Written by Mat Casner

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Ep. 7. How I Started A Successful Freelance Business


Freelance CEO Mat Casner
The Freelance CEO Podcast with Mat Casner
Ep. 7. How I Started A Successful Freelance Business


15 years ago, I took a leap and became a full-time freelance business owner.

In this episode, I’m going to show you the exact steps that I took 15 years ago that helped me launch my full-time Freelance business.

Launching a Freelance business, especially full-time, it’s a big deal. You’re essentially starting a business of one, okay? It’s you. And in my case, when I started 15 years ago, I had a stay-at-home wife and I had four young children all under the age of seven. I was the sole income provider and responsible a hundred percent for the income insurance, retirement, mortgage savings. You get the picture. That’s a lot of responsibility. And you know, guess what? I did launch out as a business owner anyway, but here’s the thing. I had a plan and that plan has served me well even today, 15 years later. And I wanna share some of those insights and some of those strategies with you today.

Now, I’m happy to say that my kids are now all adults except for one who will be an adult here in the next year or two. In fact, guys, we’ve taken some amazing vacations together. We’ve built some incredible memories because I’ve been able to have a Freelance business that’s made me accessible to my kids and my family. Now, I’m not gonna say that there weren’t some sacrifices along the way, but who doesn’t sacrifice for their kids and for their family? At the end of the day, it’s about having the life that we wanted and to be able to create a pathway for us to the future. I’m gonna share with you today a little bit of the background and help you understand where I was at the time and the steps that I took to launch my business full-time.

So let’s go back 15 years and I had spent, let’s say seven or eight years in corporate America. I worked for a variety of different businesses, startups, mom and pops. There were a couple of businesses that were really large, one Fortune 500 company that I worked for along the way. But I was spending those times really refining my craft. And if you’re thinking about freelancing,

the first thing I want to encourage you to do is I want you to learn as much about this your craft as you can. Not just the the technical details, not just the how to but the business side of what you do. Why do businesses hire skill sets like yours? What problems are they trying to solve? Because essentially, when you become a business owner, you can’t just be the person who does the thing. You have to figure out companies that need your services. You have to be able to market and sell those companies. Then you have to be able to deliver and produce results and then take care of them and provide service for them ongoing. So while you’re in your current job, learn as much as you can because that’s gonna pay off big dividends when you’re a freelancer.

As I was spending my years before I became a full-time freelancer, I was learning as much as I could at whatever job I found myself at. And when I was in high school, I was sacking groceries at a grocery store. It was paying me minimum wage, but I was learning customer service skills. I was learning the discipline of showing up and working in the freezing cold winter and you know, the boiling heat of summer, carrying people’s groceries out, having a smile on my face and taking care of them when they would come to the store. So even looking back on some of the jobs that I had as a teenager have built into me as a freelancer today. So I wanna encourage you to wherever you are right now, to learn as much as you can.

Now, as I was working my corporate jobs, I was actually doing a lot of Freelance on the side. I was doing a lot of night and weekend work. My wife and I were newly married. I had time available to be able to spend, you know, doing some weekend projects, doing some side projects. And what that allowed me to do,

two things, it allowed me to start building a client list, people that I could do work for that have literally been clients of mine since that time. And the second thing that it does is it helps you determine whether or not you are a good productive person on your own. We’ll talk about that more in just a little bit, but I can’t stress enough that you need to be self-motivated and you need to be able to maintain and keep the productivity moving forward when there’s no boss to report to and there’s no job to show up at and you’ve gotta get outta bed and you’ve gotta show up and do the work all on your own.

But before I launched out, I had Freelance clients that I was taking on part-time. Then the last thing that I would say was a, was a big thing that I learned when I was freelancing part-time was I needed to know that I could work independently. And I’ll just share this story real quickly. When I was at a, one of my corporate jobs, there became an opportunity to telecommute and basically it was going to be a part-time type of arrangement where I was going to work three days in the office and two days from home and my boss was willing to give me a 90 day trial to just see how it would work out. And guys, that was such a confidence builder for me because it allowed me to still get paid my full-time salary to basically test the waters and see if I could be productive on my own, working on my own at my house and my in my own office. Well, that turned out to be a really great deal. In fact, ended up moving to four days a week from home one day in the office and then eventually I transitioned out full-time. But it gave me a peace of mind that I could be self-motivated and handle business in my own office unassisted.

So that was a huge thing that I had to teach myself and understand that I could do before I launched out full-time. So real quick, you know, you know, make sure that you’ve got some skills and you know what the business side of those skills are. So learn as much as you can in your corporate job or the job that you’re going to hopefully run into as a freelancer.

