Many people have a dream to become a freelancer and enjoy all of the benefits of working when, where, and how they want!
And freelancing is freedom - if you know how to do it properly!
But, launching your career as a freelancer is very overwhelming for a lot of folks. Not only do you have to develop new skills, but you have to navigate issues and make decisions that you may never have tackled before as an employee.
Some freelancers end up abandoning their freelancing dreams because they get too overwhelmed and stuck just trying to set it up.
They may be juggling their full-time career and trying to find the time to start freelancing. Add in other commitments, obligations, etc., and they quickly become overburdened and never experience the freedom that freelancing offers.
Others make the opposite mistake and launch too fast, only to realize they weren’t ready. Work keeps flooding in and suddenly they don’t have the time to do it all, or the tax bill comes due and it’s WAY bigger than they expected.
I want to help you avoid both of these issues so that you can find a way to navigate through unfamiliar territory and enjoy success as a freelancer.
And to do that, I want to talk about two types of priorities you need to navigate and give you three steps to take in order to launch your successful freelancing career, especially if you’re still working a full-time job.
Strategic and practical priorities
There are two types of priorities you need to consider if you want to launch a freelancing career while working full time. Almost all of your tasks break down into two types: strategic and practical.
Strategic priorities are “big picture” things like setting rates, choosing a niche, and setting your goals.
Practical priorities are “day-to-day” things like setting time aside to do the work, building a website, and talking to your boss.
Think of these types of priorities as a continuum rather than individual types of things.
Practical items tend to be smaller, ordinary, simpler things to do, often involving very defined concrete tasks (i.e. file the necessary business/tax paperwork with the government). People who are pragmatic and organized tend to do well at identifying and accomplishing practical priorities.
Strategic items are a bit more open-ended and sometimes hard to pin down. They involve higher level decisions that often are not quite as straightforward and clear (i.e. decide on my niche). People who are able to see the big picture and are more visionary tend to do well at identifying and accomplishing strategic priorities.
Practical and strategic priorities are connected. Often the bigger the strategic task, the more “practical” tasks you will have.
Knowing yourself - whether you are more inclined to “see the big picture” or are more “pragmatic and organized” - can help you when it comes to tackling both of these priorities.
However, just because you don’t identify as someone who is “visionary” doesn’t mean you can’t successfully accomplish strategic tasks, and vice versa.
The goal of thinking about this is not to perfectly align all tasks along the practical-strategic continuum. It is to make launching your freelance career less overwhelming.
So, don’t get too caught up in whether you’re more suited for practical or strategic tasks.
Instead, follow these two steps that will help you gain both visionary and day-to-day perspective and enable you to successfully tackle both practical and strategic priorities as you launch your freelance career.
Step 1: Make a list
Really, the first practical step to launching your freelancing career is to sit down and ask yourself one important question: How can I do this?
I’m not referring to the existential cry of someone who is overwhelmed, but the practical question of analysis. (Just hang with me for a minute. I’m not trying to be philosophical!)
Ask yourself, What tasks do I need to do…practically…. to get my first client.
Then, sit down and make a list.
It’s a list of all the things you need to do to get your first client. To help you start generating ideas, read this article on building your personal brand .
But, not all lists are created equal. There’s a trick to this list.
Begin by writing everything down, no matter how big, small, or silly it sounds.
This list is about getting all the “stuff” in your head out and onto a piece of paper or software (I personally use Obsidian). Some of it will be great, some of it won’t.
The point of writing it down is to reduce the mental “friction” you have when you know you need to do something but don’t know where or how to start.
If you have writer’s block or cringe at the thought of writing, you can voice-record your ideas first. Auditory learners especially find this to be helpful because they “hear” the ideas, which often triggers new ones and gets their creative juices flowing.
However, it is important to eventually write down all of your ideas, so don’t skip this step!
Next, do it as fast as possible.
Write your ideas down as quickly as possible, without a filter and without judging whether they are good or bad.
You’ll organize your thoughts later. Right now, it is all about generating ideas. And, when you do this, you’ll probably generate more than you think. That’s good!
If you find yourself hesitant or know that you’re a natural procrastinator, set a timer. Give yourself 3 - 5 minutes to “brain-dump” all the ideas floating around in your head. You can always come back and add more ideas later.
Last, don’t organize or re-arrange.
You’ll probably want to organize, rearrange, or edit your list in some way. Don’t, this is a subsequent step later. Right now, you just want the ideas to flow!
There is something magical about simply making a list.
When the road to becoming a freelancer is only in your head, you don’t really know what you need to do, how to begin, or how to start. You don’t even know how long it will take.
But, once you have a list, you’ve already begun. You’ve tricked your brain into achieving the first step. And, as with any journey, the first step is the hardest.
Here are 15 ideas that I generated with this method in about 3 minutes:
- File business/tax paperwork
- Define my niche
- Choose and design a logo
- Take professional photos
- Purchase a domain
- Design/Build my website
- Update my calendar and block out times to work on my freelancing
- Check with my employment contract to see if there are issues I need to navigate with my employer
- Create a google drive account to organize and store business info.
