爱思英语编者按:有谁不曾想过辞掉自己的全职工作,自己闯一番事业? 做自己的老板,当然诱人。但是,放弃你作为普通职员的身份,是不是你正确的选择?

做自由职业之前要问自己的七个问题
7 Questions to Ask Yourself Before Going Freelance

自由职业.jpg

原作者:Amy Gallo
译者: 搬那度

Who hasn’t thought about quitting their full-time job and going out on their own? Being your own boss is certainly tempting. But is giving up your status as a regular employee the right choice for you?

What the Experts Say
“There are many reasons why people choose to go freelance,” says Steve King, partner at Emergent Research. “We’ve studied this for many years, and it really boils down to autonomy, control, and flexibility: the autonomy to work in the way they want to, control over what they do, and the flexibility to work when and where they want.” No matter the reason behind the decision, people generally don’t look back,” says Sara Horowitz, the head of the Freelancers Union and author of The Freelancer’s Bible. In fact, a study by the Freelancers Union found that 88% of people say they wouldn’t return to a full-time job. Horowitz says that most are happy to be done with “the brutal schedule, the way work is organized, and office politics.” Still, freelancing isn’t without its challenges. What people envision and reality are often very different. Here are the questions to ask yourself before making the leap.

Do you have a marketable skill?
“The first step is to make sure that you have a skill that’s in demand,” says King. These are typically specific, functional abilities like project management, web development, financial analysis — or advisory skills that come from years of experience. “If you’re 22 and you’re not a web developer, you probably don’t have marketable skills,” he warns. The media and technology sectors have traditionally been the biggest employers of freelancers but the good news is that “almost every industry is expanding their use of contingent workers,” says King. If you’re not sure whether you have skills that potential clients would pay for, consider testing the market by doing some moonlighting while you are still gainfully employed. (More on that below.)

Do you have a robust network?
“Freelancers who are connected to others tend to do best economically,” says Horowitz, because those connections become a significant source of business. But don’t despair if you don’t yet have an extensive professional network. You can build one even before you leave your job by attending relevant conferences, reaching out to people through LinkedIn or Twitter, or joining a group of freelancers or small business owners in your area. Go beyond work contacts too; “think about your friends, neighbors, and other people you know,” says King. Let them know when you go out on your own and encourage them to spread the word. Remember also that your network isn’t just about drumming up business. “The most successful freelancers know how to use their network for all sorts of things, like outsourcing work when they have too much,” Horowitz explains. A critical component of your network is a friend or former colleague who is already freelancing and can point you to resources. As with any career transition, it’s important to seek advice from those with more experience and expertise than you.

Do you have the right temperament?
If you’re energized by being around other people, you need to think long and hard about whether or not you’re going to be happy working on your own. “Our research, and the research of others, consistently finds that loneliness is a big challenge,” says King. “It’s important that freelancers make the effort to get out and interact with people in both social and work settings.” And if you’re an introvert, you’ll have to work especially hard at what may come naturally to your extrovert counterparts — networking. King suggests seeking out meet-up activities targeted at freelancers and small businesses, volunteering in your community, joining an industry trade group, or renting a desk or office in a coworking space. Horowitz points out that there are specific groups for almost any niche: “There are professional networks to support female Phython coders (NYC PyLadies) or developers using Javascript to build robots (Nodebots) and alt-labor groups like the The Model Alliance or Restaurant Opportunities Centers United.”

Do you have a financial cushion?
“If you can’t go without income for three to six months, don’t even think about it,” says King. Horowitz agrees that you need a financial buffer to weather any lulls in work. “Really tear your expenses down. Assess where you live. Don’t set yourself up by having a ton of overhead,” she advises. “You should build your expenses in a way that if you hit a dry patch, you’ll be ok — and the more cushion, the better,” says King. This is especially important for people who don’t have the financial support of a spouse with a more stable job and benefits. Freelancing can come with a lot of uncertainty — you may not always know who your next client is going to be or how much you’re going to earn in the coming year. “You have to be able to deal with ambiguity,” says King. Horowitz says that you need to be able to put away 40% of every paycheck to cover your taxes, health and life insurance, vacations and retirement. Underestimating costs that employers typically take out of your paycheck or cover is “the biggest thing that bites people,” she says.  Consider which perks you want to keep and how you’ll pay for them.

