How do you make the transition to a freelance career? Do you start part time, or commit to full time self-employment straight away?
Choosing your freelance career
Before deciding this, it may be useful to know that the majority of self-employed artists and makers have a portfolio career. They do other work to keep body and soul together, to sustain their creative output while they grow their business.
Starting a business involves testing out different scenarios. Don’t be tempted to rush this phase.
Many maintain this portfolio of income all of their lives. So it’s important not to feel pressured into going full time straight away.
Starting part-time also reduces stress and anxiety levels. There’s money coming in from other sources, and it feels like you have a little more time to make key decisions about your niche and the overall direction you want to take.
Starting a business involves a lot of testing out of different scenarios. It does take time to get it right. Don’t be tempted to rush this phase.
Work at home or rent a workspace?
It is useful to minimise risk in the early stages. Many people come to grief by committing to renting an office or workspace before they are sure that the business can generate enough revenue to sustain this.
That’s why business incubator spaces exist: they provide a way of mitigating risk and providing support in the crucial first year or so.
See if you have suitable space at home, or can create one in the garden shed. If you are lucky enough to do this, you already have gone a long way to overcoming one of the major hurdles that new businesses face: the costs of running the business itself.
4 steps to business development
Ideally you should approach your business development step by step, carefully proving that each step is working and monitoring the results before moving on.
As each element starts to work for you, step up the activity and move to the next phase. Four typical stages might be:
- Understand your niche and your product / proposition
Become clear about who your customers will be
You need to target customers carefully. It needs to be precision marketing, not a scattergun approach.
Find a way for people to discover and sample your work
Gather feedback; get endorsements and positive comments - especially from individuals that are a match for your demographic.
Incorporate this feedback into your marketing.
Don't spend large amounts on marketing until you are sure that all of the above elements are working. As soon as you know something is working – immediately scale up or increase your effort in that area. Then repeat this process with new ideas or products.
Grow at a sustainable pace
Now and again, ideas take off at such a pace as to leave the business owner struggling to keep up with demand. Rapid, uncontrolled growth in demand is a big risk.
Rapid, uncontrolled growth in demand is a big risk for a business.
If you feel that you are going to be lucky enough to grow at a good pace, make sure you have planned for that scenario.
You will need to have figured out how you will scale up operations to keep up with production demands, customers’ expectations, and maintain quality and great service throughout.
Get business support
By this I mean ‘paid for’ assistance. It is rare for a person to be good at absolutely every aspect of business.
In the long run, it’s sometimes cheaper to pay someone else to do certain key business tasks than it is to do them yourself. You want to avoid losing energy away from what you are best at: making and doing stuff.
For example, when creating products or writing books, I often dictate my ideas into a high quality digital recorder. Working this way, I can use long journeys effectively to write material for talks and seminars. I have a virtual assistant who then transcribes my ramblings into a Word document. I can then easily edit this down into its finished state.
It’s a far more creative way of working and it increases my productivity by overcoming any procrastination about spending long hours in front of a PC.
It is rare for a person to be good at absolutely every aspect of business.
A lot of creative people pay a book-keeper for a few hours a month to keep track of incomings and outgoings. This helps avoid the comedy scenario of handing your accountant a shoe box full of receipts at the end of the year.
This actually happens, and your accountant will charge you a small fortune to sort out the mess. Many times more than you will ever pay a book-keeper.
For some of us, a few hours help every week to keep office systems up to scratch can be a real production booster.
Learn to systematise things
Set up daily or weekly routines so as not to skip essential business tasks. I tend to deal with email first thing, then set out my tasks for the day, and then deal with the unpleasant tasks first.
An unpleasant task – chasing invoices, writing a boring report or doing your filing – will pollute your creativity. Get shot of them as soon in the day as you can.
Then, the rest of the day is yours to do what you do best, whatever creative endeavour that might be.