Last month, I left the comfort of a regular paycheck to become a full-time freelancer. I had no money in savings, and a regular stream of bills flowing in, so I had no choice but to hit the ground running. Within six-weeks, I was able to replace my full-time income. It wasn’t easy. It involved twelve-hour days, minimum sleep and a series of nervous breakdowns. But now? I couldn’t imagine my life any other way.
Last week, I came across this article on how impossible it is to survive in the gig economy, and thought I would share how I was able to make the gig economy work for me.
1. Be Realistic About Your Needs
Freelancing isn’t for everyone. The reality is that anyone can freelance, but not everyone will like freelancing. I am an ENTP, which means my best work happens when I am managing lots of different kinds of projects. I thrive on fast-paced, big idea projects, and can shift my thinking very quickly. It also means I am completely incompetent at managing details.
Secondly, freelancing means giving up stable income, and many of the “extras” we all have come to enjoy. While every freelancer dreams of replacing their full-time income, it is something that takes time. You need to be realistic, you cannot survive trying to hunt down $5 gigs. It is not sustainable.
How I did it: .
- Figure out exactly how much you need to earn to survive. A smaller goal can give you the confidence to get started, but this means forgoing most of the luxuries in your life. Don’t forget, 30% or more of your income will go to paying self-employment taxes, and make sure to include expenses your employer previously covered. (health insurance, cell-phone, etc)
- Determine how many hours you will dedicate to client work. It may sound crazy, but 60% of your time will be spent finding new clients, marketing your business and managing administration details. Be realistic about how much time you can dedicate to client work.
- Set your rate. Once you have a clear picture of how much you want to earn, and the number of hours you can dedicate to client work you can calculate what you need to earn per hour. Start out with a range for your hourly rate, and be flexible until you figure out exactly what the market will offer.
2. Pick a Specialty
Consider how much money you need to make, what skills you have to offer, and narrow down the skills that you can make a living with.
Why would I hire you to do a job when I could hire a specialist at the same rate? If you try to sell everything, you will sell nothing. It is the equivalent of blindly submitting your resume to thirty different positions.
How I did it:
I have a huge range of experience from pitching traditional media to building complex influencer/content marketing programs. There are dozens of services I could offer my clients, so I narrowed it down to five skills that were in high-demand and pitched brands to see which services would attract the most work.
3. Use Your Network
The most important part of finding gigs is having a strong network. This is no different than the process of finding a full-time job. The chances of applying to a job posting, and getting the job is low. The way to get a great full-time job is to use your existing network. It is no different for finding gigs.
How I did it:
I spent the past five years helping agencies and Fortune 500 brands create digital marketing programs. Through my work, I developed relationships with some amazing marketers. Theses people understood how I approached digital marketing. They knew the kind of traction I could build, and when I went freelance they were the very first people to hire me.
4. Get Comfortable with Cold Pitching
If you need consistent income (which I assume you do), you will need a huge pipeline of potential clients. Regardless of how large your network is, you will have to get comfortable with cold pitching.
The first step is deciding what kind of clients you want to work with, and then identifying what you can offer them to close the deal. While I love working with large brands, there are a number of downsides. It can take months to close a deal and most of your time will be spent navigating office politics rather than creating interesting work. You can make more money working with big brands, but getting work off the ground can be very slow moving.
This is why I love working with startups. They spark to out-of-the-box ideas, and can implement new programs really fast. I knew from the beginning that I wanted to take my big brand experience, and help startups build traction with their target customers.
How I did it:
- Identified my ideal clients—Most of my work fell in the consumer marketing space, specifically helping brands reach women online. So I started by looking for clients who were trying to reach women online. Because startups are typically strapped for cash, I looked for clients that had already secured funding. This way, I knew they had the budgets needed to fund a great program.
- Find potential clients—Once I knew who I was targeting, I started searching for potential clients. I looked on sites like Angel List, Beta List and Crunch Base. I started searching those databases for potential clients, and made a list of companies to pitch.
- Create the perfect pitch—The perfect pitch takes time. Start by sending out three different pitches, and measure which formats give you the highest success rate. Refine and test until you get the perfect mix.
- Get ready for disappointment—Creating the perfect pitch doesn’t mean you will get the gig. A while back, I discovered an amazing startup, and convinced myself that I was the perfect person for the gig. I pitched them, and they were interested. So I spent an entire weekend creating a deck that would show them exactly why they should hire me. I didn’t get the gig. I can’t tell you the disappointment gets easier, but it does give you some amazing learning experiences.
5. Get Ready to Hustle.
The only way to survive in the gig economy is to hustle. Once you land a few gigs, you will find yourself in a place where you are activating multiple projects while negotiating new gigs. You have to move very fast and have the ability to quickly shift your mind to do different kinds of work.
How I did it:
My first two weeks of freelancing, I pitched 200 potential clients, closed three deals and spent my afternoons crying because I was sure I would never make it. Surviving the gig economy is hard, but it is possible.