Before you join your own circus

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This article is the second installment of a three-part series about leaving an office job for a freelance career. The first article, “Are you ready for a personal Independence Day?” appeared in the June issue of OU. In part three, the author will talk about how to thrive in the freelance life and avoid returning to Corporate America.
Are you ready to run away from your mundane 8-to-5 corporate job and become the ringmaster in your very own sensational circus after reading last month’s introduction to this three-part series? Before you trade in your corporate badge for the life you have always wanted as a freelancer, here are critical actions to take to ensure you start as the CEO of “You, Incorporated” on the right foot:
Showcase your talents. Start building a professional-quality portfolio of work that accurately shows off what you can deliver. Post relevant examples of your photography, writing, tear sheets, video clips and audio clips that demonstrate a recognizable style and focus that potential clients will notice and purchase.
Expose yourself. For crap’s sake, put your clothes back on! Although streaking would attract attention, albeit the wrong kind, awareness is the first step to making sales. If customers are not aware of your products and services, they will not buy either. To build your network, provide educational presentations throughout your local community, join professional organizations, and be active in social media outlets. A non-paid opportunity can often generate significant income over time. Never underestimate the value of exposure. (Pun intended for those who use histograms.)
Get busy on your breaks. Though it may feel like you are working two full time jobs, you can’t afford to wait to start your new business until you leave the windowless office. Take care of the little nagging tasks like registering for state and city tax licenses, opening bank accounts and ordering business cards now so you gain legitimacy as a business owner as you walk out the corporate door.
Don’t act like the government. When it comes to making money as an independent, it’s not rocket science. Income must be greater than expenditures. Track sales and expenses to not only give Uncle Sam his cut later in taxes, but to also make sure you can cover your incoming bills. And no, you still don’t need that expensive new lens.
Learn to increase your revenue streams. Take a marketing class. Not next year. Not next week. Right now. Though the thought of using your left brain during lectures may make you break out in hives, at least go rub shoulders with ambitious marketing majors who might be interested in doing the sales work for your business.
Transform the scribbles on your beer-stained napkin into a Fortune 500-quality roadmap. Without a clueless manager barking orders at you, it’s time to get “S. M. A. R. T.” with running your circus. When you formalize what you want to accomplish in 3 months, 1 year, and 3 years, test your goals to make certain they are: specific, measureable, achievable, realistic and tangible. The statement, “I will make $1,000 from photography print sales by Sept. 30, 2012,” is S. M. A. R. T. while “I will be rich tomorrow” is not. Once you have set a course, write out the specific steps and resources you need to get there.
Burn the ships after landing. In 1546, upon reaching the shores of Mexico, Hernán Cortés did not make failure an option. When you land your new freelancing career, neither should you. Replace the voices hemming and hawing about what will happen if you fail with more productive thoughts about what you can do to succeed. Heed the advice of automotive pioneer Henry Ford who aptly suggested, “Whether you think you can or can’t, you are right.”
Schedule the fireworks company to perform at your Independence Day. Whether your sought-after day of freedom is two weeks away or a year off, circle the date on the calendar. Plan your escape to take advantage of your current company’s benefits and remember to use all your allocated vacation time before your leave. Having a light at the end of the tunnel can breathe new life into you until you say “bon voyage” to your stuffy gray cubicles walls.
Once you have completed these action items, you’re ready to enter your very own big top. In the next issue of OU, we’ll explore the best ways to not only stay on the tightrope, but to also give the performance of your life. ♦
— Residing in Chandler, Ariz., Colleen Miniuk-Sperry is an award winning and internationally published outdoor photographer and writer. As a full-time freelancer, she happily juggles delivering photo-text packages for various editorial outlets, working on three books, teaching photography workshops, and chairing the OWAA Education Committee. Contact her at

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