So it’s been a while…
A year, actually. It’s been exactly a year and one week since I published my last post.
Shame on me.
Actually, no shame, because I do have a good reason. That reason is because I was making big adjustments in my life. Like, quitting-my-job-and-going-back-to-freelancing kind of adjustments.
If you’re a part of my email list (and if you aren’t, you really should join 200+ people in-the-know), you already know about my struggles and changes this past year. However, many of you superheroes expressed interest in knowing more of the details about that transition, and exactly how I went from $0 to $3000 per month in freelance work in a little under four months’ time.
Quite the legit request, so I’m going to fulfill your wishes in this post.
Knowing how I was able to build up freelancing on the side of a day job to the point where I could quit that position in four months might inspire you to try the same, or at least give you proof that it can be done if you put your mind to it.
So without further ado (it’s been a whole damn year, after all), this is the story of my past year and how I finally became a full-time freelance writer again.
HERE’S WHERE I WAS AT
Around this same time last year, I realized I was starting to seriously dislike my job.
I hated waking up; the alarm clock was the bane of my existence. It didn’t matter that I worked from home and could just wake up, check in, get breakfast and coffee, and start writing. It also didn’t matter that I loved the industry I was working in (online video and digital media).
The problem was there was no challenge at my job.
I would write five news stories five days a week, every single week. There was nowhere in the company for me to move up or take on other roles. I even offered to take on new tasks to diversify my day a bit, like using analytics to figure out which social platforms were most effective for driving views on our articles, but I was always told, “Great idea — let’s come back to that later.” Plus, I still hadn’t gotten a raise after being at the company for a year and a half.
Pile all this onto the fact that my husband’s schedule would change every few months to a new shift, which meant that we would sometimes be on opposite schedules entirely, and you can probably see why I was getting depressed.
Like, literally depressed, not just figuratively. I started losing interest in my hobbies and personal development activities I used to enjoy, like reading, gaming, and writing fan fiction (yes, I still do that).
This is when I actively stopped working on Geek & Prosper. Behind the scenes, I had all these ideas on what posts to work on, how to offer you coaching services, where to take the blog, etc. But I never acted on any of them, because I simply had no willpower.
In short, I was in the very situation I try to help others get out of on this blog. Hypocritical? Maybe. But that was part of my impetus for changing what was going on in my life.
HERE’S HOW I CHANGED MY SITUATION
Around October 2015, I realized I couldn’t take it anymore. I was tired of being depressed, tired of feeling like my career wasn’t going anywhere, tired of not having a good marriage with my husband. Just… tired.
So I went to work to change my situation. These are the primary actions I focused on each day (and I mean it… each day) to move myself forward:
- I gave myself tangible, realistic goals every night.I’m the type of person who quickly becomes overwhelmed if I think about everything I have to do in the next week and month. So to keep that from happening (which would just add to my stress even more), I wrote out a list of everything I needed to do the next day the night before.
However, I didn’t write just any old goal, or even that many. I only wrote down as many as I knew I’d have time to finish, at varying difficulty levels, even if had to push myself a little harder to make them happen. This made it easy to finish my entire list the next day, and also gave me a sense of accomplishment.
Bonus: anytime I finished my list, that good feeling stuck with me and helped propel me into the next day, and the next, and the next.
- I braced myself for the long haul.Originally, I wanted to quit my job the first week of April 2016. That goal meant I could quit my day job and immediately go on vacation to Europe with my hubby, coming back to my own business and freedom without having to ask off three weeks from my day job.
But the harder I worked and sent out pitches and networked, the faster I got jobs, which is why I was able to officially turn in my resignation notice in just three months instead of six. By the fourth month of freelancing as a side gig, I had quit entirely.
- I hit up all my current and past clients.Anytime you need more work in your life, always hit up current and past clients. It never hurts to ask them if they have a gap in their writing needs. So I did. I was careful to let them know I had limited time on my hands, but didn’t directly tell them why that was unless I trusted them.
One of my current clients at the time, EContent Magazine, upped my column schedule from three times per year to once per month, after I received approval from my boss (I would be writing about online video for both publications, but they had different audiences so there was no conflict of interest there).
Several past clients also told me to keep in touch because they had work coming up in the next few months they wanted to hire me for. So far, one of those projects has panned out, and I’m in talks with another past client now about some magazine articles.
- I scoured job boards.Many freelancers would recommend you don’t look at job boards if you want to get really high-paying clients, and normally I’d agree. But when you’re already working monotonous 8-hour days it’s very hard to find the brainpower and energy to market yourself to and pitch brands directly.
As such, I decided to give job boards a try for at least a month to see where it got me, on the recommendation of a freelancer friend who at the time was making a full-time living from part-time hours on Upwork. For the first few weeks on Upwork, all I did was aim to send out at least three job pitches per night, Monday through Friday (five if I was feeling especially determined). By about the third week of pitching, I’d landed two blogging clients paying at least $65/hour or $100+ per blog post.
Mind you, this was before Upwork changed their fee policy, and now I can’t recommend you use the platform anymore. But you could try your hand at other sites like Problogger or the Mediabistro job board.
- I connected with brands I’d written about as a journalist.Having written about the online video industry for over a year and a half, I figured I knew better than anyone about what brands in that area would need writing and content marketing help.
