5 things I did before I went freelance

I’ve been speaking to a few people over the last few weeks who are thinking about leaving the 9-5 to go freelance. I’m a huge advocate of it, because my experience has been overwhelmingly positive, however, I was in an unusual set of circumstances before I left my job, so I thought I would share those here.

This is a REALLY long blog post. Settle in, friends. Or, TL:DR, here’s a spoiler:

  1. I started working as a side hustle first
  2. I let everyone know what I was doing
  3. I got really familiar with our finances
  4. I found business support
  5. I worked a lot on my mindset

1) I started working as a side hustle first

My husband was unemployed for a chunk of last year into this year, and to make ends meet, we had to make a lot of changes. I had Friday mornings ‘off’, and these became work days. I used those Fridays to write and sell a course teaching authors how to make sense of their social media. It’s an idea I’d had for a while, because it was the thing I got the most questions about. I knew there was a need, so I tried to fill it. I didn’t sell a crazy number of places (4), but it was enough to keep us going for a bit.

Then, toward the end of autumn 2019, I told a few people that I was looking for some extra income, and through a friend of a friend, I was introduced to one of her clients, who became my first client.

I was also introduced to a copy writing agency, who I still write copy for today, and started working for the Book Marketing Society, who were looking for someone to help with their newsletters, social media and admin.

That means I was doing 4 days a week at my day job, 2 days a week for my publishing clients, and a little bit extra every now and again doing some copy writing. All in 4.5 days a week.

Something doesn’t add up there, right? Well, here’s how it adds up. I was working at my day job from 9-5, coming home, putting the kids to bed, then cranking up the laptop at 7:30 and working until 9:30 each night. I also worked those evening hours at weekends.

So I guess my very first step was just working my ass off every day.

2) I let everyone know what I was doing

And I mean everyone. I talked about it on Instagram. I posted it on my Facebook page. I shared it on LinkedIn. I emailed everyone I’ve ever worked with to tell them. I also asked everyone I knew to email anyone they knew who might have work available. I asked people who were currently freelancing where they got their work.

I find self-promoting really hard, as do a lot of people, particularly fellow introverts, but if you are going to go self-employed (or if you have something to sell), people need to know about it, or they won’t think about you when work comes up.

When I started as a side hustle, I’d seen the impact emailing just a few friends could have, so knew this was probably the most important thing I could do and it definitely paid off. I got one piece of work straight away, and people have subsequently come to me with freelance projects they know fit with what I’m looking for.

3) I got really familiar with our finances

They say that before you go freelance, you should have somewhere between 3-6 months’ worth of expenses (bills, mortgage, food, etc) saved up so that you can have that as a buffer. We did not have that. I think we maybe had £100 in savings. We just hadn’t prepared in any way for one of us to lose our job.

{Interlude to ask: have you? If not, start thinking about it now! Seriously!}

I was EXTREMELY lucky, in that my parents were able to help out and gave us a small buffer (around 3/4 of one month’s expenses) when they found out about the news. I was so incredible grateful for this, as we were just so financially unprepared. I do know what I would have done if we hadn’t had it (leave London), but I’m really glad it didn’t come to that.

I had to dip into it a lot in those first couple of months. I know that a lot of people would not have family to support them financially, so want to make it clear that I really recognise my privilege in the time that money bought me in sorting my shit out.

That said, I got to work pretty quickly finding ways to add to our family income so that we would not be reliant on them going forward. I really hate borrowing money (I don’t own a credit card), and although I was super grateful, I didn’t want to have to go back to them again.

I made it a point to always top the buffer back up again as soon as I got paid. Having that money there made me feel safe, and I was determined not to let it dwindle down to nothing. I’m really proud to say that it’s still there, and has actually doubled since I left my office job.

I also looked at every single one of our expenses to tally up how much we wanted needed it on the list (Amazon Prime and Spotify got binned, Netflix stayed on the list) and to figure out what our budget should be on things like food.

Some of the costs were non-negotiable (ie: our mortgage) BUT, having said that, as I suggested earlier, I did also investigate what the implications were of leaving London to rent somewhere else while renting our place out. We would have saved a huge amount of money doing that, so it was put on the ‘if I can’t make this work, here’s what we’ll do’ list.