Are you disciplined about work?
Some people do best when they have a manager to answer to or structure to their days. If that’s you, freelancing is probably a bad idea. “You need to be self-motivated, have good organizational skills, and a strong work ethic,” explains King. And you must be comfortable doing all sorts of things that aren’t directly related to your work. When you’re on your own, you’re your own boss, IT person, HR representative, benefits administrator, head of sales, and administrative assistant. You also have to be familiar with the laws around taxes and legal liability. You need to be OK filling all of these roles, even the ones that aren’t glamorous or your cup of tea. Sure, you may eventually be able to outsource some undesirable tasks but at least at the beginning, they will fall to you. You have to think of yourself not just as a contractor, but as the head of a small business.

Can you try it out?
If you’ve answered yes to all the questions above, Horowitz suggests experimenting with freelancing before you quit your day job. “It doesn’t have to be an on/off switch” — one day you’re a full-time employee and the next you’re on your own, she says. You can ease your way into the freelance life. In fact, “most people explore on the side” to get a taste of what the work will be like and test out their business plan, King says. If you decide to go for it, you’ll already have your business set up and some clients in the queue. But do make sure you’re not violating any of your current company’s policies or your employment contract.

Can your current employer be your first client?
“A good chunk of independent consultants — 20 to 25% — report that their first customer is their current employer,” says King. So consider whether there’s part of your current job that you could do as a freelancer and feel out those possibilities before you give notice. “If you have good rapport with your boss, tell him that you’re considering going out on your own, then ask, “If I did that, is there some way that I could continue my relationship with the company?’” King suggests. Some employers, especially large corporations, won’t let you work as an independent contractor immediately after leaving your job because of their interpretation of IRS rules. “Many have a waiting period of six months to a year,” King says. But you can still keep the relationship on the back burner while you line up more immediate revenue sources. And even if your former employer doesn’t ever become a client, it’s important to maintain a positive connection with your old colleagues. “They are a really important component of your network,” says King, and you never know who might want to employ you down the line.

Principles to Remember

Do:

Make sure you have a strong network of people who can help you find work
Give yourself a financial cushion before going out on your own — you need to be able to weather any dry spells
Be prepared to take on tasks that aren’t directly related to your work, such as handling IT issues, sending invoices, and selling your services

Don’t:

Assume that your skills and experience are something that clients are willing to pay for — consider testing the market before officially going freelance
Go freelance if you’re not self-directed or comfortable with ambiguity
Leave your job until you have a plan in place, even if it’s not 100% certain

Case Study #1: A vague plan is better than no plan
Four years ago, Allie Rogovin was managing a new team designed to promote diversity at Teach for America. She’d been at the organization for 13 years, loved its people and mission and was enjoying the latest challenge, but she wanted to scale back. “I had two kids at home and the 80-hour work week was hard,” she explains. “I had all the flexibility that I could ask for. I came in when I wanted to, I could go on a field trip with my daughter. But it was just a crushing workload. I didn’t feel like I was doing my TFA job well, and I didn’t feel like I was doing my mothering job well either.”

After talking with her husband, she decided to quit in July 2011. She knew that she eventually wanted to consult and had already identified a need in the marketplace she could fill.  “In my position at TFA, I had spent a lot of time talking to small education nonprofits who needed help getting a talent function off the ground. I was really motivated by the idea of helping these younger, less established organizations do what I had done at TFA,” she explains.

But she didn’t have any clients lined up when she left TFA. “It’s probably not the most thoughtful thing I’ve ever done, but I needed the break,” she explains. “We were lucky that my husband had a good job and we’d been smart about our finances. We sat down and looked at the amount of money we’d need coming in and made small changes to how we lived to help us through my time off.”

After four months focusing on her family, she reached out to her network to announce that she was starting her own business. A friend responded with “I have a client who you would be great for” and, by January, she had her first consulting gig. Soon after, she added TFA to her client list, signing on to coach some of its senior managers.

In the time since, Allie says she’s come a long way: “When I first started out I had some doubts that people would find my skillset useful. I thought, ‘Would anyone really want to hire me?’ Now I have a one-pager and a standard pitch and a business email address. Most importantly, I know exactly what kind of projects I enjoy doing most.”

Case study #2: Your network is bigger than you think
The autonomy of being her own boss had always appealed to Sunita Malhotra. “I had been talking about working for myself for ten of the 20 years I was in corporate life,” she says. But there were several obstacles: she enjoyed the job she had (HR director at a global organization in Europe), she wasn’t entirely confident that she had enough experience to consult, and most importantly, she didn’t want to give up her medical insurance and pension. “That’s what stopped me for many, many years,” she explains. But over the 2006 Christmas holiday, she finally decided to take the leap. She’d been talking again about going out on her own and her husband told her “just do it.” He also offered to cover her through his employee benefits.

