I recently closed the books on my first quarter as a full-time healthcare communications free agent. I’d been fantasizing about going out on my own for years, and then I received a much-needed kick in the pants in the form of getting downsized from my six-figure corporate communications job.
Talk about getting thrown in the deep end fully clothed!
Luckily, I had already taken a few steps toward making the break, so my entry into this new professional phase wasn’t as rocky as it could’ve been. My business is still in its infancy, but I do have some tips to help you transition from a full-time salaried position to the ebbs and flows of freelance work!
1. Stash the Cash
Work can be unsteady, and there’s always a lag between the time you submit your invoice to your client and when the check appears in your mailbox. If possible, sock away two to three months of income to provide a monetary safety net while your business ramps up and income becomes steadier.
2. Put the WORK in Network
Who knows your work better than your former colleagues? Whether you’ve been a nurse for 20 years or a corporate marketer for five, you’ve probably been building your professional network on LinkedIn. Ask contacts for recommendations or leads for freelance opportunities. I sent a message to about 40 contacts to let them know that I was no longer in my previous role and that I’d launched my own business. I got five leads instantly, and quite a few provided recommendations or other words of encouragement. Leverage your network to accelerate your business’s growth – and save time and money on client acquisition.
Even if you don’t have a paying gig at the moment, keep writing. Start your own blog, write a guest post for another blog or publish posts on LinkedIn. Get your name out there anyway that you can. Be personal in your approach, and share what you’ve learned in your professional journey. Start telling your story, and soon you’ll be equipped to tell someone else’s.
4. Front Load your Week
It’s Monday, and your nearest deadline isn’t until Friday. Time to grab coffee and watch Rachael Ray, right? As strong as that siren song is, you’ve got to prioritize.
Do the work when you’ve got the work, because who knows if you’re going to get a call tomorrow from a client with a big project, and you need to be able to accommodate work that may come your way. Knock out as much as you can on Monday and Tuesday, then use the rest of the week to pitch new clients, write posts for your blog, beef up your social media platforms or get invoices in the mail. And if a call or email comes in, you’ve got the bandwidth to tackle another paying gig that week. And speaking of paying gigs…
5. Invoice Instantly
Every day that you’re not sending out an invoice is a day you’re not getting paid. I now send the invoice with the assignment. In sales, the mantra is ABC: Always Be Closing. While not as catchy, in freelance work, it’s ABI: Always Be Invoicing.
6. Bundle Up
When accepting a single assignment, try to turn it into a more sustainable engagement. Just one blog post? Offer to turn it into a series or bundle it with a package of social media posts. And, don’t be afraid to offer a discount if it makes sense.
7. Don’t Forget Stats and Strategy
Some projects are straightforward; the client wants X and you can deliver X. But for those projects that are more complex, use your proposal to showcase your results and unique experience. If you’re proposing a content strategy, explain the reason for the strategy and any results that you’ve gotten when you’ve taken a similar approach. Strong writing is important, but it’s meaningless without a solid content marketing strategy to get your words in front of your client’s readers. Explain the “why” and “how,” too, not just the “what”.
8. Create a Portfolio
Whether you use a full website, a WordPress page, a Pinterest board page or another type of online portfolio, start developing a digital repository of your clips now. Not only can it help with SEO, but it also provides potential clients with a taste of your writing style and illustrates your experience in the field. Here’s mine if you’d like a reference.
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My business is the ultimate WIP, but I am encouraged and energized by the work that’s come my way and I’m committed to seeking out opportunities that allow me to grow both professionally and personally.
Do you have any tips to share? I’d love to hear them!
Jodi McCaffrey, MA, FACHE, has more than 20 years of experience in healthcare communications. She helps hospitals, physician practices, medical schools, urgent care centers, and CME providers produce compelling print and digital content that entertains and informs. She holds a master’s degree in corporate communications, a bachelor’s degree in English with an emphasis on creative writing, and is a fellow of the American College of Healthcare Executives.