After getting laid off from my office job last autumn, I decided to pursue a freelance career. My goal was to have more freedom in terms of how I wanted to live and work; specifically, I wanted to build a business that wasn’t tied down to one location.

I only had a few months left working my corporate job before I knew that it was time to take the plunge into full-time freelance writing. I followed all of the standard advice given to people in my position: saved up money for several months, paid off credit cards, cut back on expenses as much as possible, and researched the industry so that I would have some idea of what to expect. Overall, I felt pretty good about everything.

As I ended one job and started my new career, dread seized me. My savings would only last a few months–hadn’t I been reckless? What plan did I have? It seemed flimsy at best. And starting up…where would I even begin?

I regretted not using my former day job as a stability crutch to help me build my freelance business sooner. Although I had followed the freelancing advice everyone else seemed to be spouting off, I still felt unprepared for what was about to come.

To save yourself time and energy, follow these steps to set up your freelance business while you’re still employed:

1. Set up your business systems:

If you want your freelance business to be successful, you need to have some systems in place. I know, the very thought of this probably makes you cringe. But if your goal is to make a living freelancing, having these systems will pay off eventually.

Some questions to consider while you’re still at your 9-to-5:

  • How much does your dream lifestyle cost, and how much money do you need to make to sustain it?
  • If you have more than one client, how will you be able to keep track of each project and meet their different deadlines?
  • How will you manage and monitor job requests, pitches, proposals, and letters of interest?
  • How will you keep track of invoices and payments?
  • How will you budget your time between acquiring new clients, handling administrative responsibilities, and working on current projects?
  • If you juggle multiple clients as a freelancer, how will you manage all the contracts, tax forms, and other documents?
  • How do you want to organize the work you create?
  • How will you manage the finances of your business?
  • Is it better to set up a business bank account or open a credit card dedicated to your business?

If you’re feeling overwhelmed by this list of questions now, just wait until you have zero income and are running out of funds. It’s probably best to think about these things while you’re still stable at your day job. That way, when the time comes for you to go off on your own, you’ll be ready to hit the ground running.

2. Build a portfolio website:

Even if you’ve been freelancing for years, building a portfolio website can be challenging. You have to figure out how to communicate your experiences simply and organize them in an aesthetically pleasing way that makes logical sense. Although it seems like a lot of work, having a site is key if you want to freelance full-time because every potential customer will visit your site before deciding whether or not they want to work with you. If you don’t have one, then these clients may never find you!

Although there are a lot of resources that show you how to make an aesthetically pleasing portfolio website, it is not the most important thing. The priority should be having something to present instead of building the “perfect” site from the beginning because you can always improve it later. Your website should briefly talk about who you are, and what services/products you offer and display some good examples of your past work. By doing this, looking for potential customers or projects will become much easier and increase your likelihood of success in future businesses endeavors

3. Educate yourself on how to find paying work:

Once you ditch the nine-to-five and go freelance, a good portion of your time will be spent trying to score new gigs. But how do you find clients? It’s a tough question with no easy answer, something I learned the hard way after setting up my business.

Even if you are a beginner, there are many ways to find clients as well as resources from freelance experts who can help you land work. Start learning and improving your methods now so that the process does not feel so daunting later on. Overseas professionals may be perplexed by some of the jargon used in North America when it comes to finding employment such as “LOI” (letter of interest) or “cold pitching” (writing to propose a story idea to an editor/client whom You’ve never worked with before). Make sure you’re caught up by taking an online course or reading a blog from a well-respected authority figure in your industry. Furthermore, explore these leading sites to find various kinds of freelancing opportunities; this is the final thing you need to be doing:

4. Start networking and actively seeking clients in your free time:

Networking can be difficult to motivate yourself when you already have a job. However, connecting with others now could lay the foundation for a successful future in freelancing.

By this point, you have your systems in place, created your website, and familiarized yourself with finding clients. You even have a few LOI templates on hand! You are now ready to begin networking and let everyone know about your freelance business venture. Attend industry events and start forming relationships with potential clients as soon as possible. Any work you get now will not only help your portfolio but give you the experience needed to draw in future clients.

In the freelancing world, things tend to move at a slow pace. A lot of the work is of the hurry-up-and-wait variety. So why do all of this now? The more consistent work you put in now, the better prepared you’ll be for your future business endeavors.

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