Dear Lifehacker, I cannot stomach the idea of working in an office for the rest of my life. The idea of being forced to head to work for a set number of hours in a specific place is incredibly stifling. Now, I'm not lazy. I'm a very hard worker, but I don't like being confined. It feels like it drains my creativity. Is there a way I can break free from this lifestyle without becoming broke or homeless? Sincerely, Stuck at Work
There are two things you'll want to consider: getting a telecommuting position or going freelance. This much is probably obvious, but you'll need to figure out what will be the best fit for you before you make the switch. Freelancing is often the most attractive option because it means you're in complete control of what you do and when you do it. The major downside is that you have to find people to pay you money to do work on a regular basis, and this isn't something everyone is cut out to do.
The major advantage of a 9-to-5 job is that you know if you go to the office every day, do your work, and go home, you'll get money and you won't starve. This is pretty dull, as you've noticed, but it's also safe. That's why a telecommuting position is worth considering, because your hours can be more flexible and you don't have to show up in the office every day (or, possibly, ever). Let's talk about telecommuting first, then how you can get started freelancing if you'd prefer to take that path.
Nowadays, most jobs don't really require you to be in an office despite what some employers would like to think. Most work can be done from the comfort of, well, anywhere comfortable, so long as you're connected to decent internet and can call in for necessary meetings. In many cases, you can keep your current job and switch to a telecommuting position by either taking a small pay cut or foregoing a raise. Sometimes giving something up isn't even necessary if there's already a precedent for telecommuters where you work.
If you work a standard job with standard hours, however, doing that at home or in a coffee shop is probably not going to make you feel much better. In fact, it may make you feel worse. Although the convenience is nice, working alone can be a little lonely. You may miss being around people (at least some of the time). You're also going to be stuck working those regular 9-to-5 hours unless you find a company with a particularly flexible schedule.
That's why if you decide to go the telecommuting route, you're going to have to look for companies that don't offer conventional jobs. These can be hard to find on standard job sites, but you can also just find a company you like and look at its job listings. The best way to find a good job, in my opinion, is first decide on a number of places where you'd like to work and then see what's available. You can always call with questions if you have them, and this works in your favour as well because then the company will know who you are should you decide to apply.
But if telecommuting doesn't offer enough freedom, it's time to look at freelancing.
Freelancing is a tough route to take, even if you are a hard worker. You have to be prepared to fail frequently, as you'll run into many roadblocks in the beginning. You also have to be a fairly sociable person, as part of your job will be finding work — not just doing it. Freelancing can be incredibly rewarding for the right people, but it's definitely not for everyone.
This is why you might want to consider freelancing without quitting your job first, especially if you can reduce your hours to part time. It's best to get a feel for it before you dive in head first. You should also have enough money in the bank to live off for six months or more in the event you don't find enough work for a period of time. Quitting your job and diving straight into a career you make yourself can feel invigorating, but it's often irresponsible. If you're going to freelance, you want to plan ahead first.
Once you've got everything in order, it's actually pretty simple to start freelancing. Getting the results you want is the hard part, but doing what you need to do to work for yourself isn't terribly complicated. Your job, from day one, is to go out and find work. Assuming you're planning to freelance in the same field as your former 9-to-5 job, you've likely made a number of contacts you can call. Start calling and let them know you've gone off on your own as a contractor.
As strange as it may sound nowadays, visiting (relevant) local businesses door-to-door and offering your services is also another good means of getting work. Most people avoid this because it's 1) old-fashioned, 2) seems annoying, and 3) is scary.
While it can be a little nerve-wracking to go and pitch your services to a stranger, if you're charming and only take a minute of their time it can be a welcome distraction from their day. (Just be sure to skip the houses with "no door knocking" signs and leave immediately if they say they aren't interested - otherwise you're technically breaking the law.)
They will almost always not need your services in that moment, but leave your card and some will call when that need arises.Most people don't want to conduct a ceaseless search for the best person for the job. If they've met you, and they like you, they'll feel like they know somebody they can call and hire when they need the services you provide.
You'll also want to tell every friend and family member you've got that you're now a freelancer. If there's any doubt about what you're doing, explain it to them. Let everyone know you're looking for work, as people who like you and care about you will frequently recommend you for a job if they hear about one. Some friends and relatives will even try to find work for you because they want to help you succeed. Get the word out. It's one of the best ways to get started.
One other route that often goes unmentioned is subcontracting. When you get a freelance job you generally are in direct contact with the business, do the work for them, bill them yourselves, and move on to the next job.
If you're a subcontractor, you're hired by a (often) larger company that does the same work as you and has been hired to do a large job for which they need some extra people. This is a great option because you're contracted to do specific work, but you don't have to find that work yourself.
When you're subcontracting, you don't really deal with the client very much but rather the business. They offload work onto you, you invoice the business, and they pay you. In most situations, you'll set your hours just like any other freelance job. If you don't love managing clients or have trouble finding them in the first place, subcontracting is a great option. You can often charger a higher rate too. So when you're looking for freelance work, be sure to look to existing companies as well.
That's basically all you need to know to get started. If you want more tips on managing your life as a freelancer, check these out. Just remember, don't rush when you're getting started. Take your time to plan, and be aggressive when you're looking for work. Freelancing can be very rewarding. Just be ready for an initial struggle. It gets easier once you get the hang of it.
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Stick figures by Leremy (Shutterstock).