When you decide to grow your business, one of the first things you can do, if you’re not doing this already, is go full time. Sometimes this can feel a bit scary, but I can vouch for the fact that working on one job is always easier than trying to commit to two, and it can be a very liberating experience.
My fellow-proofreader/editor/transcriber, Laura Ripper, has kindly put together this guest post about her recent experience of going full time. Although we’re both in the same line of work, Laura’s experiences can be extended into other freelance careers very easily. Here she shares the process and her experiences as she went through it – a very useful piece indeed!
Why did I do it?
My main reason for going full time with my part-time business was that I knew that working for myself, and the work itself, would make me happy.
Working for myself part time was always a step towards doing the same thing full time, but that seemed a long way off when I first set up my editing and proofreading business in 2012. I’d worked as an editor at Plain English Campaign in the past, so I was confident in my ability to do the work. But I’d never worked for myself, and barely knew anyone who did, so going full time straight away was too frightening.
Once I got started, I enjoyed my two days a week on the business so much that I knew this was what I wanted to do. It was just a matter of when.
When did I do it (i.e. what stage was your business at?)
I had been working on the business part time for a year when I made the decision to go full time with it. Although I had the skills for the job when I went part time, I had no idea about what was involved in running a business. I spent that first year developing a strategy, building up a good network of colleagues, learning from others, setting up business processes and building up clients. I built a website, marketed myself, and joined professional groups and organisations like the Society for Editors and Proofreaders and ProZ. I read business books specific to my profession, like Louise Harnby’s Business Planning for Editorial Freelancers and Liz’s Going it Alone at 40. The advantage was that I could do this while still having a regular (lower) income.
By the time I went full time, the business was at the stage when I had started getting referrals through word of mouth and I had a few regular clients. I was beginning to have to turn down work because I couldn’t fit it around my other job, and I seemed to be working most weekends, too! I had quite a nice mix of clients, and also had built up good relationships with other freelancers who would pass me work when they were too busy. I had saved up enough money to bolster my income during the first few months of going full time, when I thought that I might need it most. I had the confidence that the work was out there and that my clients were happy with the service they were getting, and I had seen how work volumes changed over the course of a year.
How did you do it?
Making the decision to go full time was probably the most difficult part of the process – once I had done that, I just got on with it and did it!
I made a list of pros and cons, talked about it with people who had been there before me, spoke to my family and friends, and carefully worked out my finances to make sure that I was being realistic about whether I was ready to go full time. There is so much help out there to set up a full-time business successfully, from books and courses to forums and informal networks. I learned the most from other editors and proofreaders who were further along in their freelance careers – not only about client management and business processes, but how to deal with things when they do go wrong. This really built my confidence, and continues to do so.
I was worried about losing my regular monthly income, albeit a part-time one. I overcame this by saving everything that I earned from the business in my first year and living off my part-time income only. This gave me a ‘buffer’ that I could tap into if necessary, and made me and my partner feel more sure about the whole thing. My business planning wasn’t perfect, and gut feeling played a part in my decision to go full time, too, but I did make sure I would be able to support myself if things didn’t go the way I hoped.
Once I had decided, I told all my clients that I would soon be available to take on more work, and during my last month of employment I worked almost every day to give myself as much of a head-start as I could. I had all the processes and equipment ready, so I focused on doing more work for more clients, and made sure that I planned and organised the work well and closely monitored how much I was earning each week.
When I look back at the ‘pros and cons’ list I made just before making the leap, I can already see there are some things I got wrong (I thought I’d have more time for training – not likely!) and some that turned out not to be issues at all (I worried my first month or two would be very quiet).
Benefits gained Pitfalls / disadvantages you experienced or saw coming and managed to avoid
The main benefit for me is that I am happier and feel more fulfilled in my life. I love my work and most of my clients, and I enjoy a lot of the business aspects I was worried about, too. I find it really satisfying to work for myself and to feel that my life and work are not such separate parts of my identity. I know this doesn’t suit everyone, but it works well for me.
I expected going full time to be more stressful, at least at first, but in some ways it’s actually less stressful than being part time in two jobs. I’m now better able to juggle several pieces of work within a particular timeframe, so I can take on more work in total and can fit in urgent bits and pieces for regular clients. I’ve also been able to take on jobs that I couldn’t have said yes to when I was part time – for example, PhD theses that need proofreading in a couple of weeks. Taking on longer jobs also means less admin time per day.
I can be more flexible about fitting in networking now, and am able to attend events that I wouldn’t have been able to when working part-time.
One pitfall I saw coming was the start-up costs – time as well as money. I managed to buy most of the equipment for the business during my part-time year, and I got time-consuming things like setting up my website and templates out of the way before going full time, too.
Working for yourself full time means less financial security – at the moment, I earn less than I did when I was employed, and I work longer hours to earn it. My target for my first year is fairly low (although on the up side I am meeting it every week!), and I do want to increase my earnings in the years to come. It’s probably best not to go full time just as the mortgage is coming up for renewal, or when you know you’ll be particularly hard pushed!
Time management can sometimes be difficult, particularly fitting in work that doesn’t result in a direct payment, like admin, training and marketing. I do make time for these things, but it is easy to prioritise paid work over everything else and that isn’t always best for the future of the business. I also do end up working some evenings and weekends to fit in with clients, which means I miss out on spending as much time with my family and friends. I hope that as I develop the business further, this will happen less and less often, and I have seen others move away from this as their businesses develop.
Would you recommend it to other businesses? Why / why not?
Yes. Going full-time assumes that you are part time already, and if you’re enjoying the part-time work, it follows that at some point you’ll want to go full time.
Moving from part time to full time is a big step if you are a fairly cautious person, as suddenly what was a part-time business has to provide all your income and pay the bills, but if you can manage to save some money to cover the first few months this is a huge help. There are pitfalls to avoid, but the wealth of advice out there can help you avoid them. For me, those that I can’t avoid are worth it in exchange for the satisfaction of building up my business and doing what I love.
Thank you for this honest and detailed set of answers, Laura! It’s always a hard decision to make when you enjoy your day job and don’t have to give it up because of redundancy, moving or being needed for family duties, as many of my Saturday Business Chat contributors have done. But there comes a point when you can’t split your commitment any more and something has to give.
The questions are based on those I asked in my call for contributors to this series. Don’t worry, you don’t have to answer in such detail: if you’ve got experiences to share with your fellow small business owners about going VAT registered, getting premises, taking on staff, etc., you can give me a few notes up to a whole article, and I’ll work with your answers from there.
Laura Ripper is a proofreader, editor, transcriber and Plain English writer/editor based in the North of England. She went full time with her freelance career during 2013 and is loving it. Find Laura online at www.lauraripperproofreading.com or on Facebook.