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I Quit! How to Switch From Salary to Freelance

Goodbye regular income and paid holidays – hello flexibility and autonomy. Could freelancing give you the lifestyle you want?

10 November 2022

“I really don’t like my job.”

Five years ago I said those words in a tiny, sterile meeting room 17 floors up a high-rise building on Albert Street. My performance review wasn’t off to a great start.

After that out-of-the-blue realisation an idea formed in my head. What if I could do my job but without the stuff I don’t like? No more office, no more commute, no nine to five, no awkward conversations in grey meeting rooms – in other words, complete freedom.

You can’t spell freelance without free

Two months after my impromptu confession I had arranged a contract with the content marketing agency I was working at, and my career as a freelance writer began. Bonza.

Back in 2019 around 144,000 people like me were working as freelancers in New Zealand, but trends suggest that the COVID pandemic has increased that proportion considerably. Why did I make the change and why have so many others done the same thing? There are a few good reasons.

Generally, when you’re a freelancer you can work from wherever you want as long as you have an internet connection. For my first six months I was in South-East Asia and I now work remotely from Wanaka.

You can also set your own hours – if you’re a night owl you’re free to sleep in as much as you like. If you’re successful you may also earn more than a wage earner with comparable experience because you can set your own rates and have fewer overheads. What’s more, you can choose what work to accept, which means you can work on stuff that truly interests you.

Most importantly, as a freelancer you’re in charge of every hour of your day, which improves your work-life balance. You also save a couple of hours per day not commuting, which you can spend however you like (I usually walk my dog or sleep in).

It’s not all roses

Freelancing can be incredible but it can also be really, really hard. Dan Percival, head of supply chain, procurement and operations at TribeRecruit, found that out back when he was working on his own as a recruiter.

“The grass isn’t necessarily greener, it’s just different. The market’s very competitive and you’ve got to work harder than you did before.

“For one, you don’t have a big team behind the scenes, or a marketing budget, or much support at all. In the meantime your income might drop to zero some months, which is tough if you have a family to support or a mortgage to pay.”

After a while working as a freelancer Percival lost a few clients and missed the social environment in the office so he went back to salaried work (where he’s clearly thriving).

Percival says he enjoyed his time as a freelancer and that most people could make it work if they wanted to.

“Anyone can do it. But it’s a risk. So it depends what stage of life you’re at, and whether you can handle that risk. There may be a month or two when you don’t have a contract at all.”

Progress over perfection

Auckland branding expert and web designer Leah Jones had a similar journey to mine. She scored a job at an agency after a nine-month graphic design course where she learnt the ins and outs of the industry.

“I soaked up everything and learnt as much as possible while I was there. But then a year later I got itchy feet and my partner and I went travelling.”

While Jones was overseas her dad and brother started a business and asked her to help with branding and website. That’s when she realised she could do this freelance thing as a career.

“I just started and decided I’d figure it out. And I’m still figuring it out, to be honest.”

Jones’s approach clearly worked because her business, Leah Sylvia Creative, now books out months in advance, with dozens of businesses lining up for help with their websites and branding. She says the key to her success was pretty simple.

“It’s all about progress over perfection. Just do something, you don’t have to be elite straight away. Even if no one’s looking at your website, if no one’s following you, just keep putting your work out there.”

Building a career as a freelancer

If you’re interested in trying out freelancing you don’t have to dive right in. Jones says you can dip your toes in to test the waters first.

“Start as a side gig. Work on the weekends or get a part-time job and do freelance stuff the rest of the time. Ease into it – that’s a great way to learn without the financial stress.”

She adds that it’s worth taking time to think about who your ideal clients might be and then hunting them down methodically – a bit like a freelancer version of Liam Neeson in Taken.

“Where are your dream clients hanging out? Find them on social media or the internet, start commenting, interacting and networking.

“Talk to other freelancers and ask about their experiences. Find a mentor who’s done it all before and learn from them.”

Exactly where you need to be

Freelancing isn’t right for everyone. It’s hard work, it’s extremely risky, and it can be isolating. But if you fancy a bit of extra independence it could be the change you need to kickstart a career you love.

It worked for me and Jones says it’s working for her, too:

“I always wanted to do something on my own, so this is exactly where I want to be. Once I made the decision to go freelance I never looked back.”

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