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Freelancing and Consulting: Becoming Your Own Boss Out of Necessity

In many ways, being your own boss is the embodiment of the long-held American dream. Currently, an estimated 53 million people are working as independent contractors and that number is expected to continue rising for the foreseeable future, comprising a full 40 percent of the workforce by 2020.
A recent study by the Freelancers Union and Upwork found that while 63 percent of freelancers were working independently voluntarily, that means 37 percent – a not-insignificant portion – were doing so out of necessity. Much of that 37 percent are workers who were laid off or otherwise let go from full-time positions and were unable to quickly find another acceptable full-time job. Rather than settling for unsatisfying work or being unable to pay bills, they turned to freelance work and independent contracting.
While the idea of working for yourself, building your own business and doing what you want to on your own time is appealing in theory, it’s often far more daunting in reality.
Even if you’d daydreamed about what it might look like to be your own boss rather than punching a clock, being forced into the independent workforce involuntarily can be quite a shock. However, if you’re faced with making a former side hustle into your full-time gig, or creating a brand-new service from your skills, there are ways to make it work. Here are some helpful tips for becoming your own boss before you thought you were ready.

Don’t Burn Bridges

When you’re laid off, especially from an employer to whom you’ve tirelessly dedicated yourself for years (or even decades), it’s natural to feel hurt and angry. However, it’s important you remain positive and professional in front of your former supervisors and employees, as well as online. Your former colleagues can be an invaluable source of reference and referral when you strike out on your own. Don’t do anything to jeopardize that resource or your reputation as a hard-working, level-headed professional. You’re going to need it.

Don’t Lose Your Confidence

It’s also common to experience periods of self-doubt after being let go from your job, especially if you’re unable to find a replacement quickly. But it’s usually unproductive to ask, “Why me?” In most cases, which employees are affected by layoffs is determined by budget, return and department. It’s not personal – don’t take it as such.

Don’t Be Afraid to Self-Promote

When you’re able to retain your confidence, you’re able to remember what it is that makes you such an asset to a company. Now is not the time to be humble or self-pitying. You have an opportunity to pivot your career and need to make the most of it. Market your new services as if you did have a choice in the matter – your confidence and enthusiasm will radiate, making clients more likely to hire you.

Don’t Stop Learning and Networking

If you’re no longer going into an office every day, it’s easy to become reclusive. You may spend all of your time behind a laptop, applying to freelance jobs online. But it’s more important than ever to get out there. Attend local networking events and register for conferences. Make an investment to keep your skills, knowledge and relationships fresh.

Learn New Skills

Depending on your previous position, it might be necessary to learn some new skills before you start selling your services. Maybe you need to learn how to code, become an expert in SEO, or upgrade your Adobe design suite knowledge. A bit of investment in yourself during the early stages can pay off exponentially long-term.

Use Freelance Job Sites

When it comes to freelance work, “who you know” is important, but it isn’t everything. As you’re building your portfolio, use sites like Upwork.com to boost your workload. Freelance job sites can help you figure out what kind of work you like to do, what you’re good at, and where you may need to bolster your skillset.

Know Your Worth

One of the most difficult things about going into business for yourself is figuring out how much to charge. Different factors including your experience, skill level and demand, the type of work and even the type of project will help you determine whether to charge per project, by the hour, or by some other genre-specific measure (like per word, for freelance writers). Regardless, don’t sell yourself short. Because you’re not getting any additional benefits with your freelance rate, you’ll likely charge a higher rate than you commanded with a 40-hour-per-week salary.  

Think About Your End Goals

Maybe you’ll realize you really love working for yourself and figure out a way to make it work for the rest of your career. Or maybe not. Either way is okay. Figure out whether it’s sustainable to keep working for yourself long-term if you want to. And keep applying for full-time positions, using the tips above, if not.

Investigate Your Options for Insurance, Retirement Savings and Taxes

Don’t ignore the not-so-fun aspects of running your own business. If you’re laid off, you’re likely eligible for COBRA health insurance coverage for a period of time. Beyond that, you’ll have to turn to the marketplace to figure out your coverage options. When it comes to long-term savings and taxes owed, do some research on your own first, then consult with a professional when it’s time to make real decisions.  
As the workforce as a whole move toward a gig economy, opportunities for independent workers will become more and more plentiful. And if this isn’t where you wanted to be at this stage in your life, keep your chin up and try to embrace the unexpected. The same Freelancers Union and Upwork study referenced at the beginning at this post also found that 79 percent of freelancers considered their work better than a normal job – far more than the freelancers who were doing it just because they wanted to.
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