There's no denying the attractions of the freelance life. You can choose your own projects, work your own hours, and enjoy a sense of freedom way beyond anything you'd experience in most ordinary careers.
One downside, of course, is that there's no safety net. Your future relies on you and you alone. This can be a terrifying thought if you're considering walking away from a conventional job and embarking on life as an independent entrepreneur.
However, if you're wavering in your decision to take the leap and become a freelancer, remember that millions of people around the world have already made a success of this career path. To join them, you just need to go forward with your eyes fully open, and your preparation done to a tee.
Research Your Chosen Field
Knowing what you're getting into is vital. Your choice of freelancing field can mean the difference between a successful career and a life of frustration. Find out how much competition you're likely to face, how much paying work there is available on average, and what the market rate for your services will be.
Be honest with yourself: is this going to be a viable business? Have you genuinely got what it takes to stand out from the crowd and win enough work to keep you busy? Will your clients pay well enough to give you a decent life outside work, or will every waking hour be spent chasing a few extra dollars? Freelance work is always going to involve a degree of uncertainty, but if the answers to these questions don't stack up then it's better to find out now, before you're deeply committed.
Be Prepared Financially
Every freelance entrepreneur experiences peaks and troughs in their income. Before launching into your new career, ensure you have around six months' expenses money in the bank. When you're working hard to build a new business, the last thing you need is to be worrying about making your mortgage or rent payments. Also thoroughly research the extra financial commitments you'll take on as a freelancer. You'll be responsible for your own tax arrangements (and this may mean hiring professional help), and you won't be enjoying any employer-provided healthcare benefits.
Start Sensibly to Test the Water
If at all possible, consider keeping up some regular part-time work to have at least a little money coming in until your freelance career gains traction. Also, be wary of over-committing yourself in your desire to hit the ground running, and only take on projects you absolutely know you can handle. Deadline pressure can be a great motivator for a seasoned freelance entrepreneur, but can make the less experienced freeze in terror.
Set realistic rates for your early jobs. Don't price yourself out of the market - you haven't yet got the experience to command a premium - but try not to work for a pittance just to build a portfolio. You'll find it very hard to escape this mindset later on, not to mention the difficulty of raising rates with existing clients to a more realistic level once you've become more established.
Be Ready to Work - and Hard
No matter what the other benefits of independent work, very few freelancers fulfill the dream of working part-time for a full-time wage. Usually, it's quite the opposite - when a deadline is nearing, freelancers have no choice but to put in whatever hours are necessary to complete the job, even if this means driving down the hourly pay equivalent to minimum wage levels.
Especially at the beginning of your career, you'll need to accept the prospect of long, coffee-fueled nights with deadlines looming closer while the finishing line seems to constantly recede into the distance.
The freedom of working on your own also comes with an obvious drawback - it's a lonely job at times, and when the stresses of the present and the worries about the future start to weigh heavy, you need someone to help you ease the pressure. Finding other freelancers with whom to share your successes and frustrations alike can be a lifesaver.
They don't have to be in your field - many of the issues freelancers face are common across all industries - and they don't even have to be in your area; the web is a wonderful reducer of distance. Simply having someone who understands your way of life and is happy to form a mutual support network can be invaluable and help keep you sane.
For all this earnest-sounding advice, most freelancers would never by choice return to a normal occupation. Setting about your career in the right way from the very beginning will help ensure your future success, and lead to a long and prosperous freelancing life.