How To Transition to Freelancing from a Full-Time Job

How To Transition to Freelancing from a Full-Time Job

Work is no longer a place, and success is no longer defined by a full-time job.

Workers are quitting jobs in droves to become their own bosses, according to the Wall Street Journal. Many are choosing to transition to freelance work for good.

Upwork’s Freelance Forward report found that flexibility and freedom are key motivators for new and existing freelancers:

  • 68% of new freelancers say that ‘career ownership’ is a top draw
  • 54% are attracted to the ability to work remotely.
  • 78% of skilled remote freelancers cite ‘schedule flexibility’ as a key reason for freelancing
  • 73% cite location flexibility, and
  • 73% say freelancing allows them to pursue more meaningful work.

This need for flexibility shouldn’t be underestimated, with 55% of freelancers and 59% of skilled remote freelancers indicating that they would be unable to work for a traditional employer because of personal circumstances.

For many, caregiving responsibilities and personal health needs drastically changed due to the pandemic. The flexibility that freelancing can provide may be a draw for some and a necessity for others.

This desire for flexibility resonates with me on a personal level. I first started freelancing when I was still in college and wanted a flexible way to work while still studying full time.

Then in 2013, at the age of 28, I quit my corporate job of almost six years as a marketing communications specialist, to become a full-time freelancer. I was motivated by the desire to travel and see the world and freelancing has allowed me the freedom to work from anywhere. I share more of my story here: How to Become a Digital Nomad.

Radhika working from Bali

Radhika working from Bali

So what exactly does it take to give up your full-time job, get past those what-ifs and successfully transition to freelancing?

While it’s exciting to take control of your work and life, it can also feel scary and challenging sometimes. What if it doesn’t work out? What if nobody wants to hire me? What if I don’t make enough money? What if I … fail? There are so many what-ifs to worry about!

I’ve put together this 9-step guide to help you get started and take the leap into the world of full-time freelancing.

9 steps to transition to freelancing

Transitioning from being someone’s employee to becoming a self-employed freelancer will be exciting but also a little scary at times. The first and most important piece of advice I would give you is don’t rush it.

You don’t have to become a successful freelancer on day one or even month one.

Remember that you’re making a huge life change, so take it one step at a time. There will probably be days when it all feels very overwhelming. Remind yourself that it’s normal and also that you don’t have to do it all in one day. Give it time and give yourself grace. Most importantly, keep at it because it’s going to be so worth it!

Here’s a step-by-step guide to transitioning out of your full-time job and preparing yourself to become a full-time independent professional.

1. First, do your research

Start by doing your research before making a life change to freelancing. The first step is to assess whether freelancing is a good idea (spoiler alert: it is.) Beyond this, you will also need to evaluate your own skills and understand how freelancing works before jumping in.

Review your skill set

Start by determining your existing skill set. You will need a skill (or a few) that you can offer as a service to your clients.

Your full-time job may have already prepared you with many relevant skills to offer. Some of us have a clear idea of what we can provide to clients, but for others, it may take some time to truly realize the valuable skills we can offer to clients. So don’t panic if this isn’t obvious straight away.

Review jobs and other freelancer profiles on Upwork as a starting point for your research. Make note of what potential clients are looking for and assess how your skills can fill the gap.

Remember, this is the research phase. By looking at other freelancer profiles and getting a better understanding of what clients are hiring for, you will develop a clearer picture of what may be possible for your own freelancing business.

List all the possibilities. This can be anything from writing to social media marketing, web development, and customer support.

You will also need to work on developing soft skills that are critical for being a self-employed freelancer. This includes being self-motivated, adaptable, organized, persistent, able to manage your time well, and proactive. You will also need good communication skills.

Analyze market demand

Research your industry to figure out what services are most in-demand. This will also help you hone in on what services you can offer to meet the needs of your market.

Upwork regularly releases reports about the most in-demand skills. Refer to the latest skills data to get insights into which skills clients are hiring for.

Also, look into market rates for services you are considering as part of your freelance business. This will give you a better idea of how to set your own rates when you start out.

Research types of clients

This is also an excellent time to start thinking about the types of clients you may like to work with. For example, do you prefer to work with small businesses, or is your experience better suited for large multinational companies? Do you wish to work in a  specialized niche? Are you experienced working within a particular industry and would like to continue servicing that industry?

Having an idea of the types of clients you want to attract to your business will also be helpful when creating your freelancer brand. Don’t worry if this isn’t crystal clear at the moment.

Often this becomes easier to pinpoint after you’ve worked with a few clients. You learn which clients are a good fit and which aren’t. You can change your mind and pivot whenever you like.

