How do you transition from employee to business owner? Before you begin freelancing, you need to prove your experience, start building a professional network, and stock up on your essentials—without breaking the bank.
Prove that you’ve got the skills
Before any client will hire you, they’ll want to see proof of your experience.
For traditional fields, have your resume or curriculum vitae updated, professionally styled, and posted on your personal site as well as networks like LinkedIn.
Creative work, such as design, development, and writing, can be shown off with a solid portfolio. If you are lacking enough projects to display, consider some self-initiated work or volunteering your services to local businesses or non-profits. Work for a client speaks more strongly than work made “just because”; you face different challenges.
Be easy to find
Create a presence
Make sure that your professional name, whether it’s a company name or your own, is easily searchable. Business names have an advantage here over those using real names. If you’re using your own name and someone else with the same name shows up in search results, consider using your middle name as well, a nickname or alternate version of your first name, or professional title, such as CPA or PhD.
Mark your territory
More visibility is more credibility. The specific social channels you choose will depend on your field, but look think about high-profile sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and anything industry-specific like GitHub or Behance.
Make sure to update your information on all of your channels so you don’t have years-outdated examples floating around the web. To make sure you don’t forget to update any of your profiles, consider creating a folder in your bookmarks with links to all of them.
Be careful about registering usernames just to “park” an account! If you have an empty profile, some services can delete your account after a certain amount of inactivity. If you’re not going to use it (or at least throw some basic information up there), don’t register it.
So you’ve got a presence on some websites. Now what? Connect with your peers, follow influencers, contribute to projects, and overall, just be a part of the community.
You’re not going to magically get noticed. Be a part of the community! You get what you give.
Make connections, share feedback, and trade services. Maybe you’re not a great writer, but a freelance journalist you know could use some help with his website. Maybe that designer you follow on Instagram could help you create an awesome logo in exchange for an equally-great headshot. Respect the time and effort of those you connect with, but don’t be afraid to help out. Not only does that help the person you connect with, but they might refer you to anyone they know who has need of your services. Plus, having access to a network of people to bounce ideas off of can always help.
Tip: Contributing to community or open-source projects can build your portfolio and do something that helps others. Win-win!
Think about your actual needs
When you’re getting started, it’s easy to get distracted by a whole list of things you “need” before you can begin your work. But how many of those are actually essential?
Do you really need that order of 1,000 business cards before you can start working?
Probably not. In fact, I’m still on my first box of cards; they come in handy for networking events, but as a remote worker, you may be bouncing through a location too quickly to establish a meaningful in-person connection, and your phone number may change in every country. Most of the time, jotting down your website address or recording it in the potential-client’s phone works just as well. That time designing, printing, and waiting for the delivery of business cards is all time that could be spent actually doing something that would move your career forward.
Other things you might not need right away?
Fancy equipment upgrades
Sometimes the best tool for the job is the one you have access to. If it’s not going to improve your life or work in a huge way, think about pushing this one off until you’re not scrambling to establish your company. (On the flip side: if your equipment is old or slow enough that it is seriously interfering with your productivity or making you a big grump, upgrade it!).
Unnecessary, big-ticket, or recurring expenses
Separate the required from the nice-to-haves. Until you are consistently bringing in revenue, using a ton of services wastes time and money. Upfront tools-of-the-trade costs such as design software? Worth it. An annual subscription to something you’re not totally confident you’ll use, such as downloads from a stock photo library? Maybe just purchase things on demand until you have a solid understanding of your needs.
Don’t just buy something because it is a good deal. You’ll end up with a big collection of dust-catchers.
That’s good advice in the real-world as well as with digital goods (though those ones don’t have physical dust, at least). I’ll admit, I am a bit of a digital packrat. I’ve fallen for those app and design bundles with a ton of resources for a low price, thinking that I’m saving a huge amount of money. You’re only saving that money if you actually make use of the assets! If you pay $40 for a bundle but only really use a $15 font, you didn’t save whatever high-dollar amount the seller promised; you wasted $25 instead.
Make sure you’re actually ready
The tips above mean nothing if you’re heart’s not in it. Are you committed to all the ups and downs of being a freelancer? The digital nomad life looks great on paper, but it takes a lot of dedication. If you’re going to go back to a traditional 9-to-5 desk job at the first sign of trouble, freelancing might not be for you. But, if you’re willing to dive deep and work hard, the world is your oyster.