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A quick start guide to freelancing — How to work for yourself

One of the most common questions I’m asked is: “Jamie, how do I work for myself like you do?” I hear things like “I just don’t know how to get started” at least once or twice a month from some next person, and if I’m honest, I’m tired. Because I’m tired, I’m going to go ahead write a quick guide to help alleviate the problem and have somewhere to point people when they ask. It’s gonna be a great time saver.

For my own personal intrigue, we’re going to use one giant analogy for this entire article.

You’re stranded on a desert island (your current job, life situation or whatever). The plan is to take you off this desert island to a better place. Let’s break down the steps to escaping the island. Off we go.

1. Sharpen your weapon.

No offence, but as things stand, you’re a useless lump of nothingness stranded on an island. This is a bad look. Let’s solve this. Find a stick and sharpen the hell out of it. Make no mistake, there’s going to be a lot of battles, and sometimes you’re going to need to be ruthless. You’ll need to learn to take the emotion out of tough decisions, or you’ll just end up with a bunch of “friends” that don’t pay your invoices on time.

Building this aspect of yourself and sharpening the aforementioned “stick” isn’t an overnight task. But over time you’ll get better at it and will always have that weapon available should the need arise. Correct use of this “stick” results in clients who respect you and wouldn’t even consider missing a due date, deadline or invoice payment.

This is what you do for work, and sometimes you must treat it as such and make the hard decisions. Even if they may hurt someone’s feelings.

2. Make the plan (and the backup plan).

Start with the backup plan. Option B. The contingency. The best (and usually easiest) way to set one of these up is to work out how to get back to exactly where you are right now. No burning bridges or screaming in your boss’ face here. The aim is that in the worst case scenario you can return to where you were and have a safe haven to seek refuge should things go south. So make sure to leave on good terms and keep the door open, explain you’re off on your own adventure and that you’d genuinely appreciate their support both now and in the future. If they’re reasonable, they’ll understand.

Now, with the contingency in place, it’s time for the fun part. Work out what you’re doing, why, who for and where. Put all these pieces together and plot the route to your first destination. Follow this carefully, adapt as needed and flesh it out receive more data. When the time comes, a bigger or better plan will be required. But for now, this gives you a direction to head in, and a guide to get you back on track when you reach hurdles, struggle or fail. Which you will, believe me. Accept it as a learning experience and keep moving forward. Stick to your plan.

3. Stockpile supplies.

When it comes to moving into freelance, the more massive a “stockpile” you can build, the better. Creating a financial buffer gives you the mental freedom to do better work allow you a clearer mind to be more creative. If you aren’t worrying as much about where your next rent payment is coming from, you can focus on creating awesome stuff to grow your audience and find people to sell it to.

As a quick aside here: Ensure to budget for unexpected fuckeries, cos there’ll likely be plenty. I’d personally suggest a minimum buffer of between three and six months of living expenses and then an emergency fund on top of that. I can’t overstate just how important this is. Running out of money totally sucks.

4. Build your signal fire.

Remember making that plan? Of who, what and why? — That’s going to be important here. Not only is it the roadmap for the route you’ll follow, but it’s also the blueprint for your “signal fire”. I recently wrote about how we live in a very noisy world, you need to be a part of that noise.

This “fire” needs to be unique and draw attention. You’ll need that attention to make money, fans and everything else vital to being independent.

Find your audience and think about what they’d love to see. With that information, you can put together your portfolio, create a backlog of work to publish over time, whatever you believe needs to be made to propel yourself forwards. The more passionate about it you are, the better. If you love what you do, you’ll have no qualms talking about it and singing it’s praises until the end of time. Perfect.

5. Find your advocates.

Everyone needs clients and customers, they’re great. But a commonly overlooked aspect of working for yourself are your advocates. It’s important to look around your current network, friends, relatives, anyone you know who may need what you’re offering or even if they might know someone that you could help or speak to.

Look at it as a spider web you need to build so you can catch as many flies as possible. Find events to go to, and look for the other people passionate about what you want to do and it’ll be easy to find the trail that leads to clients, and by proximity: cash, success, change, whatever you’re looking for.

Remember that networking is the original business tool. Use it well. Get people to pass you work. Referrals are always easier to close than cold leads, and the recommendation of another should help grease any meetings along and give you the inside track to closing a project:

You’ll notice I’ve not touched on pricing at all in this article and that’s because we’re not going to open the Pandora’s Box that is pricing today. There are plenty of calculators online that’ll do for just starting out, and there are way too many factors for just a paragraph in a quick-start guide. Another time.

6. Make your escape.

If you’ve followed along at home, you’ve built the basis of a freelance business (outside of legals and all that, but just as with pricing, that’s a topic way too big for today). The steps outlined in this guide should give you a solid direction. If you stick to your plan, keep building content and finding people who share your passion then in time, you’ll learn all sorts of things like value-based pricing models, lead funnels and a whole host of other stuff that sounds terrifying now. But that’s soon. This is just the first step of the rest of your life, to make it off the island. Take a moment to revel in it. Feels good right?

Not to kill your buzz while things feel so good, but a subtle reminder: This needs to become your life and your passion. If you think you can make that kind of step and want to rise to the challenge, then take the leap. This is just the start. By completing all the actions of this, you have reached “zero”.

Build from here.

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