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Thinking about going freelance? Here’s our guide on how to get started.

Posted over 8 years ago by Rebecca Thomas
47476668 M

Freelancing has long been a popular career choice for many in the marketing, PR and creative sectors.

The reasons for going freelance are varied; you want more flexibility in your working life, you want to be your own boss, you want to ditch the long commute, the list goes on.

We’re often asked how to make the switch to freelance, so thought it was about time we put together our tips on successfully making the move and important considerations you should be mindful of before you do.

1. Being your own boss

Sounds good doesn’t it? Not having to permanently answer to anyone, managing your workload, choosing which assignments you want to take on, leaving office politics at the door and so on.

The thing is, not everyone is cut out for it. Freelancing can be massively rewarding and many people wouldn’t dream of going back to permanent employment. But be under no illusions, running your own business is hard work and isn’t for everyone, so before you make the leap, make sure you’ve properly thought everything through.

Bear in mind that as a freelancer you immediately become the finance manager, marketing manager, IT department, admin assistant and everything in between. Depending on how you set yourself up, be prepared to spend a good chunk of time on finding opportunities, invoicing, chasing payments, meeting potential clients, marketing yourself etc.  

So before quitting your permanent job, make sure you’ve put together a plan outlining what you need to earn each month to cover your expenses (not forgetting holidays, sickness, travel costs etc.) and give yourself a good wage.

2. Brand YOU

Once you’ve decided it’s for you, you’ll need to choose a name for your freelance business.

It’s also worth considering developing your own profile and looking in to setting up a website to showcase your services – this will help massively when it comes to marketing yourself to potential clients. At this stage it’s important to get your name out there and start making connections with potential clients. Equally, we’re immersed in the sector and frequently have clients coming to us looking for freelance talent, so we’ll be able to help source opportunities through our network.

3. Take care of the legal stuff

Like it or not, becoming a freelancer doesn’t mean you suddenly become exempt from having to pay your taxes. So you need to make sure you’re properly set up and compliant with HMRC requirements.

The starting point for this is how you set yourself up. Visit the HMRC’s website for guidance on how to do this. 

4. Accountant or Umbrella Company?

At the point where you’ve set yourself up, you then need to consider how you’re going to ensure you meet the tax man’s requirements. In which case, it’s good to get yourself an accountant – they’ll be invaluable in ensuring you can maximise your income, whilst staying fully compliant with your obligations. To keep yourself sane and your accountant happy, you’ll also need to make sure you’ve set up a good admin system for keeping on top of your invoices, receipts, purchase orders and so on.

Alternatively, you can look in to using an umbrella company… they won’t keep you dry on a rainy day in Manchester, but if the thought of setting yourself up, getting an accountant, managing your taxes etc. sends a cold shiver down your spine, then it’s worth considering using an umbrella company who will do all this for you. For a fee of course, but when everything boils down, they’re surprisingly cost effective and often an excellent alternative. You’ll get a dedicated account manager to provide any advice you need along the way and they’ll ensure you’re operating as tax efficiently as possible.

As always, there are good and bad examples of companies in this space. Luckily for you if you’re freelancing through us, we have a partnership with an excellent company who will be able to manage the whole process for you.

5. Save your pennies

Yes, freelancing can be lucrative, but it won’t happen overnight and no matter how brilliant you are, it’ll take a bit of time to build up a client base and start getting regular bookings and regular income.  

So before you hand your boss your resignation letter, make sure you’ve got a good base of savings in the bank… common wisdom recommends 6-months of living expenses. You’re making a long term investment and this will help ensure you have the time and confidence to develop your freelance business.

6. Set your rates

Back when you were considering going freelance (see point 1), you took time to put together a plan outlining what you need to earn each month to cover your expenses. Once you’ve done this and paid the tax man, there’s often not much difference between your previous permanent wage and your freelance wage.

Seek advice on what the market is paying for your level of experience (we can help with this) and set your rates accordingly.

Often clients will be prepared to pay more for a short term contract, and look to negotiate for a longer term booking, so a degree of flexibility based on contract duration is advised.

7. Research your audience

It’s vital to do your homework on who your potential clients are going to be and start getting to know them via networking, social media and the like before you start. This could be via a mix of recruiters and direct clients. Try to understand what their challenges are and how you can solve them; where are your specific specialisms that will add the most value and command the best rates? Is it a specific industry sector or type of design? The aim is to define your market place and then market yourself to them (we can help with this!).

8. