In tight economic times, like we've experienced over the past several years, companies tend to scale back on employees. That's obviously not good for everyone, but it does potentially help one group of people: freelancers.
With fewer employees, more and more companies have turned to outside help to fill some of their business needs. In fact, 53 million Americans freelance, and among them, demand for their work has increased twice as much as it's decreased. With this growth period for freelancing, you have a potential opportunity to make some money on the side—or start a brand new career.
Should You Freelance?
The major reward to freelancing is the freedom it can bring. ("Free" is in the name, after all.) As a part-time job, freelancing can make a ton of sense. After all, you have the ability to set your own schedule, work when you want, and relax when you want. Plus, by creating your own work opportunities, it's much more likely you'll be doing something you find rewarding.
With those benefits, you might be tempted to turn that part-time job into a full-time one. And while that could work for you, freelancing does have risks too. No one guarantees you a regular paycheck—insecurity is inherent in this career. As a result, you may need to work harder than with a regular 9-to-5 job to make ends meet. You also will likely lose other employer benefits, like healthcare coverage and retirement funding.
Making It Work
If the rewards outweigh the risks for you, great! The next question you have to answer is how to best set yourself up for a profitable career. While no steps can guarantee your success, you can do a lot of things to put the odds in your favor.
- Do your research. Before jumping in the freelance world, research the areas you're interested in thoroughly. You'll want to be sure there's an opportunity out there for you.
- Find your niche. When doing your research, look closely at the marketplace and job descriptions for gaps you have the ability to address. Advertising yourself as a "social media expert" may not land you work, but positioning yourself as a "Twitter guru" may fit someone's specific needs.
- Ease yourself in. Once you're ready to jump into the freelance world, don't go head first and quit your job. Gradually test the market to ensure your research holds up. Perhaps try moonlighting while you're still working—just don't compete with your full-time job. They could definitely accelerate your timetable by firing you!
- Hone your pitch. All freelancers are salespeople, and their product is themselves. You will need to sell your services to companies, so think about what differentiates you. Be sure you memorize a pitch to tell everyone you know and meet about your business.
- Get out there. Now that you've got your pitch, you need people to give it to. You can use online services to do this, like Guru. However, joining local associations and organizations, like the Chamber of Commerce or an industry association, can also help you promote your business. Be sure to volunteer in the community to broaden your reach as well.
Be Ready If Things Go Wrong
Being a successful freelancer means preparing for lean times as well. Before going full time, be sure you have a back-up plan in place. This doesn't mean you don't believe in yourself—it just means you're prepared if something unforeseen happens.
Even if everything goes great, you still may experience an emergency during which you can't work. In that case, you'll want to be sure you can cover your expenses, pay for healthcare, etc. Accumulating a nice nest egg (6-12 months' income) is a great way to ensure your peace of mind.