Making the shift to freelance

From 9-5 To Wherever, Whenever

First-hand tips to becoming a freelancer by guest writer, Amy-Lee Tak

So you’re ready to flip your office desk and nope outta that nine-to-five life. Yup, I’ve been there. 

After years of ‘interrogating the creative idea’ until 8pm and realising that pizza parties always trump overtime payment, I decided to step out of permanent employment, permanently. 

There were, of course, a myriad of other reasons that I made the move. Long story short, I wanted the flexibility to explore another career, the freedom to only do the jobs that I enjoy (or that pay well), and no more office politics. And the fact that copywriters are currently in very high demand? Ya no look. It helped.

The decision to go freelance is super personal and depends on your goals, priorities and current situation. The pros: you’ll likely have more earning potential (depending on your trade), more flexibility, and, if you’re lucky, the option to do jobs on your terms. Plus, nobody’s stealing your yogurt out of the office fridge. Sweet.

But of course, there are always downsides: namely, the lack of financial stability, last minute job cancellations, and occasionally being treated like the piece of disposable brain meat that you are. 

Ultimately, it’s all about what you want and what you’re willing to compromise to get there. Regardless of your reasons for wanting to go freelance, these are a few tips to help you to get the best start possible.

BEFORE YOU EVEN THINK OF RESIGNING…

  1. SAVE

This is a biggie! Adjusting to freelance life is a tricky one. Unless you’re working on a retainer-type basis, your salary won’t arrive neatly in your bank account on the 25th of each month like it (presumably) does now. Some clients take 30 days to pay, some 90 days, and some just suck at paying in general (although Fundi helps to manage this when the time comes). 

Ensure that you have a nice little nest egg to keep you afloat in case things don’t go super according to plan. The general rule of thumb is to have three months’ worth of savings but honestly, if you can wrangle more, do it. Seriously, the more the better. 

You can get more money management tips that cover financial tracking, tax and more here.

  1. BUILD A CLIENT BASE

Nope, you can’t hop out of one cushy setup until you have another in place. Kind of like dating. (Just kidding. Obvs.) Point is, it’s vital to get a few clients and have at least a months’ worth of freelance work lined up before you even *think* of resigning. 

But how? 

The best asset to have on your side is a resource that can hook you up with the right jobs - and that’s where Fundi comes in. I found out about them through a friend, and the main reason I actually followed through is because she mentioned that they’d help me out with specific jobs, according to my capacity, preferences, and rates. And that’s exactly what they did. 

I was straightforward about what I wanted without having to “perform” or put my #1 employee face on. I was pretty burnt out at the time and wanted less complex, more rollout-ey work over conceptual stuff, and it was cool to be able to tell them as much.

Another thing I did: about two months before I resigned, I started emailing my old traffic managers, ECDs and a few ex-colleagues. I let them know that I was going freelance and needed work, and while only a couple of them actually needed a copywriter at the time, I got a bunch more jobs through their referrals. 

Point is, your next job can literally come from your old work buddy’s mom’s dog’s breeder’s uncle’s illegitimate daughter. In my experience, jobs come from the weirdest places, so network wherever you can, no matter how unlikely a client connection might seem. 

  1. START MOONLIGHTING

This point kind of ties in with the previous ones pretty seamlessly. The more you can overlap your current and freelance gigs, the better. Obviously don’t neglect your current job or burn any bridges (your old employee might just become your new freelance client), but if you can, grin it, bear it and juggle as much as you can for a few months. 

Fundi are *the* go-to guys for finding gigs (obvs). As seasoned moonlighters, they’re very pro job-juggling, which means they have a knack for finding different jobs suited to different levels of capacity (as mentioned above).

In conclusion: stock up on Berocca and dial back on the jol. And all that extra side hustle cash? Straight into savings, my guy (see point two). 

Find some handy tips on how to start your moonlighting journey here or chat to Fundi and get connected. 

  1. FIND YOUR RATE

If you need to quote a client before you’ve figured out your rates, you’ll likely be mmm-ing and aaah-ing before you panic make up a number and either, a) undercharge and screw yourself, or b) scare off aforementioned potential client, or c) hit the nail on the head – but only this time round. 

Before any if that happens, do your research and chat to industry friends to get a sense of the going rate for your skill set and experience level. 

Don’t forget to consider the nitty gritty, for example, your fee for concept versus straightforward rollout - or scriptwriting versus social media captions. Create a rate card with your hourly, daily, weekly and monthly rate.

  1. FIGURE OUT YOUR MONTHLY BUDGET…

…if you haven’t already (since it’s the prerequisite for adulting and whatnot). This goes hand in hand with the first point, and I really recommend that you do it at least three months before going freelance. When you see where your money is going, you can figure out which expenses are vital, where you can cut down, and just how much money you’re actually wasting on crap from Takealot. 

You’ll also be able to figure out how many hours you’ll need to work to break even or earn more than your current 9-5 earnings. Try an app like 22Seven to keep on top of things. 

Build or steal a spreadsheet (like Sam Bessinger’s free online template: an add-on from her ‘Manage Your Money Like a F*cking Grown-Up’ book) to track it all. You can copy it over onto Excel and delete/customise/add as many categories as you like. In fact, just get the book while you’re at it. 

  1. GET PROFESH

Guess what? You’re your own brand now, buddy – and all your correspondence going forward needs to be mega-slick.

Here’s how. 

  • Create a logo and layout for your email signature with your name, title, contact details and (if you have one) a link to your website or online portfolio. 
  • Speaking of, make sure your portfolio and CV are up to date and in perfect condition. 
  • Get a custom email address, for example [email protected] (or whatever). It’s well worth the money.  
  • Create a neat, clean invoice template that includes your logo in the header or footer. 
  • Put your rate card in a neat one pager along with your terms and conditions for new clients. 
  • Make sure you check your spelling, grammar and general language, always. 

IN CLOSING 

The prospect of leaving your safe, stable permanent job can be pretty scary, but if you have all your ducks in a row (plus the dudes at Fundi by your side), there’s about a 90% chance you won’t be selling drugs to teenagers within six months. It just takes a little planning and readjusting. 

The reward? From someone who’s about to go work abroad for a couple of months: pretty heckin’ unimaginable. 

Now go! Fly! Live life (responsibly and with an end-goal in mind) on your own terms!

And for more career advice? Get in touch with Fundi now. 

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