Sunita didn’t quit her job to freelance right away, but she set the process in motion. “From January to April, I focused on getting my act together,” she says. “It’s very helpful to have a supportive spouse. We sat down and did financial planning. We asked, what is the bare minimum we need to live? And what are the sacrifices we could make?”

At the same time, she also developed a seven-year business plan. “I thought hard about what my core business would be. What things was I best at that I could do for the rest of my life with a smile on my face?” She also identified roles she didn’t want to play. “I knew I could do training, for example, but there are tons of companies doing that, and I didn’t want to compete in an overcrowded market. I wanted to create my own niche.”

She stopped short of going after clients, however. “I didn’t feel ethically comfortable doing that while I was still employed,” she explains. Besides, “I was exhausted” working full-time and planning a new career in evenings and on weekends. “I’m not even sure where I would’ve found the time to moonlight.”

Once she felt she had a solid plan, she gave her notice to her employer and began sending out feelers to former colleagues. “I had no clue who my first client was going to be. That was the scary part,” she says. But her network came through. Her first client was a supplier to whom she had given a break years before. Her second client came through a person she had also worked with earlier in her career. “It was a bit of luck but I had a much bigger network than I realized,” she says.

Of course, she discovered some downsides to being a freelancer: “You get spoiled in corporate life. I had an assistant, IT support. Now, I’m CEO but I’m also the IT person, the finance manager, and the office manager.” But eight years in, Sunita says she would never go back.

有谁不曾想过辞掉自己的全职工作,自己闯一番事业? 做自己的老板,当然诱人。但是,放弃你作为普通职员的身份,是不是你正确的选择?

专家的看法
“人们选择做自由职业,有许多原因。”Emergent Research 合伙人Steve King说。“我们研究这个现象有好多年,而这一切归结为自由、控制权、以及灵活性:以自己所要的方式工作的自由,控制自己所做的事,以及在任何时间、任何地点工作的灵活性。”不管这个决定背后的原因是什么,人们通常不会回头。”自由职业者联盟主席兼《自由职业者圣经》(The Freelancer’s Bible)作者Sara Horowitz说道。事实上,自由职业者联盟进行的一项研究显示,有88%的人说他们不会回到全职工作。Horowitz说,大多数的人很高兴不再需要面对“残酷的时间表、工作组织的方式、以及办公室政治。”尽管如此,自由职业不无它的挑战。人们的想象和现实,往往很不一样。在跨出这一步之前,要先问自己这几个问题。

你有一个市场需要的技能吗?
“第一个步骤,就是确保你有顾客需要的技能。”King说。这些通常是具体的、具功能性的能力,像工程管理、网络发展、财务分析——或者来自多年经验的咨询技能。“如果你只有22岁,又不是网络开发人员的话,你大概没有市场需要的技能。”他警告。媒体和科技领域传统上是自由职业者最大的雇主,但是好消息是,“几乎每个行业都在扩大临时工的雇用。”他说。如果你不肯定你是否拥有潜在的客户会付钱使用的技能,你可考虑进行市场测试,趁你还有酬就业的时候去赚些外快。(下面将进一步讲解。)

你有一个强大的人际网络吗?
“和别人有联系的自由职业者,经济状况往往最好。”Horowitz说道。这是因为这些联系,可变成业务的重大来源。但是,如果你还没有一个广大的专业网络的话,不要绝望。你可以在你还没离开工作之前参加相关的研讨会、通过领英(LinkedIn)或推特试着和人们沟通、或者加入你的地区的自由职业者或小型企业主的小组。你也可以联络工作之外的人:“想想你的朋友、邻居、其他你认识的人。”King说。当你单独在外建立业务的时候,要通知他们,并鼓励他们把消息传出去。你也要记得,你的人际网络不只是为了招揽生意。“最成功的自由职业者,知道如何使用他们的人际网络来做各种这样的事物,比方说,在工作太多的时候将工作外包。”Horowitz 解释。你的人际网络的关键元件,就是一位已经在做自由职业、能够指引你到各种资源的朋友或前同事。就像任何的事业职业转型一样,从那些比你更有经验、更有专门知识的人咨询,非常重要。

