I have worked as a freelance consultant for some years and would suggest.....
1. Timing is never right – launch in a storm and survive, or launch on a clear day and be wiped out by the first storm – bottom line is that your business model needs to be storm proof.
2. Age, industry, marital status, height, star sign, etc – all irrelevant. Can you live with and manage the risks and challenges of being self-employed. That’s what counts.
3. Business cases are written by consultants not entrepreneurs – unless you need one to raise finance, which I presume you don’t.
4. Freelance consultants that are not firstly entrepreneurs are likely to fail. If you would like to be your own boss and your product just “happens” to be yourself, then you are starting with the right mindset.
5. Generally most consultants make bad entrepreneurs. Consultancy is all about analysing and advising. Entrepreneurs analyse in half the time (and a quarter of the powerpoint) and then do it or don’t do it. Consultants like big salaries and status (particularly amongst peers) and stimulating work. Entrepreneurs like cash and making businesses that generate cash – even if the work is often intrinsically not that interesting. Only you can say which of these is truly you.
6. Getting the first project is the EASY part, not the hard part – because most people stay in full time employment until it comes along. Most people also “fluke” it from an old client intro, etc
7. Getting the second project is also easy – it’s usually an extension of the first. Third might also be, but eventually you’re going to have to SELL to people you’ve never met before. The perfectly valid alternative to this is to be a contractor not a freelancer and rely on agencies to sell for you, in return of course for 10%-20% of the income. I used to sell management consultancy for a living (up to £5M a year in SI work and up to £2M in pure consulting) and yet I still happily take a portion of my business through agencies. If I was still a big firm employee I’d call it a multi-channel sales strategy with built in mitigation of risk through sales channels diversification. As I now work for myself, I don’t have any fancy names for that sort of thing any more.
8. The fact that you may soon be out of work (and the stress associated with it) will NEVER go away. You can either handle it or you can’t. I know people who have spent five years going from project to project and then dive straight back to employment when the first six month famine comes along.
9. Lots of freelancers do well for a few years and then their income suddenly falls off a cliff. This is because they harvest their first client(s) well, but are too busy billing time on them to spend any time developing new clients. However, this is no different from any other business – most SME’s are hugely exposed to a single customer.
10. It’s GREAT. I work partly from home, I have a 100% client satisfaction rate, I make more money than ever, I take about 10 weeks holiday a year, I have no office politics, I see my kids every morning and every night and every weekend, and I’m still married to my first wife.
However, (I’m sure I’ll be lambasted for being egotistical, but frankly who cares), If I still worked at a “big firm” I’d expect to be partner by now (and then I certainly would earn more than I do today), so my current situation needs to be compared to all the cash, status, satisfaction, work flexibility and other benefits associated with that level of corporate achievement. In many ways I’ve copped out, but for me personally it was very much the right decision.