Your prep for day one starts long before you hand your notice in, deliver that not-so-tearful adios speech and skip off into the sunset with your bagful of leaving gifts.
Think like you’re self-employed as soon as you decide to work for yourself which means three things - researching work opportunities; making industry connections and securing and startingwork.
We’ll explore each of these in more detail below. They’ll help you generate a checklist that will focus your preparation.
Create your pre-start-up checklist
1. Research: identify all work opportunities
Find your hidden talents
Do you have other skills you can offer? Some of the best freelancers are also the best hustlers. They realise that every skill offers the potential to make money. It also makes your freelance life even more interesting. Make a list of all the things you do well, then search for opportunities where those skills might be needed.
Research companies already using freelancers
Thousands of companies use freelancers every day to fill the skills gaps in their permanent workforce, and there are a number of ways to tap into them:
Sign up for company job alerts on social media. If they’re looking for new staff in your area of work, approach them to offer your services as a freelancer.
Check their recent press releases for new projects they’re planning, or funding they’ve secured, that could mean they’ll need extra staff
Check the websites of rival companies for freelance opportunities.
Stay in contact with past colleagues. Some will be working for rival companies, others will have moved into new industries that may also need your particular skill set.
Keep up-to-date with business news. Business expansions and mergers can sometimes mean freelance opportunities as firms transition.
2. Connect: make contact with relevant people and organisations
Write to companies on spec
You can, and should, write speculative letters to companies who aren’t currently advertising for staff. Do your research. Make sure they use freelancers with your skillset, so you don’t end up wasting their time – and yours! 😉
Build a network
These can be leaders in your field or other freelancers. Most of the freelancers I’ve worked alongside over the years have been really helpful when it comes to suggestions or advice – either for companies looking for freelancers, or when they’ve been offered work they can’t do.
Be nice. Always. Develop a trusted network, and you’ll tap into job opportunities you might not ordinarily find.
Set yourself up on social media
If you like to write, blog about what you do. Sprinkle images of the products you sell on Instagram once in a while. Take part in online discussions and follow companies you like on Twitter.
Create a profile on LinkedIn. Lots of companies are using social media as their primary tool for finding staff. Engage with them online as much as possible.
Find freelancers who complement your skills
Add value to what you’re offering. What skills complement yours? If you’re a painter and decorator find a great plasterer; if you’re a copywriter pair up with a great designer.
Ask family, friends or work colleagues to recommend people. Check out their work. When employers are looking for one skill, they may also need another. Offer them both, and you’ll both benefit.
When I worked as a freelance writer, I often paired up with a freelance photographer I knew. When either of us was offered work, we'd mention the other. It didn’t always work, but we did both get work out of it.
3. Secure and start work
Set up email job alerts
Most of us are familiar with online employment agencies, which have streamlined the search for relevant job vacancies. These are great sources for freelance work, because firms know they’ll reach huge numbers of potential workers. Here are the three categories to consider:
a) Niche sites
These are the websites that specialise in particular trades or industries. They’re good because companies operating in those industries will use them to find specialist staff. However, it does mean you’ll compete with lots of other freelancers with potentially more skill than you. Here are a couple of examples:
GorkanaJobs advertises jobs for people who work in media or public relations (PR). Jobs include writers, editors, photographers, videographers, digital content producers, PR managers, account managers.
GreenJobs is a job site specifically for people looking for work in the green sector. Areas of work include: conservation, alternative energy, solar energy and energy efficiency.
An increasing number of freelance-specific job sites is clear proof of the growth in the self-employed sector. Typically, they’re set up as ‘bid-for-work’ sites, which means you’ll be taking part in what effectively is a huge online employment auction.
These can be a good way for new freelancers to find work initially, but they can also give employers an unrealistic view of the value of your work.
c) General job sites
Also known as aggregator sites, these employment companies trawl the web for you, drawing together job vacancies from lots of sites across the internet so you don’t have to. Indeed has become a popular choice, as is the business social network LinkedIn.
Source work through friends, family, past colleagues
Never underestimate the power of word-of-mouth. Tell people you’re going freelance and encourage them to pass any opportunities your way.
Explore teaching your skills to others
You don’t need to be a qualified teacher to teach in the post-compulsory sector (16 and over). This is also known as the Lifelong Learning Sector. It includes adult education services and vocational colleges who often need tutors to teach everything from hairdressing, beauty therapy or mosaic-making to bricklaying, plumbing or car mechanics. You will need to to get the Preparing to Teach in the Lifelong Learning Sector qualification (known as PTLLS but pronounced ‘petals’), which takes 12 weeks max to complete, but some institutions will take you on without it if you agree to complete it soon after.
If I’m having trouble finding paid work, should I work for free?
You can benefit from non-monetary jobs if there are other benefits such as exposure for you or your work or word-of-mouth recommendations that can help grow your client base.
But don’t do this often. You still have bills to pay and respectable businesses understand that good freelancers should be paid for their services.
With this thought in mind, it’s worth thinking about how you can protect yourself financially and legally. In Part Two, we’ll delve deeper into this area and explore ways to ensure that you’re covered.