Knowing when to make the move to full-time freelance work can be a difficult decision. Making the move too soon can lead to added risk that most people would prefer to avoid. On the other hand, a fear of taking that risk often leads to waiting longer than necessary. With that in mind, this article discusses 10 signs that you are ready to make the move to full-time freelancing.
The information in this article assumes that you are currently working a full-time job. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case, especially with changing economic conditions. If you’re without a job and you’re looking into freelancing as a possible way to earn a living you may be forced into full-time freelancing earlier than you would otherwise prefer. But for the purpose of this article we will be looking at a situation where you are able to dictate when you give up the full-time job and move to freelancing.
If you’re struggling with the decision of when to move to full-time freelancing, these ten signs may be indicating that you are ready.
1. You Have Money Saved in Case of a Slow Start
Almost every designer that makes the transition from full-time employee to full-time freelancer will experience a short-term drop in income. Setting up the business and finding some clients can take a little bit of time, so unless you have work lined up before you leave the full-time job you will most likely have a reduced income at first. Of course, there are exceptions to this and it’s possible that you could immediately start making enough money to live on, but it’s best to be prepared by setting aside money to cover your living expenses for a few months in case of a slow start.
How much money you need to save will of course depend on your own situation and your expenses. It will also be influenced by your family situation. For example, if you have a spouse that earns enough money to cover most of the family’s expenses you will have more flexibility. If you’re responsible for the only income in the family and you have a few kids to support you’ll have less flexibility.
2. You’re Able to Deal with Some Instability in Income
One of the biggest differences between working as an employee and working as a freelancer is the stability of income. As an employee you know you will be getting paid a specific amount every two weeks, or maybe every month. But as a freelancer your income will fluctuate depending on the projects that you are working on and times at which you will be paid by the client throughout those projects.
There may be months where you make a lot more than you would have made in a full-time job, and there may be other months where you make very little. Some people have no problem dealing with an unstable income and planning for those slow times, but others would prefer to simply know what they are going to be paid and when it will happen.
If the thought of not knowing how much money you are going to make is something that you might not be able to handle, full-time freelancing probably isn’t for you. But in many cases this instability is something that you can learn to manage and even appreciate, as it gives you the opportunity to earn more than you could with a full-time job.
3. You Have More Potential Clients Than You Can Handle Part-Time
If you’re thinking about moving from full-time employment to full-time freelancing hopefully you have been able to do some freelancing part-time to test the waters before jumping in. If you are turning clients away because you don’t have enough time to dedicate to their projects, that is a good sign that there will be enough demand for your services if you move to full-time freelance.
Of course, you’ll need more projects or higher paying projects if you move to full-time freelance, but you’ll also have more time to market your services (if needed) and you’ll be building a larger client base that could lead to on-going work and referrals. Being able to land clients is obviously one of the most significant factors in being successful as a freelancer, so already having more clients than time is a good sign.
4. You’re Willing to Put in Long Hours
While most people are drawn to freelancing because of the flexibility and freedom that it brings, the truth is that most freelancers work longer hours than the typical full-time employee who works 40 hours a week. From the outside it may seem that freelancers probably get to sleep in and work when they feel like it, but for most freelancers long hours are needed, at least early on.
Although freelancers often work long hours it is not always the case that they have to do so in order to earn a living. Many freelancers enjoy their work much more than they did when working as an employee, and the added freedom to chose which clients you work with and the benefits of seeing more rewards (often financially) for hard work can lead to a desire to work longer hours.
While it may not always be necessary for you to work longer hours as a freelancer, it is something that you should be aware of and you should anticipate it at least in the early months while you are establishing yourself.
5. You Desire More Freedom and Responsibility
If you’ve been working for a design agency or as an in-house designer and you find yourself wishing that you had more freedom to choose the projects that you work on and more responsibility for managing projects, freelancing can provide that for you. Most people want the freedom that freelancing can provide, but not everyone wants the added responsibility that comes along with it. As a freelancer you will be responsible for securing the work, leading the project, doing the design work, communicating with the client, and really anything else that is involved.
As an employee you probably have very little say in what projects you are assigned. Your company lands a new client and it is your responsibility to work on the project whether it is something that interests you or not. As a freelancer you will have the opportunity to pursue projects as you see fit, and if you are in a position where there is a lot of demand for your services you may be able to always be working on projects that interest you.
