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

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.

0 Comments

  1. Anonymous

    This story brought a smile to my face on a rainy Monday morning. Such a good reminder that even though the economy is still really tough and employment is dicey, there are ways to succeed! Congrats and thanks for sharing your story! 🙂

    • Katie

      Noel, thanks! When friends of mine lose their jobs, I instantly start looking for freelance positions that I think that they’d be good for. Of course, they’re usually not too gung ho about taking on Freelance projects, thinking that they won’t make any money. Contrary to that, being a contractor gives you a crap ton of write off’s. Gas, Food, Computer, Yes please. 🙂

  2. Erica Soultanian

    Congratulations on your freelance success! Just wondering- how do you manage your time between your two freelance jobs and your 9-5 job?

    • Katie

      I won’t lie when I say it’s hard. At first, I got addicted to having a lot of work, until I realized that there are only 24 hours in a day. So, I balance my work by taking one half-day from the 9-5 during the week, and doing about an hour of work when I get home at night. I still take the weekends off, but I reward myself knowing that I can come home and watch trashy TV during the week if I do some extra work on the weekends.

      Long story short, I set a schedule, and adhere to it. Took a lot of discipline, but my ability to buy tons of Old Navy tank tops makes up for it 🙂

  3. David Ewing

    Katie, do you have any experience using a virtual assistant? If so what is your recommendation as far as what to look for, price etc?

    • Katie

      Hey David. Yes, I actually still have 2 virtual assistant positions in place. As far as what to look for, I’d say to look for positions that have tasks that you want to do. Don’t let the person’s price range stop you from applying. The key to getting any position is the proposal. The awesome thing that sites like Elance offer, is the ability for you to write your own personal proposal. I write mine like a letter, asking questions about the position, commenting on the person’s line of work, etc.

      With pricing, I do a fixed price of $15/hour. This way, the majority of people who contact me, know what I charge. However, I also use this as a haggling point if I pursue a job that I’m interested in. “I typically charge $15/hour, but I’m really interested in working with you! How about I come down a bit and do $13? Would that work?”

      If you have any more questions, or want to chat more, please do get in touch, I’d be more than happy to help in any way that I can 🙂

  4. Kristen

    Nice. Love your blog!

  5. Storage Products

    I actually made a huge career transition because of a lay off at the company I worked for. I served 5 years in the military (I joined when 9-11 happened). I got out and worked for a company for 2 years and was laid off. The time allowed me to become inspired by a friend who has an ecommerce site. I studied everything I could, borrowed startup money, and followed the American Dream. I like your story and mine, there are silver linings out there. You just have to make lemonade, you know?

    • Katie

      Yep, you’re certainly right. Lemonade, my friend. I know that a lot of military men and women have found themselves without jobs, and that makes me incredibly sad. I’ve sent some freelance positions to some friends in that situation, and some just aren’t able to make that initial jump to do something that might not pay “AS” much as first, in order to build a business that does indeed pay.

      Congratulations on your successes! I’m certainly proud of you.

  6. DanaLeavy

    Love the article, Katie, especially since I work for myself! I think a lot of people initially are drawn to the freelance lifestyle because to them it translates as “flexibility to do whatever you want”. But you’re spot on – flexibility to make your own schedule still requires you to come up with a business structure (hours, proposals, payscale, etc.). It’s a great lifestyle, but I would venture so far to say it’s not for everyone. Thanks for sharing!

    • Katie

      I absolutely agree, Dana. Making your own schedule takes so much discipline, and some people really need that third party enforced structure that comes with a 9to5 job. Heck, I think I need that structure a little bit since I stull have a 9to5 that I work.

  7. Togotutor

    Great Article Katie, I believe it all depends on luck and the people you know. If you have a lot of contacts countries like india, then definately go for it blindfolded.

    • Katie

      I knew absolutely no one when I entered the freelance niche! I made my entire client base myself. Luck? I’m not so sure. Maybe a small aspect, but I moreso think it’s based on true dedication.

  8. 1-Page Job

    A great tool for compiling a good job proposal is http://www.1-page.com. The online tool helps a user step-by-step create a 1-page job proposal immediately deliverable to a potential employer.

  9. Greg

    I started my own consulting/freelance business 4 years ago while working full-time and with 2 kids. Since then, I’ve QUADRUPLED my salary, work less, and have a lot more flexibility.

    I’ve found that fear often stops aspiring consultants/freelancers from starting their business, and on my blog (http://www.StartMyConsultingBusiness.com), I talk about how to overcome those fears. I also talk about practical, concrete things you can do to start and run a successful consulting/freelance business, along with tools, tips, tricks, and techniques for automating your business and keeping costs to a minimum.

    Most importantly, just start someplace and do something on your business each day. The more you do, the that you’ll find that things will start happening (i.e., the harder you work the luckier you become).

  10. Anonymous

    I agree with your last sentence most of all. Without actually getting started and executing some kind of a plan progress cannot be made. Even if you don’t know exactly what to do doing something and learning from it is vital to making steps forward. As long as you have a piece of insight as to what you want to be doing, getting there is just a matter of how. 🙂

  11. web_design_melbourne

    It’s a great lifestyle, but I would venture so far to say it’s not for everyone. Thanks for sharing!

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