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Home  > Article

What It Takes to Go Freelance

By Susan Johnston

If you have a knack for writing, graphic design, web coding, or other creative pursuits, then freelancing might be an appealing option.

No boss to bug you about TPS reports. No sweaty subway rides or gridlocked traffic during rush hour. You'd get to choose your hours and your projects, not to mention the convenience of working from home. But before you give up corporate America and dive into full time freelance work, use this checklist to see if you're ready.

  • Do you have a handle on your finances?

Experts suggest that you save up at least six to twelve months of living expenses before you leave your day job. Working full time and freelancing on the side is a good way to build up your bank account and get a taste of the freelance life to see you'd like to do it full time. If you do decide to go straight from college to freelancing, then you might want to consider working somewhere part time to cover a few of your expenses. It can take several months to get a steady roster of clients, and, unfortunately, not all clients pay on time. Your income may fluctuate month to month, so cutting out extras like cable TV or satellite radio is a smart move until you have a steady stream of projects.

  • What will you do about health and dental insurance?

The high cost of individual health insurance scares a lot of people who'd like to freelance. It's an important consideration, because if you are uninsured and develop a serious (usually unexpected) illness or injury, then your hospital bills can quickly run into the thousands. But you have a few options. If you are married or cohabitating with a significant other, then you might be able to sign up with their plan. Some states, including Massachusetts, offer health insurance at reduced rates to those who are self-employed or earn below a certain income level. Also check with professional organizations like the Freelancer's Union(http://www.freelancersunion.org/) or your local Chamber of Commerce, since these types of organizations offer lower cost health insurance to members.

  • Are you motivated enough to meet deadlines on your own?

Some people need the structure of an office to keep them on task. Otherwise, they'll get too distracted by Facebook, Twitter, daytime TV, the laundry, and anything but the project that's due the following day. And as a freelancer, you won't get paid if you don't produce something for your client. Try setting artificial deadlines for yourself (marking Wednesday as the deadline on your calendar instead of Friday) or disabling your internet when you're on deadline.  If you're working full time and you're unsure about your level of self-discipline, set aside a holiday or vacation day to see how much you can produce in a day. It will also give you a taste of what it's like to work on your own projects for the whole day instead of in spurts.

  • How organized are you?

Many people leave the 9-5 grind so they can focus on more creative pursuits, but as they quickly discover, being a freelancer requires an awful lot of paperwork. Everything from invoices to independent contractor agreements to receipts expenses all have to be carefully organized, not just for tax purposes but also to ensure that you're actually making a profit. You don't necessarily need fancy invoicing software (often a simple spreadsheet will do), but you should be honest with yourself about whether you can realistically manage the paperwork yourself. Hiring a part time assistant to scan samples, print out invoices, or send in your quarterly tax payments could help you boost productivity. Think about it: if you get paid $50/hour to do web design, paying an assistant $12/hour to do your filing is a worthwhile investment if it means more billable hours for you. And come tax time, an accountant who is familiar with the tax implications of being a freelancer or small business owner is well worth the expense. 

  • Do you feel comfortable marketing yourself?

You can choose whether you'll cold call potential clients, send out postcards, or set up a blog, but marketing your freelance talents is essential, especially in the beginning. If you enjoy going to networking events and handing out your business card, then you'll be a natural self-promoter. More introverted freelancers can network effectively by participating in online forums for their industry or asking colleagues for referrals to new clients.

  • What about social interaction?  
When you're working at a company, you see lots of people: on your way to work, during meetings, or at the water cooler. Working from home can cut off from the rest of the world. You can combat these feelings of isolation by taking (or teaching) a class, meeting friends or former coworkers for lunch, or coworking (http://coworking.pbwiki.com/) where you work with other freelancers or self-employed people in a communal setting. Getting out of your apartment and interacting with others is also helpful for networking and staying up on trends.






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