5 Steps To Successfully Transition Into Freelancing While You Still Have A Full-Time Job

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:

  1. They have the ability to pay (so don’t pick, say, brand new start-ups).
  2. They have real, burning business needs that you can solve with your skills.
  3. 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Think about what specific skills you will offer as services, based on your research from action step 2.
  4. 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?
  5. 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.

16 Things You Should Consider Before Going Freelance

Many people dream of being a freelancer: setting your own hours, working from home, and never having to work for a boss again sounds like perfection.

The grass is always greener on the other side, however, and going freelance can be a difficult transition. In this series of education and career interviews, we invite long-time freelancer and entrepreneur Thierry Blancpain, founder of Grilli Type, to talk to us about the hidden struggles of being a freelancer or a consultant, and how to overcome them.

If you’ve been thinking about making the jump to freelance, read this.

The Pros and Cons of Becoming A Freelance Consultant

I worked as a graphic design freelancer before I even went to design school. I was never really a full time employee, but I’ve been a freelancer for a long time, and now have also experienced life as a co-founder and boss. Here are some of the things I’ve learned:

1. Working from home, or by yourself, can be lonely

I worked from home for a long time, but ended up paying so much money to coffee shops that I realized that I could just rent a studio space for that money. Working from home can be isolating and lonely — you don’t have colleagues to talk to, and you have to keep yourself motivated.

Find a place where you can interact and stay in touch with people.

Find a place where you can interact with people, or set up regular dates with colleagues in the field to keep your mental acuity sharp. Sign up for event newsletters and meetup groups to stay in touch with people. Conversation can spark creativity and ideas, and being out in public can generate more client requests.

2. Learn how to create your own structure and schedule

Especially when I didn’t have a deadline, it was sometimes hard to not just go out for drinks with friends and then stay out too long. Working for yourself means it can be hard to get up at the same time each morning.

The best thing I learned was to set a consistent schedule and work regular hours so that I could differentiate between work and play hours.

Ironically, you might begin to miss the rigor of a schedule. So create your own.

Who knew that I’d want the rigor of a schedule again? But remember: there’s also beauty in taking a day off if the right alternative to work presents itself. So stay open to serendipity!

3. Plan ahead for creative “hermit days”

Consider setting up one day a week without any client communication and meetings. I used to mark all Tuesdays months ahead of time as such. Those days help you get things done and move projects forward markedly. Make sure to tell your clients ahead of time, though.

4. It’s up to you to learn how to plan ahead

You need to find new clients months before your old projects are actually finished. Both acquisition and ramping up projects takes time, and so if you have a project that’s supposed to start in September, it will often start in November. Plan accordingly.

5. Planning is important enough I’ll say it again: plan ahead

You will need around 20% of your time for administrative tasks. Plan and offer projects accordingly. I add a blanket 20% admin cost on top of anything I offer my clients. Meetings, phone calls, packaging up files for them, etc. The more corporate your clients are, the higher the number. For a bigger company I would add something more like 30–40%.

Your clients will take up more time than you think. Plan accordingly.

I had a client who loved to call me every day, because for him what I did was all his company was at that point, while for me it was a huge distraction from my other work and clients. And it was also a distraction from actually working on his company’s branding. So make sure it’s worth your while.

6. As soon as you can, prepare for rainy days

As long as we’re talking about planning, your first extra bit of profit should go towards a Rainy Days fund, not your next fun vacation. You should be able to survive a few weeks of sickness or a doctor appointment in case something bad happens — to you or your loved ones.

You’re not “making it” as a freelancer if you can’t sustain yourself in between clients.

Being your own boss also means that you need to build your own safety net.

7. Pricing projects is an art

If you don’t ever lose a project due to pricing you’re probably quoting too low — unless you’re so good that clients will pay anything to work with you, of course. Strive hard for conversations about the value you’re adding to a client’s business, and not about just the money they pay for your work.

8. Don’t “hope” that you’ll get paid — you need to make it happen

I luckily never had major problems with this, but some people get clients that don’t pay on time or at all. Make sure you deal with them properly and professionally, but be clear that you’re not a bank loaning them money. Just because you’re a designer doesn’t mean that you can’t also be a business-minded person.

