6 things to have in place before leaving your job to go freelance

You have two choices: you work for someone else, or you work for yourself. They can both be good choices. You’re the only one who can work out which is the right one for you.

There’s nothing wrong with office jobs – there’s much to be said for them – but I know they don’t suit everyone, including myself. If you also decide that 9-5 (does anyone actually leave at 5?) really isn’t for you, it’s time to do something about it.

Perhaps you can follow the general advice and start working on your side hustle alongside your full-time job. Then, when it starts generating decent profits, you can switch over. Another option is to take a leap and hope it works out, but that’s much riskier.

Here’s what worked for me. I fell into my consulting business without really realising it. I wasn’t happy in my job and kept thinking about handing in my notice. That wasn’t healthy for anyone, so I decided it was best to just quit. I didn’t have any other options lined up when I did that. But I then got a few job offers at once, and was able to negotiate several part-time consultant roles that could run at the same time.

That’s all there was to it, but there was quite a lot of groundwork already in place.

1. Know what you really want

Is going freelance what you really want, or is there something else you’re actually yearning for? It’s worth looking inwards to see what you really want, now and for your future.

Dream up your ideal day and ponder how you’d be spending your life if money wasn’t an issue. Think about where you want to be in 50 years – then 20, 10, 5, 2, and 1. What steps do you need to take to get there? Is leaving your job the best way to get there? If so, is now the best time?

2. Have the contacts

I had made quite a few contacts through my last few years of work (correction: through my only years of work). When I did quit my job and let people near me know, a few people reached out about projects that now made sense to collaborate on. I’m also lucky that my contacts decided to recommend me to their own contacts.

3. Build up your credibility

I’d built some credibility and expertise in quite a niche area – content marketing for software-as-a-service companies – and had focused on being reliable and recommendable through the work I did. After you’ve built up some of your own credibility, see if you can quantify it with some data that you can share as a case study with your network.

4. Accept it might be a step down in some ways

I also had to make the decision to stop scaling my career ladder in a predictable way. As a competitive person who pushes myself a lot, that was quite difficult.

I was offered some fancy job titles that would have looked nice, but I felt deep down that freedom was more important to me. If you have a C-level title, you’re gonna get a hell of a lot of baggage with that. And I wanted to go to the mountains and develop my own projects during working hours if I wanted to. I wanted to free up mental space and calendar space to be more creative and balanced.

When I chose to take on consulting work, I knew I was going to have to take a step down in job title. I was transitioning from leading a team to leading myself. While having your own business is awesome, you’re not reaching the top of a prestigious company (at least not yet). It means you have to rethink your definition of career growth to fit with your wider personal growth and happiness.

5. Put some money aside first

I didn’t have a huge amount of money saved, but I had enough for about five months. During the many times that I was worried about cash, I asked myself what was the worst that could happen. If somehow things went very wrong and I ran out of money, I’d go back to England and stay with my family while picking up the pieces.

I’m incredibly fortunate that my family would let me stay and feed me for free, probably for as long as I needed. Was that really so bad? No. So I might as well risk things now, while the worst-case scenario is really fine. I know that’s a very fortunate place to be.

6. Have a support network

I say this, but it was only partially true for me. It would’ve been easier if it were truer though, so I’ll leave it in.

During big changes in your life, it makes it a hell of a lot easier if you have your people behind you. I’m lucky to have an incredibly supportive boyfriend and his guidance was a big reason why I felt confident doing this. But he also had big things going on in his own life.

Just before I left my 9-5 (9-7?) and went solo, he moved to Japan for three months. So he was in a different continent and time zone while I was getting set up with new clients and projects. That was pretty tough, but there was also a silver lining: I had a lot of time to myself. I tried to make the most of it.

Things did get lonely then and they can still be a bit lonely now. I have a small circle of friends and live alone in a little Swiss mountain town of 4,000 people. Yes, I love it here – the mountains and nature lift my spirit every day – but I know where I could be doing better.

Before you consider any changes to your career, think about what you really need.

  • Do you need people around you during the day?
  • Can you work from home, or do you need an office or co-working space?
  • Do you have a financial buffer so you can focus on the joy of creating rather than your dwindling dollars?
  • Where would you find your clients?
  • Would you be able to manage the less glamorous side, like your accounting and legal?
  • What would your day-to-day look like as a freelancer? How would you feel waking up to it and at the end of the day?
  • Does it fit with your goals, values, and ideal life?

Does it get you all fired up and excited? What do you feel at your core is the right place for you to be? Are you ready now or do you need more groundwork in place?

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