How to make the shift from part-time to full-time freelance

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I wanted to be a writer since the first grade. I remember the day like it was yesterday…

My teacher told me the Principal wanted to see me in her office. I was terrified.  Every time someone went to the Principal’s Office, it was because they were in trouble.

Trembling, I made the longest walk of my academic career.

When I got there, the Principal was smiling and had a piece of paper in her hand I recognized.

Sidenote: Once you finish, read how 4 freelancers built recurring revenue models that changed their business. You'll love it.

She was so impressed by my story about our recent class trip to the National Zoo, she wanted to tell me in person what a great job I’d done!

I determined from that day forward I wanted to be a one-girl Woodward & Bernstein. They were the most famous writers I knew at that point, and they worked for the Washington Post, my hometown paper.

As I got older and found out how underpaid newspaper reporters were so I set my sights on becoming a magazine writer.

But it never happened.

Small victories

In 2006, I got a job writing for a content mill for five dollars an article. Occasionally I would write sales copy and bring in a few more dollars per piece.

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It was nowhere near enough to pay the bills, but at least I was writing and getting paid for it. There was an endless supply of work.

From there, I responded to an ad for a new website called eHow and got paid a few hundred dollars a month to write 20 articles of my choosing. I was on my way, or so I thought.

My first attempt at freelancing

Between the content mill and eHow I was bringing in about $1000 a month.  I also received royalty payments from eHow once a year.

But because I had a full-time job, I didn’t have enough time to write more and make more money.

Though I took a free class from the Tampa Economic Development Authority on business planning, I had no clue what I was doing.

I decided to quit my job so I could make more money freelancing.

What I failed to realize was that there was no way I could make enough money to pay my bills with this income.

I only had two clients, and wasn’t yet skilled enough to get new clients on my own.

After a couple of months, I had to move in with someone because I was too far behind on my rent. I went back to working full-time and gave up my dreams of freelancing, at least for the moment.

I was devastated. I put my dreams to the side, and ended up having three children over the next two years. (That was not a typo. I have twins 🙂 )

Because I was the breadwinner in my family, there was no way that I could give up the security of a full-time job in order to pursue my dreams.

Freelancing becomes more promising

Though I was working full-time in various marketing and admin jobs, I learned everything I could about business.

In 2015, I started a new position doing admin work and marketing for a local real estate company. The job was way below my skillset.

I found myself with over five hours of free time every day, even though I was constantly coming up with new responsibilities for myself all the time.

I enrolled in a brand new class called Escape the Content Mills, and began applying what I learned right away.

Within a couple of months, I landed my first writing gig here at Millo.

I continued to market myself, and picked up even more clients. I used my experience at my dayjob to pick up a couple of real estate writing gigs.

Making the leap

Within about six months, I was making as much money in my freelance business as in my full-time gig.

But I still had no savings, and all the business advice I read said to save up six months of living expenses before quitting.

I know that having a huge savings account is great advice, but not always the most practical. So I asked the Millo Mastermind Facebook Group what they thought.

I was encouraged to see so many responses.

It turns out lots of successful freelancers start their businesses without a significant amount of savings.

Because I have a family, I decided to get a part-time job to maintain a steady income while I work on ramping up my business.

It is definitely not easy, but I love being able to spend more time with my family and make money without leaving my house.

I’m only a couple of weeks into my official launch date. Making the transition was much harder than I thought.

A couple of months before launching, I had a personal crisis that made it almost impossible for me to focus on work. And I found freedom to be both a blessing and a curse.

What does this have to do with me?

All my knowledge and even my previous experience didn’t prepare me for what things would be like this time.

I learned some valuable lessons along the way and wanted to share with you some things to keep in mind once you make the switch to full-time freelance:

1. Good habits die easy
When I was working full-time, I was very aware of how limited my time was to make additional income. I had a very organized workflow using Trello and Nutcache to keep a handle on my business.

Once I left my job, I started slacking on entering everything in my systems. At the end of the month, I spent hours pouring over bank statements and my PayPal account to determine what my income and expenses were for the previous months.

2. You can’t afford to NOT hire help
When I was working full-time, it became apparent that the more time I spent on admin tasks, the less time I had to complete paying work.

So I hired a VA.  Things didn’t work out too well, so I hired two more people.

Out of those two people, one of them is doing an awesome job helping me with my email marketing, and I plan on giving her additional responsibility in the near future.

Because I’ve never been responsible for managing or hiring anyone, I’ve come to discover that this is an area I need more practice with.

As I expand, I plan on getting more education on hiring and managing employees.

I also am a terrible money manager, so I’ve enlisted the help of my mother to help with accounting and taxes.

Because she wants me to succeed (probably so I’ll stop borrowing so much cash), she doesn’t charge me.

3. The pressure of upcoming bills with no guaranteed income is difficult

I’m one of those strange people who do an awesome job when under intense pressure.

But I found that dealing with the pressure of upcoming bills with no money in the bank is crippling for me.

To help me deal with the anxiety, I keep two virtual sticky notes on my phone: one has a list of the bills due in the next week, and the other includes the money I have available on hand from all sources.

Knowing what’s going on with my finances at all times helps ease the anxiety, as well as motivate me to get things done.

4. Job boards & content mills aren’t always a bad thing

Until now, I’ve remained silent on the job board debate.

But when I was new and didn’t have many clients, I joined every freelance site and constantly applied for work.

I got one small job from Upwork, which helped me get more clients in the same industry.

I also write regularly through Clearvoice, which allows me to set my own rates. I still have active accounts on other boards, but I find Clearvoice to be the best for me as a freelance writer.

Though I try to avoid working for content mills because of the low pay, I find that it’s a good source of filler income when my larger clients don’t have anything for me.

But this strategy is only until I develop some sources of passive income.

Wrapping It Up

I’m excited to be able to make money from home without having to punch a clock anymore.

Though the money is nice, what’s more important to me is being able to spend more time with my family and participate in outside activities I didn’t have time for in the past.

If you’re a full-time freelancer, what did you find to be the hardest when making the switch?

If you’re still working on a side hustle, what’s holding you back from going full-time?

Let us know, I’d love to hear about it in the comments 🙂

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About Sharon McElwee

Sharon McElwee helps creative businesses with blogging, email, copywriting and social media. She loves to partner with designers on web and print projects. You make beautiful things; don’t let them get ruined by ugly copy. Connect with her on Twitter.

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Comments

  1. Great article!

    I am working full time and started a web design firm on the side. The goal is to transition to a more creative career, but being the bread winner for my family, makes it hard to quit the day job. I have a plan which I hope will let me transition sooner than later but as you know it can be a tougher than expected road to get there. This article helps, thank you very much.

  2. Still rocking a day job. I’d love to go full freelance but I live in an “economically disadvantaged” area, so decent clients are real tough to find.

    In fact, 75% of my business is out of state.

    If I could market more I’d surely grow, but I’m already working 70 hours a week.

    It’s that hump that gets us stuck working day jobs.