9. Make clients pay for extras

Negotiations or changes in the scope mean that you also need to talk about your fees. Make clients pay for extras. If they need something tomorrow they will have to pay an additional fee. If they want you to work on a weekend, make them pay an extra 100% on top of your hourly.

Why should your clients respect your soft boundaries if they don’t have to pay for crossing them?

Why should your clients respect your soft boundaries if they don’t have to pay for crossing them? Projects often become much less urgent if that urgency costs extra.

10. If you’ve never managed projects, you need to learn how to.

If you’ve never managed projects, you need to learn how to. As a freelancer you’re also a project manager, account manager, secretary, accountant, and more. Find the tools to help you get all of those roles done quickly. I use Harvest for time tracking and Slack for team communication. Selecting the right tools might seem like a waste of time, but if you find the right one, you can free up huge chunks of your time.

11. Legalese: Invest early on in a good contract

Invest early on in a good contract. Make it as restrictive as you can, and then be happy to make it less so if a client asks you. I for example had a stipulation in mine that I can cancel any project after I don’t hear back from the client for two weeks and then invoice them for any work that I’d done up to that point.

In many jurisdictions the party writing the contract is at fault for any unclear or lax portions, so be clear and be tough. Talk to freelancers in your area about this — and consider shelling out for a lawyer — to find the right way of dealing with your clients. Contract-writing is also very much about defining the way you want to work, and that of course is always an important topic.

12. Be clear about how reachable you are, and how and when you aren’t

Manage your communication expectations with your clients. They should know when you are reachable, and when you aren’t. There’s nothing more frustrating than not knowing how long someone will take to get back to you. Clear boundaries are the best form of professionalism.

Be clear about how reachable you are, and how and when you aren’t. A friend of mine for example does not do any phone conversations unless it is really necessary. Instead he is always reachable by email during office hours. He finds that clients too often just want to chat a little bit and everybody loses focus because of it. So unless something is incredibly time-critical or best discussed in a back-and-forth of a phone call, he just doesn’t do it. Another friend only offers phone calls from 1 PM to 4 PM.

You don’t need to agree with either of this, but be aware and clear about how you communicate with your clients. What will your preferred modes of contact be? When will you take meetings? When won’t you?

It’s often best to set up a clear structure with your clients, especially if they are not paying you for full-time work. Clear boundaries and articulation of when you’re available can be really helpful!

13. Communicate, communicate, communicate:

With all that said, always tell your clients what’s happening. Don’t be a black box. Having an open, honest line of communication with your clients builds trust that is essential to our trade.

14. Be on fucking time:

Your work can be less than amazing as long as you reply to people in a timely manner and are reachable. We all have bad days and we have all designed projects that don’t hold up to our best work. If you deliver on time people will recommend you again and again.

If you deliver on time people will recommend you again and again.

Being on time is one of the most important factors for how clients judge their designers. Most clients really don’t know good design either way, so they will judge you on how you communicate with them instead. Of course you should still design great work. Just do it on time.

15. Be very clear about what you offer:

As a designer, you could “design websites”, or you could “bring brands into the digital age”, or you could “help clients communicate with their customers”. Think hard and long as to how you want to portray your work, and try out different approaches before settling on yours.

Think hard and long as to how you want to portray your work, and try out different approaches before settling on yours.

It’s better to be more specific about exactly what you offer than to be vaguely promising something that will result in confusion and disappointment. You should also be clear about what you don’t offer.

16. Learn your client’s language:

Last, but definitely not least, learn to speak your clients’ language. Learn a bit about technology, about business, or if you’re working for a petting zoo, maybe about goats. Who knows. But only when you speak your client’s language can you actually understand their needs fully, and communicate their business to their potential customers.

Freelancing can be an amazing way to work, but freelancing also means that you run your own business. Treat it as a serious business and plan accordingly.

Freelancing can be an amazing way to work, but freelancing also means that you run your own business. Treat it as a serious business and plan accordingly. But most of all, enjoy your life: what I really love about the freelancer lifestyle is that random hour of sun-bathing on a beautiful summer day, that way too long lunch with friends, that day off when projects are slow and you can make it a three day weekend. And then working hard when I’m in my studio.