1. Don't expect to be paid promptly
I check my bank account all the time. In fact, one of my main down time activities is checking to see who owes me money. It's almost always an extensive list. Most clients are very detail oriented when it comes to telling me what they want you to do, but when it comes time to pay me then dropping the ball is par for the course. "Sorry, that's not my department" is something I hear on a regular basis, along with "I'll look into it" and, of course, being ghosted until they want me to work again.
So, it's important to have a financial cushion, especially during the first year or two. In an earlier post I suggested two months of your old salary but now I think three months is a better idea. I had a really slow winter this year so now I'm suggesting three months of cash in your bank account ready to see you through a really slow period.
2. Know where opportunities are posted
If you have talked to me face-to-face about freelancing, I've probably told you that I get more work from Facebook (and even Twitter) than LinkedIn. In fact, I've gotten almost no work from LinkedIn. There are several good job posting groups that have helped me find work on Facebook and several other websites where I see the kinds of jobs I am interested in. You do have to wade through a lot of bad gigs to find them though. Be prepared to roll your eyes at some real doozies.
That being said, I'd rather look for gigs than advertise my services. When people go web searches to find someone who does a certain job (like editing), they are invariably looking for the lowest price. They still want the highest quality of course but mainly they are looking for the person offering the lowest price. No thanks. I'll stick to answering job posts.
3. Build a network of people who will recommend you
Yes, this means being friendly with the competition. You need to know people who do jobs similar to yours who will call you when their client needs an extra person or they have a conflict and can't do two jobs at the same time. Sometimes one person's trash is another person's treasure and your competitor (frienemy?) will be offered a job that isn't right for their skill set or just isn't interesting for them and it's awesome when they think of you. Don't forget to do the same for them. Networking benefits need to flow both ways.
4. Look for patterns of busy periods and plan your down time accordingly
It can be tricky for a freelancer to plan a holiday and it is a real punch in the gut to be on vacation and get an email offering you a really interesting or lucrative gig while you're away. Sure, a lot of work can be done online these days and that actually puts you in another bind (do you work during your vacation or not?) but it's the job where you actually need to be there and there is no wiggle room in the schedule that burns. So if you start to notice that Februarys and Octobers are usually slow, start planning your trips during those times and lower your chances of getting burned.
5. Be prepared to take on some unappealing gigs to help you land better gigs down the line
Some jobs REALLY feel like work. You look at how much you are being paid and realize that you'd rather be not working than doing this job. Hopefully you won't need to be doing a lot of work that makes you feel this way (I mean, why did you go into freelancing if you don't like that field?) but if you are a freelancer who takes on a wide range of gigs then you might have to walk through some alligator-filled swamps to reach the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.
If you do have to take some bad gigs to make ends meet during the slower times, try to accept the ones that will give you experience in a weaker section of your CV. Even if that gig is no fun at that time, you might be able to refer to your experience doing it when a much better gig comes along later that you wouldn't have been qualified for without it.
In summary, freelancing can be very rewarding and while I am most happy with the decision to do this full time, it isn't for everyone. You need to have your finances in order, your network in place, and a solid client list if you want to be able to sleep for the first six months. Best of luck and feel free to leave a comment if you have any tips to add.