There must be at least 3,298 articles around the web on “How to Launch Your Freelance Career” or “How to Start a Freelance Design/Copywriting/Photography Business.”
Have you seen them? The advice is remarkably consistent and utterly sensible.
Have six months of living expenses in the bank. Assess your skills and strengths. Survey the competition. Identify target clients. Devise a ‘positioning’ for yourself.
Set a launch date with 30-, 60-, and 90-day milestones. Write a detailed marketing and promotion plan. Build a network of contacts, enhance your social media presence. Hone your portfolio. Set up your workspace, set up your pricing, invoicing and accounting systems . . .
That’s all well-reasoned stuff. Hard to argue with any of it.
Except for one thing.
None of the freelancers I know did it that way. Not a one.
Mostly, they just leaped over the fence. With only half-baked plans (if any), not nearly enough money, and often without a clue. (Me included there.)
They convinced themselves they were ready, even if they weren’t “properly” prepared, at least according to the conventional advice.
They weren’t thinking, “I’ll go freelance as soon as I. . .”
It was “Once I go freelance, I can. . . .”
Fact is, I contend you will succeed much faster if you just make a break for it.
Sure, if you jump into freelancing, you will screw up at first. You will chase the wrong assignments, take jobs you should have avoided. You will charge less than you should have. A slippery client may chisel you. You will kick yourself more than once.
But you will do all that anyway, even with all the pretty preparation and targeting and six months of money in the bank. You will make the same rookie mistakes we all make.
It will just take you longer to get them out of the way.
The sooner you’re out there plying your trade, talking to clients, looking for assignments, the sooner you’ll hone your freelance instincts and get your head in independent mode.
But what’s wrong with planning?
For a freelancer, planning is just guessing. It is impossible to know where your best opportunities are until you begin chasing some. What looks promising on paper doesn’t necessarily work out here on the front lines. And there are opportunities you won’t find until you’re out here mixing it up.
In his first year on his own, my friend Eyal made 50% of his income from consulting work he never even thought about doing. The services he planned on offering didn’t exactly fly off the shelves. It is always this way.
You need to be out there trying things, not working some idealistic plan. There is magic in doing stuff.
And what’s wrong with a financial cushion?
Nothing wrong with money in the bank. Lord knows it might save you a few sleepless nights.
But here’s the paradox. When you’re starting out, having six months of living expenses in the drawer can slow you down dramatically. Even dangerously.
If you’re flush with cash, it’s way too easy to fritter away your time on things that feel like work, but aren’t. Such as tinkering endlessly with your web site, getting your business cards just so, spending hours working LinkedIn and Twitter, trying to decide between Blinksale and Billings and MacFreelance for invoicing. That is all ninth-priority busy work.
What you need is a laser focus on the stuff that matters, which is: finding clients, doing remarkable work, and getting paid.
You need a sense of urgency, a feeling of “Holy crap, this is for real.”
You need practice feeding yourself and paying the rent without the “security” of a 1st and 15th paycheck.
Working without a net will get you there faster.
And you’ll realize you’re actually doing what 92% of people are too scared to try.