6. You Have a Portfolio That Shows Your Best Work
Every freelancer needs a strong portfolio, but you don’t have to start from scratch. Depending on the situation with your employer and the clients you may be able to use some of your work from your full-time job in your portfolio. If it’s your work that you are showing off it really doesn’t make much of a difference to potential clients whether you did that work as a freelancer or as an employee. Also, if you’re freelancing part-time on the side you will be able to use those projects in your portfolio, which can help to make the portfolio stronger before going to full-time freelancing. Sometimes freelancers also use personal projects in their portfolio, which is an option if you don’t have client projects that you’re able to include in the portfolio.
If you already have several quality items that you are able to showcase in your portfolio you will be one major step closer to being ready for full-time freelancing. If not, that is something that you should focus on before attempting to freelance full-time.
7. You’re Confident in Your Abilities and in Your Process
If you’re working for an agency you most likely have some co-workers that you can turn to for help or advice when issues arise in your projects. As a freelancer you’ll be on your own. That independence is great in many ways, but you’ll need to be able to get the job done without having a team of co-workers at your disposal. This can be a pretty stressful situation if you’re not confident in your abilities.
In addition to having the ability to get the job done, you’ll also need to develop a process for managing client projects. This includes everything from getting initial details about the project, to determining a price and drafting a proposal, to gathering and organizing client feedback, to invoicing, and everything else in between.
8. You Have Experience Working Directly with Clients
Sometimes by working as an in-house designer or working for an agency you may be shielded from having much direct contact with clients. As a freelancer this is a major part of your job, and in order to be successful you’ll need to be good at working with clients. In an ideal situation you will have some experience working with clients and managing projects before moving to full-time freelance. If you can’t gain this experience through your job (as may be the case with many in-house designers), starting with part-time freelancing while still at your full-time job is a great way to move forward. The experience that you gain from freelancing part-time will help to prepare you without the pressure that you would have if you jump to full-time freelancing without this experience.
9. You’re Willing to Deal with the Finances of Running a Business
Most freelance designers don’t especially enjoy this aspect of running a business, but it doesn’t have to be that bad. There are a ton of tools and apps available that can help with invoicing and managing your finances, and for a one-person operation it’s not going to require a significant amount of your time. If you’re willing to put in the effort to get your finances organized and stay on top of them, you won’t need to be a financial expert.
Despite the fact that it doesn’t need to be that complicated, some people just don’t want to deal with this aspect of business. If that’s the case, full-time freelancing is probably not a good fit.
10. You Have a Strong Professional Network
Having a strong network can help a freelancer in countless different ways. If you’re fortunate enough to have already established a strong professional network before moving to full-time freelancing you will be in a great position. Simply reaching out to people in your network to let them know that you will be moving to full-time freelance work can result in new projects and referrals which will help you to hit the ground running. In addition, you may find some opportunities for mutual benefit that can lead to on-going sources of new clients.
Aside from gaining clients there are a lot of other benefits to having a network. When you’re just getting started as a freelancer you may want to have a few experienced freelancers that you can turn to when you have questions about managing projects, developing proposals and contracts, establishing policies for payment, or even just for getting feedback on your design work.
A network can also be extremely helpful if/when you need to outsource part of a project to someone you can trust. Collaborative projects are also a possibility. In general, a strong network can make the transition to full-time freelancing much more successful and can help you to get through some of the challenges that you’ll face. If you have that strong network already, you are in a good position. If not, try to focus on building some relationships and connections before moving to full-time freelancing.
Don’t Be Afraid to Make the Jump
My personal opinion is that preparation certainly helps to make the transition smooth, but everyone’s situation is unique. If you really want to move to full-time freelance but you don’t have all of these 10 points covered, don’t feel like making the move simply isn’t an option. Many people respond well to the challenge of making it in full-time freelance despite having a few things working against them. Sometimes having a little extra pressure is good for motivation and can lead to better results, but not everyone’s situation allows for taking that kind of risk. Evaluate your own situation and see if you are ready and able to face the challenges before making the jump.
What’s Your Experience?
If you have any advice that you would like to share please leave a comment.