By 2020, freelancers will make up more than 40% of the U.S. workforce, according to the Intuit 2020 Report. That’s more than 60 million people. If you are one of those 60 million people — or would like to be — it’s important not only to understand the risks and rewards of working on your own, but also what it takes to succeed as a freelancer or solopreneur.
7 Career Coach Strategies for Freelancers and Solopreneurs
Most people who chose to leave the corporate world are pretty excited about not having a boss, a commute or regular hours. These are all powerful draws toward freelance life, but unless you set some guidelines for yourself, it’s easy to wake up one day (at noon) and find that you are not making enough money or that you’ve lost some of what inspired you at the beginning. As a solopreneur, you have to find your own drive.
We recommend the following strategies to our career coaching clients to help them stay on track — and reap the benefits of going out on their own:
- Prepare to launch — Deciding to work for yourself can be scary and exciting. You won’t have a salary, an IT person or someone feeding you work. Before you decide if this is the right move for you, calculate your earning potential (and build up a safety net before you make the leap in case things change) and make sure you can live on that. Consult a tax professional and learn about your options. In some cases, incorporating your business will save you a lot of money; in others, it will not. Get health insurance, even if you get a plan that will only cover a catastrophe. Make sure you have the office equipment that you need (including a file backup system) and a quiet place to work.
- Keep your emotions in check — Going out on your own is an emotionally charged decision. It’s very empowering to take control of your career; celebrate that and congratulate yourself for believing you can do it. Embrace the joy, but remember that if you don’t land a specific client, it’s business. It may feel more personal to you as a freelancer, but for the hiring manager, you are just another potential contractor.
- Know what you are worth — Setting rates is one of the most difficult aspects of freelancing. Talk to people who hire professionals like you. Ask what the usual rate is. Seek out people in industries outside of your own to avoid a conflict of interest. If you can, talk to other people doing what you do, and ask what they charge. These conversations can be awkward, but they are very important. Take your years of experience into account, just as you would with a full-time job. Decide what you need to get paid to feel good about the work. Use a tool like Harvest or Toggl to track your time — even if you are charging per project and not per hour. It’s important to know how many hours you spent on a given project so you can price the next job accordingly.
- Know where to find work — As your own boss, you are responsible for finding projects that best match your interests and abilities. You are also your own marketing department, which means it’s up to you to drive business. LinkedIn and other social media platforms can help you spread the word — to your network and beyond — that you’ve launched a freelance business.
In addition, the following websites can help you land freelance projects:
- Establish a schedule — Creating — and sticking with — a routine will be important as you build your client base and have more competing deadlines. The good news is that if you are not a morning person, you can decide that your work day starts at 10 a.m. If you like to work early, start at 6 a.m. It’s your call, but starting at the same time every day will help you avoid the distraction inherent to freelance life. If you plan to start work at 8 a.m., stick with your plan, no matter how tempting it might seem to take the dog for a short walk or quickly sweep up the kitchen. Start working and do those things on a break.
- Set boundaries — When you have multiple clients competing for your attention, it’s easy to just drop what you are working on to answer an email or a call. Early on, establish a policy with your clients that is agreeable to both you and the client. That might be a promise on your end that you will return all emails sent during normal business hours within two hours, along with an invitation to text you if something is truly urgent. At the same time, establish boundaries with friends and family. Some people simply don’t understand that not being in an office doesn’t mean you are always free. Well-meaning friends who get the day off for Flag Day will want to have brunch. If you happen to have time, great. If not, say no. You don’t get paid holidays.
- Leave the house — Sometimes you just need to be around other people. Whether it’s renting a spot in a co-working space, setting up face-to-face meetings or heading to a coffee shop, a change of scenery can be good for you. Meeting with others can also help you build strategic partnerships and find great mentors.
The freedom of solopreneurship can be invigorating, but it still means being accountable for accomplishing everything you need to do. If reading the aforementioned advice makes you uneasy, freelance life might not be your best option.
You might be able to discover opportunities with greater flexibility without going the freelance route. A career coach can help you find ways to achieve greater work-life balance in your current job or perhaps explore other career options.
Are you a thriving freelancer or solopreneur? If so, what strategies have contributed to your success?