The decision to quit a full-time job to freelance can be challenging.
Let’s be honest: a regular income, free training, and access to company benefits (such as holiday pay and health insurance) are all logical reasons to stay in full-time employment.
But leaving your job to freelance can be fulfilling—not just by varying your workload and having extra control over your schedule. Almost two-thirds of freelancers in the US earn more than when they worked for an employer.
If you’re one of the 14% of people who freelance as a side gig alongside your day job, you might be questioning if it’s the right time to quit your job, and if so, the steps you need to take. This guide shares the answers.
- When is the right time to quit your job to freelance?
- How to determine the right time
- The pros of freelancing full-time
- The cons of freelancing full-time
- How to prepare to quit your job to freelance
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When is the right time to quit your job to freelance?
Ask a handful of freelancers that question and you’ll get dramatically different answers. Some swear by a six-month timescale; others “when the time is right.”
The reality is: there will never be an ideal time to quit.
Quitting your job to go freelancing is a personal decision and one that depends on so many factors. It’s not a decision to take lightly nor one you can make overnight. But with careful planning and consideration, you can mitigate some of the hurdles and increase the likelihood of building a successful freelance business.
“I was working as a full-time financial journalist, but I was looking for more variety and autonomy. So, I interviewed for a role at a new marketing agency that essentially wanted me to find clients on my own. That was my lightbulb moment. I realized that instead of hustling for someone else, I could start my own business.”Jake Safane, founder of Carbon Neutral Copy
Take it from freelance writer Kelly Duval, who says, “The timing to quit my job to freelance had never felt perfectly right.
“Making the leap felt scary, which is why I delayed it over the years. But I realized that whenever I reflected on what I wanted next in my career, freelancing kept coming up. It was a dream that wasn’t going away, and I knew I’d regret not giving it a try.”
How to determine the right time to quit your job and freelance
Working out the right time to quit your job to freelance is perhaps one of the most critical stages. Take time to make informed decisions by researching and thinking through all options. Get the timing right and you’re on the way to freelance success.
Here are four essential questions to consider that will help you work out if going it alone now is the right decision.
Do I need many clients to start freelancing?
Quitting your 9 to 5 with no paying clients is far more difficult than quitting with one or two clients in the bag. Not only are you unable to test out internal procedures, such as invoicing or onboarding new clients, but you also won’t have any income at all.
Just one or two existing clients can get your new career off the ground and line up other opportunities, increasing self-confidence and helping you land other clients by:
- Giving recommendations or endorsements from existing clients
- Allowing you to showcase your skills as a freelancer
- Helping you develop a portfolio to share with new clients
Lots of freelancers get vital experience and paying clients from their existing networks. Use opportunities at your current workplace, or find another 9 to 5 job that will give you the skills and knowledge you need to eventually take the leap.
Jake Safane says that when he quit his job to freelance, “In some ways, the timing was great, because I was able to make it work financially, and I much preferred freelancing. But I was 27, so I didn’t have a ton of work experience, particularly from a marketing perspective.
“After a little more than a year, however, I got a great offer for a full-time job that I decided to take, knowing that I could always go back to freelancing if need be,” Jake continues.
“Having that extra bit of in-house experience made a big difference in my skills and confidence, and four years later, my freelance business is still going strong.”
Do I have savings to fall back on?
A buffer of cash to fall back on is not only sensible, but critical in the early stages of freelancing.
If you’re single or the main breadwinner, work out if you and your family can manage on just your income. You don’t always need a substantial amount. But a small emergency fund can put your mind at ease and take the pressure of having to earn a living.
Stress and anxiety can impact your creativity as a freelancer. A buffer of between three to six months’ salary should see you through most financial setbacks and weather the feast or famine that freelancing brings.
“When I realized I wanted to quit my job, I calculated how much money I’d need to make as a freelancer each month to live comfortably (including a cushion for savings and taxes). Once I was able to hit that number and I had enough recurring work to keep it going, I knew that I could safely leave my full time job.”SaVanna Shoemaker, freelance writer and consultant
Do I have skills that someone is willing to pay for?
A recession or increase in inflation is the number one concern for freelancers in the US. With 70% of freelancers worried about not having enough savings to combat the effects of an economic downturn, having the right skills to make a successful career is critical.
Quitting your job and becoming a freelancer is a dream for many people. But to make a success of it, you need freelance skills up your sleeve–ones that clients are willing to pay for.
What’s more, enhancing your skills by working full-time can be beneficial in the long run. That’s exactly what Kelly Duval did by using her experience in content marketing to get a better understanding of freelancing.
“A part of me wishes I just went for it earlier, but then again, I trust that the timing was right,” Kelly says. “If I had quit a previous job to do freelancing full-time, I might not have had the work opportunities that now help me be a better freelancer.
“For example, working as an in-house content marketing manager gave me a good perspective of the other side of freelancing.”
