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I really don’t want this to be a “look at me, look what I did!” kind of post, as I think circumstances are different for everyone and there’s no one-size-fits-all way to go from employee to finding your first freelance writing job.
I was kind of flung into it, anyway. By choice, of course.
Let’s start from the beginning.
My Story of Going From Employee to Freelance Writer
Mid-July last year (2014), I was employed as a Community Manager for a local video production company. It was a great job and I enjoyed it. But ever since I can remember I’ve wanted to work for myself (my mum is self-employed and I think her lifestyle inspired me in many ways). I knew that eventually, someday, I’d work for myself.
So we’re halfway through July in 2014 and I’m having a conversation with my ex-boyfriend about our jobs, goals, and future. I told him I wanted to go freelance, he said he’d like to live abroad for a while, so why not start looking into opportunities.
Sure, I said. There’s no harm in looking right?
We settled on Spain, because I’d been learning Spanish for a while and I wanted to improve that. Plus, it’s warm, the food is good, the people are nice, and it’s relatively cheap to live there.
The ex started looking for jobs. Within a few days of us having that conversation, he’d applied for about five or so jobs.
Cue me panicking like a badman.
My dream was to go freelance one day, someday, not right this very minute. I wasn’t ready, was I?
The thing about going freelance is you’re never going to feel ready. There’s not enough time in the day to build up a full schedule of clients before you quit your day job, so, nine times out of ten, it’s a “wing it” jobbie.
On the last day in July, the ex was offered a job in sunny, sunny Igualada. His start date? Mid-September. Which meant I had just over a month before we flew.
Cue even more panicking.
(I just want to add that I had around £5,000 in savings, so I wasn’t going to end up on the streets. I think it’s really important to have a cushion of money saved up before you go freelance – at least two months’ worth of income, if you can).
By this point, I was running on autopilot. I was incredibly excited but absolutely terrified, too. I had NO idea it would happen so quickly. Here’s what happened during August:
Step One: I Quit My Full-Time Job
I was required to give a month’s notice at my job, so the day after the boyfriend got the job offer, I handed in my notice. Let me tell you, handing in your notice without knowing how you’re going to earn money over the next few months is not the easiest thing in the world.
Luckily, my boss was very supportive, which eased my anxiety and made me feel like I’d chosen the right path.
Step Two: I Registered as Self-Employed
This is a really important step in the process.
As I no longer had a full-time job as an employee, I had to register as self-employed with the UK tax office. It was really easy, I just had to fill out a form and send it off and they sent me back my new tax code. All I have to do now is fill out my own taxes every year. Easy peasy.
Tax issues vary from place to place, so be sure to check out all the legalities and rules in your country of residence.
Step Three: I Hunted Out Some Clients
At this stage, I had no clients and no idea of how to really find them. I set up profiles on Elance and oDesk (now UpWork) and started applying for all kinds of jobs (yes, even the ones that paid really badly).
I wasn’t good at writing proposals back then so, suffice to say, I didn’t land many jobs. That is, I didn’t land ANY (and trust me, I read ALL the cold email tips I could before I started pitching).
Thankfully, I’d been scrolling through Craigslist one afternoon and found a job that sounded pretty good and paid really well. I typed out an email, sent it off, and quickly forgot about it. Two weeks later (by this point I was really panicking because I had zilch work planned for the next month), the Craigslist job got back to me asking for a trial piece. I happily obliged and was offered the job soon after.
SCORE. You don’t know how relieved I was. The scale of the work meant I could earn enough money to support myself through the first few months. Even better, it was ongoing work (in fact, I’m still working for them now).
Landing this client meant I could calm down with the Elance and oDesk proposals, especially as no one was biting. I could spend time looking for well-paying jobs that made the best use of my skills.
You know that saying? It’s easier to find work when you’re employed than when you’re unemployed? I think that’s the same for freelancing. As soon as I landed this first client, I immediately picked up two more (I was recommended by a contact).
Step Four: I Made Myself a Website
Yes, I had this blog, but I needed somewhere I could direct clients who wanted to see what services I offered, what skills I had, and some samples of past work I’d done.
I set up a cheapo website on Weebly and added a few pages about me, my work, and listed off a few guest posts I’d written in the past (by this point, I had no professional clippings to offer).
Turns out having this website made a huge difference when applying for jobs. It’s professional and shows you mean business if you have a clean and attractive site that showcases your awesome talents.
Step Five: I Organised Myself
As a freelancer you need to be seriously organised.
I’m talking colour-coded folders and being able to recite your monthly outgoings by heart, to the penny.
I wanted to get ahead with my organisational skills (particularly because I was moving to another country, too, which was taking up a lot of my time). I spent a few days just sorting out the folders on my laptop, creating invoice templates, monthly income projection sheets, and excel documents that could record my earnings.
These are invaluable now, and I’m so glad I started documenting everything right from the very beginning, so I don’t have to backtrack when it comes to filing my taxes or doing my yearly report (yes, I do plan on doing that – even if it’s only me who sees it!).
So those were the steps I took throughout August last year when I knew I was going freelance. I really wanted to make it work, so I did everything I could to stay ahead of the game.
I think it’s really important to get cracking with things in the build-up before you go freelance (even if you only have a month like I did). I’d also suggest doing as much research as you can about being a freelancer, including how to set goals, how to organise yourself, and really just experimenting with methods and techniques until you find something that works for you.
Because that’s the thing. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to going from full-time employee to freelance writer. If I hadn’t have landed that first client? Who knows where I’d be now.
Your turn! Do you have any questions about the steps I took? Did I miss anything out? What was your experience of going from employee to freelance?
[disclaim]For more tips, tricks and advice on freelancing, subscribe to my YouTube channel, where I release a new video each week about freelancing, travel, and writing. [/disclaim]
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