You know, you wanna make sure that you’re building some clients, got a side hustle going on, get some clients now, start working for them now, start giving them results now. And then third, you wanna make sure that you’re you, you can maintain on your own, that you’ve got the skills that it takes to be able to, to work independently with the pandemic.

I think that has created this big ground swell. People have been removed outta their offices, they’re put in their homes and they’ve been kind of forced to sink or swim. And I think a lot of people have found that they like working from home, that they can be productive independently and that there might be some incredible benefits, maybe even advantages, maybe even you are thinking that freelancing could be in your cards because you’ve had a taste of working from home and you kinda like it, guys, it’s the deal. I love it. I would, I, I don’t really see myself as ever going back to an office. I wouldn’t want to, but anyway, you wanna be able to have the confidence that you can work independently. So let me just kind of break down what I see as the things that I had in place before I launched my full-time Freelance career.

And I kind of mentioned some of them to you earlier as I was kind of preparing. But here’s the things that I really focused on and the things that really helped me take positive action to actually get launched full-time and leaving your full-time job, becoming a full-time freelancer is a big deal. And you want to make sure that you have as much confidence and you have minimized as many of the risks as you can.

So here’s the thing I want you to do. I want you to, to take a little bit of a checklist and see if you have some of the baseline characteristics that are required to be a successful freelancer. Number one, you need to be able to work independently, or I mentioned this earlier, you need to be able to motivate yourself to get up in the morning or whenever it is that’s going to be your work time.

I guess that’s the great thing about freelancing is we can work whenever we want, but you know, at the end of the day, we have to get work done. It’s not just, you know, sleeping in late, you know, getting, you know, going to bed early. You’ve got to find time to work and you’ve gotta be diligent.

If you’re not doing that, you’re not gonna have clients, you’re not gonna have income coming in and you’re not gonna have a Freelance job. So you have to prove to yourself that you can be successful independently and motivated. Number two, do you set goals for yourself? Do you see yourself as a business person? Do you like talking with people? Do you like solving problems for people?

That’s a key factor in becoming a successful freelancer. You have to be willing to engage with business owners who need the services that you have to offer and you have to be willing to negotiate with them. You have to be able to communicate the value of the service that you provide. You have to be able to communicate the price that that service is worth,

and you have to be able to sell and deliver and then provide customer service. So you need to make sure that you have this ability to work with people. That’s important. The last thing I’ll say as kind of a, as a characteristic that you need to have in your checkbox is you need to be a problem solver. As I started out as a freelancer, believe me guys, there were a lot of things that I did not know. I do not have a business degree, I did not have a marketing degree. And virtually a lot of the things that I learned as a freelancer, I learned simply by doing them and making mistakes. Now, there were people that were mentors in my life. They weren’t freelancers, but they were business people who were giving me advice and I was kind of watching them and I was trying to, to emulate the things that I saw in their lives that I thought would apply to me as a Freelance business owner. But a lot of the things that I learned, I kind of learned through trial and error. One of the things that I have now through my Ignite Freelance business coaching group is I have the ability to work with freelancers and I help them get past some of the obstacles that really were big mountains for me when I was getting started up, because I didn’t know anyone who knew a way around them or through them. So you need to be a problem solver because there will be times when you need to solve not only the problems for your customers, but problems in your own business. And you need to be resourceful. You need to know, either know where to go or who to ask or figure it out to get the problem solved when you’re a business owner.

So we’ve talked about, you know, the little checklist of things that you need to have in terms of characteristics that are gonna make you a strong candidate to be a successful freelancer. The next thing I wanna talk about is how do you prepare yourself financially? Alright, as I was getting started as a young freelancer, I was working in corporate America and working a pretty good job.

I had a salary that was paying me benefits and retirement and was a, was a pretty good check every two weeks. And I realized that if we were gonna maintain our, our standard of living, then I was gonna have to either match that or increase that depending on, you know, the type of insurance we were gonna ha be able to get retirement and so on.

So we did a couple of things as a family. Number one, we cut out a lot of things that were just extraneous. We didn’t cut out essentials, but we cut out a lot of things that were in our budget that were really extra. I’m not saying we didn’t take vacations, I’m not saying we didn’t. Do we have entertainment and go to the movies and stuff like that.

We did. We just didn’t spend our money willy-nilly. We had a budget. We tried to be frugal as much as we could. We tried to save as much as we could. And so when I, when I talk to people that are becoming freelancers, take a hard look at your, at your finances and start to tighten the belt a little bit.

