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Slipping Through the Side Door

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Want to go freelance, but don't know where to start? And you're not ready to give up your day job? Then why not start out freelancing part time. In this presentation, I discuss some strategies for …

Want to go freelance, but don't know where to start? And you're not ready to give up your day job? Then why not start out freelancing part time. In this presentation, I discuss some strategies for launching your career part time.

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  • 1. Slipping Through the Side Door: Launching your freelance career, part time By: Scott Nesbitt Freelancing. For different people, that word means a lot of things. For some, it's synonymous with freedom. For others, it's a euphemism for someone who's unemployed pretending they have a job. For me, freelancing offers a mix of freedom and flexibility. It lets me do the kind of work I enjoy and get paid for it. I'm sure that just about every full-time freelancer you meet will say the same thing. For all the people who say that they want to go out on their own, not many do. It's a big jump, one that they're not prepared to make. At least, that's what they think. It's possible to ease into the freelance world by starting off part time. You can use part-time freelancing as a springboard to a full- time career. That's what I'd like to discuss for the next 40 minutes or so. © 2010 Scott Nesbitt Slipping Through the Side Door - 1
  • 2. Why go part time? Embrace your inner geek That's what you need to do if you want to if you want to be Instead of jumping in with both feet? Several reasons. Here successful at anything. That's especially true for freelancing. are some of the most common: Some people get offended when I use the term embrace your inner geek. I guess because the word geek has so • Some people just aren't mentally or intestinally ready many negative connotations. We're all geeks, whether we to take the plunge know it or not. And by geek, and I mean that we're passionate about something. • They want to build a portfolio or a client list before going full time That doesn't have to be the stereotypical geek pursuits (although it can be). It can be anything – writing, • They want to earn a little extra cash on the side, photography, home repair, collecting teddy bears, whatever. doing something that they enjoy It's that passion that will help drive you forward. It's that passion that will help you during the rough times. Let's face There's also another reason: people want to build their it: you probably can't make a full-time (or even part time) reputations before becoming full-time freelancers. I'll be career in an area in which you have no experience or talking about this more in a while. interest. I have a friend in Utah who's a full-time technical writer. He How to do it? who also does some WordPress consulting on the side. He didn't plan to start out as a WordPress consultant. He just That's the question … I don't think there's one path to wanted to start a blog, which he later began to customize. To becoming a part-time freelancer. But some of the same dirt do that, he had to learn a lot about the internal workings of is spread on those paths. WordPress. People then started coming to him for advice, and he began helping others set up and customize their own WordPress blogs. It just developed from there. Over the years, I've heard people say that their goal is to make their avocation their vocation. That's a worthwhile goal. Freelancing part time is a perfect springboard for doing that. © 2010 Scott Nesbitt Slipping Through the Side Door - 2
  • 3. Before you jump viable your ideas are, and 2) whether you have the right temperament and outlook to be a freelancer. Some people have the idea that starting a freelance career, even part time, is easy. You hang out a shingle, start What you'll need to get going applying for gigs, and the assignments (and money) start to roll in. The reality is quite different. Let's assume you've done everything that was discussed in the last few paragraphs, and it's only made you hungrier. Before hanging out that shingle. you need to do more than Here's the bare minimum of what you'll need. just a little thinking, research, and analysis. The first thing you should do is ask yourself two questions: I'm assuming that you know the area in which you want to freelance. It could be writing or blogging. It could be 1. Why do you want to do it? photography or Web design. It could be programming. 