The thought of quitting my job terrified me. Not only had I never quit anything before, but I was worried that the unpredictability of my freelance assignments would extend over into my personal fiances. I had a brand new baby--what would happen if I missed a paycheck?
Despite my fears, I took the leap--and I've been able to maintain the same paycheck every month for almost two years now. Then, last month the unthinkable happened--a regular client was forced to make budget cuts. But you know what? Even missing a client, I still managed to keep my steady paycheck. Curious yet? Here's how I built a steady income as a freelancer--and how you can, too.
I worked while freelancing. I started freelancing at the end of 2011, but I didn't actually quit my steady job until the spring of 2013. The income I earned from my first few gigs went to business expenses--I was sorely in need of a new computer and updated software. Once I had what I needed to get started, I saved what I earned. It's tough to work and start a new business simultaneously, but I became very good at multitasking.
I focused on long-term clients. Once I had several samples in my portfolio, I focused on bidding for only jobs that were long-term. I knew building steady clients would be the only way I could muster the courage to quit my job. Once I had a few steady clients, I started bidding on one-time work as extra income.
I opened a business bank account. When clients pay me, it doesn't go right into my personal banking. I keep a separate bank account for my business and, even when work is good, I withdraw the same amount every week. The weeks with a lot of work tend to balance out the slower ones. When the funds start to build up, I use them for any business expenses. When funds are consistently building up, I give myself a raise while still leaving a little extra in the account for the unexpected.
I'm always bidding on new work. Most of my day is filled with work for clients. As a freelance writer and editor, I have several clients, not one employer. But even when I'm busy, I always try to scout out new work. When I lost a client last month, I picked up a new one two weeks later. By constantly monitoring job boards and keeping my portfolio up-to-date, I hope to counteract some of the unpredictability that comes with freelancing.
I keep an excess in my business account. This one is probably the toughest (at least for me), but short of events like loosing a steady client, I avoid withdrawing everything from my business account. There's only so much you can plan for as a freelancer, so it's a good idea to have a little bit of a backup in case work changes suddenly.
I work with realistic expectations. I didn't start my own business with any ideas of getting rich quick. I started with the goal of replacing my part-time income--and didn't quit my job until I had the foundation to do just that. I started my business just a few months after graduating from college--I knew I needed the experience to go along with the degree before getting higher pay. As my business has progressed, I've set new goals that are equally as reasonable. A $50 a week raise. New office equipment. A Christmas bonus. When these goals seem like small feats, I remind myself that my ultimate goal is to be both a mom and a professional writer, and that's pretty big.
Freelancing is unpredictable. But when you use a few good business management practices and mix in a whole lot of dedication, a steady income is possible. If you can, keep your day job until you build your client base and focus on long-term clients. Keep your freelance income separate from your personal banking and always leave a little excess. Make marketing and reaching out to potential clients a regular occurrence, and keep your expectations realistic. Building a freelance business to the point of steady paychecks is challenging, but the reward is oh-so-worth-it.