So You Want to Go Freelance (Part 1)
Every few weeks, I respond to an inquiry about how I got started doing freelance market research. Since I'm relatively new to freelancing, I generally have a lot to say on this subject. I have so much to say that I'll probably have to break my ramblings down into 2 separate posts to cover it all here. The second post will focus on how to market yourself and where to look for clients (think low hanging fruit). Actually, you might think that me laying out the process to freelancing is counterintuitive since anyone that follows my sage advice would become my competition. The truth is that there's probably not enough good freelancers out there to meet the overwhelming need in the industry. I firmly believe that companies on both the supplier and client side are facing an ongoing staffing challenge to meet peek demand without overstaffing during lulls. That's really where freelancers fit - stepping into the research process without becoming a staffing burden on the budget sheet.
So, let's get down to business. When you think about leaving full time work to become a freelancer, the questions and insecurity can feel overwhelming:
- What services are you going to offer?
- Where will you find clients?
- How much do you need to earn to survive?
- What percentage of your income will you have to pay in taxes?
- Will you miss the office environment?
I'm a fairly risk averse person, and I can't tell you how long I pondered these questions before I made a final decision about quitting my job. My husband will tell you that I woke up one day and told him I was going to quit before I left for work. That's true, but the planning and mental preparation actually took a lot longer. In fact, I ended up putting together a brief business plan for myself as a roadmap to get started. The business plan was only about 4-5 slides in length, but each page addressed one of giant issues I was grappling with:
Statement of Purpose
Fine. I'll admit it. I hate mission statements. They are impossibly difficult to write and usually don't tell readers anything useful about the company. Well, that's probably a little too negative, even for me. A good mission or purpose statement can tell readers everything they need to know about your company in a few words. Unfortunately, I'm a bit too verbose for that (as you can tell by the fact that this post is ridiculously long already). Think of it more as a testament about why you are jumping out of the stable workforce to live with the unpredictability of being a freelancer. If you don't know why you are doing this, you should do some soul searching right now, or I promise that you will have a lot of dark moments when the phone isn't ringing with potential clients begging for your services. Then, you'll be calling me and complaining that I made freelancing sound too glamorous. So, let me be clear - it's hard work and you better know why you are doing it when the going gets tough.
I'll tell you my Statement of Purpose - I started Harvest Insights because I want to spend more time with my two children during their formative years, but I also love the work I do and can't imagine living without it. When I'm asked, that's what I say to everyone, EVERYONE whether it's a potential client, a family member, a concerned friend who thinks I've lost my mind, myself on a dark day. Everyone gets the same story.
Why does my Statement of Purpose matter? Well, it matters because every project I take, every service I offer, every moment I spend on Harvest Insights could either support or negate that purpose. It has critically shaped the types of work that I chase - online groups, bulletin boards, report writing, local moderating, etc. See the trend? They are all generally projects that don't require a lot of travel so that I can be here when my kids get off the bus or have a sporting event or are home sick from school. I also do not chase clients that I know are high stress because I don't want to be thinking about deliverables when I'm reading bedtime stories.
Now, if I had gotten into freelancing because I wanted to make a lot of money, I'd be barking up some very different trees. I'd be thinking bigger and planning a growth strategy and building unique services and doing a lot more business development. But, that's not why I'm here.
A friend of mine gave me a card with the Holstee Manifesto on it. That's what you see at the top of this post, and you can buy one for yourself here. I secretly think that my very wise friend knew that my Type A personality would jump in from time-to-time and try to lure me onto a more aggressive path, but when that happens, I look at the card and remember my Statement of Purpose.
There are lots more topics to cover so I might have to bleed this topic dry for another two or three posts. Hang in there. In the next post, I'll cover naming and legal mumbo jumbo, services to offer, and what you need to market yourself.