Every year, millions of corporate employees fantasize about breaking out of their cube shackles to start a consulting business. In fact, freelancers make up 35% of our national economy—that’s 53 million people! Are you going to be one of them in 2017?
Before you make that jump, answer these nine questions.
#1 Are you obsessed with it?
Ok that sounds a bit extreme and stalker-ish but like most things, if you don’t really (really) want it and aren’t fully committed, it won’t happen. You’ll find excuses, you’ll delay, you’ll talk about it but never take action. It has to be at the top of your priority list. Something you can’t stop thinking about. An itch you have to scratch. If you don’t feel this way, you’re not in 100% and that’s a recipe for failure. I’ve witnessed this as colleagues “trial” freelancing it but don’t go all-in, and unsurprisingly end with a thud (and feeling bad about themselves). Freelancing isn’t like going vegetarian for a month – it’s going to be a big part of your life. Take it VERY seriously or don’t take it at all.
#2 Does it scare the sh*t out of you? (in a good way)
There is a saying “Fear is the great extinguisher of dreams…Conversely, it can be your best mentor and source of motivation.” Though my uncorporate lifestyle seems natural to me now with the built-in highs and lows, life wasn’t always this way. Freelancing to me is “controlled risk”: you look fear in the face most of the time but also get the rewards of your efforts. When you close the door on corporate, you hit salary, benefits, and other cozy securities on the way out (not to mention those awesome free snacks). As a freelancer, you may have periods of “stability,” but get used to those air quotes – that word won’t be in your vocab often.
#3 Do you get bored with routines?
Sure there are built-in habits we all have, whether it’s the rabid commitment to three cups of coffee before you talk to anyone, or lunch with your bestie every Friday, or being crazy busy during tax season if you’re an accountant. But the guts of your business – the pace, the timeline of work, the daily schedule, the ups and downs, will have a choreography of their own. One evening you can burn the midnight oil for a deadline and the next morning scout for a new client, or go for a walk in the middle of the day – but you need to thrive on the variety, not fear it. Which leads me to my next question…
#4 Are you exceptionally self-disciplined?
Yes, you’ll have an ever-changing life, but you also have to hunker down when you need to – big time. This is a core characteristic of freelancing. If I had a dollar for every time someone asked me if I’m tempted to watch TV all day (no, just while eating lunch); or if I get up at 10am (nope again, but I don’t get up at 5am either). Like a regular job, you have to prioritize work and get it done in a timely fashion. The difference? You won’t have a boss in your face pressing you on a deadline or cube mates noticing when you leave the office. And sometimes you’re working with two or three clients at a time so you practice your juggling skills. Sure there are times you can relax with wiggle room, but the majority is spent working or hustling for new work (or both).
#5 Do you have back up in the bank?
This is another biggie if you’re going out on your own. How much is up to you. I recommend six months to cover personal expenses (not to mention start-up costs for your business). I realize not everyone can do this. However, a baseline of financial security provides a good balance of work-your-butt-off to-get-clients but also know that you have resources to live and take the stress level down a notch. Yes, you could challenge yourself to go out on your own without funds, but you may make decisions you regret – like take a client you’re not crazy about, sign up for work beneath your level, or even slog some lattes at Starbucks if you’re that desperate. The healthiest balance is to have a financial security blanket as you build your business.
#6 Are you able to turn off the perfectionist gene?
Here’s a secret: it’s pretty darn easy to start a freelance business. A lot of people think it’s tons of work and get overwhelmed and scrap the idea altogether. You don’t need an elaborate marketing plan, payroll system, or office space – especially these days with a computer, connection, and tons of online freelancer services for everything from productivity to accounting. Don’t spend tons of money on your business when you’re just starting out. A few years ago, a colleague delayed her coaching business until she built this complicated client interface that cost thousands of dollars. Start professional but lean. Pivots are common and your work focus can change, especially at the beginning. Pick and choose the must-haves. It’s easy to feel pressure to have the crème de la crème when you start out, but it’s better to iterate your business as you go.
#7 Do you enjoy your own company?
This is not a question we often ask ourselves. When I went out on my own in 1999 the world of the internet was a lot smaller. Yes, there was email and the “net”, but there was no social media, Skype, apps, smartphones, and the rest of technology we rely on to keep us connected (and often distracted by). Back then, you had to be very purposeful in daytime socializing. Even though now we have a plethora of red notification lights continuously assaulting our senses, you’ll likely still spend a lot of time by yourself. There are ways to reduce alone time if it bothers you: join a co-working space, go to your client’s office, or schedule social time every day, but it won’t make solo time disappear. If you find this inherently bothersome, freelancing may not be for you.
#8 Are you a natural or unlikely sales person?
Get that used car salesperson image out of your head. We’re all in sales one way or the other. Think of when you sell an idea to your boss with a PowerPoint presentation, or try to convince an employer to hire you, or sweet-talk a friend into trying a new cuisine she’s unfamiliar with. Freelancing forces you to be a natural connector. That means everything from going to networking events to having your elevator pitch down for random people you meet, to branding on social media. One trap I’ve seen (usually accompanied by the disdain for selling) is to rely on one client. That work could go away at a moment’s notice for a variety of reasons, but more importantly, it flies again why started a business in the first place. I know one colleague that only works for her former employer as a contractor, so she’s just working the same job for the same company without benefits.
#9 Are you prepared for blowback?
You’ll be starting a business, running a business, and thinking of your business – a lot. All of this “business” bleeds often over to your family, friends, vacation plans, and other important parts of your life. Some people may not understand why you work for yourself or worry about you. You’ll likely hear comments from certain corners like: “You work too much” or questioning your judgement with “Don’t you want an easier life?” and negative comments that (mostly) come from care. For this reason, make sure you cultivate plenty of social opportunities with supportive people who either have their own business or appreciate it. Join consulting groups, have coffee (or drinks for venting get-together) with other freelancers, and always remember why you stepped out on your own in the first place.
Well there you have it…did you answer a Big Fat Yes to all of these? Yes, there are many other factors that go into deciding to go freelance, but you’re off to a great start!