If you’ve been fantasizing about leaving a nightmare job to go out on your own or have discovered that your days on the corporate mothership are numbered in this tough economy, you won’t want to to miss the latest New York Times Career Couch column, “Making a Living, One Project at a Time.” (One very successful freelancing friend, who found the Harvard Business Review story on Supertemps overly rosy, thought this story was a lot more realistic).
The column offers an excellent overview of how to start doing project-level work as a full-time career–an option that, like it or not, many Americans are likely to find themselves doing at some point in the future. One interesting insight: While many seasoned professionals network their way into high-level contracts, some are also using agencies to find projects (a promising route for those who are better at executing jobs than marketing themselves). Another intriguing tidbit: These professional-level gigs–available in niches from supply chain management to nuclear science–often pay 50% to 100% more per hour than similar staff jobs (subject to regional demand).
Eilene Zimmerman, the author of the piece, is a top-notch freelancer whom I frequently hire to write articles at one of my contract editing gigs (and whom I’ve known since my first full-time journalism job). Her knowledge of the realities of freelancing informs the piece, as she looks at challenges like gaps between projects, high health insurance costs, and the learning curve that comes with starting a business. (For some help in deciding if the freelance life is right for you, check out Six Questions to Determine if You Are Cut out for Freelancing).
She also offers a great tip for addressing these downsides from Gene Zaino, chief executive of MBO Partners, an outfit in Herndon, Va., that provides back-office support for independent contractors: Look for a mentor who is a successful independent contractor.
Going out on your own can be lonely, but it doesn’t have to be that way. If you can find at least one accomplished freelancing buddy you can trust when you need a sounding board, you’ll find your business runs a lot more smoothly.