How to make the scary leap to full-time creative freelancer

Author: Dave Harland

We’ve all heard it before: “It’s better to regret something you’ve done rather than something you wish you’d done.”

It’s the mantra of people who act now, and deal with consequences later. True mavericks who get through life fuelled by one thing: confidence that everything’ll turn out okay.

The total opposite of me then.

Until I took the leap into freelance copywriting, I never realised there was a life away from knowing-your-mortgage-is-paid, PAYE-enslaved, 9-5 mundanity. It’s the same for most pre-freelancers.

9 to 5 office job

True, there’s comfort in knowing that regular income each month will pay for your home, feed your family and hopefully leave a few pennies spare.

But there’s so much more out there if you want it. More money. More opportunity. More happiness. Especially if you feel you’re going nowhere in your full-time role.

My epiphany came 3 years ago when a mate asked me to rewrite a website for his digital marketing agency. I never had a portfolio. I didn’t have a clue what to charge. I’d heard of invoices but never created one.

Having been stuck at the same company, working on the same briefs each year, I was low on confidence. But I knew he wouldn’t have asked me if he wasn’t confident in me.

So I did the work. In fact I smashed the work. The client loved it. And when the money landed in my bank account, it was like getting smacked across the face. I thought: “Wow, is that it? This is easy.”

It turned into a regular gig. And soon enough, when I was working late into the night, every night, I was doing enough work on the side to cover my annual salary. Going it alone was a no-brainer.

I handed in my notice, but wasn’t keen on working from home, so when one of my clients mentioned a shared workspace called Basecamp in Liverpool’s Baltic Creative, it felt like fate.

I moved in as a sole trader in the summer of 2016 and set up my Limited Company The Word Man in January.

It felt weird at first, giving up a 9-5 job, on decent money, to work 12-hour days, often at the weekend to hit deadlines, and having to do admin, accounting, marketing and all the other stuff that comes with running your own business.

But was it all worth it? Well for the first time in a decade I love getting out of bed. And I know every phone call I make, every email I send, and every word I type is potentially putting more money in my pocket than I’d ever dreamed.

Yes it’s absolute graft. But it’s graft on my terms. And the days seem to disappear, so it honestly doesn’t feel like work.

But enough about me. If you’re currently stuck in a job you hate, or doing bits on the side for friends and family, but feel your creative talents are raring to be let loose, here are 5 steps to make the transition to full-time creative freelancer anything but scary.

Don't look back

Step 1. Create a portfolio
Pull together at least three pieces of creative work you’re most proud of, and build a digital portfolio. You could do this simply on LinkedIn or a Facebook page, use a portfolio site like Behance or Portfoliobox, or at your own hosted website.

Step 2. Get social
Everyone who matters is on social media, so get active on Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin and Instagram, let people know what you do, share industry articles, and be as confident as you can. Plus you can ask freelancers for advice on groups like the really welcoming Freelance Heroes on Facebook.

Step 3. Approach clients
Once your portfolio is live and you’re active on social, you’ve got an excuse to pitch for work. Start by introducing yourself to businesses and agencies on social media, and follow it up with a call or email. Book a meeting if you’d prefer a sit-down.

Step 4. Be honest
More an extension of step 3 really… whoever you decide to target as a client, the best thing is to be up front about your experience and your current situation. Don’t dig holes and you’ll never have to climb out of them. Clients prefer working with people they like, so try to be nice too.

Step 5. Stay organised
There are loads of free apps like Asana and Freedcamp you can use to schedule work, and manage all the tasks you’ll soon have lined up. Or you can just use a spreadsheet and do it all manually. You should track customer details with a CRM app, and also speak to an accountant once the money starts rolling in.

If you’re already doing one or more of the above, just carry on and move to the next step.

What’s important is that you always keep the plates spinning, whether it’s updating your portfolio, contacting clients, doing actual work, planning, social media updates – there is never a dull day.

But that’s what makes this life so enjoyable.

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