• Community, Advice

Should I Freelance? (a primer for beginners)

If you’re peering, uncertain, into the murky waters of freelancing: welcome!

Before you consider diving into the freelance world – ask yourself these 4 questions:

1. Have you “dipped your toe”?

Listen, no job in the world is as unremittingly glamorous and rewarding as it appears from the outside.

When you see a Olympic figure skater smilingly accept a multi-million dollar Wheaties contract after effortlessly landing a triple jump, you don’t see the countless hours she spent practicing…. and crying onto the ice.

Before you decide to become a freelancer, experiment with freelancing.

Take a part-time gig and explore the waters.

If none is forthcoming, volunteer (or intern) in your freelance field of choice – scarcely anyone turns down eager, free help. If that’s impossible, take a class.

Experimenting with freelancing helps you get a quasi-realistic, insider’s view on whatever industry you wish to enter – while conveniently building your portfolio, sharpening your skills, and hopefully even saving up some extra cash before ultimately taking the leap.

2. Have you done your research?

You wouldn’t dive off the deep end without SOME knowledge of how to doggy-paddle, right?

The good news is that thanks to the Internet, research is often… fairly easy!

You can come off as pretty savvy, without much effort. There are tons of resources out there, from industry-specific advisory tomes to general freelancing wisdom (observe this very website).

Join the Union (it's free!)

Become a member

3. Devote some time to scoping out your field.

If you can find anybody who’s currently working as a freelancer, offer to take them out for coffee in return for picking their brain.

Nothing’s more invaluable than first-hand perspective.

There are many questions to ask yourself as you research. Here are a few considerations:

  • Where do freelancers in this field find jobs / gigs / clients?
  • What is the typical hourly rate for freelancers in this field?
  • What skills do freelancers in this field need? (hint: look at job postings, and see what skills they list)
  • What materials do freelancers in this field need in order to land clients?
  • What are COMPLEMENTARY skills that help [freelancers in this field] succeed?

4. Have you got a little nest-egg?

I’m not going to be a huge hypocrite about this one and recommend saving up one year’s salary in advance.

When I started freelancing, I was the poorest Ramen-eating churchmouse in all of churchmousedom.

I started freelancing because it offered freedom I craved –“savings” were just a dream.

That being said, it would have been EASIER had I had a little bit of money saved up.

Take a realistic look at how much you need to survive, and figure out how much you’d like to have saved from there.

You may, at some point, have to get a supplemental part-time job to fill in gaps; embrace this possibility, and keep going.

Now, if you’ve done these 3 things, and you’re pretty sure you still want to be a freelancer… DO IT.

You’ll never know what’s out there until you try; don’t let “preparation” be your excuse for not moving forward. Dip your toe in; if it suits you and you’ve got some semblance of a plan, jump. All of us were beginners once – come on in, the water’s fine!

Kate Hamill lives and works in New York City, where she consumes an inordinate amount of Sriracha daily. You can catch up with her on Twitter at @katerone.