Fifteen years ago, after many years of dipping my toe in the waters of freelancing on the side, I took the plunge into the deep end of full-time freelancing. I had two steady clients, and little projects (dissertations, brochures, websites) continued to find their way to my desk. I had enough money to pay my bills and even buy health insurance. Everything was fine — for a while.
Then came tax time, and with it the realization of just how poorly I had planned for it. Then I lost one of those steady clients — the one that made up two-thirds of my income. I had no long-term marketing plan, and the little jobs I scrabbled for weren’t making up the lost revenue, partly because I wasn’t working very efficiently.
Failure is a tough thing to admit, but after my savings ran out, I went out and got a “real” job, with all the politics and the windowless gray office that came with it.
Thankfully, that job lasted less than two years, and I have been happily and successfully back in the full-time freelance pool for the past decade. I was much better prepared the second time around.
My first foray into full-time freelancing belly-flopped for the lack of three basic things:
- financial planning
- sustained marketing
Successful freelancers must have a financial plan and be prepared for the natural ups and downs of this type of business. Money has to be set aside for taxes, equipment, software, reference material, continuing education, marketing, and general business expenses at a bare minimum. Those expenses are not steady, and neither is the income. The month when you have to replace your computer might also be a month when no payments arrive. Other times, you might be swimming in cash. You have to plan and have the discipline to maintain the plan.
Sustained marketing is another tricky area for freelancers. How you market yourself depends a lot on who your target clients are: how you reach a corporate training department is different from how you reach the fiction division of a Big Five publisher or a self-publisher with a book of knitting patterns. However you go about it, you must do it consistently — even when you’re swimming in too many projects. Sustained marketing efforts will help you build your client base so that you don’t become overly reliant on any single source of income.
Finally, you must create systems and routines so you can work efficiently. In the editing business, you’re essentially selling your time, whether you charge by the hour or the page or the project. You must maximize your time. Create systems that support and sustain your business and free up your time (and brain) for the work that really needs it. These systems might cover project intake, marketing, invoicing and accounting, email, or any of the other myriad other things you regularly do in your business.
Diving into the deep end of full-time freelancing will always be a little scary, but it can be less so if you prepare properly.
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