I would recommend freelancing to anyone – in particular to those who are in their early 20’s. It’s one of the best things you can do to develop a firm set of skills, gain financial independence and get a better idea of what you want to achieve in your life.

But the beauty of being your own boss and creating your own schedule comes at a cost. You should know the following before you get started:

1. Successful freelancing takes time


Don’t expect money showering down from the sky as soon as you jump into this lifestyle. Freelancing has very particular requirements like great time-management, client networking and financial planning (just to name a few). So even though you are pretty good in your creative field, you’ll quickly see you have to acquire additional skills to become successful. Learning how to balance your new roles will take time.

I recommend you give yourself at least three months before expecting to earn any income from your efforts. If you can earn a living much faster, then that’s great, but keep your goals realistic and plan ahead based on the notion that being a great freelancer takes time.

You can also read our annual freelance report – Design without borders to gain a fresh perspective on how freelancers around the world think, feel and operate.

2. You are a lousy boss


Few people realize how much work freelancers undertake each and every day. So if you’re looking for a quick buck … you might as well brush up your resumé and go look for a job because freelancing is a lot of things, but it isn’t quick and easy. It can be quite hard being your own boss, and you might not always get to do the following:

  • Take vacations
  • Take time off
  • Eat lunch
  • Know when to stop working
  • Know what day of the week it is
  • Be told how much money you are earning
  • Be told how much money you can spend

These are all issues freelancers might deal with when they move from being an employee to becoming their own boss. It’s really important to set your own boundaries and make rules that work for you.

3. Stress is gunning for you


If you jump into this life, then look out for a well-known freelancer killer called Mr. Stress. He is known to make his way into your life slowly and without notice. His MO includes making you jumpy, anxious and a terrible cheapskate. He likes to constantly remind you that the rent is due.

To protect yourself from Mr. Stress you should first acknowledge his existence. Then, prepare your defenses with several months’ worth of money to live off of, a good back up plan just in case things don’t pan out right, and several routines to help yourself relax.

4. Money management is key


Find out exactly how much money you need to spend every month. Then, figure out how many projects you need to complete in order to make that happen. There are a bunch of free apps available to help you track your finances, but I recommend sticking with the ol’ pen and paper or an Excel spreadsheet.

Actually, keeping tabs on what you purchase isn’t the most important thing. What you should focus on is the unexpected:

  • unpaid or delayed invoices
  • lack of clients
  • hardware malfunctions
  • family emergencies

… the list keeps going. So prepare for the unexpected and give yourself a cushion when managing your spend.

5. How much to charge depending on your work volume


The following is a big decision for any freelancer: how much money should I charge for my work? Should I charge per hour, per project, maybe per feature? The answer to this question depends on the answer to another question: how many projects are your planning on doing in a year?

Are you aiming towards doing loads of projects to build up your portfolio or are you trying to establish a more exclusive personal brand which only takes on 1 – 2 projects every few months or so? Answer that and you’ll know if your quote should have 3, 4 or 5 zeros at the end.

6. Imitate before you create


Trends and experts exist for a reason: they work. The wheel doesn’t need reinventing, and neither does your line of work. Hundreds of thousands of freelancers have walked in your shoes and have paved a way. Walk on that path, embrace it and you’ll make your life significantly easier.

Take a look at the best in your field and steal as much as you can: develop the same habits, use the same techniques, shortcuts, setups, principles – heck, even the color shirts they wear. Fact is: success leaves clues. They aren’t hidden; you just need to look for them and integrate the findings into your own workflow.

7. At first, don’t quit your day job


If at all possible, try to juggle between your regular job and freelancing. Your results will obviously be skewed, yet you will get a glimmer of what it’s like to be self-employed. Work during the weekends or in your spare time and you’ll see if you can make it fulltime.

Once you get a better sense of what freelancing is all about and you feel you’re more than up to it, then go ahead and make the deciding step. Don’t burn any bridges though because the unexpected is just around the corner.

That’s my list of 7 things everyone should know before they start freelancing. Although it may not seem like a dream job, it can be. Once you get these points covered, you’ll find your life has become significantly easier.

What advice would you give someone interested in freelancing?