Freelance in a Flash

Various circumstances can cause a former full-time employee to find herself suddenly freelancing as a full-time profession. Late last year, I had begun planning my smooth full-time to freelance transition and saw myself just about ready to give my employer a full month’s notice.


At the beginning of December (just two business days before I planned on handing in that one month’s notice), I found myself involved in two car accidents within three days of each other. With minor injuries, I had the option to collect disability from my full-time employer, but learned that I would be unable to legally collect any freelance income in addition to my disability earnings. Even freelancing part-time, I knew I’d be able to make more than the disability paid, so I quit the job rather suddenly after sending in documentation about the accidents.

The transition was abrupt even though I had already begun preparations. Here’s what I learned immediately after my sudden transition:

An abrupt transition isn’t easy. Different circumstances might have been better, but life had something else in mind. Car accidents, job losses, recessions, sudden relocation for a spouse’s higher-paying job or an ill family member needing care-these things happen and they don’t happen gracefully. Accept it and move forward.

Communicate with existing clients. Be candid but professional with clients about your situation; if they have more work and approve of your previous work, they’ll give it to you.

Communicate with family members. An abrupt transition likely means that you have other things going on emotionally and you’re probably stressed. Communicate with your family members to let them know that you need time and space to work, but don’t afraid to ask for support when you need it.

Once these primary steps have been handled, here’s what you need to do to freelance in a flash.

Week One

Assess your finances using estimates. You need to get working, and fast. Do a rough estimate and re-budget if necessary. You can revisit this in time, but for the moment, you’ll need to find out if there’s any money available for your start-up costs.

Get what you need. Folders, paperclips or even a new color printer-certain things are essential for a full-time freelancer. Make a quick list and do a one-stop shopping trip at the least expensive office supply store. Get that rewards card if you don’t have one already. Save those receipts-even if that means stuffing them hurriedly into a folder for now, and stick to essentials only.

Take on a full workload and keep looking. If you can, don’t take a large amount of time off, even if you can afford it financially (in my case, I only took a few days’ recovery time with minor injuries before I was freelancing). The best remedy for a job loss or sudden change at this point is the reliability of your favorite clients.

Get to work. Once you know you are actually able to freelance full-time, it gets easier. I went from spending hours of my time preparing and convincing myself I could freelance to simply making a work routine for myself based off of my husband’s work schedule.

Tip: After a short time of working consecutive days as a freelancer (it varies depending on the person and the situation), you’ll be ready to emotionally and financially deal with whatever situation it was that got you into the ‘freelance in a flash’ situation. When you’re ready, take some time for it. Unless you’re about to lose your home, don’t ever work a seven day work week, even if it means working six ten-hour days to pay the bills. It’s time to take your ‘you’ time.

Week Two

Detailed finances. Once you have the rhythm of your work day down, you’ll have a more realistic idea of what you can accomplish in a full day. Now that you’ve contacted your clients, you’ll also know what work is available. It’s time to go over those finances in detail and possibly speak with your accountant.

Digital organization. Figure out the best method for organizing your digital files and implement it. This includes freelance project files as well as back-end files like scanned copies of your receipt.

Physical organization. If you have style guides, reference books or work on anything in hard copy, it’s time to create a physical file system and work-related bookshelf. This also applies to hard copies of receipts, invoices and expenses.

Set short-term goals. Long-term business goals can still seem pretty daunting. Try setting short-term goals such as an amount earned or invoiced per day or week and stick to that realistic goal.

Week Three

Office organization. Take a bit of time to realize your professional status. You’re officially in business, and it’s time to organize your office. This is also a good time to set up a Web site and order business cards if you haven’t done so already.

Client management. Clients are your livelihood. If you need a system for managing e-mail communications and deadlines, now is the time to put it in place.

Time management. Record and analyze your time. How much time do you spend on e-mail, working on projects, marketing your services and finding clients?

Expand goals. Think about long-term goals and work on a real business plan. If you can do this once, you’ll find it simple enough to re-evaluate your goals and finances in the future. Mark those re-evaluation dates on your calendar and stick to them.

While it’s unfortunate that many freelancers start freelancing due to unfortunate personal or professional circumstances, some will say that these circumstances ended up being a positive thing for their careers. While I’m still hurting from the car accidents physically, it was a blessing for my career and enables me to spend more time with my husband. I wish the same silver lining for everyone needing to freelance in a flash.

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