Similarly, you may have qualifications in a particular field. A degree in nursing, for example, would show potential healthcare clients that you are knowledgeable in your industry.
Take a look at your skills and work experience. Use these skills to make the transition into freelancing or identify where your gaps are. Put measures in place to fill the gaps now and plan your future in freelancing.
What will my backup plan look like?
Preparing yourself for the unexpected is not just great business planning; it also protects your sanity.
With the best will in the world, some things happen which are out of your control. A contingency plan helps you prepare for the unknown and is a critical strategy to include in your freelance business plan.
Assess the risks of not having a regular income for longer than anticipated and the disruption that has on your personal life. Work out what steps you need to take to mitigate the reduction in earnings. Use savings during this slow season to manage the ebbs and flows of freelance work.
Have a plan B in place before you quit your full-time job to freelance. Being proactive now will allow you to overcome some of the unexpected and flourish.
The pros of freelancing full-time
There are numerous advantages of working remotely and being a freelancer. The list we have compiled below is just the tip of the iceberg:
- Schedule your own work. Some 78% of skilled freelancers say having the flexibility to schedule their work is the key reason for freelancing. Freelancing gives you the autonomy to make your own business decisions and schedule your own workload.
- Uncap your earning potential. Aside from the fact that the average annual salary for US freelance writers is $65,000, the earning potential is limitless. Take on as many projects as you can handle, increasing your rate each time.
- Choose your clients and working hours. Freelancing allows you to make choices about what type of client you want to work with and how many hours per week you want to work.
- You’re the CEO! Say goodbye to bowing down to the demands of an employer. You’re free to make your own decisions, allowing you to take responsibility for all decision-making.
- Grow personally and professionally. Freelancing allows you to have full control over the direction of your career. Grow your hard and soft skills by taking yourself out of your comfort zone—both of which can demand higher rates for the services you offer.
The cons of freelancing full-time
Although there are many benefits to freelancing full-time, there are also a few downsides to consider before quitting your job:
- It takes self-motivation. Successful freelancers are often motivated by risk and stress and not damaged by it. If that’s going to cripple you, freelancing full-time may not be for you–it’ll be harder to perform at the required level to find success.
- It takes effort and patience. Be willing to put in the time and effort to grow your freelance business–nothing happens overnight. Freelancers need to be patient and resilient enough to see the benefits over a period of time.
- You need a variety of different skills. You’re not just a freelancer, but a business owner. Skills in accounting, networking, researching, and communication are required to succeed.
- Work is varied and often unpredictable. If structure and routine are important, then a career freelancing may be a step too much. Managing different clients, projects and rates are all normal ways of working.
- It takes more effort to switch off from work. If you’re the type of person who wants to clock out and forget work until the next day, it may be more difficult for you to make the transition to freelancing.
- No access to employee benefits. Have you wondered how you would cope financially if you were sick and unable to work for a period of time? Benefits such as holiday pay, sick pay, maternity benefits, access to counseling, and physiotherapy are the benefits you’ll lose.
- Earnings can be inconsistent. Freelance income can vary month by month. Freelancers need to prepare for dips in income and have enough money to cover the dry spells.
- It can be isolating. With 61% of freelancers saying they need a stronger community and more chances to collaborate with others, a career in freelancing can be isolating. Online communities like Peak Freelance are on-hand to help with this.
How to prepare to quit your job and freelance
As the old saying goes, “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”
That couldn’t be further from the truth when you’re making such a huge decision to change your career. Good planning will help you make the transition into full-time freelancing easier.
If you’ve decided the time is right, here’s how to quit your day job to freelance full-time.
1. Reflect on where you’re at
Self reflection involves thinking about your own feelings, ideas, and behavior, and the reasons that may be influencing them.
Spend some time thinking about the drivers affecting your decision to quit your job. What is driving your decision? How does your current job make you feel? What do you imagine full-time freelancing to feel like?
These questions might uncover opportunities you can capitalize on. If you’re quitting due to job uncertainty, for example, find a niche in recession-proof freelance industries for greater stability.
SaVannah Shoemaker says, “I started freelance writing as a side hustle in March of 2019, but didn’t decide until November that I wanted to transition into freelance writing instead of full-time work.
“After starting to build up my business in November, I was able to quit in August 2020. My niche is nutrition, and there was a huge need for health and nutrition content in 2020 because of the pandemic, so I think that played a big role.”
2. Build a safety net
There’s no doubt that freelancing can be a lucrative business.
It’s possible to carve out a successful career by taking freelance writing jobs online or searching for gigs on job boards like Peak Freelance Jobs. That said, a financial safety net can take the pressure off earning money instantly.
The exact amount you need to save depends completely on you, your situation, and what you’re comfortable with. Take a long-term view and identify that you need to live on during those early stages of setting up your freelance business.
