When I quit my full-time job to freelance, my friends and parents thought I was crazy.
- “How are you going to make money?”
- “Where will you find clients?”
- “Why didn’t you get another job, at least as a safety net until you’re really ready?”
I put on a brave face, but truth was, I had no idea what the answer was for any of these questions.
I had just quit my full-time job, with benefits and insurance and a regular paycheck, to break into the world of freelancing as a self-taught coder.
I was not prepared. All I had was high aspirations and a couple of books on consulting.
I made a lot of mistakes.
I had no idea how to prioritize my time. I didn’t even know what to prioritize.
I was used to people telling me what to do. I had experience getting deadlines, not setting them.
I didn’t know how to talk to clients, let alone find them.
I had a runway, a cushion of savings, but not nearly enough for someone so incredibly unprepared to start a freelancing business.
On top of all that: once I did find and land my first client — I massively undercharged my services and undersold my value.
Here’s what I wish I had done instead, so you can successfully transition into freelancing while you still have the safety net of your full-time job.
Step 1: Start thinking like a freelancer. One who has a full-time job on the side.
This is a simple mindset change: your full-time job is no longer your life. It is not where you will be next year. It is not where you are stuck, living out the rest of your days.
Your job is the rest stop between now and the flexibility and freedom that comes from freelancing.
Remind yourself of this every day that you go to work.
Then, begin thinking like a freelancer. A freelancer has to juggle priorities and stay motivated with a packed plate. A freelancer needs to know what next steps to take, and how to stick to deadlines without anyone breathing down your shoulders.
Consider these aspects, and try them on.
Give yourself projects with deadlines. Do them. Pretend they are for clients.
Step 2: Decide who your target clients will be.
Who do you want to work with? Small businesses? Local coffee shops? B2B marketing firms? Sole proprietors in a certain niche?
Do research on the types of clients you want to serve.
Make sure they fit the following qualifications:
- They have the ability to pay (so don’t pick, say, brand new start-ups).
- They have real, burning business needs that you can solve with your skills.
- They are niche enough that you can offer specific, tailored services — this will help you stand out from the competition and give you a leg up. You become the natural first choice for very specialized problem.
If you find a target client that doesn’t fit all three qualifications, pick a different one.
Don’t get hung up or married to any particular client fit just yet. You’re exploring the field, testing the grounds.
Step 3: Decide what services you will offer.
Think about your range of skills. Are you able to create beautiful websites? Amazing UI? Great.
Now, what specific services do you want to offer to your target client? More importantly, though: what specific services would your target client want, no, need from you?
Think back to your research in Step 2. Consider reaching out to a couple potential future clients, and testing your ideas on them.
Ask them for a 15-minute call or a 30-minute coffee meeting. Let them know you’re just curious to learn more about their business and what they do.
It’s not a sales pitch, it’s an inquiry. You’re learning.
Try to take yourself out of the equation and explore what your clients want from you, versus what you want to offer your clients.
This will help ensure that when you launch your business, you will have clients knocking down your door to get access.
Step 4: Consider how you will deliver your services.
There’s a lot to think about when it comes to service delivery.
You have a lot of options. This is your opportunity to get creative.
For example, you can productize your services.
You can build out on-going, monthly service options that bring you recurring revenue.
You can partner up with similar service providers and double your access to potential clients.
You can create add-ons to any of the options above.
Deciding how you will deliver your services is a fun process, a brainstorming session that will continue as you progress through your transition (and continue into your actual freelancing as well).
Step 5: Start connecting with influential people who can make introductions and referrals to high value clients.
Influential people will be the 1 most important playing card for your successful freelancing business.
By building authentic connections with influencers, you gain access to powerful introductions and referrals to high-value clients. You meet high powered mentors who can propel your business forward. Last but not least, you increase your own social standing and can market to a higher class of client who pays premium prices.
Starting to build these relationships now, while you are still at your full-time job, is the best possible thing you can do to ensure the success of your business once you put in your 2-weeks notice.
To start, find people who are influential to you. Connect with them on social media and follow their blogs or websites.
Do the same for people who are influential to your clients. To do this, see who your clients are tweeting and following on Twitter, or “liking” on Facebook.
Then begin building relationships by offering value to these people. You can do this by:
- Leaving comments on blog posts about specific takeaways
- Taking any and all advice given via email newsletters or blog posts, then report back with the results you got
- Sending new clients or introductions their way
Building solid, authentic relationships takes time. It’s important to start now, while you still have the security of your job.
Now it’s time to take action.
At this point, you have five action steps to take.
Here’s how you can start taking those steps today:
- Make a slight mindset shift and think of yourself as a freelancer who happens to have a full-time job on the side, a rest stop between now and when you’re freelancing.
- Pull out a notebook or spreadsheet and begin exploring potential client options. Make sure they hit the top three qualifiers: they can pay, you can help them, and they are niche enough that you can tailor specific services to them.
- Think about what specific skills you will offer as services, based on your research from action step 2.
- Start brainstorming the ways you will deliver your services to your clients. Explore options. Go online and see how other people are doing it. How can you go one step further and do it even better, or more different?
- Find influencers who impact you, and influencers who impact your future clients. Begin getting on their radar, and start slowly building authentic connections with them by providing value any way that you can.
Now that you have these action steps, you can start your transition from your full-time job to freelancing.
You’ll be able to hit the ground running once you put in your resignation.
You’ll be able to tap into a new, extraordinary network of strong influential people who are now ready to help YOU since you’ve spent time providing value to them.
All it takes is five simple steps.