The more that you can get by on with less, the better because the less money that you need to live on, then that means that’s the less money you need to make as a freelancer. So as if you can trim your budget and get it down, it reduces your requirement or the stress of the income you have to provide as a freelancer. Now the second thing I will say from a financial standpoint is while you are freelancing part-time, while you have your site hustle, before you’ve launched into your Freelance career full-time, you need to start saving. In fact, I highly recommend that you take your site hustle money and you put it away in a, in a fund that’s gonna help pay you as you’re getting started. As a freelancer, I was able, when I launched full-time, I had four months of income in the bank.

That meant that I, my, my family and I were gonna be taken care of for four months while I got my business going. Now I worked like a dog when I launched my Freelance business to start building clients, serve the clients I already had, find new clients and, and work to serve them well and to build up the cash flow because cash flow’s king.

When you’re a freelancer, you need to have money coming in so that you can pay those bills month after month. But to get started, it’s nice to have a little bit of a runway so that that pressure isn’t on you at the very, very beginning. So I recommend three months minimum, save up three months of living expenses so that you have a cushion and you have 90 days to really be working your business and really be, you know, getting clients in and serving them. The more months that you can provide in terms of a cushion, the better six months would be optimal If you were able to, to set aside six months of living expenses for you and your family, that provides you with a big window for you to be able to succeed without stressing out about meeting your monthly financial obligations.

So save some money and trim your budget. Start living a little leaner. Now the third thing that I’m going to share with you is to have a fallback plan. I’ve mentioned this before, guys, launching as a freelancer is a big deal. You’re launching a business and trust me, I launched my Freelance business and I didn’t know everything. In fact,

I didn’t really even know what I didn’t know. All I knew was I wanted to help people. I knew I had a gift and a talent that I could share. And I knew that I was getting paid by all these companies in my past who were making revenue off of my skill set. And I knew that I could find a way to make revenue for myself based off what I know.

So I knew that I had the potential to become a successful freelancer, but there were a lot of things that I did not know, and I definitely did not have a guarantee that I’d be sitting in front of a camera 15 years later telling you my story. But to reduce the risk and to help me have a better comfort level of taking that big step and making that decision to become full-time came with a lot of these circumstances.

Number one, I had proven some things to myself about who I am, my work ethic, I knew my business, I knew the people that were gonna be buying my services and I knew I could start serving them day one. Number two, I had a little bit of money set aside. I had four months of living expenses and I knew that I would be able to take care of my family and I would be able to give it four months of uninterrupted dedication to build my business.

And for me, that was enough to get going. Now the last thing that I wanna say is you need to have a fallback plan. And what I mean by that is this, ask yourself the question, if I start freelancing full-time and something doesn’t go right, let’s say it doesn’t all work out, what do I do next? So when you ask yourself that question,

I want you to write down what your options are. Do you go get a temporary part-time job? Do you quit freelancing and go back to to a nine to five? Do you find another job? You could do a a variety of different things, but if you answer that question and you can be comfortable and have peace with that answer, then you have a fallback plan in case things don’t go like you think they should go.

Now guys, running a business, I’m just gonna tell you right now, it’s not easy, but it’s not impossible either. It takes work, it takes dedication. And if you ask the people that are in my my Ignite Freelance coaching group, it takes time. It takes time to build a business. And that’s what I do every week when I meet with my coaching students. I help them grow their businesses week by week. I help ’em get past whatever rocks are in front of ’em. So building a business takes time. But if you have a backup plan, then you know that you can successfully take a step forward and launch into your Freelance business knowing that if something happens and in two months it all doesn’t work out, you have a fallback, you have something else that you can do to replace the income and get back on track. So that fallback plan reduces the risk, helps you to have the confidence to move forward knowing that if everything doesn’t go well, you’ve got a fallback plan, a safety net for yourself. So what I need you to do is just remember that a freelancing career is totally doable.

Millions and millions and millions of people are freelancing around the world. And it is a fantastic way to, to have a life, to be able to travel, for me, to be able to have quality time with my family as they were growing up. And now as my kids are growing up, it’s gonna mean even more freedom for me and my wife to be able to do the things that we really care most about.

But for you, whatever your reason is, be motivated and look for ways that you can serve your people. Because at the end of the day, guys, if we have a service minded mindset and we help give value to the customers that we serve, you will always have work to do. And freelancing will be a fun thing. Guys, it has been a blast the past 15 years growing this business, serving the clients that I serve, and now mentoring other freelancers to do the same.

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