away
There is a lot you can do to establish yourself and make your business seem more legitimate to potential clients and supporters. Here are a few things you can do at the very beginning and build upon as you grow so you don’t have to worry about them later.
- Get your website and social media accounts set up. Connect them and make your visuals, bios, etc. consistent across all platforms.
- Get business cards, brush up your resume, portfolio or whatever else you will need to market yourself. If someone happens to approach you about a job, you want everything immaculately prepared right away.
- Build relationships with people in your industry. Keep good friendships and lines of communication open. It’s the first step to networking since the people already in your inner circle know you. Almost all my jobs thus far have come from people I already knew.
- Start practicing and building good habits for yourself. Live your life like you are already super busy, even if you have no projects coming in. Start journaling or blogging. Start tracking your time and keeping a planner of deadlines and things to do. When you do get extremely busy, having all these skills will definitely come in handy.
Research the Technical and Financial Stuff
A lot of the aspects about going into business for myself came as a surprise. That can be embarrassing and set you back a lot. Before setting out on your own, do a good amount of research about what goes into running your own business. Do you need business cards? A website? What kind of tax information will you need to file? How often do you need to file your taxes? What receipts should you be saving? How are you going to track your expenses? Do you need a program for writing up invoices and contracts? Do you need an LLC?
This is only the tip of the iceberg. As a business owner or independent contractor, your responsibilities suddenly go beyond what they were as an employee. Attending business classes can help you get a handle on this kind of thing. Or maybe sit down with an old employer and pick their brains about what kinds of things you should be prepared to look into.