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Transitioning to freelancing: What I have learned

When I decided to leave my steady full-time job for freelancing a year ago, I had already extensive experience in translation/interpretation and international development/NGO. I felt confident about my skills and working in a field that I enjoy. What I felt less confident about was transitioning to the “unknown”: How will I be able to continue paying my bills if I don’t have a steady job? Will I be able to find (more) clients? How can I survive if I don’t manage to make money for a long period of time?

How will I be able to continue paying my bills if I don’t have a steady job?

When you are married with kids, it is clearly not a decision to take lightly. You need to make sure that you can still pay the bill knowing that you will not make as much money as you used to – at least during the first two years. So if you decide to do a full-time freelancing job, your significant other should have a full-time/steady job.

No matter what your marital/family situation is, you need to really think about your financial situation: Do you have debts like mortgage, student loans, car loans, credit cards? Are you seeking to buy a house? Is your credit score good enough? Before transitioning, make sure your have some “foundation”. For instance, if you are considering buying a house, you need to establish 2 years of taxes as a self-employed. If buying a house or applying for credit cards or credit loans is your objective, it would be wiser to do so while you still have a steady job.

Will I be able to find (more) clients?

This was probably my biggest concern because not only this would be my main source of income but it would also require me to learn how to gain clients. What I have learned so far: take some courses in business/marketing and use social media to promote your services; networking is the most efficient way to get clients; and providing consistent quality work at a fair price brings and keeps clients.

Unless you have a background in business and marketing, you clearly need to learn somehow how to attract clients. So I did take some courses to learn the basics and how to make my services and skills visible to those who would most likely be interested in what I have to offer. I also use social media tools to promote my work and services but also to stay abreast of the latest trends and follow relevant discussions in my area of specialization.

Networking – in my case – is the most efficient way to find clients. Since I have worked in the NGO field/international development for many years, I was able to find a number of clients looking for what I had to offer: translation/interpretation in international development/relations. However the people referring you (former colleagues, employers, interns, etc.) are your best sponsors and if you provide quality services at a fair price in a consistent manner, you will keep finding new clients. Do not underestimate the power of the “word of mouth”.

How can I survive if I don’t manage to make money for a long period of time?

Before transitioning to freelancing, you should always make sure that you have some savings that could cover your expenses for several months. This is very important. Knowing that you have some money on the side in case of emergency is usually advised by financial advisors, but it is even more important for freelancers. When you end up in “survival mode”, you will be more prepared and less stressed out since it is a temporary phase. On the other side, when you are overbooked and earning a lot in a short period of time, make sure you don’t overspend and do save some for those times of need.

A Year Later…

Leaving a full-time position for a freelancing job was certainly challenging and the decision to do so was made very carefully and over several months of reflection. Overall, I find working as a freelancer a better fit for what I need at this particular moment. Considering my personal situation, having a flexible schedule working on projects that I enjoy while helping my kids with schoolwork was definitely key. I may decide in a few years to go back to a full-time position in the translation/interpretation field or in international development/NGO field. It all depends on my situation at the time and where I want to be and what I want to accomplish. For now, I enjoy what I am doing and I am looking forward to more exciting work!

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