Understand how and where to find work

Look into how you will find clients and attract them to your new freelancing business.

I started off by creating a profile on Upwork. The platform can be a great way for new freelancers to build their businesses as the work marketplace connects skilled independent professionals with businesses needing their talent. It has helped me find and work with fantastic clients from around the world.

In addition to Upwork, you may also like to consider promoting your services to your existing professional or personal network, cold-emailing potential clients, and maybe even finding work via social media channels.

You don’t have to find clients yet. Just do your research and make notes at this stage. We’ll discuss more on how to find clients in step six.

2. Plan and organize

With the research out of the way, the next step is to begin planning and organizing various aspects of your business.

Plan what services you will offer

First and most importantly, you will need to define the services you want to offer in your business. This step is the foundation of your business, so don’t be afraid to take your time with it.

You’ve already done your research, figured out market demand, and hopefully learned a bit more about what’s possible. Still, take the time for additional  introspection and research if needed. Be open to learning new skills or upgrading existing ones as needed—more on this in step four.

One thing that is helpful to remember is that clients are looking for a solution to a problem. To be a successful freelancer, you need to understand the client’s situation and use your service to address their issue. The answer to these questions will be the foundation of how you package your skills as a service.

Set your rates

Next, it’s time to set the rates for your services. This can feel quite challenging, and if I’m honest, it’s something I still struggle with!

Unfortunately, there is no perfect formula for setting the ideal rate for your services. Wouldn’t that make life easier? So it’s important that your pricing strategy is a delicate balance that requires understanding your value, target clients, and the larger competitive market.

When setting your rates, consider what you think your time is worth. Also, consider how your experience, skills, location, value, industry, etc., impact the amount of money you can charge.

While I can’t give you an exact dollar amount for what you should charge, I can try to simplify it a bit by explaining two of the most common pricing: hourly pricing and project-based (fixed rate) pricing.

Hourly pricing

Hourly pricing is the most common way new freelancers set their rates because the model is quite simple. With this method, you calculate an hourly rate for your work and multiply that by the number of hours spent doing the work.

Project-based (fixed) pricing

With this model, the freelancer charges a fixed rate for the entire project. Instead of basing your fee on the number of hours spent working, your payment is based on the results you deliver. This option is ideal for projects with clearly defined deliverables.

New freelancers often start out with slightly lower rates and increase as they go. You can always pick a rate and then see how potential clients react to it and raise or lower it to match your needs.

Learn more in this comprehensive guide on how to set your freelance rate.

Create a business plan

A sound business plan can provide a great foundation for your business. There’s no better way to streamline everything than to create a detailed roadmap of what you’re going to do and how you’re going to do it.

By creating a freelance business plan, you can prepare for whatever comes your way while helping your business become more flexible and resilient. Much like a traditional business plan, a freelance business plan forces you to take an in-depth look at the viability of your business. It outlines strategies you can reference to build your client base and grow your revenue.

Check out this guide for eight essential elements to include in a freelance business plan.

Commit to working on your business

Finally, it’s crucial that you are clear on when and how you will get work done. If you’re still working full-time and dipping your toes into freelancing, you will need to make the most of the limited time on your hands.

Many people (including myself) freelance part-time while still working their full-time jobs. I worked every Saturday for about six months and also worked in the evenings after work.  It was hard to juggle both, but it paid off, and I was able to quit my job.

Your personal circumstances will determine when and how you’re able to work on growing your freelancing business. If you can’t work weekends, or have no time in the evenings, find an alternative that works for you. Some people are able to carve out a couple of hours in the mornings before work.

Working two “jobs” can be challenging. Avoid burn out by setting clear goals. Have a plan for how you will get your work done while also balancing the commitments of your current job. Set a time limit for how long you’ll work this way before going freelance full time.

If you’ve already resigned from your full-time job, you will have more time on your hands. Create a work schedule to help you use your time productively. More on this below in step eight.

3. Have a backup fund

Before you commit to freelancing and quit your job, start saving to create a backup fund. Figure out your monthly expenses and plan to save at least three to six months’ worth so you can have a buffer.

Before I took the leap to become a full-time freelancer, I made sure I had enough savings to help tide me over for at least six months. I also moved to South America, where living costs are a lot lower than in Australia, so my savings would last me longer. If you’re planning to become a digital nomad when you start freelancing, you could consider starting out in a country with lower costs of living.

Having this safety net gives you some time and peace of mind to build up a steady roster of clients without panicking about your next invoice payment.

