We don’t often talk about career plans or career plan changes when we freelance. The work is more visceral and lends itself less to contemplation and more to getting the job done.

A freelance plan is sketched out on a piece of paper

Photo by Sigmund on Unsplash

We know how we got here. But we sometimes struggle to work out where to next.

Most of us freelance for a specific reason. Usually, that comes down to:

·        Inventing a working life that makes more space for family, disability, mental health and/or lifestyle management

·        Creating work where there isn’t any and/or on our own terms – such as regional towns, while travelling, new types of jobs, etc

·        Pivoting from one industry to another via a career change and/or changes to your industry

·        Recovery from toxic workplaces, toxic relationships and/or situations that have had significant impacts

·        Carer roles – like looking after both children and elderly parents and/or someone close to you with disabilities and/or life limiting or life altering diagnosis

·        Exclusion via race, sexuality, age, gender, disability, etc

·        Frustration with the state of play within an industry – whether that’s opportunities, practices and/or earning potential

·        Self-challenge and taking the career to a new level. Different to the pivot, this is because you’ve got something to prove to the industry, yourself, and/or the world at large.

This is not an exhaustive list. But most of us didn’t wake up one day and decide to assume more responsibility and risk because we preferred to stare at the wallpaper at home over an office somewhere.

The problem then becomes, “how do I motivate myself once I have achieved that goal?”

Most of us have stretch goals in traditional workplaces. It’s why we move departments, workplaces and seek promotions. It’s also why we study in the workplace or ask for extra assignments.

But when we freelance, we have other challenges to contend with. Ones that distract us and ultimately take the place of the intellectual, creative and professional stretches we feel. And it’s attractive to think that coaching people, building courses and sharing knowledge are the next logical step. But maybe that’s not what we need at all. Maybe we need a new career plan.

What does a new career plan look like as you freelance?

A new career plan in freelancing can be:

·        Making time for study  well outside the topic we service

·        Challenging something within your industry that really bugs you

·        Switching off the lights on services that you don’t want to offer anymore

·        Experimenting with new services that stretch and expand your range

·        Making time to take photos, design or write about topics you feel interested in outside of work time

·        Setting yourself new business, income and/or client goals

·        Changing up the freelancers you spend time with people that reinvigorate you

·        Starting a side project, startup or advocacy campaign

·        Locking onto another problem of the personal or professional kind you’d love to solve

·        Leaving freelancing and seeing what else is out there

And of course, there is teaching what you know about your industry or freelancing generally.

Whatever you choose, you are experiencing a career. It doesn’t begin or end with freelancing. It can be as fluid and dynamic as you need it to be. So, if you’re bored, don’t think about what everyone else would do or what the natural progression looks like.

Questions to ask yourself as you work on your career plan:

1.      How can I use my creativity in a fun and novel way? What excites me?

2.      What am I curious about? How can I make time to explore this curiosity?

3.      Where would I like to be in twelve months’ time?

4.      What would I like my legacy to be?

5.      What kind of example am I setting? What do I want my kids, friends, family etc. to think about my freelancing?

And consider constraints like:

a) How much can I spend towards changing the way I work?

b) What impact will the change have on my income?

c) What are some easy steps I can take right now to test if my idea works?

d) Do I need to get additional support, training, mentoring or advice to make my career plan a reality?

Check in with the motivations

There’s a difference between a motivational slump, a run of poor client interactions and needing to change tack. Make sure you’re not reacting to a change in industry conditions, economic surety, prevalent client behaviour or a run of bad luck.

Here are questions to check in with your freelance motivations to make sure it’s a response or choice instead of a reaction:

  • Think about the last three months of freelancing. What sorts of clients, problems, obstacles to success and frustrations have you encountered?
  • Are you bored, stuck, or feeling like you’ve reached the limits of where freelancing can take you?
  • Most freelancers get jack of freelancing because they are tired of dealing with low rates, late payment, and the financial insecurity. Is this your experience? Have you considered taking the pressure off the financial side through a part time job, in-house contracts, increasing your savings buffer, or receiving financial literacy training?
  • Is it client behaviour that is motivating the desire to change? And if so, what can you do to improve boundaries, education, and client-based interactions?
  • What other career and job prospects are you excited by?
  • Are you sick of freelancing? Why?
  • Are there aspects of the work you still enjoy?
  • When was the last time you got to work on a project that was aligned with your values creatively, socially, intellectually or spiritually?
  • When was the last time you had the opportunity stretch and challenge yourself as a professional while working with a client?

If the freelance love affair is truly over

If your new career plan doesn’t involve freelancing, it’s time to build an exit strategy.

To build a freelance exit strategy, consider aspects like:

Where to next?

  • Will you be looking for part time, full time or casual work?
  • Are you exiting freelancing with study, travel or parenting as the new focus?
  • Is this part of a wider strategy to change industry or career?

Psychological safety

  • Are you exited, resigned to, or dreading the change? Why?
  • How well do you cope with change? Do you need a strategy to help you through?
  • Are you experiencing burnout, applied stress or a mental health condition? What do you need to put in place to help manage your exit while also taking care of yourself?
  • How are you feeling about leaving freelancing? Are there issues with self-doubt, self-criticism, judgement, or Imposter Syndrome that you need to challenge or manage?

Financial planning

Do you need to:

  • Create more of a savings buffer first prior to leaving freelancing?
  • Continue to freelance on the side after finding another job to offset a drop in income?
  • Take some time off between freelancing and a new career to tend to your health, family, or emotional self?
  • Consider additional costs such as childcare, disability management (e.g. increased OT sessions or additional counselling), running costs and/or training as part of a change in career plan?
  • Do you need to budget for additional accountancy or financial advisory fees or tax because of the change of career?

Expectation management   

  • What are you willing to sacrifice for the right role? E.g. remote working, lower pay, less time at home etc
  • How do you feel about writing CVs, cover letters and attending interviews? What can you do to increase your confidence?
  • What sort of timeline will you place on changing from freelance to a new career?
  • What will you say to family and friends about your change?
  • Will you receive any resistance from peers, collaborators, clients or colleagues? And if so, how do you want to manage that?

Cessation of your freelance business

What will you do with your:

  • Website and blog
  • Social media profiles
  • Clients and contracts
  • Contractors, collaborators and supports?

Whatever you decide, always remember that freelancing is but one step in a wider career plan. It’s your career, your in charge. And if things are wobbling, need tweaking or no longer service you, it’s OK to pursue other options. We risk too much and work too hard as freelancers to linger when it no longer benefits our well-being.

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