Thursday, April 17, 2008

5 things you need to go freelance (plus the website is live)

It's been a while coming but finally my website is live! Click here for

Despite the stresses involved in getting it sorted (anyone who reads my Twitter feed has heard all about it! BTW, if you're not a Twitterer yet, click here to follow me), I'm really pleased with how it's turned out. I spent a lot of time worrying that it wouldn't look right but the guys have done a good job I reckon. Any comments or thoughts, as ever, much appreciated!

So now that's up and running (and the business cards are ordered) I figure I can officially call myself a freelance consultant (I have been doing a little work in this vein up until now, but the website going up was always going to be my proper start date).

This post therefore is for anyone interested in going freelance themselves, or just curious about what goes into the process. I'm talking from my own experience obviously, so other people's mileage could vary, but from what I've read and heard anecdotally I think my experience was pretty standard.

Here are the top 5 things you need to become a freelancer:

1. Patience

It’s number one for a lot of reasons but mainly because it's been two and a half months since I left my previous company and although that may not seem like a long time, I naively thought I’d be motoring along by now. I've been waiting and waiting and waiting for all manner of things to drop into place.

The website has been the main delay (and those guys worked quickly, believe me) but there's other stuff too. I had problems with my emails, my computer, the blog and my bank, all of which tested my ability not to completely lose my rag and run off to join the circus.

2. Belief

Nearly as important as patience, it’s belief in both yourself and what you're looking to achieve. Despite having thoroughly thought this decision through over and over, there have been days where I decided it was completely crazy. In a job you get a pay check every month, someone else worries about the little details and if it all goes wrong then the worst that can happen is you have to find something else. None of that’s true as a freelancer. Worst that can happen? It doesn't even bear thinking about.

I'm very fortunate though, in that I have an exceptionally supportive girlfriend and some very successful friends and associates, who've been in similar positions and believe in me even when I don't. It’s that sort of thing that keeps you going.

3. Cash.

It’s another biggy. You don't need to be Monty Burns, but you do need enough cash to get by for a while. I haven't made any proper money since I left my last job but I’ve spent plenty (a new laptop, the website, business cards, even new clothes so I look the part). I've been fairly frugal where possible but the bank balance has still been steadily decreasing. Without the redundancy package I simply couldn't have done this.

4. Inspiration.

It's massively important to keep a perspective on things and realise that there are a lot of people going through exactly what you're going through. This means sometimes looking for inspiration in the form of successful peers and approachable experts. I get my daily dose of inspiration from the blogosphere mainly but I also read books and magazine articles about my field.

Luckily there’s so much good free stuff out there you need never go short of inspiration. Click any of the following for sage advice, funny stories, tips on how (and how not) to do pretty much anything and all round inspiration: Naomi @ IttyBiz, Seth, Hugh, Penelope @ Brazen Careerist, Pam @ Escape from Cubicle Nation, Alex the Chief Happiness Officer, Sonia @ Remarkable Communication, Maki @ doshdosh and Rowan @ Fortify Your Oasis.

(Top Tip: Read those guys, then read the people they tell you to and you'll never be short of inspiration again)

5. An idea

Finally (or at least finally in this list, there's a lot more you need other than this to become a freelancer but I'm going for brevity over comprehensiveness) – it’s the strength of your idea. Whether you’e going to become a freelance IT guy or a self-employed plumber there's a very good chance that whatever you're offering is already out there in one form or another. In fact it's pretty likely that people right now are setting up in exactly the same space as you (this is definitiely true for me; the word 'marketing' in a Google Blog Search returns 98 million items!) Your idea therefore needs to be well thought out, easy enough to explain and something that you genuinely believe in (a good idea helps with point 2 in this list).

That's what I've tried to achieve with the concept of RED marketing (click here to find out what the heck that is). I knew what I wanted to achieve with my business, but it wasn't until I sat down and fleshed out an actual concept (a workable, defined one) that I felt I had an idea I could go to people with. People need that idea if they're going to buy from you, so make the best of it that you can.

Whether what you do is consultative or practical, service or product, you should be able to define your business in terms of your idea. Work on that and it’ll pay you back big time.

That in a nutshell is what it’s taken to get me to this point. I’ve purposefully not mentioned the various practicalities of setting up as a freelancer (taxes, legal status etc) because there are so many good books and articles out there that do a much better job of explaining that side than I could. If you’re considering it and want some more information then feel free to get in touch (either in the comments, or email me directly – james at jamesparronline dot com) and I’ll happily have a chat with you about the ins and outs. I can say that I highly recommend it and that’s even before my business has really taken off. Just the different perspective it gives you can be invaluable in my opinion. Even if I end up eventually going back to work for someone else, I think I’ll be a better employee for my time doing this.

P.S. Just one thing though, if you were thinking about becoming a freelance marketing consultant, maybe have a bit of a rethink; I hear there’s really not much room in that area anymore…

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