Five years ago, I sat at my desk at a New York-based educational children's publisher and was dealt a blow I thought signified the end of livelihood as I knew it. Reading may be fundamental, but the children of the world were not reading - and my company could no longer afford to keep half their employees as a result.
I had always dreamed of being a writer, but it was a desire that remained in the realm of fantasy - to take that leap would mean abandoning the comfort zone of guaranteed income. Like so many of us, I was a great deal more concerned with maintaining what was predictable and comfortable, even when it was at the expense of my own dreams.
Suddenly, that carefully clutched security blanket had been ripped away from me, and surprisingly, I discovered my own clarity about my life's purpose did not diminish, but grew stronger. There was anxiety about that financial instability and the great unknown, but suddenly I realized without the predictable, comfortable day job, I had finally quieted the anxiety that had kept me from pursing what I long knew was my destiny.
It was hard to reprogram myself: Learning to focus on my own fulfillment instead of simply survival - but learning to do so immediately filled me with an incredible sense of hope and empowerment I hadn't previously imagined would be possible.
I made that decision to concentrate on developing myself as a writer. I always knew I loved the creative aspect of the craft, but I knew little about how to make it into a vocation. I had an English degree, and was confident I had writing ability -- that alone was a start. The next steps were learning the process of querying editors, submitting story ideas, and learning how to accept the inevitable rejections that come with the successes.
The freelance life is a constant journey -- one that continues to include financial roller coasters and professional highs and lows -- but I am a working writer, with a constantly rewarding career I love. Gratifying as it is, it's a path not without setbacks and hurdles - for many of us there were significant work gaps before steady assignments began -- and if you are considering taking this leap yourself, there's steps you must keep in mind;
Leaving the corporate ship: Years ago, as I was researching colleges, I committed myself to maintaining lists of goals -- educational, financial, professional. Embarking upon a life of self-employment is similar. Know your mission and services you wish to provide - your own clear understanding of the path before you is the key to delivering this message to your potential clients.
Count your pennies: Many of us entered the freelance world without a safety net. You can find success with this route, but the ideal is to plan ahead. Unless you are beginning your new career with a pre-existing list of clients, there will likely be initial expenses that are coupled with income gaps. Borrow a lesson from your "in case of emergency" savings plan and save six months of living expenses before leaving your day job.
Budget: Regardless of your business specifics, make sure to maintain a spending plan from the starting gate. I have a personal practice of using Excel to budget my weekly expenses, be it groceries or office materials and home expenses. This will be an essential tool during the inevitable ebb and flow income inherent to self-employment.
Finding clients: There's a great deal of advantage to the freelance life, and this includes freedom. We can choose our own hours and work setting, and accept only those projects we are most interested in. However, for many, this can lead to lack of discipline. Keep in mind that you are your own boss, but the nature of freelancing also means that work is not guaranteed. Your livelihood is dependent on your ability to market yourself, seek out work, and staying on top of all pending assignments. When I made the leap to freelance, the first step I made was learning how to create pitch letters, and the submission guidelines for various publications of interest. We must do our homework if we expect our work to be well received.
Networking: Working for yourself can be a lonely experience, especially if you are used to the office dynamic. A great way to maintain a healthy life-work balance, but also maintain and grow your contacts, is to network. Look into email discussion lists and sites like LinkedIn, to get to know others in your line of work -- this is a great way to find out about new opportunities, but also make friends.
Whatever your career or life dream, believe in yourself and make it a reality. Armed with a plan, you will celebrate the small victories and enjoy each step along the way. As your business grows, as will your sense of empowerment, motivation, and imagination of the possible: Nothing is as meaningful as that which we create for ourselves.