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If you're interested in learning how to be a freelancer this year, listen up. 

A few years ago, I was feeling restless my 9-5 job and was looking for a big change to shake things up. After some back and forth with a close friend, I decided to move to a different country and take a shot at freelancing full-time. 

Talk about big life changes!

While freelancing has been a rewarding adventure for me, there are many things I wish I had known going in. Even though working from home in a uniform that consists of yoga pants and a messy bun is awesome, freelancing requires a lot of hard work and hustle.

My biggest piece of advice for setting up a successful freelance career? Be strategic. Don’t get caught up in the gig economy mindset. As a freelancer, you’re a business owner and your business will be much better off if you treat it as such.

If you’re thinking about branching out on your own in 2020, here are five steps that will help set you up for freelance success.

1. Do your legal research.

Taxation and employment legislation aren’t fun places to start. But you’ll want to get a basic grasp on the laws regarding freelance work in your area before diving in headfirst. Depending on your location and the type of work you do, you may have to obtain a business or trade license before you begin. 

There may also be legislation in place limiting the amount of work you’re able to do for a single client. The AB5 law recently put into place in California, for example, has put restrictions on the amount of work independent contractors are able to do for a single client before they must be classified as an employee. Many other states are exploring similar legislation.

There’s also the issue of taxation. Depending on where you live, you may be required to make monthly or quarterly payments to the tax authorities. If you live abroad or dream of a nomadic life, make sure you know where you’re liable to pay so you don’t end up with any nasty surprises when tax season rolls around.

2. Get clear on what you offer.

Once you’ve got a good grasp on what will be expected of you as a freelancer from a legal standpoint, it’s time to dive into figuring out what it is that you have to offer. Maybe you already have an idea in mind and a fire in your belly, but you’ll want to get into some nitty-gritty details before you get started. 

It’s important to spend time figuring out who your ideal client is and what you can help them with. You’ll also want to make sure that there’s a demand for what you want to do and research rates so that you have a good idea of what you’ll be able to charge. It’s important to have a good understanding of your earning potential ahead of time, especially if you’re pursuing a full-time freelance career.

Make an outline of what type of services you’ll be able to offer clients. Are you looking for one-off gig work? Do you offer different types of packages? What can your clients expect from you? Getting clear about these things from the start will help you avoid scope creep and manage client expectations. Trust me, this will save you a lot of headaches and awkward conversations down the road.

3. Develop systems for success.

While freelancing comes with a lot of flexibility and freedom, it also requires a lot of discipline. Spend some time thinking about the logistics of your day and week. Where are you going to do your work? What hours are you going to work each day? Establishing routines will help you get into the flow and focus.

laptop open on white deskPut systems in place to help you along the way. Setting up an accounting system from the start will keep you from scrambling around with invoices, time management tools can help you stay on track and pinpoint where you can improve, and a good planner will be your lifeline when it comes to keeping everything organized.

It’s also essential to establish healthy boundaries for yourself. When freelancing, it’s easy to fall into the trap of constantly feeling like you need to be working and at the mercy of your clients night and day. Don’t forget that one of the beauties of being a freelancer is that you’re the boss. So, you make the rules when it comes to how much you work and what you work on. It’s ok to say no to projects that aren’t a good fit, and you’ll put yourself in a better position if you get into that mindset early.

4. Find your tribe.

Community is everything, especially when you’re first starting out. I’m lucky to have friends and family who are supportive of my freelance journey. But, most of them have no idea what I actually do. To be fair, I couldn’t tell you what their jobs actually entail either. Whether it’s fellow solopreneurs at a coworking space or a freelancing Facebook group, it helps to have a support system in place that will be able to understand and help with the particular challenges you face.

The best advice you’ll receive is from people who have been there before you. Finding a mentor or a group of experienced freelancers who you can reach out to when you have a random question will be the most invaluable resource. 

5. Test the waters.

You don’t necessarily have to up and quit your 9-5 to start freelancing. Put some feelers out there first to see if there’s interest in your services. Networking events are a great place to begin. Also, reach out to people you know to see if they (or someone they know) might be interested in your services. The majority of my work has come through referrals from friends or other freelancers. You’ll never know where you’ll find your best clients until you start looking for them.

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