As you may know, recently I took the big step of quitting my job to be my own boss. I am now a freelance SEO consultant, and it’s been both terrifying and exhilarating in equal measures.
More and more people are taking the freelance plunge, and it’s easy to see why. The pros are clear but there also a lot of factors which need to be taken into careful consideration. Quitting a stable job to go freelance is risky, but there are some steps you can take to ensure it’s as plain-sailing as possible. In this post, I share my top 5 tips for going freelance, featuring lots of personal anecdotes along the way.
1. SPEND TIME BUILDING YOUR KNOWLEDGE & EXPERTISE
I’ve known since school that I wanted to work for myself. It was always my end goal, but I realised that to do it well, I’d need to spend time building my skills and knowledge first. I could have gone freelance straight after university. But the chances are that I would have provided a very mediocre service.
When you’re just starting out in your career, you won’t have had the chance to really hone your skills in a particular area yet. To be a successful freelancer, you need to be an expert in your craft. And that takes time.
Being a freelancer isn’t just about doing your job really well. You also have to be a business owner. You’re responsible for sales outreach, marketing, accounting, and all the other admin that goes along with being your own boss. Sure, you can learn as you go – but it’s far better to have already gained exposure to these elements elsewhere.
It’s also important to be certain about the services you’d like to offer. Better to spend a few years working out where your expertise lies and figuring out what you enjoy.
When I first started out, I always thought that copywriting and copy-editing would be my freelance service. As I began doing more content writing back when I was a Marketing Manager, I very quickly realised that I would be bored out of my mind doing this for a living. By a happy accident, I fell into SEO and I soon realised that this was the job for me – something that combined nerdy, analytical stuff with the creativity of content creation. My point is, I never would have considered SEO straight out of university and it took a few years to find my ‘calling’.
Personally, I spent five years working as a full-time employee before I took the freelance plunge. It sounds like a long time, but it was absolutely necessary for me to be able to become an expert. I’ve worked agency side and in-house, I’ve worked for a large consultancy and a smaller agency. I’ve also worked with almost every industry imaginable.
I’m a very impatient person, but waiting five years to be my own boss has been worth every second. You will find life as a freelancer significantly easier if you’ve got years of experience and knowledge under your belt.
2. SPECIALISE IN A VERTICAL
This is the piece of advice I got given a lot when I decided to go freelance. At first, I fully resisted this recommendation. My view was that as an SEO, it was a terrible idea to specialise in a certain vertical. There’s only one number one ranking in the search results, so surely operating within one industry would mean I was competing with myself? It’s why we never specialised at the agency where I was previously Head of SEO, because we didn’t want to limit ourselves in terms of new business prospects.
I gave it a lot of thought and started to realise that actually, this could be a great idea. There are enough businesses with different USPs to create plenty of business opportunities. Plus, this could be a fantastic way of working with clients who are of personal interest to me. And if you like your clients, then your job becomes considerably easier!
I decided to specialise in leisure and lifestyle clients – beauty, fashion, travel and food. It tied in nicely with the topics covered on my blog, and I felt there was a gap in the market for SEOs who specialise in these areas (as SEO is traditionally quite a ‘techy’, male-dominated industry).
When doing sales outreach, I created sales decks which were completely tailored to each industry. And it worked a treat! Prospects loved the specialism. Now I realise what a fantastic piece of advice this was, and I strongly recommend that you consider specialising too.
3. NETWORK IN A SMART WAY
Networking is something that nobody particularly enjoys, especially when it’s in a staged ‘networking’ environment. I have mixed feelings about these kinds of events. Sometimes they can be very useful but often it takes a bit of luck as to whether you happen to strike up a conversation with someone who could be useful to you and your business.
It helps to choose networking events which are relevant to your industry – but, avoid an event that is solely aimed at your industry. Otherwise, everyone there will be selling the same service as you and you’ll just end up chatting with your competitors.
Personally, I don’t attend any networking events, choosing instead to network within my workspace and through existing connections. This is why setting up office in a coworking space can be a great opportunity, as you get to mingle with other small businesses and freelancers who may need your help.
4. SAVE ENOUGH MONEY TO COVER YOURSELF FOR A FEW MONTHS
In an ideal world, you’ll have a super smooth transition into your freelance work. Sadly, often that’s not the case. The chances are that you’ll need to take a pay cut, at least for a few months (but possibly a lot longer).
To save yourself a whole heap of stress, prepare yourself for the worst case scenario. Put aside enough money to see you through for as long as you may need it. Be savvy and save every penny you can. You may not need it, but you’ll feel a whole lot more secure if it’s there. And nothing beats having that peace of mind.
Best case scenario, you’ll have a stash of savings that you can use on a holiday instead!
5. START BUILDING YOUR EMPIRE WHILE STILL EMPLOYED
You need to put in as much work as possible before you leave full-time employment. The amount of time will vary depending on what your business is but for almost everyone, there’s a certain amount of ‘stuff’ you’ll need to do that won’t involve generating money. These could include:
- Designing a logo
- Printing business cards
- Designing and developing a website
- Setting up social media profiles
- Generating leads (better yet, securing your first clients / customers)
- Creation of contracts / terms & conditions
- Setting up a business bank account and other accounting admin
- Creating sales decks and other collateral
- Marketing for your business
These all take a lot of time to do, but unfortunately don’t earn you any money either. So it’s best to do it while you’ve still got a full-time income, even if it means being an antisocial hermit for a month or two. When you’re ready to leave, there’s no better feeling than having everything in place.
Do you have any tips on going freelance? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.