• Advice

Is it time to switch freelance lanes?

My husband and I were recently invited to a wedding in Connecticut. Since it was his first visit to New England, we decided to make it a long weekend and visit all six states. Our agenda was loosely set with Portland, Maine, being our final destination before we had to return to Connecticut for our returning flight in a few days.

With modern technology and GPS systems that seem to recognize every inch of the road, our trip went smoothly until, upon leaving the Cape Cod area, I saw a sign for Plymouth. Automatically, I was transported back to grammar school where we learned about the mythical Plymouth Rock. As we approached the signs for Plymouth, I shouted to my husband, “Shift lanes and get off at the next Plymouth exit. I can’t be this close to Plymouth Rock and not go see it.”

By this point in the trip, my husband had conceded that he was Morgan Freeman and I was Miss. Daisy, so he obliged me. After driving around aimlessly, he asked, “Do you know where we are going?” I didn’t know, but I figured Plymouth couldn’t be that big and clearly there would be a large marker or signage saying: See Plymouth Rock Here.

We did eventually find Plimoth Plantation, a living history museum that attempts to replicate the original settlement of the Plymouth Colony, but it was closed. Finally, we gave up and headed back to the main highway only to discover that for the past 45 minutes, we’d driven in a big circle. Ironically, the very next exit was the exit for Plymouth Rock.

Now, the running joke in our family is, “Are you sure you want to shift lanes?”

It's never too late

Whether it is on a road trip or in one’s professional endeavors, changing lanes should not be a decision that one comes to haphazardly. Much like our Plymouth venture, taking a different route than the one planned or moving prematurely can end with less than satisfactory results. In a freelancing capacity, adding a new service to one’s wheelhouse or shifting from one freelancing career to another has implications and you want to be prepared.

Does this mean that once you decide on a freelancing destination that you are stuck with it? Absolutely not. Many freelances acquire new skills during their freelancing tenure, take on new interests, or simply need a change of scenery.

Our capacity to grow and learn is amazing so it is not surprising that sometimes we simply become bored or disinterested in something that we were once passionate about. And let’s be honest, we may also feel constrained, overwhelmed or undervalued — all of which can add urgency and a strong desire to make professional changes. When you are ready to make a shift the question, then, becomes: How should you go about changing your freelancing trajectory?

Stay informed

Lean on your network for information and advice: Too often, we may look outside of our circles when the answers are within. One of the best ways to gain insight about another freelancing industry is to ask those who are already well-versed about it. There is a strong possibility that there is already someone in your personal or professional network who is doing what you want to do next.

You may want to consider not only asking him/her for information and advice, but to mentor you. Be coachable and learn as much as you can. If you are able to make the investment, also check to see if there are any coaches in your network who can assist you with a successful transition.

Set aside time for training

When I made the shift from writing professionally to also copy editing, I took advantage of online resources and tools for editors. I also joined an online group of editors. In other words, I made the decision that training was a necessary aspect of my adding something new to my freelancing services. The same may be true for you.

Even if your new freelancing endeavor is similar to what you are currently doing, set aside time for both formal and informal training. From books and virtual communities to free online courses, information is often readily available. Additionally, many community colleges will offer classes or certifications if you prefer a brick-and-mortar experience.

Finding the confidence to take the leap

This last one is less tangible. It has everything to do with believing in yourself and your ability to make a change. I know this sounds like a cliché, but the first step to success is believing that you will be successful.

Realistically, any time we leave a comfort zone or enter into the realm of the unknown, it may lead to self-doubt, uncertainty, and discomfort.
We may even make mistakes and fail. But the reality is that if you allow the possibility of failure to anchor you, you will never move. Wherever you draw your strength from, tap into that source and use it to propel you into this next stage of your freelancing career.

When venturing into a new area, the key is planning and being prepared. This is especially true if you are making changes after you have offered the same freelancing services for an extended period of time or if people associate your services with a particular industry. You may need to take some additional steps to rebrand and market your services. More than anything, prioritize your own professional and emotional well-being.

Occasionally, you will have to ask: Is it time to shift lanes?

Tyra Seldon Tyra Seldon is a former English Professor turned writer, editor and small business owner. Her writing addresses the intersections of race, gender, culture and education.