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Starting / Business startup

6 things you need to know before quitting your day job to go freelance

Being your own boss, working the hours that take your fancy, only taking on clients you like – this is the soloist’s dream. And it’s a realistic dream. But before you go freelance, you need to know these things.

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The thought of going freelance working for yourself is the ultimate fairy tale for many Australians. But being your own boss, working the hours that take your fancy and only taking on clients that make you want to get out of bed each day is a way of life for a growing number of entrepreneurial creatives.

Take it from someone who’s been a soloist for more than a decade – it’s brilliant. Totally and utterly awesome. I’ve turned down in-house roles over the years because I’m motivated by my professional independence and enjoy being location-independent, which means I can work from my own home office around my family life.

I’m not alone. Australia’s freelance workforce is booming as the notion of work and earning a crust evolves.

Increasing numbers of creative types like copywriters, photographers, web developers, journalists, creative directors, PR folks, editors, filmmakers, producers, software developers and their clever creative cousins are taking advantage of technology improvements to forge a solo career online.

"Take it from someone who’s been a soloist for more than a decade – it’s brilliant. Totally and utterly awesome."

Sound appealing? Well, that’s because it is. But having said that, freelance is not for everyone. Before you take the plunge, consider the following aspects of a soloist’s life to see if it’s something that would suit you.

1. You’ll be working alone. A lot.

The thought of not commuting to work on public transport and instead opening your laptop in your pyjamas at the kitchen table with no one to bother you sounds too good to be true.

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But some creatives that go out on their own will miss that hustle and bustle, because freelancing can be a lonely profession. Often, you’re working from home, isolated from colleagues, apart from when you go for interviews to pitch your services or meet with your clients on the odd occasion. Sometimes, you can go an entire day without talking to anyone. There are ways around the isolation, of course, but you need to consider whether you’re the type of person to cope well with it. Sure, you can head to a café or co-working space, but for all intents and purposes, you’re ultimately still a lone ranger out there. Make sure that you get to know other soloists as these people will become your ‘colleagues’ and sometimes even refer you work.

2. You’ve got to be motivated, or you won’t earn enough to buy groceries

Many assume that when they work for themselves, they’ll be able to take week days off and start work late. And sure, sometimes you can. But it’s often difficult to predict whether or not you’ll be busy in the coming week, so committing to a lunch date is difficult because sure enough, just as you head out the door, you’ll get an urgent call from a client needing something from you quick smart. Or a project will take longer to finalise than you had anticipated.

If you do take time off, you’ve usually got to make up the lost time somewhere. Successful soloists are busy juggling multiple clients and deadlines. And if you’re hoping to be one of them, sometimes you’ll be working in the middle of the night, or before dawn to keep your clients happy. Swings and roundabouts, people.

3. You need to hold yourself accountable

You’re in charge of your destiny when you fly solo. There’s no one around to monitor how much work you’re getting done, or whether you’re meeting your targets. You’ve got to do that yourself. Not getting distracted by housework, making phone calls or scrolling through social media can be hard for some. But if you don’t hold yourself accountable, your work will suffer, and your clients won’t come back. The self-discipline required to consistently chase client leads, quote, do the work, invoice for your time and market yourself is something most people either have, or don’t.

4. You need to know what’s trending

Staying on top of trends in your creative sector will help you stay ahead of the game. This doesn’t mean you waste time trying to figure out everything, but you need to allow time between clients here and there to figure out which trends could impact your business both negatively and positively, and how you can use them to your advantage. This can include new apps and tools to streamline your own processes, a new service offering to add to your website or how to collaborate with other soloists to complement your services.

5. You need to learn to negotiate

You’re in charge of how much you earn now, and failure to negotiate means you’ll be stuck with low rates. There’s no fixed salary with holiday and sick leave, so you’ve got to be able to negotiate reasonable rates for yourself and be prepared to put your prices up as you gain a reputation for yourself.

Having the self-confidence to do this isn’t for everyone, but it’s paramount if you’re going to be successful.

6. There’s more to it than meets the eye

Completing a project for your client is only half of the job of a soloist. There’s a swag of other elements that go into working for yourself that many don’t consider, and how often and well you do these things will determine how much you earn, and how easy you are to find on the interwebs.

These include tasks such as tracking your time, invoicing, quoting, client meetings and marketing yourself by updating your LinkedIn profile and ensuring you have a decent profile online. You want to ensure you’re easy to find when someone needs a freelancer with your skills.

So weigh it up, and decide whether or not you’re the type of person that’s cut out for the solo life before you quit your day job. Being the CEO of your own business is brilliant, but certainly not easier or less work than a day job.

Nina Hendy

is the founder of The Freelance Collective - an online, curated community of talented Australian creative freelancers. She's also a business journalist and wordsmith, available for hire. Connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.

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