As you progress through your career as a freelance designer, you may discover that the kind of work you’ve been happily doing for years just isn’t cutting it anymore. Maybe you’re a web designer but really want to do consulting or go from writing front-end code to working as a more intensive back-end developer.
Maybe your clients have pushed you to the brink enough to quit dealing with clients altogether and switch to working behind the scenes to produce a product based on your knowledge or personal ideas.
Switching over from one type of work to another can alienate potential clients who want to hire you for your normal freelancing work, and that can wreak havoc on your bank account, your reputation, and even the quality of your work, at least in the transition stages.
Luckily, there are a few steps to follow to make sure you aren’t undercutting your own chances of success. Here’s how you can change your professional focus with ‘minimal downtime’.
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Save up some money first!
This may seem like a no-brainer, but it’s easy to forget when you’re nearly at the point of chewing your own arm off to get away from a job or a client roster you hate.
Before you decide to go from one area of focus to another, you’ll want to make sure you have enough of a financial cushion to rest on just in case things get difficult.
That may mean you’ll have to take on a couple more of your normal client jobs for the next few months, and also cut back on your spending. Keeping a budget is helpful for many reasons, not the least of which is making it easier to get by without your normal workload.
And don’t forget to adjust your income for taxes if necessary. Depending on what you’re going to be doing next, you’ll need to make sure you’re making enough to pay your income taxes and any other required fees.
Keep the cashflow secure
If you’re just making the leap, it’s a good idea to retain some means of income that’s separate from your new business. If a job is relatively painless to do, and you’re getting much-needed income from it, there’s really no good reason to discard it before it’s time.
It may seem like you’re wasting your time, but trust me, the longer you take to plan for your new career path, the smoother the transition will be. This brings me to my next point.
Have an "Escape plan"
Always have a concrete, specific plan of action when making any major career moves. Don’t just leap from one business venture to another without considering all the possible outcomes.
Of course, you want to figure out the logistics of how you’ll be supporting yourself and/or your family, but there are other things to consider as well.
Among the most important: your place within your new chosen industry. Is this new service or product of yours in high enough demand that it will sell to enough customers? How are you going to market yourself? Can you use your old networking connections to procure new work?
Sometimes, we dream of making the switch to doing something else, and by the time we actually do it, it turns out that we had miscalculated what would actually be involved in terms of selling and marketing.
Start small, test often
A gradual transition is key. Start small and gradually work your way up to your ultimate goal. For example, if you’re planning on writing a book, you can start with a blog and slowly start compiling your posts into book form.
If you’re not sure whether something will actually work, it’s a lot less painful to run a small test for a few months than dive in and devote a year or two to a full-blown development and launch.
For example, if you want to try selling an information-based product, like a course or paid tutorial series, rather than creating the entire thing in one go, try creating a shortened version of it and releasing it quickly to see if there’s any demand. Don’t simply take it on faith that you’re right about something, or that you’re wrong. When in doubt, always experiment.
Change of identity
If practical, you may find it helpful to change the name under which you do business. This can be your personal alias, or simply your brand name. A name change will allow you to start over fresh without bringing over any client-related baggage to your new enterprise.
You’d be surprised at how much of a difference a new name will make, not just for your business but to your personal sense of identity as a working professional. This is also a perfect time to ditch any embarrassing names you may have felt stuck with ever since you chose it many years back.
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Going from “digiboy2000” (worst case scenario) to something a bit more professional will give both you and your business a new lease on life. If you can’t change your name or you don’t particularly want to, you can always adopt a new name under your professional “umbrella” that specifically caters to your new work.
It’s up to you to decide whether to link the old work to the new. Sometimes this won’t make as much sense as you’d think. Some potential clients might get the wrong idea and make requests that are inappropriate for what you want to do next.
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Say goodbye to your old work
So you’ve planned out your goals and your financial ducks are all in a row. It’s time to make your transition permanent. Make sure your past clients know what you’re up to now (it’s a good idea to keep them in the loop with a short email every quarter or so). You never know when they might be able to assist you in some way you hadn’t thought of.
Potential clients need to be aware that you are definitely no longer available for your previous type of commissioned work. It’s can be tough to have these conversations, especially if they’re offering you a tempting paycheck.
But waffling on your decision to quit your old line of work sends the signal that you’re wishy-washy and this can have a negative impact on your professional reputation.
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One final caveat: you will likely lose a bit of income at first, especially when you bid your last client goodbye. But it doesn’t have to be as much as many freelancers fear, especially if you follow the steps above.
It’s been said that success in any business is mostly determined by how willing you are to make yourself uncomfortable. The earlier and more often you get the tough stuff out of the way, the easier time you will have in your new business venture. Good luck!