Philadelphia-based interior designer Michelle Gage may be living the life as her own boss these days, but her entrepreneurial journey didn’t quite start off that way! Read on for Michelle’s heartfelt insight into making the creative freelance leap a successful and satisfying one.
Any type of career transition can be a bit daunting. There’s always a learning curve when trying something new. The thought of working for yourself and taking your career into your own hands is one of the scariest transitions you can make. That said, these days more and more people are ditching their corporate careers to dip their toes into the unknown world of freelancing. There’s no way to be 100-percent prepared for this leap of faith, but a little research and my eight tips below should go a long way in making sure you’re set up for success.
Gain valuable experience.
Your resume is still relevant when working for yourself. Clients will ask about previous employers and what you were doing prior to taking the leap. They don’t want to hear that you were floundering for a few years before transitioning into working with them. Prior to jumping into the freelance world as an interior designer, I was working as a home goods buyer for a large retail chain. Although I loved being surrounded by beautiful products all day long, I eventually started feeling the pull toward freelance work. If you are currently working a job that you don’t love, think about making a transition before taking the leap. The quickest way to get good exposure to the industry you wish to work in is to work for a small firm. For example, if you’re looking to go from an accountant to an interior designer, start as a designer’s assistant!
Have clients lined up.
Try to have a few solid client leads before making the transition. Keeping busy during the first few months is key. Fill your week with as much work as possible. Just because you work for yourself now doesn’t mean you can work less. Actually, you’re likely to work more than you ever have before! It takes a lot of energy to drum up business, especially when you are starting out and might not have the world’s most impressive portfolio, so hit the ground running right out the gate.
Ask for advice.
Consult your peers on your impending decision. You might discover, as I did, that they have similar thoughts about their career. Reach out to your old manager. Really listen to what they have to say. Some people are simply cut out to work for themselves, others are not. Then, sit down with yourself and make a pros and cons list. Evaluate your strengths and weaknesses. If you’re a person who has trouble getting into the office on time and hitting deadlines, perhaps you should brush up on some time-management skills before going out on your own.
Recognize the window.
Leap…but do so cautiously! Sure, we all want a blaring neon sign over a good opportunity when it’s coming our way. That idea is a fairy tale though. Be alert and be smart. I had been wanting to transition into working for myself for six months (after years of dreaming of the idea) before my window came. When I first had the thought, there were still projects at the creative corporate office where I worked that I wanted to be a part of. Then, a month later everything started coming together—both personally and professionally. I knew if I didn’t “open my window” at that very moment, I never would. I always dreamed of working for myself, but didn’t expect to do so until I had been working for someone else for 10 years. If your time comes earlier than planned, embrace it.
Don’t burn bridges.
Let’s be real, you could fail. Have a backup plan. I truly loved my corporate position and the people I worked with. I wasn’t desperately trying to veer off of the career path I was on. I simply wanted to try something new. At the end of the day, I had a backup plan. I knew I could return if it turned out that freelancing wasn’t for me. I had wonderful conversations with my managers before I left. They understood that I wished to pursue this burning passion of mine and left the door open for me to return if I wished to. I gave more than two weeks’ notice and made sure that those were some of my hardest-working days.
Have a plan, but be flexible.
I have a notebook for everything. My life is kept on lists. I am Type A to a T! Armed with that information, it might surprise you to know that I didn’t really have a plan. I saw my window, but I didn’t know how to jump through it. I had a million and one ideas, but I was really uninformed on how to achieve them. It wasn’t something I could research either. I set achievable goals and trusted myself to work toward them. I knew what I was earning in my corporate position and set financial goals to surpass that. Setting monthly goals kept me focused. Planning your entire first year is impossible. Start with three months and reevaluate halfway through. I guarantee that your goals are going to change as you get going. Be easy on yourself in that first year. You don’t know what you don’t know!
Make freelance friends.
Going from an extremely social work setting to working on your sofa with your dog is hard. It’s a huge adjustment! Build a network around yourself. You can’t snag immediate coworkers, but you can make work buddies. These connections don’t necessarily need to be in your exact industry. If you’re a wedding planner, reach out to some photographers. Ask them to grab a coffee. Chances are you will need these connections in the future anyway. It’s wise to make friends with people who are both experienced and some who are new to this. Gaining different perspectives will help you in the long run. If you can, seek out a mentor.
As corny as it sounds, trust yourself!
No one is going to stand up for you if you don’t stand up for yourself. No one cares about your career more than you do. Go with your gut when ultimately deciding what is right for you. For me, this was something I always envisioned for myself. I knew it would be a major life regret if I never gave it a go. It has certainly been a hard year, but even on my worst day, I don’t regret investing in myself and my future.