2. What are your goals? Regardless, you've probably got most of what you need already. Things like a computer, a camera, the software you Answer those questions honestly. Look at your answers and need to do your job – like a word processor or Photoshop. critique them. By doing that you'll be better prepared for what's to come. Hang out your shingle on the Web Next, look at the idea for your business. Is it viable? Will you be able to get enough business to justify the time and effort Set up a Web site if you don't have one already. The Web that you're putting into that business? If your goal is to go full site is your sales brochure. It will contain information about time, will you be able to sustain that business and increase it you and your services, samples of your work, a way of over time? getting in touch with you, and more. Your Web site is a central hub for your freelance business. Next up, look at the area in which you want to freelance. Examine the market. Look at who else is doing work in that How? Build it yourself. If you're a Web designer, that's a area. Get to know them. Get to know their mistakes and good showcase for your talents. If you don't know the first what they did right. Try talking to them, or emailing them. thing about building a Web site you can always hire You might not always get a response. Many freelancers who someone to do the dirty work for you. If, on the other hand, blog often write about their mistakes and triumphs. you have some knowledge of the languages of the Web, grab a template from sites like Open Source Web Design or Doing that research will give you a good idea of 1) how Open Web design and modify them. I did that with my © 2010 Scott Nesbitt Slipping Through the Side Door - 3
  • 4. personal Web site and the Web site for my company and the In the past, a few people have asked me about registering a results weren't too bad. Another route is to use WordPress company and incorporation. For part-timers, registering a or software like Joomla! or Drupal. company can be a good idea. You can do it online, and it's fairly inexpensive – around $60 in Ontario. As for A related note: get yourself a domain – something like incorporation, that's a tricky one. I'm not a legal or financial www.whatever.com. It's looks a lot more professional. advisor; talk to one for advice. Another approach you can take is to use a site called Tischen. There you can set up your own page to showcase your services, skills, and samples. And do it very quickly. If Experience you have your own domain, you can link it to your Tischen page. I can, for example, point scottnesbitt.com (a domain You've probably heard the old saw that you can't get a job that I own) to a page on Tischen. Instant Web presence. without experience, but you can't get experience without a Just because you've built a Web site doesn't mean people job. That might have been true once, but times have will come to it. You have to promote it and your business. changed. Sure, there are still barriers but those barriers How? Use Twitter. Set up a blog. Use Facebook if you have aren't as high as you think they are. to. If you post comments on blogs and/or forums, include a Remember what I said about passion a little while ago? link to your Web site in a signature Chances are you do have some experience in your area. It might not be paid experience, but it is experience. There's no Handling your money reason why you can't leverage that. How about money? Making money is one of the goals of If you're planning on freelancing as a writer, maybe you've freelancing. You should, at the very least, have a PayPal written a few things for a community newspaper or a account to accept payments on the Web. Those payment company newsletter. If you're a photographer, you probably could be from clients, from blog advertisers, or from goods have more than a few quality photos lying around on your you sell (like ebooks). hard drive. Or perhaps you've built Web sites for friends and family. You've got the beginnings of a portfolio right there. A second bank account is also useful, even for a part time freelancer. It enforces a church and state relationship Even if you're not a writer, think about submitting articles or between your everyday finances and your side income. And, guest posts to online publications and blogs in your niche. to be honest, the government will want a cut of that side For example, maybe you're planning to freelance as a Web income. designer. WebDesignerDepot.com and Sitepoint.com are © 2010 Scott Nesbitt Slipping Through the Side Door - 4
  • 5. two popular sites for people in that profession, and a guest topic in such a public arena, and do it regularly, you get post there will get you noticed. If you're not much of a writer, remembered. People will respect your knowledge. They don't worry. Chances are you know someone who can write. might even come to you for help because you've proved that Approach them, and offer to share the byline. And the fee for you know what you're doing. the post or article, of course ... Here's an example: last year, I was at a conference on Open Don't forget the experience you've gained pursuing your Source software. One of the speakers was a developer and passion. Back in the late 1980s and early 1990s, I had a consultant who specializes in Drupal (a Web-based content friend who loved playing with this family's video camera. management system). I've heard and read many people Remember, this was before the advent of inexpensive proclaiming that you can't make a living from Open Source. consumer digital recording – it was all VHS. He got very Well, he does. How did he get to that point? It wasn't good at not only recording but also editing. He started off overnight, that's for sure! He got involved in the Drupal recording parties and events held by friends, then used community, first by posting messages to message boards, some of that footage in a demo tape. That got him some then answering questions on those boards. By doing that, his paying gigs recording weddings and bar mitzvahs. As