If you could have done one thing differently after quitting your steady-paycheck job, what would it have been?
I would have waited a little longer before I fled the cube. Instead, I would have started building up my freelance business on the side while keeping my paycheck. I left the workforce before I had any steady clients, contacts, savings, business sense, or networking savvy. I’m not saying you need to put in your time on the cube farm for a set number of years before flying solo, but you do need to get your ducks in a row before you quit.
If I could go back in time, I’d take a business class before making the leap (I waited until I was a couple years in). I’d schmooze my brains out with co-workers, vendors, and other people in my industry of choice to get the lay of the land and build up my list of contacts (i.e., potential clients or people who can otherwise help you in your solo venture). And I’d save up several months of living expenses instead of spending all my spare cash on live music, shoes, and booze.
What do you think is the biggest misconception about freelancers?
That we traipse from aimless coffee meeting to aimless coffee meeting day after day. Or sit on our collective asses watching Jerry Springer reruns for six hours straight. I’ve been working independently for 15 years, and friends and family with the day off work still call to ask me if I can meet them for some midday adventure. (Thank god for caller ID.) But it’s not just friends and family who think we’re slackers that don’t have real jobs with real incomes. The majority of corporations still haven’t warmed up to the idea of telecommuters; that’s why companies like Best Buy, with their “results-oriented work environment,” are still regarded as pioneers or renegades.
You are a freelance writer – do you consider it your own business? Did you write a business plan and do you think it’s important to do so?
I do consider it a business because it’s a full-time job, not a hobby. I’m set up as the simplest type of business—a sole proprietorship—and I have contracts, business insurance, a business license, and I pay my own benefits.
I don’t think a freelancer needs a formal 30-page business plan, but I do think you need to do the market research (how much can you charge? who is your target market? who are your competitors?). And you need to crunch the numbers before you go solo—to figure out how much you stand to make, how much you need to make, and consequently, how soon you can quit your day job. Writing all these details down forces you to face them head on. I also think you should write down your goals for your freelance business once or twice a year: Are their certain dream clients you’d like to land? Do you want to build up a pool of subcontractors so you can take on more clients? Do you want to focus on certain industries and stay away from others? Doing this can help you weed out the job offers that don’t jibe with your longer-range goals.