How to Quit Your Job and Pursue Freelancing Full-Time
Top 7 recommendations on how to prepare for a career as a full-time freelancer
Taking the leap from part-time to full-time freelancing is one of the most exciting (yet terrifying) life choices I have ever made. Although I wouldn’t trade that decision for the world, there are several steps I took (and other steps I should have taken) to prepare for that monumental day.
Here are the steps I advise taking before becoming a full-time freelancer:
Recommendation #1: Have 5 or 6 Steady Clients
If you are considering full-time freelancing, chances are you have been freelancing part-time for several months (or years). I strongly recommend only taking the leap into full-time freelancing after you have secured 5–6 (or more) part-time clients. If you have consistent freelancing work that you spend several hours a week on when you come home from your full-time job, and you have more freelance work than you can keep up with, you may be in a good place to leave your full-time position and pursue freelancing full-time.
Here’s why this is important:
If you’ve been freelancing long enough, you know that project-based living changes rapidly. Your steady, long-term clients may decide they want to take a break and will go 6–8 months without sending any work. Or, another client may restructure his budget and cut down on your billable hours. There are months where you may make $7,000 or $8,000, and other months where you may make significantly less than that. Nothing is set in stone and freelancing can be feast or famine at times. That’s why I always advise freelancers to secure several loyal clients who have a lot of work before they switch to full-time freelancing. That way, even if you lose a client or two after you begin freelancing full-time, you’ll have several other clients to rely on and won’t be starting at square one.
Recommendation #2: Perfect Your Portfolio & Pitch
If you already have five or six clients in place, chances are your portfolio is in pretty good shape. But if most of the writing you do for those clients is ghostwriting, or if you are hoping to tap into some new industries, create some new writing samples and upload them onto an online portfolio platform such as Contently.com or ClearVoice.com. If you prefer to have a website instead of a portfolio link, set up your website before becoming a full-time freelancer.
I cannot stress this enough.
I wasted more time than I should have setting up a website my first month as a full-time freelancer and, in retrospect, should have used that time pitching new clients.
Recommendation #3: Set Aside a “Freelancing Fund” That Will Last 6 Months
Because there are so many ups and downs in the freelancing industry, it is strongly advised to have sizable savings set aside prior to embarking on full-time freelancing. Just to be clear: this is separate from your savings account.
The size of your freelancing fund will vary depending on the area you live in. Those living in San Francisco will have different budgeting needs than those living in Pennsylvania because the cost of living is very different in those areas.
Write the following expenses down:
Monthly rent/mortgage payment
Family expenses (child’s tuition, etc.)
Cell phone bill
Coworking space/coffee shops (because working from home will get very old very fast and you will need to get out of the house a few times a week)
Any other expenses
Tally up these numbers and multiply that by six. That’s how much I recommend saving before becoming a full-time freelance writer (for the reasons listed below).
I know it seems like a lot, but the point of becoming a full-time freelancer is to stick with freelancing as a permanent career path. If money gets tight the first few months and you don’t have a freelance fund to fall back on, you will be far more tempted to apply for salaried positions (which is all too common). Having a freelance fund will help give you a better feeling of safety during those first few months.
Recommendation #4: Prepare to Pay Quarterly Taxes
When you become a full-time freelancer, you need to pay quarterly taxes which total around 30% of your income. That means a hefty payment is being made four times a year. When you’re a salaried employee, taxes are automatically deducted, meaning you may even get a refund at the end of the year.
I recommend meeting with an accountant or financial advisor and letting them know you’re considering making this switch…they will probably have some great insights on how to ease the process, particularly regarding taxes and your 401k and whether or not you will need an LLC.
Recommendation #5: Review Health Insurance Rates
Health insurance can be several hundred dollars per month depending on your freelance income. Although there are government subsidies available to those whose income falls below a certain threshold, you may not qualify for that if your freelance income is above a certain amount. I recommend visiting www.healthcare.gov and reviewing the insurance plans offered there. Enter your projected income on how much you think you may make as a freelancer your first year and see how much your monthly premium/deductible will be.
Recommendation #6: Prepare to Go Several Months at a Time Without Getting Paid
Depending on the nature of the work, some projects can take several months to complete. Although it is advised that freelancers request a 50% deposit up-front prior to starting the work, that 50% may not cover your expenses during the time you’re working on the project. During times like these, it may be necessary to dig into your freelancing fund and use some of that money to cover rent/mortgage payments, student loans, etc. Recommendation #7: Stop Buying Work Clothes!
Unless you plan to be client-facing, the average attire for a freelance writer is usually sweatpants, pajamas, or jeans and a t-shirt (on the days you work in a coffee shop/coworking space). It’s hard to remember you’ll be leaving your job in a few months when everything at the Banana Republic is 50% off. I was not mindful of my job transition leading up to becoming a full-time writer and continued to buy work clothes with reckless abandon. Now, I have an entire closet filled with work dresses and blazers that I rarely use.
Making the switch to full-time freelancing was the best decision I have ever made. Having the freedom to choose which projects I work on and where I work each day is something I will never give up. Although the recommendations I provide here may sound daunting, don’t let these steps deter you. With preparation and healthy savings in place, you will set yourself up for long-term success as a freelancer.
My name is Amanda Sapio and I am a freelance copywriter with 8+ years’ experience as a writer/editor.