his list reputation and profile gradually increased. Then, he started of satisfied customers grew, my friend started getting writing modules for Drupal. People began using them, and assignments to record events for smaller companies. some of those asked for customizations. At first, he did those customizations for free. But when companies started asking Using a community for custom version of the module, he began charging them. Now he does custom installations of Drupal, consulting, and There are usually more than a couple of people out there even sells some of the modules he writes. who share your interests. Many of them are part of a community of enthusiasts. Online, there are thousands of If you use LinkedIn, you probably know about LinkedIn boards and Web sites and communities where you can ask Answers – a forum for asking and answering questions. I and answer questions. Chances are you're already a know a couple of freelancers who regularly post there and member of at least one of those communities. they get some business because of it. If you aren't, you should seriously consider becoming a member of those communities. Getting gigs Why do that? It not only offers you exposure, but also builds You're all set up and ready to go. The only thing you don't your credibility and expertise. If you answer questions on a © 2010 Scott Nesbitt Slipping Through the Side Door - 5
  • 6. have is one or more paying gigs. That's where the fun uncommon to see, for example, ads offering $5 for a 500 begins. word article. Someone once offered me $150 to write a software manual for them. You can imagine what my Back when I started freelancing, the Internet wasn't on response was ... computers. Well, not home computers. In fact, not many people had computers at home. I had to try to drum up That's not always the case, but for the most part you’re not business the old fashioned way – with letters, faxes, and going to get one big gig that will pull in a lot of money. It cold calls. It was a lot of hustling and if I scored three gigs for could happen, but it’s more likely that you’ll be working at every 10 approaches I made I was doing pretty well. and chasing multiple smaller gigs that don't pay much but which can add up. Job boards and bidding sites In the long run, though, job boards aren't the way to earn a Nowadays, it's a bit easier. Most people start with Internet good living. That comes through personal contact. job boards and job ads. You can find gigs in minutes and apply for them with a couple of clicks. A place everyone Use your network starts looking is Craigslist. There are a lot of gigs there, and Sometimes the people you know can help you get gigs. some of them aren't too bad. Some of them ... Chances are that you know at least one freelancer. And that Other places you might want to look are: person probably knows more than a couple of other freelancers. So why not leverage that network? • Freelance Folder Job Board Maybe you're a writer, and that Web designer you know • ProBlogger Job Board needs some copy for a site she's building for a client. Maybe • Freelance Switch Job Board a management consultant of your acquaintance needs some of your graphics know how for a presentation. The • Sitepoint.com Marketplace opportunities are out there. Don't be afraid to ask. In addition to job boards, there are job bidding sites like Then again, sometimes those opportunities fall into your lap. Guru.com, eLance, ODesk, or Freelancer.com. Remember when I was talking about LinkedIn earlier? A few One thing that you need to be aware of is that most of the months ago, a writer I know was approached by a client folks who post online are looking to get the job done as because she was a member of the OpenOffice.org group on cheaply as possible. I mean really cheaply. It's not LinkedIn. In fact, she passed some business from that client © 2010 Scott Nesbitt Slipping Through the Side Door - 6
  • 7. my way because of my knowledge of OpenOffice.org. to fill those cracks in the day with your freelance work. But don't sit around waiting. Constantly put out feelers and When I was in journalism school, I read the The Freelance make people aware that you're available, that you're skilled, Writer's Handbook. One of the authors of the book described and that you can do the job. how he fell into part-time freelancing. He'd been discharged from the army, went back to school to get a PhD., and The pitfalls started a family. His income – from the G.I. Bill and teaching at the university – was about $8,000 a year. This was in the 1970s, but even so it wasn't enough to pay the bills. So he There are a few, which freelancing part time can really bring approached the editor of a local paper and offered to write to light. features and reviews at $15 a pop. To do that, he'd get up Have you ever heard the phrase the loneliness of the long- early in the morning and grab a bunch of assignments. distance runner? As a freelancer you're often on your own. Between classes and at lunch he'd do research and phone This is especially true of part timers. It's hard to build a interviews. In the evening, he'd write up his articles and support network around you if you're working full time and submit them. All of that on top of doing doctoral work. You freelancing on the side. Posting to forums and chat groups is