How to Get Started in Freelancing
As more people step (or are pushed) off the corporate ladder, many are landing in the exciting, rewarding and sometimes scary role of free agent.
"I was tired of doing assignments I didn't like on a schedule I couldn't control," says Mary Beth Neumann, who quit her job at a major consulting firm. Neumann had just had a baby, and rather than work 60 hours a week bringing in hefty billings that went mostly to supplement the partners' incomes, she opted to strike out on her own.
"I knew becoming an independent contractor was the only way to align my work with my values and goals," she says. "But I kept putting it off, because I was hung up on developing a business plan and marketing materials."
She began calling former colleagues and other independent professionals for advice on getting started. Soon, the advice turned into leads and the leads turned into projects for three different companies.
That was six years ago. Neumann has been working steadily ever since (and making more than she did at the firm she left). "I never have gotten around to developing a business plan or brochure for my practice," she says sheepishly. "But I do have an impressive portfolio and project list, which along with referrals, are helping keep me as busy as I can be."
Independent PR strategist Irene Harper left corporate America after 20 years. She was searching for -- of all things -- employment security. After getting "riffed" and seeing her friends and loved ones "right-sized," merged and bankrupted out of their jobs, she thinks it's better to be working for four or five active clients than to put all her eggs in the basket of one employer.
Harper gets many assignments from staying in touch with former bosses, employees and coworkers. But the bulk of her work comes from subcontracting to agencies and independent contractors she used when she was in the corporate world.
Lewis Patel used to work in the finance and I.T. departments of several major corporations, but he never felt he was learning enough. He also wanted a higher profile and more visibility. Lewis started by contributing articles to general business and trade magazines and speaking at the local chapters of a number of professional associations about trends and solutions to common problems. In doing so, he has established himself as an expert and is working on three projects initiated by managers who after reading his articles or seeing him speak approached him for assistance.
"We're seeing more and more professionals taking the freelance route," says Liz Harvey, marketing manager at Sologig.com, an online service that connects independent contractors and freelancers with companies and organizations needing help with special projects and assignments.
"And with the continued trend toward outsourcing, thousands of companies and organizations are coming to us looking for expertise on projects ranging from developing a business plan to designing a logo."
Harvey says demands for freelancers in consulting, I.T., engineering, writing and graphic design is particularly high.
Some Sologig members are freelancing while they look for a traditional full-time job. But most are freelancing because they've made a conscious lifestyle choice. "They want to better balance and integrate their life and work and to be able to control what they do, how many hours they work and how much money they make."
Most free agents can't imagine going back. Others like David Larson, an independent marketing consultant, move in and out of corporate life to refresh and broaden their perspectives and circle of contacts.
His advice on getting started as an independent contractor: "You don't have to wait until every detail is worked out," he says. "But it is a good idea to talk to your contacts and check the Web to line up a few projects first. Chances are if you do a great job, provide great value and treat people well, those projects will lead to repeat business and a growing client base."
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