how much experience do you need to go freelance

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.

Categories: Freelance

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5 Comments

Scott Sullivan · June 30, 2015 at 10:58 am

I’d built up about 6 years experience before going freelance in April this year. I’m now about 12 weeks in and in this short time, 100% of my work has come from good contacts/leads linked to networks from my previous employment. I’m finding that contacts are far more important than experience.

During my employed role, I had the chance to do a part-time secondment with a partner organisation which I did for 18 months or so. This broadened my networks and has actually resulted in freelance work via the secondment organisation as well as my previous employer. Secondments are a great way to strengthen your contacts AND experience – well worth exploring if your employer offers such opportunities.

I’m sure that as I continue freelancing, I’ll need to better demonstrate my experience more through a portfolio on my website (www.sbsa.co.uk) as part of my marketing to potential future clients. But to start with, contacts are key.

    Ben Matthews · June 30, 2015 at 11:29 am

    Great comment, Scott!

    And congrats on going freelance 🙂

    Thanks for emphasising the importance of networks – good contacts and leads linked to your network is the best way to get new business (at first). That still hasn’t stopped for me 4 years into freelancing – it’s still the network that counts.

    Good point about secondments – almost like trying out a different job with the security of having the old one to go back to. That’s the same for freelancing – if it doesn’t work out, you can always go back to full-time employment – this time having learnt more skills that will be valuable to an employer.

    It’s important to have a portfolio too. Even if it’s a text-based article with a list of clients and what you helped them achieve, that goes a long way to illustrate what skills and experience you can bring to a role – and what value you can bring to new clients.

      Scott Sullivan · June 30, 2015 at 12:14 pm

      Thanks Ben. Been some ups and downs but overall has been a wonderful experience doing work I love doing, however I choose to do it.

      Planning on getting the portfolio written and online during the next lull – several projects on the go as found it is difficult to say no when starting up! That’s a different story and another freelancing lesson learnt…

      Finally, just to say that reading your blog really helped me when planning my own jump into freelancing this year. Keep up the good work.

Alexander Horoshkevich · July 1, 2015 at 6:16 am

Ben and Scott, I totally agree with you about networks. They can help you to get the first work as a freelancer. But there are situations when you exit your daily job and start freelance without a good network and have to create one (Ben, thanks for article “How do you nurture your freelance network? 11 effective ways to grow your freelancer contacts”). It’s harder, when you are not a native English speaker (as in my case) and want to work abroad.
I have only 1+ year of experience in my area (digital marketing). It’s because I changed work area (a former engineer). I don’t want to work full time another 3 year to ( that was 4 year as you mentioned). Yes, it’s harder and I have to have challenges. Also, I know a couple of people, who started freelance at college.
So the most important criteria how good you in chosen area.

Keri · August 24, 2015 at 3:23 pm

Hello Ben,

What a great blog! I’ve got 5 year’s experience behind me in Communications and was thinking about taking the plunge and going freelance in the next 18 months once I’ve built up a bigger portfolio – but reading this has made me think I may not need to wait that long after all, thanks for the tips!

Keri

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