might not have to do that much, but that's the kind of tight OK, but that really can't compare to sitting down with others time management you'll need to learn. And fast. over a coffee (or something stronger) and talking shop. We tend to wear masks when online, even if we don't realize it. Time vs. money in person, those masks crumble. That’s definitely something you have to weigh when Part time freelancing also takes time away from your friends considering a side gig. Consider how much time you’re and family, and from the things you want to do. To a client or spending on a project, and how much you’re making. You editor, a deadline is a deadline. They don't care if you want might be offered $600 to write a quick start guide or to create to watch the latest episode of Boardwalk Empire or want to a small help system. You might be writing 500 word articles spend some time with that special someone. The client for $10 a shot. Is that extra money worth the time that you’ll wants what they've contracted you to do. They want it on spend working on those projects? Well, if you can write five time, or sooner. articles an hour or finish the documentation in 10 hours it Because you're doing the work on the side, you're going to might be. But chances are, those jobs will take you longer. need good time management skills. You'll have to learn how Also, consider the time you’re going to spend searching for © 2010 Scott Nesbitt Slipping Through the Side Door - 7
  • 8. and applying for gigs. That can be a lot of hustling, especially clients. when you’re using your spare time to do the hustling. Going full time Burning out You'll also question why you're doing what you're doing. Yes, That's the goal, isn't it? Say goodbye to the day job and work even part-timers can suffer burnout. for yourself. The question is how do you know when it's time to make the jump? Two years ago, I had a few writing gigs on the side. Yes, even freelancers take side projects. I was making decent This can be hard to determine. You should seriously money overall, but I didn’t have as much time as I wanted to consider going full time if: do the various other things that I wanted to do. So, in an 1. Your freelance work is taking up more than 30% attempt to rewire my systems, I took a close look at some of of your time. those gigs. The amount of time that I spent working on them wasn’t worth the pay. So, I dropped them. 2. You're having to regularly turn away work Speaking of pay, low pay has always been the bane of 3. You're earning anywhere between 25% and 30% people starting out. As you're beefing up your portfolio, you of the income of your day job with your might have to work long hours for minimum wage (or less). freelancing That's frustrating and it might not seem that it's really worth Those are pretty subjective measures. But they give you an your time and effort. idea of how to gauge whether or not you're ready. Sometimes, you'll just need to step away. Remember the Say you do decide to make the jump. You should have at friend I mentioned earlier, the one who does WordPress least three months worth of savings as a backup. Probably consulting? About a year ago, he experienced a bit of a more. You never know when your next gig will appear, or if a crisis. He was doing a lot of that consulting, but it wasn't as client will be late in paying. satisfying as it used to be. He was pretty much going through the motions, the money wasn't great, and he wasn't Also, you might want to think about private health care. You spending all that much time with his wife and daughters. He won't be getting benefits from freelancing. For a family of had to admit that he was human, and he took a break from three, a basic health plan costs under $200 a month. Of doing that work. When he went back to WordPress course, if your spouse or significant other has a jobs with consulting, he was refreshed and better able to serve his good benefits, you probably don't need to do that. For © 2010 Scott Nesbitt Slipping Through the Side Door - 8
  • 9. example, at the moment my wife is in grad school. She gets a good health and dental plan from her university for under Contact Me $600 a year. Web site: Do you need to go full time? http://scottnesbitt.net/ Email: That's up to you. Freelancing part time is like leading a info@scottnesbitt.net double life. Leading that double life becomes a grind after a while. Not matter how mentally strong you are (or think you Blog: are), it can be very difficult to master and sustain that double http://weblog.scottnesbitt.net life. Twitter feed: Some people are content with part-time freelancing. For them, it's a little extra cash and freelancing part time allows http://twitter.com/ScottWNesbitt them to something a little different from their day job. It's fulfilling, but they also have all the security (real or not) of a full-time position. Whether or not you do go full time is up to you. But freelancing part time is a great way to get your feet wet and your hands dirty. You might find that going full time is what you want to do. You might find that the constant hustling and scuffing for a buck isn't your cup of tea and decide to stay in the part-time ranks. Either way, you just might find that freelancing is an enjoyable career (or sideline). © 2010 Scott Nesbitt Slipping Through the Side Door - 9