11 Keys to a Successful Freelance Career

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Covering these essentials makes a freelancer's life enjoyable and sustainable.

Many a freelancer has plunged right into business without much preparation. Some swim, others sink. A blind plunge might work, but it’s chancy. Nailing down these 11 things before making the leap will help you stay afloat in your new venture.

1. A fat emergency fund

An emergency fund is the rock-bottom basic thing you need. With no money to tide you over when work is thin — as it will be now and then — you can forget your freelance dreams.

What’s “fat”? Financial advisers like a fund that can cover you for six months. Consider more, though. It can take 60 to 90 days or more to complete some jobs and get paid. That’s not counting how long it takes to land new clients, or to get some clients to pay you.

2. Steady nerves

Freelancing is great for all the reasons you’d suspect: flexibility and freedom from office politics, the short commute and excellent job satisfaction are a few. But the insecurity never stops.

One freelancer I know likens the life to Tarzan’s: It’s great swinging from vine to vine but awfully scary when you’re hanging in midair and can’t see the next vine to grab. Be sure you can embrace the uncertainty before leaving a good day job.

3. Backups for your backups

Redundant systems are crucial for freelancers. If a computer failure makes you miss a client deadline, you’ll look like a bozo. So keep a dependable second computer for such events.

It doesn’t have to be a brand new MacBook Air with Thunderbolt display and 12 hours of battery life. It just needs to get you online and able to communicate and send files to client. A nearby internet cafe that rents computer time might be a fine backup. Make sure it’s open when you need it.

Back up your work, too, including at least a couple of years’ worth of work emails. Back up constantly, to both the cloud and to an external hard drive. It sounds like overkill until you — like me — have turned to your backup disk in a pinch and found that it was corrupted. Practice retrieving work from your backup systems so your IT struggles will be invisible to clients.

4. A wee bit of computer savvy

Nothing makes you appreciate your last employer’s IT department like being up a creek without technical support. It doesn’t hurt to be a computer genius, but it’s not required.

When your machine or your software stops working, take a deep breath, think things through, check your connections and search the internet for solutions.

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