For a growing number of workers, the notion of a full-time job is as dated as the mimeograph. Call it what you want — freelancing, contract work, consulting, even entrepreneurship — but more and more of us are bringing home the bacon on a project-by-project basis. And experts say that trend is only going to grow.
“As companies come out of this recession and start to do well, they’re going to be very cautious,” says Alan Weiss, president of Summit Consulting — which means using contract workers instead of taking on new employees.
That means that whether you jump into freelancing voluntarily or are forced into it kicking and screaming, there’s a decent chance you’ll be hanging up a shingle at some point during your career. So to smooth the transition from wage earner to sole proprietor, @work tapped career experts and successful freelancers for advice .
Have the right stuff: Freelancing is not for everybody. Shrinking violets need not apply.
“It’s really important that you can self-motivate,” says Sarah Burningham, who left the p.r. department of HarperCollins to run her own company, Little Bird Publicity, from her Jackson Heights apartment. “If you need somebody over your shoulder telling you what to do, freelancing is not for you.”
Market yourself: If you’re a creative type who considers salesmanship uncouth, get over it. Like it or not, it’s part of the job.
“The single biggest challenge is you’re constantly in hustler mode,” says Tory Johnson, founder of Spark & Hustle conferences for small-business owners. Experts say freelancers should spend 50 percent of their time marketing themselves — and at the outset make that 80, says consultant Alan Weiss. Reach out to everyone you know, says Weiss — and by everyone, he means everyone, both personally and professionally. And repeat this every quarter.
Crunch the numbers: Most freelancers have no idea what their overhead is, or what they need to make to turn a profit, says Michelle Goodman, author of “My So-Called Freelance Life.”
“People don’t always do the math in the beginning,” she says. Before she launched her p.r. firm, Burningham did a tough budget, paring expenses and calculating what she’d need in terms of net and gross income. She budgeted for quarterly taxes, and hired an accountant to keep on top of things. The budget worked. Though she’d saved enough money to keep her afloat for six months, she hasn’t had to tap her savings. “The more fiscally conservative you can be, the better off you’re going to be,” she says.
Be time-sensitive: Money isn’t the only thing you should budget. Your time is just as valuable, says Goodman.
“Newbies aren’t as efficient as they could be,” she says, noting that a $1,000 gig isn’t that grand if a freelancer puts 50 hours into it. She recommends tracking your time, using free time-management programs at sites such as myHours.com and Toggl.com. A hard look at how you spend your day will help you minimize screwing around on Facebook and three-hour lunches with your self-employed amigos.
It’s well and good to be an expert at overseas marketing. But if you’re an expert on overseas marketing to, say, the Benelux countries, that specificity can land you a gig. Lesson: “Focus on something that makes you memorable,” she says.
Get it in writing: It’s best to have a written contract for each gig, covering the length of the assignment, the scope of the services, the pay, the date of payment and who has the authority to request further services, says Hanan Kolko, a partner at Meyer, Suozzi, English & Klein who specializes in freelancing issues.
Don’t sign blindly. Instead, learn how to read contracts, says Pamela Mitchell, author of “The 10 Laws of Career Reinvention.” She advises paying special attention to non-compete clauses, which restrict where someone can work. If you can’t get them struck outright, try to make them as nonrestrictive as possible.
Know when to fold ’em: Weiss has a simple metric for defining success: You should be getting steady business within six months, and supporting yourself in a manner you’re accustomed to after a year. If not, it’s time to reassess your freelancing ways.