你拥有正确的性格吗?
你如果在周围有人的时候就会充满活力的话,那你就要仔细想想,你独自工作的时候会不会快乐。“我们的研究以及别人的研究一贯的发现就是,孤单是一个很大的挑战。”King说。“自由职业者努力和社交和工作场合里的人进行互动,非常重要。”如果你的性格内向的话,你就要特别努力做出对你的性格外向的同行来说很自然的事物——建立人际网络。King 提议,要找出专门为自由职业者和小型企业主而设的聚会活动、在你的社区内进行志愿工作、加入一个行业组织、或者在公用工作空间里租一张桌子或一间办公室。Horowitz 指出,几乎每一个利基市场都会有它的特定群体。“有专业网络的存在,能支持女性Python编码员(NYC PyLadies)、利用Javascript 来建造机器人的开发人员(Nodebots),以及替代劳工群体,如模特儿联盟(The Model Alliance)或者餐厅机会中心联合会(Restaurant Opportunities Centers United)。

你拥有财务缓冲吗?
“如果你三到六个月没收入就无法过活的话,那你想也别想了。”King说道。Horowitz 也同意一个人需要有财务缓冲来度过工作的低潮期。“真正减少你的开支。评估你住的地方。不要因为成本太高而把自己陷入困境。”她建议。“你应该重组你的开支,让你在遇到低潮期的时候也能安然度过。”King说道。这对于那些配偶没有稳定的工作或福利,无法提供经济援助的人来说,尤其重要。做自由职业,可能带有许多不确定因素——你不都会知道你的下一位客户是谁,也不都会知道你会在来临的一年会赚进多少钱。“你必须能够处理模糊性。”King说道。Horowitz说,你必须能够从每个月的薪水中保留40%来支付你的税务、健康与人寿保险、假期和退休储蓄。低估雇主从你的薪水或保险扣除的费用、是“给人带来后果最大的事物。”她说。要考虑你要保留哪些福利,也要考虑你要如何支付这些福利。

你对工作有纪律吗?
有些人在必须向经理汇报的时候,或者日子有结构的时候,表现才会最佳。如果你是这样的人的话,做自由职业可能是个坏主意。“你必须自我激励、拥有很好的组织机能、以及一个强烈的敬业态度。”King 解释。你也必须能够做各种和你的工作没有直接关系的事物。当你独自工作的时候,你就是你自己的老板、信息技术人员、人力资源代表、福利管理员、销售主任、以及行政助理。你也要熟悉跟税务和法律责任有关的法规。你必须能够扮演以上所有的角色,包括那些不会引人注目或者不是你的喜好的角色。没错,你最终或许可以将一些你不想做的任务外包出去,但是至少在起头的时候,这些还会是你的责任。你不只要看待自己为一个承包商;你也要视自己为一个小企业的主任。

你能去尝试吗?
以上的问题,如果你全都答“是”的话,Horowitz 建议在辞职之前先实验做自由职业。她说:“它不需要是黑白分明的”——你在某天是个全职职员,第二天就是自由身。你可以渐进地进入自由职业的生涯。事实上,King说,“大多数的人会私下地探索”,以便尝尝工作的感觉,同时试探他们的业务计划。如果你决定放手一搏的话,你的生意就会已经建立起来,你也会拥有几个客户。但是你也要确保你不会违反你的现任公司的政策或者你的雇佣合同。
你的现任雇主可否当你的第一个客户?
“一个显著部分的独立顾问——20到25%——反映,他们的第一个顾客,就是他们的现任雇主。”King说。因此,要考虑你现在的职位中是否有你能以自由职业人士身份而做的事物,并且在你辞职之前探索那些可能性。King提议:“如果你和你的老板的关系很密切的话,告诉他你正考虑独自去闯一番,然后问:”如果我这么做,有没有任何跟公司继续我们之间的关系?”有些雇主,尤其是大企业,不会让你在你离开职位后立刻当一个独立承包商。这是因为他们对于(美国)国税局的规则的解读所致。“许多公司有六个月到一年的等待期。“King说。但是你可以将你和公司之间的关系先搁置一边,同时寻找更多即时的收入来源。就算你的前雇主不会成为客户,保持和前同事之间的正面联系,非常重要。”他们是你的人际网络很重要的元件。”King说道。你也无法知道,有谁在未来会有可能聘请你。

必须铭记的原则

要:
确保你有一个强大的人际网络,能帮助你寻找工作
在独自去闯之前,先为自己提供财务缓冲,因为你必须能够度过低潮期
要准备好接手一些跟你的工作没有直接关系的任务,如处理信息技术问题、发送单据、推销你的服务

不要:
假设你的技能和经验是客户愿意花钱换取的——要考虑在正式开始自由职业之前,先试探市场
做自由职业,如果你不会自我指导,或者能够接受模糊性
离开工作,直到你已经计划妥当,即使它并非百分之百肯定

