Turning Freelance into Fulltime: Establishing Professionalism
This blog begins a series of 5 posts which will attempt to outline and address a very valuable lesson for any industry or any career. To say I’m excited to share this information is a gross understatement. Reading any post on my blog, you will see I’m passionate about sharing my life experiences with as many other entrepreneurial hopefuls as I can. This special series “Turning Freelance Into Fulltime” could very well one day become a best-selling book or feature article in Fortune (we can all dream, right?), but for now it’s solely for your benefit and inspiration.
If you’re currently freelancing a set of skills or have at least thought about it, this can be the critical first step toward starting your own business. I invite you to join me each week as I share the 5 most important components needed to prepare for a successful transition from freelance to fulltime.
As a freelancer, you’re often caught in the awkward limbo of working a fulltime job while living this second life on the side. How much time and energy should you spend on creating a professional image for your freelancing work when it’s not yet your bread and butter? My advice is – a great deal. When a prospective client asks for more information or a sampling of your work, it’s easy and convenient for you to send them a link to your web site. When I first started, I used an extremely clean and simple template on Weebly.com. The web templates are as easy to create as a word document and Weebly hosts your site completely free (which was right in my price range when I first started). Although I’ve since outgrown Weebly as my business grew, I highly recommend it as a starting point for any other freelancers. When you’re ready, you can purchase a domain name to personalize your site further. The bottom line is that a web site shows prospective clients that you’re serious about your side business and the quality of work you put into fostering this business is a good indicator of the level of work you’ll also put into their projects. Once you’re ready to take the leap into fulltime entrepreneurship, you’ll be that much further along in your process of developing a business web site.
Create business cards.
It’s never too soon to have a professional looking business card for your freelance business. When you have the opportunity to talk to someone about your business and they show an interest, you want to be able to give them something that allows them to be immediately in touch with you or to find out more about your work. A business card does just that. It’s also discrete in that you can easily slip someone your card and shift the conversation so you’re not stuck feeling like all you do is talk about this “side job” you have. I remember the first business cards I created. I ordered the minimum amount from VistaPrint.com using one of their pre-made designs. When they arrived in the mail and I saw my name alongside my business’s name on that little card, I felt that first jolt of energy that entrepreneurs live the rest of their life for.
Designate a professional email.
Once equipped with a web site and business cards, you’re now in need of a professional email designated for your freelance work. I still encounter many well-established businesses that skip this step and it’s noticeable. If you bought a domain name for your web site, you can usually create an email at this same address such as John@JSmithDesigns.com. First, this type of email address is both neutral and easy to share in that it uses your name and your business and not something awkward like 2Hot2Handlexoxo@yahoo.com. I can’t imagine a perspective client could overlook this red flag and not question the professionalism and legitimacy of your work as well. Second, a professional email is a nice accompaniment to your business cards. Finally, if someone misspells or misplaces your web site URL, they can easily find it by following what’s listed after the @ (I use this technique quite often to verify web addresses even now).
Include freelancing on your resume and Linkedin.
Even though your freelancing business is only a side job at the moment, there’s no reason to exclude it from your work experience. It says many valuable things about you. First, you have a specific skill set of a high enough level that multiple people are interested in contracting you just for this work. Second, you are organized and proficient with time management to be able to juggle a side business along with a fulltime job. Finally, you’re a leader and an entrepreneur to not only get a side job, but make a side job – which could very well become your sole business with enough time. Be sure to include this wherever relevant. I added my freelancing Public Relations work to Linkedin profile and my resume and received quite a few connections who were intrigued by this work. They key is to find the balance between promoting your work but not in such a way that it becomes a conflict of interest with your fulltime job. I assure you, there is a balance that can be reached!
An Extra Snippet: Do you need to incorporate?
While we’re at the very beginning of how to turn your freelance business into a fulltime career, now is an important time to cover the issue of how and when to incorporate. I waited about a year and a half into my own freelancing before I woke up and did this. And it was only after a brutal tax return that I saw the value in doing so. Once you start bringing in frequent income from clients that averages over several hundred dollars for each project, I suggest talking with a CPA or a tax attorney in your area. I was connected with a very sharp tax attorney who saved me from a bad tax year and set me up right away as an S-Corp. There is a cost associated with incorporating your business (especially if you do it the right way) but you easily earn that back the first year you file this side income as a corporation rather than an individual. Yes, there are online programs like LegalZoom.com that can get you started, but it can be a complicated process and I wouldn’t mess around with the IRS. Talk in person with a local professional who can advise you and apprise you of all of the decisions that will come your way as a new business owner. Never once did I hear of someone who regretted this extra effort!
Stay tuned as the “Turning Freelance Into Fulltime” blog series continues with: Getting Your Name Out There