- Purchase new hardware
- Figure out what subscriptions I will need to have to run my business
- Decide what kind of services I’d like to provide
- Decide where I will look for clients
- Block out each of the pages I need to have on my website
- Look for example websites that give me an idea of what I want mine to look like
There are simple items (create a google drive account), and more complex ones (design/build my website).
There are decisions that need to be made and specific actions that need to be taken.
The idea isn’t to filter, edit, or erase them. It is to get it all out so you can organize it later.
💡 Pro tip: Once you’ve done this, put it away for a day or two. Then, come back and read through it again and add any more ideas that come to mind. You’ll be surprised at what you come up with!
Step 2: Organize ideas
Once you’ve emptied your head, it’s time to organize your work. And, this is simpler than it seems.
You don’t need complicated or expensive programs to do this. You can go high-tech and use project management software, or you can go low-tech and just put each item onto a notecard.
There is no one right way to organize all your tasks. This is where you get to engage your creativity and intuition. Your brain is an excellent planner, so don’t be afraid to use it!
Begin by intuitively organizing things according to the order you think they should go.
Often this is easy. For example, choosing a niche naturally comes before building a website, and building a website comes before creating business cards (which will have your URL on them).
But, sometimes organizing ideas gets a bit tricky, especially if you’re not naturally organized. So, you may need to do this several times until you find an order that seems right to you.
The key is to just start ordering ideas.
Next, batch connected tasks.
Everything involved with building your website should be linked together:
- Buying your domain
- Writing website copy
- Choosing design elements
- Taking professional photographs
If you’re using notecards, an easy way to do this is to group cards into categories. Leave them lying out in these categories (or pin them in groups to a corkboard, etc.) and then return after a time to see if your categories make sense or if you need to rearrange cards.
This hands-on approach works especially well if you are kinesthetically-inclined (i.e. you prefer to touch, feel, and move to accomplish tasks).
If you’re a more visual learner, you can color-coordinate groups of cards. This helps your brain envision connected tasks.
Last, add or remove tasks as appropriate.
As you organize, you’ll think of new things or realize that you’ve duplicated an idea. That’s good - it means you are getting clear about what you need to do.
Organizing your work is a dynamic process with no one right answer. You’ll do it differently than someone else. That’s fine.
You’ll also make mistakes and realize, once you get into it and begin checking things off, that you need to rearrange work.
Your goal is not to get it all perfectly aligned before you start, but to give yourself a clear view of what, when, and how you can make your freelancing dream come true.
💡 Pro tip: Writing all of your ideas onto notecards, so that you can move and arrange them easily, is a great way to unlock your creative thinking.
Step 3: Get to work
And getting to work doesn’t necessarily translate to doing client work; in fact, from now on, a percentage of your time should be used to manage your new business, find new leads, prepare proposals, etc. The remaining time is for client work.
The only step left is to tackle your plans. You know what you need to do. Now it’s time to make it happen!
But, there are a few things you should know at the outset.
First, you never quite know what to expect.
Some things will be much harder than you anticipated. Other things will be a lot easier.
On the whole, getting up and running almost always takes far longer than you expected. As I discuss in Project Management as a Freelancer , if you think it will take 3 months, be ready for it to take 6. You are NEW at this, so cut yourself some slack.
As with any new endeavor, there is a learning curve. And, learning usually comes with experience.
Next, sometimes “doing” something means not “doing” it.
Don’t do it all yourself. Hiring experts through Fiverr or Upwork can not only save you time, but can also save you frustration and anger.
Don’t think you need to do it all yourself. After all, you are launching your freelancing so you can do MORE of the things you want, not less.
So, if you become overwhelmed, don’t be afraid to hire help. Read Tools to Manage Your Business for lists of free and cost-effective tools that can help you juggle your freelance career, especially if you’re still working full-time.
Last, it’s a dynamic process - embrace it.
You will make mistakes, misjudge things, and run into things you didn’t expect. It’s all part of the process.
You’ll decide on a niche and then have second thoughts and jump to something else.
You’ll decide on a color scheme for your website and then wake up in a cold sweat and change course.
It’s the same way with everyone. Don’t believe you are the only person to experience this.
💡 Pro tip: Adopt an attitude that learning comes with experience! It’s okay to learn and change as you grow your freelancing career. You’ll soon find your niche and become comfortable with your ideas and plans.
You need to consider both strategic and practical priorities that you’ll have to tackle in order to start your career.
Following the three steps that I’ve outlined in this article will help you do this successfully:
- Make a list
- Organize ideas
- Get to work
With time and experience, your freelance business will grow, and you’ll enjoy the freedom it offers!
And, if you are looking for a larger, more comprehensive approach to organizing and managing the work of launching your freelance career, check out David Allen’s Getting Things Done . Get the paperback so you can mark up the pages and take notes. Enjoy the kindle version on your favorite e-reader. Or, pick up the audiobook and listen to it on your commute.
Thanks for reading!