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How to Start a Freelance Career Full- or Part-time

So, you decided to become a member of The Great "Resig-Nation" and strike out on your own as a freelancer. Or, perhaps you retired from a fulfilling career but aren't ready to sit back in your easy chair and while away the hours.

Maybe you were laid off from your job and are having a hard time finding gainful employment. Or, you just plain need extra income to make ends meet.

Whatever your reason for becoming a freelancer, it's helpful to have a plan for how to start.

There is no shortage of advice on getting started, either. Search Google for "how to start freelancing" and you'll see what I mean.

My story is I lost my job due to Covid's effect on the company I worked for. Because of my age, I felt that seeking full-time work was probably fruitless. So, I decided to start my own thing and continue digital marketing, a field I had worked in for many years. Fortunately, the company gave me some runway, and I had a client I was working with already, which made the transition easier.

Not everyone finds themselves in my situation, however. If you're starting from scratch, here are five action steps you can take:

1. Start part-time to test the waters.

In his book, Anti-Agency: A Realistic Path to a $1,000,000 Business, social media marketing agency owner, Jason Yormark, recommends using what he calls the "Runway Plan." He says before you go full-time, lay a foundation for success by starting part-time. It gives you a chance to test the waters to see if freelancing is for you.

"Many people don't have investment money or huge savings to use in starting a business. You must assume many risks and do everything yourself, especially at first. And with that responsibility comes uncertainty." ~ Jason Yormark

Jason took his own advice and started his business as a side hustle for a year before going full-time.

There's wisdom in that. It's an approach I've used in the past. If you can start part-time, then consider doing so.

2. Decide what you want to do.

That's stating the obvious, but you do have to determine the career path you want to follow. I'm going to write about this topic next, but here are some questions to ponder. Ask yourself:

  • What am I good at? You've honed your skillset over the years and could possibly put it to good use.

  • What am I passionate about? What you're good at may not be what ignites your passion and vice-versa.

  • What does the market need? Do enough people need what you plan to offer based on your skillset or passion?

If those intersect, then you've found a sweet spot from which to start.

3. Determine how to market your services.

Several freelance marketplaces exist where you can create a portfolio. However, some carry negative stereotypes. While I am not biased against any one of them, I do think Upwork is a step above. I have found several talented, credible freelancers using it, so that may be a good place to start.

4. Audit your infrastructure.

Do you have a home office or will you have to set up shop in your kitchen? Do you have a good laptop? What about software? Accept the fact that hardware and software investment is part of the startup cost.

You don't need a $2,000 MacBook Pro — I started with a $200 HP Chromebook — and there are plenty of low-cost, subscription-based software options covering everything from accounting to file storage to social media management to meetings and more. Some of these have a free version; most also offer trial periods.

5. Set your freelance rates.

This topic also deserves its own issue as there's a lot to consider. But one word of advice: Don't undercut your rates just because you're starting out, especially if you continue working in the same field.

As someone over 50, you have a wealth of knowledge and experience that's worth charging a substantial rate. Don't do what I did and charge too little. (I recently doubled my rates for new clients... and, so far, not one of them has batted an eye.)

Do your research, see what others are charging for the same services, and test your rates to see what the market will bear.

Oh, one last piece of advice... Just start!

This post was first published in my bi-weekly newsletter. If you are an over-50 freelancer, I invite you to subscribe. Also, listen to my podcast. Every two weeks, I interview over-50 freelancers and subject matter experts.

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