How to Go From Full-Time to Freelance

If you need some flexibility and can’t negotiate a different schedule at your current job, freelancing might be the solution you’re looking for.

As the workweek lengthens, a growing number of employees are trading in full-time, office-bound jobs to become part of the freelance workforce: As of 2014, an estimated 34 percent of working Americans freelance, according to Freelancers Union and Elance-oDesk. By 2020, that number is expected to jump up to 40 percent.

While freelancers hardly work fewer hours than their office-bound counterparts, they have more freedom to set the hours they choose, often accommodating the demands of family. Most American mothers cite part-time work as their ideal work situation, according to Pew Research.

Here’s how to make the switch.

Be Free(lance)

Be Free(lance)

This week we talk about juggling your career, family, friends, and relationships — and how to make it work (or not). Does “balance” actually exist? #whatbalance

If you need some flexibility and can’t negotiate a different schedule at your current job, freelancing might be the solution you’re looking for.

As the workweek lengthens, a growing number of employees are trading in full-time, office-bound jobs to become part of the freelance workforce: As of 2014, an estimated 34 percent of working Americans freelance, according to Freelancers Union and Elance-oDesk. By 2020, that number is expected to jump up to 40 percent.

While freelancers hardly work fewer hours than their office-bound counterparts, they have more freedom to set the hours they choose, often accommodating the demands of family. Most American mothers cite part-time work as their ideal work situation, according to Pew Research.

Here’s how to make the switch.

Does It Make Sense for You?

Does It Make Sense for You?

Before you give up a full-time job with a guaranteed paycheck, paid time off, health benefits, and a 401(k), assess whether unstructured freelance work is right for you.

Do you have the right temperament? Working for yourself requires self-motivation and self-discipline, says career coach Andrea Raggambi, and you should consider how accountable you are in other areas of your life. For instance, if you can commit to a schedule for working out and managing a budget, then you probably have the right mindset to create your own deadlines and stick to them.

Consider the realities of the often difficult first years. It’s not unusual to work 14-hour days in the beginning, says Vicki Salemi, career expert for Monster.com, because you are constantly hustling to find new opportunities. You’ll be responsible for sales, marketing, customer service, contracts, invoicing, and tax payments, while juggling multiple clients and projects at one time.

Instead of having one boss, you might have five bosses to please. This does have a payoff: Your income isn’t capped, and once you have a steady set of clients, you will have more flexibility to set your own work hours and even walk away from a client you don’t like working with.

Take Stock

Take Stock

Don’t submit your resignation letter without doing a little legwork. Research your competition, outline projected income goals, and consider strategies for how to meet them. Determine your monthly mandatory expenses for housing, food, health insurance, and other essential bills. Make sure you can cover those expenses for the next six months to a year.

Take on a freelance gig to see if you like working on your own. Consider taking a few days off to test working from home. Some people feel isolated without coworkers and need to work from a local coffee shop or find a coworking space.

Seek out other consultants in your field through LinkedIn and Guru.com, and ask for advice. Find out what they wish they had known when they first began freelancing and ask them what mistakes they made during their first six months.

Leverage your professional network by discreetly letting people know you’re looking to transition into consulting work and ask for introductions to other professionals in your field or business owners who want to hire consultants with your skills.

Find Clients

Find Clients

Companies in just about every industry — including IT, finance, legal, engineering, and sales and marketing — are hiring freelance consultants, Salemi says. To find these opportunities, take your search to websites like Elance, Upwork, Guru, PeoplePerHour, iFreelance, and FlexJobs.

The key to making the most of these platforms is to create a compelling profile that helps you stand out from the competition, says Kelly Donovan, career communication and job search specialist. If you have a niche skill — maybe you’re an architect who specializes in 3-D renderings — emphasize it to differentiate yourself.

Many of the same principles that apply to finding full-time work will apply to finding freelance work, so “showcase specific examples of past successes, client or employer testimonials, and your unique strengths and expertise,” Donovan says. Highlight your ability to meet deadlines and work with a variety of people and stakeholders, and tout skills such as time management and attention to detail, says Brie Weiler Reynolds, career advisor and director of online content for FlexJobs.

Transition Slowly

Transition Slowly

If you aren’t ready to take the leap into freelancing all at once, there are steps you can take while still full-time to help your transition. Take on adjacent projects to test your skills — which will also broaden your portfolio. If your company offers internal training or tuition reimbursement, take a course in marketing, contracts, or budgeting for non-finance professionals.

Remember, though, to focus on your current job and continue to deliver great value to your employer. When you’re ready to become a consultant, you will probably want to ask your supervisor for a referral and testimonial.

Don’t Burn Bridges

Don’t Burn Bridges

When you’re ready to give notice, tell your boss your plans and say you’d like to stay in touch, and possibly continue to work for the organization for a set number of hours a month as a contractor. “If you have proven yourself to be indispensable … they might want you to stay around,” Salemi says.

Even if your boss declines, keep in touch. Stay in contact with your colleagues, too. If a coworker eventually leaves for another position, reach out and ask if they can use your help at the new company. If you’re working on a project your boss or coworkers would find relevant, send them a note and tell them about it.

More on Balancing Acts:
How I Pitched a 32-Hour Workweek — and Got It
Balance Is the Big Lie
15 Ways to Stay Connected When You Work Remotely