How Being Laid Off Helped Me Start a Freelance Career & Tips to Start Yours

Jun 20, 2011 -
In November 2008, I lost my job in company-wide layoffs. I’m relatively certain my blogging (which I admit happened on the job sometimes) played a role in the decision to terminate me. While I was packing up my desk, my boss came by and told me that if I blogged about the layoffs, she’d pursue legal action. So, on that rainy November day, I cried myself home and collapsed on the floor in my two-bedroom apartment. How was I going to afford my apartment? How about my car? Which dumpster would be the best one to rummage through for food scraps? I’m really good at "worst case scenarios," clearly. My unemployment was made worse by the fact that I’d recently parted way with a serious boyfriend. Double-Decker-Life-Exploding-Crap-Sandwich! Yay! I was depressed and wasn’t being diligent about finding a new job. With no real income coming in, my landlady got pissed off that I was not paying rent and my car payments were beyond late. Eventually I was forced to move back in with my father. I hit rock bottom. One day, I woke up and decided to change things. The truth is, I wasn’t really invested in the job I’d lost. It wasn’t my life passion. I started scouring the web for "side jobs" and came across Elance.com,  which offers freelance work. I navigated the site, found a few jobs that I liked, and squealed a little when I found a posting looking for a blogger to write about autism. I had zero experience aside from my personal blog, but I went ahead and put together a few good examples of my writing and applied for the job. When I hadn’t heard from the potential client a week later, I assumed someone else had been hired. But then I got an email offering me the job! I was so excited. A few weeks later, I applied for two more positions: one as a virtual assistant and another as a marketing consultant. To my surprise, I landed both! These days, I have a 9 to 5 job, but I still hold two of my freelance gigs. The moral of my story? Being laid off isn’t the end of the world. It forced me to be resourceful and introduced me to freelancing, which helped me earn some cash and continues to be a nice source of side income for me. So, I’ll leave you with some tips that can help you start freelancing (hopefully minus the layoff).

1. Decide whether you really want to freelance

The first step to becoming a freelancer is committing to it. Are you okay with the idea of having several short-term jobs and not one stable source of income?

2. Put together a portfolio

You must must MUST have a portfolio. Whether for writing, web design, whatever. If you’re new to freelancing, don’t sweat it. Come up with a few topics on your own and write about them. If you’re into design, make a few new website designs on your own. Or, offer a pro-bono design to a friend to build your portfolio. You have to be able to show your clients what you are capable of doing.

3. Create a schedule

When will you be available to work? Know your available hours and stick to them. Don’t work overtime, don’t work under time. Know your limits.

4. Know how to write a job proposal

Seriously. You can’t just say things like, "Hi. Want Job. Will do it." That won’t fly. You have to be clear and concise. Ask questions about the project. Inquire about any specific needs. You’re selling yourself to a potential boss. Make them feel you’re interested. (If you’re not interested in the job, don’t apply.)

5. Come up with a payscale

Figure out how much you want to be paid. If you’re utilizing a website like Elance.com, you have the ability to put your hourly rate in your profile. I have an hourly rate and for some projects I require a minimum number of hours.

6. Just. Freakin’. Do. It.

Often, people doubt they’ll make any money or doubt they’ll make enough money from freelance work. I can tell you first hand that you can make a decent amount of money from freelance work. It just depends on how seriously you take freelancing, how much time you dedicate to doing projects and the quality of work that you put out there. Starting off, you might not be rolling in the dough. It takes time to build a customer/client base. The best thing you can do it you want to start freelancing is just to start somewhere. And don’t wait. Start now. Katie Colihan is a freelance writer and business consultant living in Philadelphia, Pa., by way of South Jersey. She works hard so that she can play hard and support her need for live concerts, pancake brunches, new notebooks and iced coffee.