I recently had a talk with someone who was interested in getting out of the corporate life and going freelance. Here are some basics that can apply to anyone, regardless of whether you’re a technical communicator or in another line of work completely.
Know what you want to do
That sounds simple, but sometimes you might just feel, “I don’t want to do this any more” and believe that taking a bold leap out of the daily grind will force you to make the magic happen. Don’t do that. It’s better to do the soul searching while you’ve got a steady job that’s paying your bills. Trying to figure out what you want out of life when you’re struggling to pay the rent is added stress you don’t need.
You need to start by thinking clearly about what you do and don’t like about your current job–or career–and start making lists of pros and cons. Perhaps you’ve always wanted to work in the sports industry. Or agriculture. Whatever you plan to do next, you should have enough strong feelings about it that you’re willing to do it on your own day in and day out.
Do the research
Once you know what you want to do, you might be on fire to get out there, quit your day job, and do it, whatever “it” is. Let me offer a solid piece of advice: don’t. Take the time to do some research on what your chosen field entails:
- What does it pay?
- How many potential employers/customers are there near you or near where you want to live?
- What sort of benefits can you get?
- Who will your customers be?
And while you’re doing all this research, you should be looking to your own needs:
- What are your current monthly expenses?
- How much savings do you (or you and your significant other) have?
- How much do you plan to charge for your services?
- How many hours will you have to work to meet your expenses as well as save enough to take vacations and other things?
- What do others in your chosen industry charge per hour?
- Do you know anyone who might be interested in the services you want to offer?
- How much “work/life balance” do you expect to have?
- Does the work you want to do require other people to perform (e.g., running a restaurant) or can you do it alone?
- What materials or facilities do you need to do your work? How much do those cost?
- If you need to borrow money to start your venture, are there friends and family you can borrow from first? Do you require “angel” investors to get your business going? Venture capitalists?
- Do you have a business plan? A marketing plan?
- Do you know people in the industry who can be business contacts? Mentors? Customers?
So as you make your big escape plan, you also need to be building up your savings and assembling answers to as many of the questions above as possible. You’ll probably never have as much money as you want as a cushion (I prefer 6-9 months’ of your current pay, assuming your current pay covers your existing expenses), but eventually you will reach the point where you are ready to take the Big Step and turn in your two weeks’ notice.
Leave on a high note
I’ve had only one or two jobs that ended badly (i.e., jobs from which I was fired). Most of the time if I know I’m on the way out, I try to ensure that I do so on good terms with my former employer. There are all sorts of little ways to do this:
- Keep doing good work.
- Find or recommend a good person to replace you.
- Give a formal written notice. It can be a simple announcement of your resignation, or, if you feel an explanation is necessary, concentrate on the new opportunity you’re pursuing. You might have had any number of negative experiences that made you want to leave, but focus on the positive.
- Hand off your current work to your replacement so that there aren’t any questions about it when you’re gone.
This is important for any number of reasons: you want a good reputation as you’re starting out; you might want a letter of recommendation; and perhaps most importantly you might want your former employer as a customer in the future. If you’re going for a completely different industry, this need not be the case, but a peaceful, amicable departure is still a better way to go than announcing, “Screw this, I quit!” and storming out.
Anyhow, that’s the high-level primer on moving on to the next big thing. May it go well for you, wherever you go.