How to Return to Freelancing Without Panicking
Once you’ve done time as a gun-for-hire, there’s no other work that feels quite the same. There’s always a voice in your head begging you to go back, no matter how rewarding your job is. Take a full-time job or a long-term contract, and everything that was so exciting about freelancing is gone. The risk of not making enough to make ends meet for the month is gone, but so is the excitement that goes with that sort of risk. The pressure of having to make sound business decisions is gone, but with that, you’re at the mercy of someone else’s decisions, no matter what you think about them.
You can find excitement of different kinds and a sense of accomplishment of a different kind after you leave the world of freelancing, but it’s never quite the same.
There’s no ‘best of both worlds’ between those two worlds, either. You’ve got to make a choice. You could argue that part time work or a long-term contract fits the bill, but they’re really just pale versions of either situation with the same pros and cons, not to mention problems of their own.
When you come out of full-time work after three years and go back to freelancing, it’s a bit of a shock. So much of it seems to come back naturally, but there’s a whole world of things you need to do each day that you’ve forgotten about. It’s definitely something that comes with a mandatory adjustment period.
If you find yourself in a situation where you’re returning to freelancing after a long break doing what your grandmother might call ‘a real job,’ this piece is for you. Here’s how to get back on your feet again in the world you left behind.
It’s who you know that matters
At least at first.
Think firing up a blog and chatting away on Twitter is going to get you anywhere? Not really. It might be more fun than doing real legwork, but it’s a time sink.
There are more than enough stories of people using social media to score clients. I’ve done it. But the key to getting back on your feet quickly is applying the Pareto Principle. Don’t throw away hours on anything and everything that might work: focus your time on the things that are most likely to work. As a reborn freelancer you’ve got to be effective and efficient, ruthless with every minute of your day.
So while all your colleagues (read: competitors) are chatting away about how blogging is enhancing their personal brand, you should be making a list. The biggest list of email addresses you can manage to get together. You’ll pull this together from your contact manager or your last few years of email, depending on how organized you are, and they should be people you’ve worked with in some capacity who may have need of your services.
Don’t be too choosy. Your plan is to get back to a stable income and fast. It’s not a list of people who are likely to need you — it’s a list of people who maybe, possibly need you. It’s your job to show them why they need you if they’re on the fence — freelancing isn’t all fluffy pajamas and arty-farty time. You’ve got to get your salesman on.
While your competitors are writing up a blog post that’s probably only going to interest other practitioners of the craft, you’re essentially on the street corner hustling to rich-looking men.
Bet you I know who’ll get richer faster.
Don’t be too choosy
Traditionally, I’m not a believer in working too cheap. And don’t get me wrong: if the deal is just ridiculous, you’d be ridiculous for taking it. But if your main concern is the speed with which your PayPal balance is increasing, remember that you can always hike your rates when you’re more stable, or go after better contracts. You’re a freelancer. The fact that you can increase your pay rate when you feel like it is pretty much the whole point to freelancing. Well that and personal freedom.
So unless you’re getting bombarded with offers of riches from your contacts, take the mediocre deals. If you don’t need them later, raise your rates and see if your clients call or fold.
To point out the obvious, if you’re looking at a long-term contract with a lousy price tag, that’s when you should get choosy.
Trawl the job boards, but not right away
Unless the list you made earlier is a touch thin, leave your appointment with job boards until a few days or a week after you send out emails to your contacts. Job boards are a great way to get started and boost confidence, and super helpful if you’re having trouble getting back into the swing of things, but qualified warm leads are more likely to have a positive response, more likely to pay above minimum wage, and more likely to be a pleasure to work with.
If you go after job board work and get some bites, it’s a gamble. They may want to pay you horribly, they may be terrible to work with, the list goes on. The best freelance gigs are almost never put on boards, and come from word of mouth and the people you know.
As with social media, you could score an amazing gig, but it’s not the best allocation of your time when that time and your ability to pay bills are in short supply.
When making the leap, the worst thing you can do is panic. No exaggeration — it really is the worst option.
It’s easy to do just that. You’ve got mouths to feed, mortgages and car loans to repay, and an Italian blend habit to keep up.
But if you panic, you’ve immediately clouded your judgement. Your reptilian brain that wants to crawl under a rock out of fear kicks in, instead of the brain that makes sound business decisions.
Your ability to succeed is dependent on your ability to produce top-notch creative work and negotiate good deals. If you do nothing else that I’ve suggested, take note of this one thing and you will do well for yourself. Breathe, relax, and let a clear and calm head prevail.