12 Tips for Starting a Full-Time Career as a Freelancer
Few freelance designers dive into freelancing full-time right out of the gate.
More often than not, freelancing starts out as a side job before slowly transitioning into a full-time career.
If you have been working with freelance design enough to know you would like to make a career out of it, though, there are likely many questions that are still unanswered.
After all, deciding to strike out on your own as a freelance graphic designer is no small decision.
If you are ready to take the plunge into a full-time career in freelancing, follow these tips to make the process as smooth and successful as possible.
1 – Set Aside Some Savings
Far too many part-time freelancers make the mistake of quitting their day job too soon, only to realise that building up enough of a business to support themselves takes time, and bill collectors do not wait.
Before you decide to start a freelancing full-time career, it is recommended that you have enough savings to keep the lights on for at least six months.
This will give you time to build your business and find enough clients to support your new career without having to worry about not having enough money to get by.
2 – Form an S-Corp
When you are just picking up side-jobs, you probably won't have to worry too much about how your freelancing income is taxed.
Once freelancing becomes your sole source of income, though, you will want to be sure and set your businesses up in a way that allows you to save as much as possible.
S-corps are advantageous for freelancers as they allow you to take a significant portion of your income as dividends from the company as opposed to a salary.
Since you do not have to pay social security and Medicare taxes on income that is taken as dividends, forming an S-corp can allow you to keep a lot more money in your pocket when tax season rolls around.
3 – Keep Track of Your Expenses
Speaking of taxes, there's a good chance you will have quite a few deductible expenses, especially when you are first starting your freelance full-time career.
While many freelance designers benefit from low overhead – which in turn means that they have few costs that they can deduct – you will still want to keep track of all your business-related expenses so that you can take advantage of them later.
4 – Focus on Finding Long-Term Clients
By far the biggest challenge for freelancers who are transitioning to a full-time career is finding enough steady work to support themselves.
While one-off projects are great in the short-term – and you indeed shouldn't turn them down – finding long-term clients who will send you repeat projects is a much more effective strategy for supporting a full-time career.
For freelance designers, long-term clients can sometimes be hard to come by.
Often, once a business creates their logo design or their web page they will not need any more design work for an extended period.
However, there are plenty of clients out there who require design work on a consistent basis such as businesses that publish many infographics, for example.
If you can find these clients, you will have a lot easier time maintaining a steady stream of work.
5 – Learn How to Market Yourself
No matter what freelancing field you are in – from graphic design to copywriting and everything in-between – you are going to have to get comfortable with some basic marketing strategies if you want to be effective.
In fact, many full-time freelancers spend as much time marketing themselves to clients as they do performing their job.
Put together a portfolio of your work, create profiles on websites that connect freelancers with clients, and hone your sales pitch to perfection.
If you can get as comfortable marketing yourself and your services as you are at the design work itself, you will have a lot easier time finding new clients.
6 – Go Above and Beyond
Even for part-time freelancers, it is always a good idea to put your best foot forward.
However, once you begin relying on freelancing as your sole source of income, it becomes especially important to go above and beyond expectations for every project that you take on.
Not only will striving to exceed your client's expectations make it more likely that they will provide you with repeat business, but it will also increase the odds that they leave you a great review – and reviews are like gold to freelancers who are just starting to establish their online presence and reputation.
7 – Get Good at Self-Motivating
Successful full-time freelancers are excellent self-motivators.
Remember, once you start freelancing full-time, there's going to be no one standing over your shoulder making sure you complete your work, and no one is going to be blowing up your phone if you decide to sleep in or take the day off.
While this type of freedom may sound incredibly appealing, it also makes it all too easy to turn your freelancing career into little more than an extended vacation.
When you are first starting out freelancing full-time, you may find it beneficial to set expectations for yourself much like the expectations you would have if you were working at a traditional job.
Set hours and days that you are going to work and stick to the schedule that you create. If at any point you do not have enough projects to fill that plan, you can always spend the extra hours marketing yourself and attempting to find new clients.
8 – Know When to Clock Out
On the opposite end of the spectrum of taking too much time off is the troubles that arise when full-time freelancers work themselves too hard.
With many jobs, once the work-day is over you can entirely leave it behind you and take some time off without having to worry about your job again until the next morning.
With freelancing, though, the opportunity to work more is always there.
Whether it is the middle of the night, a holiday, or the weekend, your work is always going to be a few clicks away.
Many freelancers find it difficult to honestly clock out and enjoy their time off without the nagging feeling that they should keep working always being in the back of their minds.
While there's certainly nothing wrong with working hard, everyone needs time off if he or she do not want to get burned out.
Again, this is where setting a schedule and sticking to it can be beneficial.
Once the workday ends, shut down your computer and take some time to relax. You deserve it.
9 – Gradually Raise Your Rates
When you are first starting out, it may be beneficial to set your rates a little on the low end so that you have an easier time finding your first projects and establishing your reputation.
Once you have a full schedule, though, you can start gradually raising your rates and going after better-paying clients.
Usually, the longer you have been in the business, the higher rates you will be able to command, assuming, of course, you build a positive reputation and establish an online presence full of stellar reviews.
10 – Know When to Say No
At a traditional job, telling your boss “no” or negotiating with them is not usually an option.
Freelancing, though, is a freedom that you need to learn how to take advantage of.
Know your worth, and negotiate to get the rates that you deserve.
If a client asks you to complete a project at midnight, realise that the option to turn them down is yours to take.
Remember, you are your own boss now, and while you may risk losing some clients, no one is going to fire you from your freelancing career.
Consider the options you have available, and learn when saying no to a client is in your best interest.
11 – Learn to Deal with Swings in Income
There's an adage that says, “chicken one day, feathers the next”.
In few circumstances does this adage ring more authentic than in the world of full-time freelancing.
Some weeks, you may be flooded with work, raking in more money than you have ever made in a week's time.
Other weeks, you may be staring at your computer screen hoping for just a single project to come your way.
If you are accustomed to a steady, consistent paycheck, the swings in income that freelancing full-time entails may be hard to adjust to.
This is where it again becomes important to have savings set aside.
Keep a rainy day fund for the periods of time when work is hard to come by, and filter money into it when work is plentiful.
This way you do not end up in a bad spot if your work dries up for an extended period.
12 – Enjoy It
A freelancing full-time career is a beautiful choice that offers plenty of benefits.
As a full-time freelancer, you are free to travel, work on your own schedule, and make your own decisions about what type of business you want to build.
Be sure to take advantage of these benefits and enjoy all that your new career has to offer.
You can also take advantage of freelance sites that allow you to browse jobs and place bids on jobs that fit your expertise.