How much experience do you need to go freelance? And if you want more or feel like you need more, how do you get more experience as a freelancer?
When I first went freelance, I had 4 years experience of working in the industry. That might not seem a lot, but I felt that in order to learn more and progress quickly I had to go it alone. And in the 4 years since I have been freelancing, I feel like I’ve learned the equivalent of 8 years of being in an agency – at least.
That’s my experience, but it’s certainly not the same for others. When the same question came up in this Facebook group for people working in charity comms, there were loads of different examples and responses from people giving their own experience.
To start with, most people felt that you’d need several years of relevant experience while employed to make a go of it as a freelancer. The freelance marketplace getting increasingly competitive, as more people are choosing this way of working.
"I’ve been freelance since 2006 – I just do copywriting now but at the beginning I did web consultancy too. Before going freelance I had a year’s experience as a web editor at a health think tank, and three years’ at a PR/digital agency. So four years’ experience in all." – Joanna Tidball
If your previous job had crossover with your freelance role, you can be more clever and show your previous work as demonstrating your expertise, which can make up for a lack of experience.
Another option is some freelancing alongside your work and or go part time and do freelance work alongside this too. This is the approach I took when I left my full time job, reducing my days to 3 a week, then 2 a week as I gradually made the transition to freelancing and built up my freelance client base. This gives you a chance to build up your client base whilst keeping regular income.
Once you do go freelance, you will likely find that most of the time people will never ask you how long you’ve done something though they’ll ask you what you’ve done and who you’ve worked with. You could always do a bit of pro bono work to improve your portfolio if that’s lacking.
"The experience thing is overplayed – I’ve never been asked or asked a freelancer about how many years experience they had. I just want evidence of their skills, that is, a website or PDF with examples of work. I just need to know they can do the thing, no matter how long they’ve done the thing for." – Matt Collins, Charity Chap
If you don’t have what you feel is enough experience to start freelancing, then you may be better off doing a freelance course to gain new skills – although gaining a recognised qualification will give you more clout, even if you do already have experience.
"I had quite a lot of marketing communications / copywriting experience when I went freelance but studied for a Diploma in Copywriting before and whilst setting up business, which was extremely helpful both in terms of giving me credibility and helping me develop my skills." – Faye Stenson, Black & Write
As well as having good experience, you’ll ideally need good contacts / leads to help you get started. You need to be highly motivated to start getting the work in and know where to find it – something that is much easier if you’ve had experience of finding new clients in your full time job.
When you’re freelance you need a good network of people who know you and your work and could hire you. You also need to be prepared to put in time to develop your freelance network and marketing. Try going to as many events as you can to build up your links with others within the sectors you want to work in. This kind of ground work is essential.
So how much experience do you need to go freelance? 3-4 years of industry experience seems to be the minimum, but there are plenty of ways of getting more experience or demonstrating your expertise if you want to go freelance earlier than that.