When I tell people I work as a freelance writer, the most common question I’m asked is about how I manage with an inconsistent income. The thing is, my income isn’t all that inconsistent. Yes, I make varying amounts of money each month, but generally, I know what range to expect and make consistently more than I would at a salaried job. This setup works well for me, but it took time to get here.
Making the leap to full-time freelancing is scary for anyone—no matter how much experience you have. I had a savings safety net in place, but I couldn’t help but worry about how fast those savings were going to dwindle. It’s very fair if you’re wondering how on Earth you’re going to pay for rent, food, and transportation. Not to mention the biggest money concern that all soon-to-be freelancers have—health insurance.
The good news is that with a lot of work and patience, I soon began to not only make as much as I did at my last full-time job but much more. The fears I had were reasonable, but I’m happy to report that I now know that my current income ceiling is so much higher than when I worked full-time. I’m not a big fan of gatekeeping career success—so here’s how I made the full-time to freelance transition without going broke.
I Built A Freelance Resume
While the experience you gain from having a full-time job does translate to being good at freelancing, many clients like to see that the freelancers they hire have experience working for themselves. This is understandable as the clients need to know that the freelancer they’re working with can manage to work with multiple clients at once, can work independently (for the most part), and can stay on top of deadlines without having a manager check in on them.
I freelanced consistently outside of my salaried jobs from 2015-2018 (the year I quit my last 9-5 job). Not only was I able to build up a portfolio that helps me sell my services to clients by doing freelance work on the side, but I built my network which made it easier to find more work when I was ready to freelance full-time. Starting from scratch with no salary or benefits on my side probably wouldn’t have worked out all that well for me.
I’d like to give a shout-out to site for being one of my first freelance clients all the way back in 2016!
I Found Clients Before Quitting
Because I had a robust freelance network on my side, before I even put in my two-week notice, I arranged for freelance work. This led to a small amount of overlap between having a full-time job and working for myself, but it was worth working a few late nights on freelance projects to keep the transition from full-timer to solopreneur smooth.
I would highly recommend balancing a full-time role and freelance work for a few weeks before quitting your job. It takes a while to drum up work and get projects rolling—even after a client hires you, it can take weeks to get everything in order to start working together and even longer to get paid. By starting early while you still have a steady income coming in, you can really reduce your stress levels when you do start your first day as a full-time freelancer.
Source: Color Joy Stock
I Took on Part-Time Work
Freelancing, side-hustling, consulting, call it whatever you want—work is work. Before I quit my job, I arranged a freelance job that was more like a part-time role as it required being available for 15-20 hours per week. Nowadays, I try to spread out my sources of income much more than this, but at the time, having much-guaranteed work was a game changer. I knew I could make enough money to pay my bills while I built out the rest of my freelance business, and I still had 20 or so hours a week to do that. Taking on a part-time role may feel like the opposite of freelancing, but doing so can make it a lot easier to focus on strategically building out other areas of your business.
If you’re always stressed about money, you’ll end up making desperate decisions when accepting new clients and rates. Having a steady stream of income until you have your feet firmly on the ground can be what stops you from having to return to a full-time job.
I Had an Emergency Fund
I can’t stress this enough—save and plan for freelancing. As I just mentioned, being stressed about money doesn’t do your freelancing business any favors. Having some money set aside in an emergency fund to help you fill in the gaps those first few months can buy you time, which is extremely valuable as a freelancer. It takes time to start a business—especially a thriving one.
An emergency fund can also be really helpful when waiting for your first paychecks to come in. I often don’t get paid for the work I do until 30 or more days after I submit an invoice for a project, so having money already waiting for me in the bank makes it so that I don’t have to sweat it if an invoice is a bit late.
If you’re unhappy at your job or are itching to start a new adventure, it’s hard to be patient. When my freelancing work started to pick up steam in 2015, I knew that’s what I wanted to do for a career, but I waited. It was a long and hard wait, but spending a few years building up my freelance business on the side, learning on the job at my full-time jobs, and building my savings are what made it possible to build a sustainable freelancing business that I get to enjoy today.