If you’ve managed to score a full-time freelance job or several assignments that put you at 40+ hours a week, you’re doing a lot of things right! For many of us, that’s the dream: to get a decent paycheck and dependable, regular sources of income, but still have the freedom to travel, make our own schedules, and run our own businesses. (As well as have regular workday naps and wine for lunch!)

However, it isn’t as carefree as it appears to be. There’s a lot going on behind the scenes to maintain this lifestyle. What are the three key things you must do before you make the jump?

1. Keep your clients happy.

Whether you’re working with clients you’ve won yourself or through a staffing agency or recruiter, it’s vitally important to give them a sense of stability. Reassure your clients and colleagues that no matter where you are or what you’re doing, you’ll be able to meet all their deadlines and take calls and meetings at agreed-upon times. If you’re working in another time zone or even another hemisphere, it shouldn’t matter, just so long as you are regular, dependable, and able to complete everything on a schedule that you and your employer or client have already worked out.

The key to making all this happen is communication. If you have the liberty to establish your own hours, let your employers and their clients know, and tell them the best way and time to get in touch with you. It helps to be consistent — a must for those big corporate clients that tend to have regular and regimented schedules.

2. Take care of business.

As a full-time freelancer, you MUST think of yourself as a small-business owner. Even if you’re working enough hours at a staffing agency that they provide you with benefits like health insurance and vacation time, you still need to be proactive with your finances.

The conventional thinking around quitting a job to freelance is that you should have enough money saved to cover your essentials (rent, food, utilities, etc.) for three months. But many sources, including The Muse and New York magazine, recommend anywhere from six to 12 months. This will help give you some cushioning for when you’re waiting on those net-90 (UGHHHH) accounting departments to cut you a check, if you hit a lull with work, or you decide to take a vacation.

Even if you’re only just starting out as a freelancer, find a tax professional who specializes in working with creative staffers. They can give you guidance about the best way to prepare ahead of time for filing taxes and advise you about which expenses are tax deductible. A good tax professional can also recommend investment opportunities to help you reach both your immediate and long-term goals, since you won’t have a 401(k).

3. Market yourself.

As a freelancer, you’re probably already working harder than your FTE counterparts, since you have to invoice, do your own customer service and IT, and probably even order your own office supplies. Unfortunately, you can’t slack when it comes to marketing yourself. In fact, it’s even more important that you spend the extra time to stay top of mind with your clients and prospects, and sell the value of what you do.

Ultimately, how much time you spend marketing yourself depends on your goals. Do you want more clients? Do you want to have the same number of clients, but earn more money for what you’re already doing? Or do you want to climb the ladder, similar to the opportunities you’d be afforded if you were working a full-time job with an employer? You’ll need to compile all your advertising and marketing skills, and then be your own client.

If you’re actively prospecting for new clients, you may need to turn your job search in an integrated marketing campaign. But at the very least, you should have a complete LinkedIn profile, and try to engage with others in your field on the site. Include your website URL, then make sure your website has a way to capture leads. Start to build a list so when you do need to ramp up your efforts, you’ll have likely prospects in place.

Take a deep breath … you got this!

With a little careful planning, you can continue living the dream and being the envy of all your desk-jockey friends.

It really IS hard work. But think of it this way: How much is it worth to you to not only enjoy the freelance lifestyle, but know you’ll be able to take care of yourself for the rest of your life?

Lisa is a Creative Circle candidate and seasoned advertising copywriter who lives in Los Angeles. Her background includes both in-house and agency work on Fortune 500 and global accounts in the consumer and healthcare/pharmaceutical fields. She excels at words, fashion, and cats. If you want to work with Lisa, contact Creative Circle Los Angeles.

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