I started keeping a list of companies and their contact info, and emailing them from my writer’s email address (not my work email) about my intentions to go freelance with a related pitch for my services. This strategy actually resulted in my most profitable client to date, with an ongoing retainer contract of $2500 per month.
There’s nothing unethical about this method, btw. You can let a brand you’ve written about know you’re likely going freelance soon, and you’d like to work with them when that happens. The only thing you have to keep in mind is that if you’re still employed as a reporter at a publication, you can’t write about the brands you take on as clients. Furthermore, I’d even caution you to take on any clients in the industry you write about until you’ve left your day job.
- I networked… hard.In addition to connecting with my old clients and my industry connections, I expanded my networking to even broader circles of friends, family, and other online entrepreneurs and freelancers. I figured if I could just land one more client at at least $500 per month, I’d finally be making as much as I was earning at my day job, even after taxes, and could quit.
One entrepreneur I knew actually got back to me, because we’d connected in the past over our geekiness (she’s a hardcore Doctor Who fan). She was looking for an assistant, but was requiring more hours than I was willing to give at 30 per week.
Instead, she connected me with several of her business coaching students who wanted virtual assistants, and I ended up landing a position with another business coach for $800 per month, $300 more than I was hoping for.
When everything was said and done, I realized around Christmas time I could quit my job the first day of January if I wanted. As I mentioned above, this was three months short of my goal, and I was ecstatic.
After talking with my boss, though, we agreed I’d stay around until the third week of January so he had more time to find a replacement, which I thought was more than fair. I loved working with the people in that company, and loved the industry, and I definitely wanted to part on good terms, which is exactly what ended up happening.
HERE’S WHAT YOU SHOULD LEARN FROM MY STORY
On to the key takeaways from my full-time-to-freelance story:
- Don’t assume it’s easy.This transition was probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done.
My first time jumping into freelancing was hardly a transition; I got let go from a teaching position, but I got unemployment from the state. I didn’t really need to freelance for almost six months, which means I had no real reason to dedicate time and energy to building a business.
This time, it was much different. This time, I had a very clear “why.” And here’s what I mean by that…
- Know your “why.”Why do you want to get out of your job? Have more freedom? Stop hating your life? Etc.
You have to keep this front and center, all the time. Print it out and put it somewhere in plain sight every day you’re working at the job you want to get out of. Remind yourself of it every time you don’t want to do your side gig.
What also worked for me was thinking about how much I didn’t want to go to work the next day, which made it far easier to focus on sending just one more pitch. I also made sure to reward myself with something I did enjoy if I hit all my goals that day.
- Don’t think everything will be perfect even if you succeed at quitting your job.For me, the worst part about working for myself again is keeping my days organized and staying focused.
Once I can actually focus, I get a lot of work done very quickly. But most of the time, I have to force myself to sit down and just do the work, which might seem ironic considering I very much enjoy freelance writing and marketing.
I still have to work on improving this part of my business, the productivity and motivation side. Some tools (like Habitica) work well for me, but I continually need to keep myself in check or tap the motivation from friends to move my business forward, or it stagnates almost every week.
- Surround yourself with supportive people.It’s vital from day one to have at least one person you can talk to about your journey to quit your job and go freelance. Whether that’s a spouse, a relative, or a good friend, you need to find someone who inherently knows — and tells you — that you’re going to kick ass.
You could also work with a mentor or business coach, if you’re willing to set aside some of your freelance income in exchange for a boost in confidence and guidance. The benefit to having a mentor/coach is their outside perspective on your strengths and weaknesses, which you can leverage to improve your pitching, marketing, etc.
- Treat yo’self.You also need to make sure to treat yourself well as you work towards full-time freelancing.
On top of ignoring chores which weren’t imperative (like cleaning mirrors), I made sure to eat well, take vitamins, and work out at least 15 minutes a day on top of my day job and 2-3 hours of freelancing per day. I tried to save alcohol for bath time or weekends/outings with family and friends.
As for relaxing, I’d give myself a break with an aforementioned bath, video games, reading, or movies/TV. This was key especially when I could tell I was going to snap at my husband or go brain dead from all my work. I didn’t always manage to keep myself in line with all of this, but when I did, I definitely saw an improvement in productivity and focus.
- Remember it’s all worth it.No matter how tired you are, or frustrated, or depressed, or just wanting to give up, keep going. It will be worth it in the end.
When you wake up on the first day you don’t have to go back to your day job, then you’ll remember why you did all that hustle. I really dislike that word… but it’s so true when you’re trying to ramp up a side gig to be your full-time thing.
And do me a favor? When you get to the point where you realize it’s all worth it, hold on to that feeling. Write it down in a journal and re-read it when you’re feeling unmotivated. Set up a monthly reminder email to yourself using a service like IFTTT. Anything that will help keep you on track and happy about your freelance career down the line!
I realize this is a really long post, so I’m going to wrap it up by simply imploring you to never give up on your freelance potential. Some people think freelancing full-time is impossible; for them, it will be, because they don’t believe they can do it.
But you? You know better. You saw how I did it and am still doing it, and you can do the same.
Here’s to your freelance success!
Do you have any questions for me about how I made the jump back into freelancing from a full-time job? Ask me in the comments below!