Getting up the courage to start freelancing can be really, really hard. And getting up the courage to quit your job is way harder. But I'm here as living proof that it's not as hard as it may seem, and definitely not as crazy.
When I made the decision to freelance as my primary source of income, I knew I was taking a risk and one that might ultimately not pan out. Could I market my skills? Could I find clients? Could I earn a wage comparable to what I was already making? There were all questions my mom had too, and at first I wasn't sure I had answers.
But now that I've been successfully doing this for several months, I'm a lot more confident in sharing how I went from employed to self employed and did my best to minimize the risk along the way.
To most of my family and friends, it might seem like I quit my position as the Digital Marketing Manager at a growing food company on a whim, but I had been formulating my plan for a while. I knew that in order to quit, I would need three things 1) a small sum of money to keep myself afloat until I got my first few paying clients, 2) a cohesive (but not necessarily brilliant) online portfolio, and 3) a network. This is ALL you need. Seriously. All you need to become a fulltime freelance web developer or designer is a little cash, a decent portfolio, and some friends. I'm going to walk you through these things now.
Your money can come from a lot of sources, but for me it came mostly from good timing and my vacation payout from work. It also came from savings, but not as much....truthfully, I was savings as much as I could but I didn't really have a lot of extra each month so my savings was only a few hundred dollars. My biggest expense each month was rent and there was nothing I could do about that, so I trimmed the rest of my expenses as best I could.
I timed my exit from my position so that my last day of work would be a pay day, and another full paycheck would come two weeks later, and then my vacation payout and another half paycheck in addition to that. The vacation payout was integral to my nest egg - after the new year I was sure not to take any days off because I knew I would need every penny of that potential money. When all was said and done, my savings coupled with my last couple of paychecks would give me enough to last me two months. I figured that would be enough time to get my footing.
That may seem kind of haphazard, but it all depends on your risk tolerance and how much money you think you need to safely survive for at least two months. I got lucky with how it worked out with my job, and by doing the next two things on list before I left, I was able to put myself in a really great position to start getting clients right away.
If you want more information about finding sources for your startup cash, or how to start a freelance business in general, I totally urge you to go sign up for my free eCourse 3K in 30 Days. I wrote 3K in 30 days just for people like you, who are totally ready to break out of their 9 to 5s and start freelancing, but need better resources to help them do it. Think of it like Freelancing 101 - it's a really comprehensive, easy to digest 8 day email course, and it's totally free (you can register at the bottom of this page!). It's compiled from both my own experience booking 3K in work my very first month as a freelancer and the best resources available, all in one place. The sign up button is at the bottom of this page... wink, wink.
When you're first starting out, freelance sites like Elance and oDesk (both are now Upwork) might be some of your primary lead drivers. You'll need a basic portfolio for those sites, and you'll also need a website to which you can direct leads that come from your network.
To build your portfolio, you should dig through the work you've accomplished over the previous year and settle on a few projects. You only need about 3-5 linkable projects for your portfolio. I used two live website projects, two site mockups, and an alpha version of a web application I built. Your portfolio itself can serve as another example and you shouldn't wait for amazing projects to come in before you start building your site. In the weeks before you leave your full time job, you should dedicate all your spare time to your portfolio site and your profiles on oDesk and Elance. By the time you leave, they need to be ready.
Your portfolio should also mention that you're available for new projects, it should discuss the type of work you're looking to do, and it should have an easy for people to get in touch with you.
Your network is going to be one of the best tools you have to find jobs on a regular, recurring basis. When I first started out, I didn't think I had a great network, but I took inventory of every "weak tie" I could think of that I was comfortable contacting and was pleasantly surprised. Your "weak ties" are people that you know in some capacity, but don't have a close relationship with. These might be coworkers, older relatives, friends' parents, or college acquaintances that are also running companies of their own.
You should make a list of all of these people and contact them one by one to let them know what you're doing. Give them your email address and your portfolio site. Let me know what type of work you're looking to do, and ask them to keep you in mind or let you know of any contacts they have that might know of work. This process is almost guaranteed to get you your first client. It got me two, and one of them is a recurring client that gives me regular work.
Using the three tactics I described in this post, I was able to secure 4 jobs and between $3000 worth of work in the first month after leaving my job. This was a great start, and I'm positive you can do even better, armed with the knowledge and first-hand experience of someone who has been through it.
Oh! Don't forget to grab the super awesome and super detailed "Start & Grow Your Freelance Business" checklist that takes you all the way from "thinking about it" to "killing it". You can get it here >>