Do you dream of being your own boss?
Maybe you think about leaving your corporate job to work in the social-impact world. Maybe you want the freedom to contribute to multiple causes. Maybe you feel like you would be more effective if your schedule were flexible.
Often, these thoughts don’t go any further. Making the decision to leave a full-time job to freelance is intimidating—and it’s not the right choice for everyone. But, done right, freelancing can give you the freedom to contribute to the social-impact work you’re most passionate about in a way that suits your work style and lifestyle.
Is freelancing for me?
Freelancing isn’t for everyone. Before you take the leap, be sure to consider why you’re interested in working for yourself and how well you’re equipped to do so successfully.
Ask yourself: “Does working with multiple social-impact organizations toward larger goals appeal to me more than focusing on one role in one organization?”
If you enjoy learning new skills and thinking about problems in new ways, freelancing may be a good fit for you. Working with different organizations allows you to see all the facets of social-impact work and challenges you to contribute in ways you might not have before
If, on the other hand, you enjoy being an expert in your work and contributing deeply on your portion of a project, you may find yourself feeling unsatisfied if you split yourself among many projects as a freelancer. A full-time position may be the better match for you.
Ask yourself: “Have I been successful at completing self-driven social impact projects in the past?”
Freelancing requires a lot of self motivation, which can be both freeing and exhausting. If your current work is closely managed by others, you may consider trying to take on a more independent project with your current organization to see how you do with setting your own schedule and deadlines.
Ask yourself: “Is my skill set broad enough that I feel confident I’ll be able to contribute to multiple teams with multiple social impact organizations?”
While it’s always possible to learn new skills and adapt old ones, some areas of knowledge are inherently more versatile than others. Before deciding if freelancing is right for you, make a list of your skills and knowledge.
How well could you adapt these assets to other organizations and projects?
A deep understanding of agricultural practices in rural Angora—while extremely important in that region—might not translate well if you’re hoping to work for organizations fighting for LGBTQ+ rights in the United States. Experience writing grants, however, is something almost every organization is looking for.
Taking the leap
Okay, you’ve thought it through and you've decided that you're ready to become a freelancer. There are some concrete steps you can take as soon as—and even before—you leave your full-time job that can help ensure success.
Step 1: Make contact with potential social-impact clients
Social-impact professionals like to network. A lot. It’s essential when multiple organizations are working toward common goals. If you’re working full time for a nonprofit, the odds that you have come into contact with people working on projects that sound interesting to you are high.
Once you’ve announced to your organization that you’re leaving, reach out to contacts at organizations you’d like to collaborate with. Let them know you’ll be starting to freelance and ask if you could set up an in-person or online meeting to talk to them about how you may be able to contribute to their work.
Pro Tip: There’s no need to break the bank traveling to meetings. Try some of these digital collaboration tools to help you connect with potential clients.
Step 2: Pitch your passion
One of the perks of freelancing is that you choose your own projects. When you reach out to organizations, make sure that they know you only pitch—i.e., apply to work on a project—when you’re passionate about the work. Explain why you care about the work they’re doing. And, make sure to share other projects you’ve worked on that address similar issues.
One concrete way of showing that you’re invested in an organization’s work is to develop an understanding of their mission and approach before scheduling an initial meeting. Demonstrating a working knowledge of their projects—past and present—sends a strong signal that you are ready to join the team.
Step 3: Get ready to talk money
One of the hardest things for many freelancing social-impact professionals is talking about money. Just remember, working for a good cause doesn’t mean you need to struggle financially. Set some basic hourly rates up front; a quick Google search will usually show you typical charges for whatever kind of work you’re doing. This way, when the topic comes up, you’ll be prepared to clearly convey the cost of your services.
Pro Tip: These budget tips may help you manage your finances while you get up to speed freelancing.
After the office good-bye party and the first tenuous months when you’re finding your first clients, you’ll settle into the groove of doing what you love, when it works best for you.
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by Alice Pettway