Be realistic with business expenses, such as:
- Computers and software
- Training courses
Secondly, build a support network. Have someone who believes in you and your goals. A supportive partner or friend can not only help you practically and emotionally, but also celebrate your successes.
Lastly, develop a contingency plan if it doesn’t work out. A clear plan should your goals not work out as expected will remove some of the personal pressure to succeed.
3. Polish your skills
Why not use your current employment situation to upskill? Lots of organizations have courses on offer for employees to improve their hard and soft skills.
Carve out a successful freelance career now by improving skills in:
- Communication. Working remotely means communication is done by phone and digital communications like Google Meet and email, so you’ll need great communication skills to nurture relationships with clients.
- Writing and editing. Take a freelance writing course or self-editing course and improve your skills. Learn how to write engaging content and improve readability by cutting out unnecessary words.
- Networking. Building and maintaining a professional network is essential for sharing ideas and information with other freelancers. Networking skills create opportunities for getting new clients and building a personal brand.
- Resilience. There are going to be good times and not-so-good times with freelancing. Improve how you respond to challenges with resilience training and bounce back quicker.
- Time management. Freelancing gives you the autonomy to choose the work you want and when to do it. Managing your time efficiently makes sure you consistently meet client deadlines and produce high quality work without feeling burnt out.
Use the time you have whilst in employment to polish your skills. Take some annual leave or use flexible working patterns to complete training courses to enhance your skills and knowledge.
4. Create samples of your chosen field
A freelance writing sample is a document that demonstrates your skills. This can be a social media post, podcast script, email, blog post, whitepaper, landing page, or short story.
Potential clients want to see that you’re worth hiring before they ask you to start writing for them.
A good sample shows your writing skills. Be sure to include up to date stats and unique quotes from industry experts. Format well by having white space between paragraphs and simple language.
Store your samples online using cloud-based software such as Authory. Having these links in one place allows you to send your work to clients in one folder, as well as filter links by topic, publication, or client.
5. Develop a freelance portfolio
A portfolio is a compilation of your skills and knowledge. It’s like a filing cabinet of your best work that shows your personality and level of expertise.
The nature of your portfolio will depend on the industry you want to work in, but some generic details that apply across all fields.
A good portfolio can increase visibility and presence. After all, it’s the first impression a potential client will see.
Develop your freelance portfolio by:
- Collecting testimonials. Have you received excellent feedback from your manager? If so, use this to evidence your skills. Current employers, coworkers, customers, or mentors are great sources, so ask for a testimonial!
- Using digital portfolio sites. Digital tools like Authory can house your portfolio online, so you can instantly show off to new clients.
- Using your current employer. Demonstrate your skills through work you have done within existing employment. Get permission from your employer to use specific samples in your own portfolio.
- Ask friends and family. Most freelancers find work through friends, family, and social media. You’ll never know what invisible opportunities are already out there–so ask around.
That’s exactly what Kelly Duval did. She says, “Before I quit my job, I reached out to some existing contacts to let them know I would be taking on more freelancing work. I wanted to first get some clients to make it a smoother transition. I also had enough savings to feel comfortable making the switch.”
Remember, the quality of the work you share in your portfolio is far more important than the quantity. It’s better to have a few great samples that demonstrate your skills than lots of samples that are weak and don’t add value.
6. Find your first client
How do you find your first paying client? Where are the best websites to look at?
Our freelance writing rates survey shows the most successful way to get jobs is through referrals and word-of-mouth, with 42% voting it as the method that drives the highest-paying freelance jobs.
That’s followed by social media (17%), communities (14%), cold pitching (11%), and freelance writing job boards (6%).
Although we don’t recommend freelance marketplaces such as Upwork and Fiverr, they’re often the first choice for new freelancers. Clients who use those sites searching for a freelancer rarely have the budgets you’ll need to make serious money as a freelance writer.
Use current employment opportunities to develop a portfolio—a tactic that worked for Shweta Choudhary, a freelance content writer: “I worked part-time for a company for five months. I wrote everything: website copy, social media posts, Amazon A+ content, blog posts, newsletters, and even Whatsapp promotional messages.
“It was my training ground. And I came out with experience, a portfolio, and a finalized list of services I would offer.”
7. Set a quit date
You’ve done your preparation, have a few writing samples, and landed your first few clients. The next stage is perhaps the most exciting: setting a quit date.
Handing in your resignation letter can be scary, but wonderful at the same time. A quit date finalizes your decision-making and makes freelancing very real.
Are you ready to take the leap into the world of freelancing?
Working as a freelance entrepreneur, whether that be a writer, tutor, graphic designer, or videographer, can be rewarding and profitable. But you need the right foundation from the get-go.
Use this article as a guide to starting to lay the foundations you need to quit your job and freelance full-time. Good preparation will help you feel confident that you’re making the right decision–and build a successful career.
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