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Why You Should Freelance First

Test the waters before you sink your capital and time into a risky new venture.
Feb | 5 | 2013


Feb | 5 | 2013

A few years ago, Daily Beast Editor Tina Brown said, “No one I know has a job anymore. They’ve got gigs.” Still debating whether or not you want to take the risk to open your business? Consider getting some gigs first.

Freelancing is an excellent way to find out if you’re up for the full-time entrepreneurial life before you spend the money incorporating, setting up a website, and incurring other start-up costs. You’ll get a taste of what it takes to build business, not to mention what it feels like to work around the clock–something nearly every entrepreneur must do in the early days. Here are three tips to get the gigs.

1. Try a hybrid strategy.

My friend Zach (not his real name) recently made the jump to independent consultant after more than a decade at the same firm. Zach regularly attends networking events, packing oodles of business cards. He gives them out, makes contact, connects on LinkedIn, and tries to set up lunches. What’s wrong with that?

As I’ve told him a few times now, relying exclusively on finding your own clients is fraught with risk. Zach is starting to discover that this strategy suffers from a bunch of limitations. Lunches take time and cost money. What’s more, they often result in nothing more than a good impression. Even someone interested in his services may not be in a position now–or in the immediate future–to bring him on. So, consider working as a subcontractor for staffing firms that have relationships with the organization(s) for which you want to work. You’ll make a bit less money, but wouldn’t you rather have 80 percent of $150/hr than 100 percent of zero?

2. Understand the nature of sales cycles–especially at large companies.

Every contractor or freelancer wants to land a blue-chip client. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to slap a Google, J&J, or GE logo on your website or resume? Of course, but most of these companies often take a great deal of time to make decisions. (They’re the antitheses of the companies I wrote about in The New Small.)

It’s probably wise to balance long-term, high-profile clients with smaller clients. Ideally, you’ll have your pick of the litter down the road. In the short term though, you need to eat.

3. Get references–and get them on your website.

Many large organizations are particularly finicky when it comes to references. In my experience, you’ll hear the words “We have to check with Legal” more often than not. Small companies tend to be a bit more supportive.

Anyone can put a list of services on his or her website. But are there people who will vouch for what you’ve done? As I write this, I’m vetting a PR firm for my new book and I wouldn’t consider any firm without actually speaking to real-life clients.

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