4. Build your brand

With the basics in place, it’s time to start building your brand as a freelancer. This includes everything from setting up your business as a legal entity to creating a legitimate online presence that tells clients you’re ready for business.

Create a high-quality Upwork profile

A great place to start building your freelancer brand is by creating your profile on Upwork. A professional profile can be essential to your success on Upwork. It’s your introduction to prospective clients, an important opportunity to grab attention and set yourself apart from the competition.

Many clients search for freelancers with the skills they need and invite them to check out their job posts. It’s a proactive approach that can help businesses fill their project needs more quickly and successfully.

For more advice on how to create an awesome Upwork profile, check out these resources:

Build your online presence

In addition to your Upwork profile, you should also begin to create an online presence by setting up a website and updating your LinkedIn profile. Depending on your industry and work area, you may also want to build your brand on Instagram, TikTok, or other social media channels.

Put together a portfolio

While you may be new to freelancing, you’re probably not new to your area of work. Put together a portfolio of your work to showcase your work achievements. This may be small to start with but continue adding to it as your business grows. Check out 4 Ways to Create a More Successful Freelancer Portfolio for more advice.

Market yourself

As you build out your personal brand, make sure you put yourself out there as well. Reach out to your networks—personal and professional—and let them know about your new business and the services you offer.

Depending on what works for your industry and area of work, get active on channels like LinkedIn, Twitter, or Instagram to connect with other freelancers, mentors, and others to build your network.

To succeed as a freelancer, you will need to embrace digital marketing to draw in new clients. Learn more here: 6 Effective Ways to Market Your Freelance Business.

5. Secure your first client

With your online presence up and running, it’s time to start looking for clients.

For many experienced professionals, word of mouth can often bring you your first few clients. For others, Upwork is a great place to get started and find freelance work.

Find a project you feel confident about delivering great work for and submit a proposal. When writing your proposal, think about what makes you particularly attractive to the client. Every client wants to know why they should choose you over a different freelancer. Focus your proposal on effectively answering this question.

Keep your proposal short, friendly, and professional. Read the project description and address it in your proposal. Provide work samples as this is the best proof of your suitability for a project. For best practices, see this article on how to build a winning proposal. Remember that it may take some trial and error before you learn what works and what doesn’t.

Once you start a project with a client, don’t think of it as a one-and-done deal. Try to build a long-term partnership with your existing and past clients to get repeat business. You could do more of the same work for the client or recommend an additional service that provides value to the client. For example, if you’re a freelance writer that creates blog posts for clients, you could offer to write press releases, develop whitepapers and case studies, or refresh website content.

Another benefit of creating a relationship with your clients is that they can help you find more opportunities. Once you complete a project, you can ask for a testimonial or referral to other businesses that could use your services.

6. Give notice to your boss

The day you’ve been waiting for is here! If you haven’t already quit your job, now is the time to resign and turn your freelancing dream into reality.

When to quit is a personal decision. Some quit their jobs after just a few weeks of freelancing, others take longer. I quit my job once I had steady ongoing income from my freelance work. I also made sure I had enough saved in my backup fund (as mentioned above.)

Only you can know when you’re ready and feel secure. My advice is to make sure your business feels steady with regular work before you quit. If the work is still inconsistent, hold off. You will get there soon!

However, don’t keep holding yourself back once the business takes off. You want to give your freelancing business the opportunity to grow. By not quitting your job, you won’t be able to commit the time and energy that’s required for this growth.

Give at least two weeks’ notice for your employer to transition your duties and start looking for your replacement. It also gives your coworkers time to adjust and determine how they will cover your role while it remains open.

This guide will walk you through how to resign from your job the right way.

Don’t burn your bridges. You never know when a past contact may turn into a future reference or even a new client! Even if you hate your job or your boss, I recommend staying professional and leaving on good terms.

Also, consider taking a moment to speak with specific colleagues and managers to offer—and ask—for recommendations. You can use these recommendations in various places, such as LinkedIn or even your website. The people you approach may also be willing to serve as references in the future.

You may also like to check out: How to Write a Resignation Letter (Plus 5 Examples).

7. Manage your time and schedule

Working for yourself can be a bit of an adjustment. You will need to be disciplined and work on multiple things simultaneously while continuously building your business.

It’s vital to set a routine to manage your time better. It will help you focus and add structure to your day. You don’t have to wake up every morning and figure out what to do—it’s already decided. Now all you have to do is get it done.

A set schedule will also help ensure you take breaks from your work and don’t burn out. It can be tempting to work, work, work and do nothing else. Been there, done that, and don’t recommend it. Without adequate breaks, you’re likely to be much less productive and burn out sooner.

