This is a sponsored post written for Avex Designs.
I’ve never advocated for quitting a 9-5 job to freelance full-time without a solid plan for finding success.
One of the easiest ways to bridge the gap is to first experiment with your prospective freelance business as a side hustle. Once you start establishing productive processes, brand attention, and a loyal client base, scaling up is just a matter of the time you can put into your business.
The subject of starting a side hustle that is capable of sustaining you as a full-time freelance business is just a happy dream for many. It’s something to aspire to, but an impossibility for the average person.
I think that thoughts like these are completely out of line.
It ultimately takes a mix of luck, strategy, and motivation to turn the dream of running a profitable freelance business into a reality. The modern hustler is not without options.
You don’t have to work a corporate grind if you don’t want to.
Of course, the average American works for the man for dozens of years before they retire.
It’s hard to get excited about the future if you think it’s going to be a replay of constantly dreading Mondays, waking up way too early, and pretending to be busy at work, even when you finish early (and you’d rather be home).
But what if you could take your future into your own hands?
The future of a person’s career can be a source of terror because of a job’s role in being able to pay bills and the access it provides to important benefits (like health insurance).
The thought of being without these things is stressful.
Yet, even if you manage to stick around for a long time, it’s ultimately up to someone else (and your company’s cash flow situation), as to if you advance up the ranks and earn more money.
But let’s get one thing straight:
Self-employment is not for everyone.
That said, it’s really not as hard as you’d think to find success if you take the time to learn how to turn your side hustle into a business.
I’ve written many articles on the topic, each with a slightly different focus and stance:
- A month-by-month guide to starting a freelancing writing business for Sophie Lizard
- How to get over the fear of failure when starting a business for 99Designs
- Side hustle ideas based on your passions for Jobacle
- Businesses you can start without much money for Money Mio
- How I use Fiverr to grow my WordPress business for WPMU DEV
Though each article attacks the topic from a different angle, there are many commonalities between them, especially with regards to starting a side hustle with full-time freelance business potential.
Here’s what I’m trying to say:
Ultimately, your side hustle doesn’t have to remain a part-time job forever. With the right strategy, it can replace your 9-5 as your primary income generator.
So, what if you could wake up every day, excited to get to work on something you’re passionate about?
No matter what step you’re at in starting a side hustle, here’s how you should proceed with turning it into a full-time gig.
1. Plan as much as possible before quitting your 9-5 job.
Let’s go ahead and assume that you already have a side hustle that you’ve been making money from. If you’re still figuring out the specifics for starting a side hustle, refer to these side hustle ideas.
But even if you know exactly what you want to do and you’ve executed on it, it’s important to use your next few months to get things on track for the full-time business your side hustle will become.
Let me be brutally upfront about the way to find success:
Before you quit your existing job, you should plan to work double time.
I’m not saying that this is the way things should always be, just a reality when starting a new venture.
Here are several common freelance business concerns to address before taking the leap:
- Set a budget, and determine where you can trim the fat. The first few months of self-employment can be hard, and you don’t want to go into debt over the things you don’t absolutely need (and may not even have time for). Struggling financial is a stress that you don’t want to take on in addition to everything else you’ll have to worry about. Popular budgeting tool Mint can help you identify current spending trends to help you determine where you could be saving.
- Save your money. While you wait for money to come in from your side hustle turned full-time freelance business, it’s important to already have an emergency fund stashed away. While this ideally involves 6 months of living expenses, just 3 months will still put you ahead of the game. Realistically, even 1 month is better than nothing.
- Research benefits options. Here’s the real kicker: when you leave your 9-5 for self-employment, you’ll lose out on company-sponsored benefits that you’ve probably taken for granted until now. Freelancers Union is a great place to start looking for group medical insurance and dental options. If you’re married, your partner’s benefits may be accessible to you (I was able to get on my fiance’s by signing an affidavit of domestic partnership). Just don’t wait to figure these things out until the last minute!
- Get real about what to charge clients. A good place to start? Hubspot’s Freelance Hourly Rate Calculator. Don’t forget that paid vacation and sick days are a thing of the past, unless you account for them in the price you charge. So don’t undersell yourself! You’ll end up paying for it in extra work to close the gap. Your rate will change as time goes on, but give yourself a solid foundation to start with, even if you still need to prove yourself in your industry.
- Start finding clients now. On the down-low, start letting trusted members of your network know that you’re about to turn your side hustle into a full-time freelance business. Referrals can be the best clients, and it’s a lot less stressful to quit your 9-5 when you have some jobs lined up on the other side.
There’s also a lot to be said about getting (and staying) in the right mindset both before and after you quit your 9-5 job. More on that, later.
2. Give yourself a deadline to quit your 9-5 job.
Deliberating when to turn a side hustle into a business, many people put off the important step of actually quitting their 9-5 job… forever.
Time is a self-employed person’s most precious asset.
When transitioning from a side hustle to being completely self-employed, your work will take over your life. When you’ve made the decision to quit your 9-5 job, you’ll probably have to temporarily stop going out after work and limit weekend outings in order to get everything ready.
Just make sure that all this work isn’t for nothing. The extra work you’re putting in now is to ensure your success when you become completely self-employed.
So do yourself a favor.
Give yourself a deadline to quit your 9-5, and stick to it. Make sure that it’s enough time to do all the things detailed earlier, and more.
Just don’t give yourself enough time to psych yourself out and change your mind!
Once you’ve committed to the idea of starting a side hustle that becomes a full-time venture, create an action plan to make it happen.
And don’t skip your self-imposed deadline to quit your 9-5 job.
3. Find separation between your business and your personal life to avoid burnout.
It’s tempting to get excited and work yourself to death when you’re first starting out.
Knowing that the amount of money you make is ultimately up to you can be both a motivating factor… and the scariest thing in the world.