Some of the costs were negotiable. So – when we bought our house, we went for the top of what we could afford so that we could get more space. That meant that we had a spare room. We had two options for that room – rent it out via AirBnB or get an au pair and change our childcare situation. We went for option 2 and have never looked back.

Once I knew what our monthly costs were, I could do some calculations to figure out how much I needed to charge and how many days I needed to work per week.

I found business support

Guys, I knew nothing about being self-employed when I left my current job. I didn’t know anything about taxes. I didn’t know about what status I’d need to have – sole trader? Small business? What? How should I set up my billing? Who should I send my invoices through?

So, I found help. I joined a few Facebook groups (Doing it for the kids and The Freelance Lifestylers have been particularly helpful, as was another group that has since been archived). Some friends and I set up a small publishing freelancers WhatsApp group, and I joined a Publishing Freelancers Facebook group.

I asked questions a lot. Then I read other people’s questions and the answers to those questions. What I didn’t do a lot of was Googling, because every time I did that, I got overwhelmed with the information. There is just so much out there, and most of it was too detailed. I really appreciated getting other people’s views on what worked for them.

And guess what? I still don’t really know much about taxes. But I did find a stellar accountant thanks to someone in my network, and she’s not a huge expense, and it relieves my mind 100% to know that all the boxes have been filled in correctly.

I worked a lot on my mindset

I really believe that how you approach things hugely affects the outcome. If I’d started from a place of ‘no one is going to hire me’, I’m pretty sure that no one would have hired me.

So I had to do a lot of work on my mindset to get to a place where I felt comfortable talking about what I do. That email I sent to all of my past colleagues? That was HARD to send. I agonised over the wording for literally hours.

I also had to do a lot of work around my money mindset. The woman who ran the archived group I mentioned earlier is brilliant at money mindset (in fact, the reason the group was archived is because she set up a new one specifically to talk about money). I joined her membership group, too, and have found the conversations I’ve had in that group totally invaluable to helping me on this journey.

Because it’s not just ‘how much should I charge’ which is a whole conversation in and of itself, it’s ‘how do I actually tell someone that’s how much I charge’ and ‘they’ll never pay that much’ and ‘what if they say ‘there’s no way we’ll pay you that!’?’ and ‘how much do I need to earn before I stop obsessing about money?’.

There is a lot of work to do to feel comfortable charging my worth, and it’s something I am working on every day. For example, I was planning to charge what I thought was a lot for the first round of author training I did. Until I talked to my then-boss about it, and she basically told me she would fire me if I didn’t double the price (I think she was kidding).

Now, I’m planning out another round of courses, and again, pricing them is hard work! On the one hand, I want to make things affordable, but on the other hand, I want to reflect not only the work that’s gone in to them, but also my years of education and experience.

I have a set of affirmations I now have pinned to the top of my Google Keep documents (which is always open on my computer) to help me remind myself that there are endless ways to make money, money comes to me when I need it and to remind me of my income goals. Every time I go into Keep (mutliple times a day), I see them (along with other affirmations I’ve written), and it really makes a difference.

Phew! Have you made it to the end? Gold star! Is there anything else you’d like to know more about? Leave a comment or drop me a message and I’ll try to fill you in. I have SO MUCH to say about money mindset and affirmations, I think I need to write a whole other post about them.

Or – have you become freelance? What were the most important steps you took before took the jump?

To find out about the next round of courses when they launch (I’m aiming for the first one to go live in January 2020), sign up to my newsletter here.


3 thoughts on “5 things I did before I went freelance”

  • Really great post, so useful for others pondering making the move. How have you found it freelancing and not being full time? I want to work 3 days a week and they’d need to be set days due to childcare but am scared that adding another restriction would be hard. Or do you find your clients have just trusted you to do the work in your time?

    • I think you just need to be really clear with your boundaries. I actually am working pretty much full time at the minute, but I’ve seen people set up auto-responders to say that they don’t work certain days, or that they are working on a certain project on that day but that they’ll reply as soon as they can. But generally, people seem to have trusted me to get on with things – I think as long as you deliver what you’ve said when you’ve said, people seem to be happy to just let me do it!

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