The decision to leave your day job to become self-employed is not one made lightly, and while the flexibility and autonomy of freelance work can be tempting, it is also not without risk. Pursuing full-time freelance work—or not doing so—is a decision that should be made carefully.
Amy Gallo, writer and regular contributor to the Harvard Business Review, explored the subject closely, conducting interviews with a range of experts. From her research, she identified some of the key considerations for those looking at freelance work as a viable career choice. Even further, she identified a number of questions that everyone should ask themselves when weighing whether or not they’re well-suited to the arrangement. Here’s what she suggests asking yourself before you decide to go it alone:
1. Do you have a marketable skill? It almost goes without saying, but it’s important to know you offer a skill or service that people will pay for before making the leap to full-time freelance work. “If you’re not sure whether or not you have skills potential clients would pay for,” says Gallo, “consider testing the market by doing some moonlighting while you are still gainfully employed.”
2. Do you have a robust network? One of Gallo’s interview subjects, author and head of the US Freelancer’s Union Sara Horowitz, suggests that “Freelancers who are connected to others tend to do best economically.” A large and well-connected network can be a boon to those who seek the autonomy of freelance work, as it increases the likelihood for professional opportunities. And while building a network takes time, it can be done through conferences, social media networking, and even local community events.
3. Do you have the right temperament? “If you’re energized by being around other people,” says Gallo, “you need to think long and hard about whether or not you’re going to be happy working on your own.” Gallo found from her research that loneliness is often a significant challenge to freelance work. Of course, while that may sound great to the introverts among us, it’s also worth remembering the importance of networking to freelancers, and whether or not that is a skill that comes naturally to you.
4. Do you have a financial cushion? “Freelancing can come with a lot of uncertainty,” says Gallo. “You may not always know who your next client is going to be or how much you’re going to earn in the coming year.” Before you plunge into freelance work, she recommends you really examine your expenses. Have a financial buffer in place, and reduce your overhead costs.
5. Are you disciplined about work? Evaluate how self-directed you are when it comes to getting work done. If you need a ton of structure in order to be effective, freelancing may not be ideal for you.
6. Can you try it out? Gallo, and her interview subjects, all suggest trying out some freelance work while you still have secure, full-time employment. “You can ease your way into freelance life,” says Gallo. It’s a practical way to determine if it’s the kind of setup that works for you.
7. Can your current employer be your first client? Depending on who your employer is, it can be worthwhile asking if they are interested in contracting out to you. If you have good rapport with your boss, have an honest conversation about the transition you may already be considering, and determine if there remains an opportunity to continue a professional relationship even if you leave the company.