But when trying to turn your side hustle into a business, you are your own worst enemy. When you work for yourself, it’s easy to work so hard that you eventually burn out.
Here are some practical tips that I’ve learned from experience to help you avoid burnout when you become your own boss:
- Set a schedule and stick to it. Block out time for things like calls, client work, and responding to emails. Don’t forget to also schedule in time for breaks and personal activities, like going to the gym or reading a book. In general, if it makes it onto your schedule, you’re more likely to treat it like an important to do item.
- Take frequent breaks. The Pomodoro Method involves using 20 minutes to complete a task, then 5 minutes to take a break. But besides short, periodic breaks, make sure you’re also taking a lunch. It’s easy for new freelancers and entrepreneurs to fall into bad eating habits. A failure to maintain consistent meal times will come back to hurt you.
- Shut down at night. It can be tempting to be tied to your email/phone to check up on your freelance business, even after typical 9-5 business hours. In order to avoid burnout, it’s a good idea to create separation between your work and personal life. If you work best at night, give yourself a break in the morning. And if you must respond to an email at night, schedule it to actually be sent during your normal business hours by using a program like Boomerang. You don’t want to set a precedent that you’re available at all hours, otherwise people will take advantage of your precious personal time.
- Get enough sleep and eat healthy. If you’re not getting 7-8 hours each night, it will affect your ability to do anything productive. Make sure that you’re taking care of yourself and your body so that you can give your work 100%. The same goes for healthy eating. It can be tempting to eat fast food when you first get started so that you can devote more time to work, but beware of the Freelancer 15 (and how eating bad affects your ability to get work done).
- Sleep in. Ok, not all the time. But since you get to set your schedule, you get to decide when you’re ready to start the day, and even if you actually want to change out of your pajamas or not. With all the difficulties that come hand-in-hand with self-employment, it’s important to also enjoy the perks that come with being your own boss.
4. Set SMART business goals, and hold yourself accountable to them.
Setting goals is an important practice for running a successful business.
Business goals might represent your highest aspirations, like making a certain amount of money each month. Or, they can involve several smaller goals that make up milestones on the way to larger goals.
In any case, goals should always be “SMART,” which is just an acronym for:
An example of a goal that is too vague and not “SMART” is: “I will make $100,000.“
The “SMART” version of this goal might read something more like, “In 2019, I will make $100,000 by December 31st, after first having a $2500+, $5000+, and $7500+ month.”
After all, a six-figure freelance income doesn’t come out of nowhere — it must be built up over time.
By creating smaller, step-by-step versions of your major goals, you’ll be able to stay motivated and find things to celebrate on your way to success.
Besides business goals, it can also be useful to create “SMART” goals for other areas of your life: personal goals, fitness goals, and others of the like. After all and as previously discussed, these things can have a notable impact on your freelance business success.
Make sure to document your goals in a place where you’ll have to often see and face them. Post It notes on a bathroom mirror is an easy and in-your-face way to always stay reminded of what you want to accomplish in your life and business.
5. Scale up your business with a plan.
Business growth doesn’t happen until you’ve built a solid foundation and chugged away at work for a while. It’s exciting to take your side hustle to new levels, but don’t focus so much on growth until you’ve gotten everything else right.
High growth with bad processes means more work and stress than could ever be worth it. A low quality of service will create a bad customer experience that won’t soon be forgotten or forgiven, likely sabotaging your future efforts.
Part of scaling involves determining the specific tools and processes that can help you be as efficient as possible.
I wish I had experimented more with various freelance tools before quitting my full-time job.
With what I know now, I’d recommend getting to know these tools (or tools like them) before starting a side hustle:
- Quickbooks: Invoicing software. Charges a monthly fee and processing fee if clients pay with a credit card.
- Evernote: Very searchable note-taking app for keeping track of projects and client notes. There’s a free basic version available.
- Todoist: Task management app that can be used to collaborate with team members. There’s a free basic version available.
- Google Docs: Free document management over the cloud so you can always access important files, no matter where you are, and collaborate in real time with team members and clients.
- Hubspot Sales CRM: This free CRM (with paid upgrades) will help you keep track of clients, conversations, and deals, so that you can stay on top of the all-important follow-up.
- Buffer: Whether you’re managing a client’s social media, or working on personal branding for your own, Buffer offers free and paid options that make it easy to constantly keep your network updated (without having to spend a lot of time on planning).
When deciding between different software tools and marketing campaigns to scale your business, move forward with caution. Throwing money at a situation won’t necessarily improve it, but careful strategy surrounding growth can lead to great results.
Just as with your first few months of self-employment, try to keep freelance business expenses at a minimum.
That said, if adding a team member or expensive software program will free up a significant amount of your time to make more money — full speed ahead!
Final Thoughts: Starting a Side Hustle & Making it a Full-Time Freelance Business
At this point, you may leave this page having learned something new but also might fail to act on this knowledge — even if a non-traditional self-employment situation as the result of starting a side business is your greatest aspiration.
The secret to running a successful full-time freelance business is to take action. Certainly, actions should be measured and informed. But regardless, nothing can happen until you take that first step.
Intentions alone don’t result in change.
Getting through the difficulties of taking the first steps can help you see for yourself that turning your side hustle into a business is possible. Planning ahead will help you understand the level of commitment necessary to achieve success. Act as if you have nothing to fall back on, and you may be surprised at how successful you can be.
Once you’ve completed the groundwork, the next step is to quit your job.
This is one of the most simultaneously stressful and liberating things you can do for yourself. Once it’s done, celebrate, then get down to business. You’re going to be busy!
What questions do you still have about turning your side hustle into a full-time business? I’d love to help you out! Leave your thoughts in the comments below.
Also published on Medium.