Time zones can also be challenging when you first get started. My home base is Australia, so I’m often ahead of many of my clients who are based in the US. When discussing deadlines, I make sure I’m clear on what the deadlines are in my own time zone and in the time zone of my clients.

If I need to attend a meeting, I work with my clients to find an overlap time that suits us both. I try to stay slightly flexible about this, which means on the odd occasion I may have to take a call very early in the morning or late in the evening. Overall, I still maintain my boundaries and don’t allow middle-of-the-night calls to become a regular occurrence.

I’ve also worked while traveling around the world. This often required juggling multiple time zones with clients. In this article, I talked about my preference for asynchronous work with clients, which makes time zones less relevant and allows me to stick to my schedule, no matter where in the world I may be located.

You don’t have to make yourself available day and night. Good clients understand and respect work/life boundaries. Work when you’re most productive and sometimes … allow yourself to be just that little bit more flexible for those good clients.

If you’re curious and want to learn more about how freelancers structure their day, check out this article: A Day in the Life of a Freelancer + Daily Routine Examples

8. Upskill

The most successful freelancers are constantly learning and upskilling. As a business owner, it’s your responsibility to stay up-to-date and ahead of the curve so you can provide your clients with the best service possible.

While you may already have many professional skills, be open to learning new skills or upgrading existing ones as needed. Consider learning new skills to supplement your current skill set if required. For example, I did courses in search engine optimization to become a better content writer as SEO and content marketing often go hand-in-hand.

Online learning resources like Udemy, Coursera, or even YouTube are a great way to learn or update your professional skills.

9. Set goals to stay motivated

Take your freelancing business seriously. It’s easy to get distracted when you don’t have a boss hovering over you.

It can be helpful to create goals for your business—short and long-term. These goals could be income-related, or you may like to set a goal to work with a dream client. For some people, the eventual goal may be to build an agency; for others, it may be as simple as working only four hours a day.

Your goals will be unique to you. Visualizing yourself achieving these business goals will keep you motivated, especially when you have those inevitable bad days.

Before you go, the last thing I want to point out relates to mindset.

Start thinking like a business owner

Transitioning to freelancing from full-time work is essentially transitioning to self-employment. This requires a shift in mindset.

I don’t consider myself a natural entrepreneur. It took me some time to start thinking like a business owner and create a new mental map for myself. However, I soon realized the only person holding me back from my success was me!

Freelancing, I realized, is more than the actual service you provide. It's also handling everything in your business from accounting, marketing, sales, and customer support.

I gradually trained myself to become a better business owner, not just someone who provides services to clients. For example, I set up a client onboarding process, which includes documentation such as contracts, my process, client briefs, and more. I organize my work, manage my time and schedule with the help of tools like Asana and Google Calendar. I also hired a bookkeeper on Upwork to take the business accounting load off my back

While being a business owner may seem scary at first, it soon becomes liberating. You realize you have complete control over the work you do, the schedule you follow, and the client you work with. Embrace this.

Start to think of yourself as a business owner and not an employee because you are one!

Build your freelancing business with Upwork

Having been there myself, I want to assure you that it really is possible to quit your full-time job and become a full-time, self-employed independent professional. And it pays off! Today I make double the income I used to make in my full-time job with the additional perks of flexible work hours, location independence, and so much more.

Personally, having the security of a platform like Upwork to fall back on was hugely comforting for me. I knew that I could always turn to the platform to look for more work when needed. It was really helpful for me as a new freelancer.

If you’re going from a full-time job to full-time freelancing, I recommend that you sign up for a freelancer account on Upwork to start building your freelancing business too.

Freelancing is a viable career alternative. In fact, a more flexible alternative that allows us to build our work around our lives and not the other way around. There are innumerable opportunities out there for those willing to commit. I encourage you to join millions of other freelancers (and me!) in taking the leap.

Upwork is not affiliated with and does not sponsor or endorse any of the tools or services discussed in this section. These tools and services are provided only as potential options, and each reader and company should take the time needed to adequately analyze and determine the tools or services that would best fit their specific needs and situation.


Projects related to this article:
No items found.

Author Spotlight

How To Transition to Freelancing from a Full-Time Job
Radhika Basuthakur
Content Writer

Radhika is a self-confessed word nerd and content expert with over 15 years of experience writing content for businesses around the world. She is a cheerleader for flexible work, a passionate world traveler, and spends her free time alternating between a good book and a good hike.

Get This Article as a PDF

For easy printing, reading, and sharing.

Download PDF

Latest articles

X Icon