Over the course of my career I’ve been self-employed twice. The first time I was incredibly green but the second time I was more prepared. Here are some tips if you’re doing it the first time, or even if you want to take another stab at it.
One of the most important lessons to learn is not to undercharge. Often when you price too low, you attract the “wrong” type of client. Cheap prices mean that people without the means contact you and try to strike unrealistic deals with you. I had several people approach me in my early, underpriced days, offering a 50% cut of a business. They have the idea, you execute it. It’d be a waste of time. Don’t engage in these conversations. You need to make sure you charge enough to cover some of the other tips below!
Don’t Burn Bridges
When moving on from job to job it’s important not to burn bridges. Previous employers can be a source of income. They know you already and know the quality of work you can produce. There’s nothing like getting the team back together to crack out an awesome project.
Go to meet ups and find local businesses and other developers and designers you can tag-team with. Don’t just go to meet ups in your speciality. Become a social butterfly! Engaging people on Twitter can also be an additional source of leads. Don’t say “Give me a job” but answering their questions shows you know what you’re talking about. You’ll be on their radar.
Talk at Events
Be noticed at meet ups. Become an authority in your local community. People will want to work with you. Also, often the best ice breaker is giving a talk at an event. People will come and talk to you afterwards and ask questions. At future events people will recognise you and you become friends. This is also a great way of networking.
Share Your Burdens
Don’t over promise and under deliver. Only take on as many projects as you can reasonably manage. If you can’t do it, refer it to friends you’ve made at meet ups. Often you can work out a referral fee. If they’re busy they will refer work back to you!
Before biting the bullet and going freelance you should have a cash cushion. A runway. Going freelance can be stressful and you need to reduce that as much as possible. Having a couple of months runway really helps.
Save for the Winter
You may not always be in demand. Over the Christmas period it can get pretty slow as companies wrap up for the year. Often the early months in the year are slow and things don’t pick up until after February or March.
Remember the Taxes
Another portion of your income should be put aside for taxes. Remember to do it or else you may be in for a surprise when you come around to filing! Also, you may want to get an accountant for advice.
You may be able to claim, in full or in part some of your business expenses. This is where an accountant would be able to advise.
Line Up Enough Work
Finally and probably most importantly, make sure you have enough work when you go self employed. Line up a couple of projects before you quit your day job so you’re not wasting precious time and runway in your first couple of months flying solo. Get a head start.
Photo: by Paul Friel