Being Laid Off: A Gateway to a Freelance Career

By Liz Alton, Contributor, on November 24, 2017

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Being laid off in 2011 turned out to be the best thing that ever happened to my career. The foundation I worked for had a five-year plan, and once it was successfully completed, we decided to end on a high note. Adrift, I was faced with the reality of losing a steady paycheck, fantastic health insurance and an array of other benefits I didn’t really appreciate until they were gone. At the same time, the possibilities and freedom of freelance writing were suddenly within my grasp. Here’s a closer look at why it’s important not to panic if you get laid off, and how to use that time to explore whether a freelance career is right for you.

Getting Laid Off: Panic Points

The natural reaction most people have when they’re laid off – even if they’re looking forward to their freedom on some level – is panic. It’s not just about the financial impact, although that’s significant. Even if you qualify for unemployment, that’s significantly less than what you’d make in a comparable career. There’s a lot tied up in our jobs, such as contributing to a 401k and preparing for retirement. The future suddenly feels less secure.

At the same time, many people experience other emotional challenges when they’re laid off. What’s your purpose? How do your job and productivity feed your sense of identity and emotional well-being? Maybe your job was prestigious, or you traveled and always had a great story from your latest adventure when you saw family or friends. That was definitely my case. Lacking that, I had to ask some hard questions about what I wanted and what role my career played in my life. I went through the cycle of being laid off: panic, questioning and, finally, possibility.

Be Willing to Ask Tough Questions

One of the things I found about a layoff is that it created space for me to ask questions. What did I really want to do? How did I want to spend my time? For me, there was always a drive to work hard — but for whose benefit? If I went into another full-time job, I knew I could realistically land something that was interesting and paid well. I had consulting and full-time offers on the table. But nothing felt right, and the idea of being able to forge my own path was inviting. If you’ve recently been laid off and you’re thinking of freelancing, here are some helpful questions from other freelancers I spoke to who had followed the same journey:

  • How do you feel about being laid off? What are your concerns?
  • What did you love about your last job? What did you hate? How does this speak to what you’re really looking for?
  • What does freelancing look like for you?
  • What would have to be true in order for you to look at freelancing as a long-term opportunity?
  • What are your concerns about freelancing?

Different Paths to Freelancing

It’s also helpful to realize that when you’re laid off, there’s more than one path to follow toward successful freelancing. Early on, I was doing a bit of freelance writing on the side to indulge my personal interests. Immediately after I was laid off, it was a good way to generate income. However, as I’ve talked with other professionals in the field who followed the post-layoff route, I found several different strategies to consider:

  • Try freelancing on a trial basis to see if you like it.
  • View freelancing as a way to make money while searching for a job.
  • Use the layoff as a basis for risk-taking and see whether there’s a long-term fit between freelancing and your desired career path.
  • Go all-out on building a business, and use the situation as a launch pad. This is less about testing out the path and more about being committed to finding a way to make it work.

Deciding to Make the Leap

Ultimately, my decision to freelance was two-fold. On one level, it was about committing to that path and really going all-in — which meant taking the time to invest in branding, forge relationships and cultivate clients in that space. The second factor was that the market provided enough money and clients to clearly show me that I could do this.

For other freelancers, deciding to make the leap after getting laid off comes down to several factors:

  • Does freelancing offer you benefits you like, such as flexible scheduling and the choice of which clients to work with? Or, do you find the lack of routine challenging?
  • Are you making progress and headway with projects, clients and income?
  • Have you found solutions to benefits you’re missing, such as health insurance and retirement planning?
  • Are there things you miss about the workforce, such as seeing colleagues every day? Would a co-working space help you overcome these concerns?

Getting laid off is a major life and income change, but it doesn’t have to throw everything into a tailspin. It’s possible to use this transition time as the basis for a freelance career change and to find out what path is right for you. Be willing to ask tough questions, explore different opportunities and, ultimately, choose a career direction that best meets your long-term plans and needs.

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