个案一:模糊的计划,胜过没有计划
四年前,Allie Rogovin在管理一个新的团队来促进“为美国而教”(Teach for America,简称TFA)里的多样化。她在组织工作了13年,爱着那里的人和宗旨,并且享受着最新的挑战,但是她想缩减她的工作。“我在家里有两个小孩,而一周工作80个小时,非常困难。”她解释。“我在工作的灵活性,达到了我的期望。我可以选择自己的工作时间,我可以和我的女儿去校外考察旅行。但是我的工作量简直难以负担。我感觉自己不能把TFA的工作做好,也感觉到不能把母亲的工作做好。”
她和丈夫讨论过后,决定在2011年7月辞职。她知道她最终是要进行咨询工作,而且已经辨认出一个市场的需求是她能够满足的。“我在TFA里任职的时候,曾花了很多时间和小教育非营利组织沟通。他们需要协助来创办一个人才招聘公司。这个帮助较新、成立日子较浅的组织做我在TFA做的事的概念,让我备受激励。”她解释。
但是她离开TFA的时候,并没有找到任何的客户。“这应该不是我做过最合理的事物,但是我需要休息。”她解释。“我们很幸运,因为我的丈夫拥有一个好工作,而我们在财务上也管理得很好。我们坐了下来,研究了我们所需要的收入,也在生活方式上稍作调整,以便帮助我们度过我休息的时候。”
她花了四个月着重于家庭之后,向她的人际网络宣布,她即将开始她自己的生意。一位朋友回应说:“我有一个客户,你应该很适合他。”到了(2012年)1月的时候,她就有了她的第一个咨询机会。不久之后,她将TFA加入了她的客户名单,并签约教导它的一些高级经理。
从那时以来,Allie说她取得了很大的进展:“当初我刚开始的时候,我怀疑人们是否会把我的技能视为有用。我曾想:‘人们真的会聘请我吗?’现在,我有了一张一页陈述、一个标准的推销方式、以及一个商业电邮。最重要的是,我确切知道自己最喜欢做的工程的种类。”

个案二:你的人际网络比你想象中还要大
当自己的老板的自由,总是吸引着Sunita Malhotra。“我在企业工作的20年中,有十年总是在说着要为自己工作。”她说道。但是有几个阻碍存在着:她喜爱她拥有的工作(欧洲一个国际组织的人力资源主任),她不完全有信心自己有足够的经验来进行咨询工作,而最重要的是,她不想放弃她的医疗保险和退休金。“这些事物,就是阻止我了许多、许多年的原因。”但是,她在2006年圣诞假期的时候决定跨出这一步。她又在说着要独自出去闯,而她的丈夫叫她“尽管去做吧”。他也说自己会利用他的职员福利来支持她。
Sunita 没有立刻辞职去做自由职业,但是她开始了这个过程。“从一月到四月,我专注于组织我的计划。”她说道。“有一个支持你的配偶,有很大的帮助。我们坐了下来,作了财务计划。我们问道,我们要过日子最少需要多少?我们能做出的牺牲有哪些?”
与此同时,她也制定了一个七年的业务计划。“我深思熟虑着我的核心业务会是什么。哪些事物,是我下半辈子能够微笑着做的呢?”她也辨认出了她不想扮演的角色。“比方说,我知道我能够做训练工作,但是已经有许多公司在这么做,而我也不想在太过拥挤的市场里竞争。我要创造自己的利基市场。”
不过,她没有追求客户。“要我还在受雇的时候这么做,我觉得道德上有所顾虑。”她解释。况且,她在做全职工作的同时,又在傍晚和周末计划新的事业,“真的累坏了”。“我甚至不敢肯定找得到时间来做兼职工作。”
她一感觉到自己有了坚实的计划,就向雇主提出辞呈,并且开始跟前同事沟通,试探他们的反应。“我不知道我的第一个客户将会是谁。这就是最可怕的部分。”她说道。但是她的人际网络有反应了。她的第一个客户是她在几年前交易过的供应商。她的第二个客户也是通过她在事业早期的时候和她合作过的一个人而得来的。“这算是有些幸运,但是我拥有的人际网络,比我意识到的更大。”她说道。
当然,她发现了做自由职业的一些缺点。“你在企业工作的时候会被宠坏。我那时有了一位助手,也有信息技术支持。现在,我是首席执行官,但也是信息技术人员、财务经理、办公室经理。”但是,工作了八年之后,Sunita 说,她再也不会回头了。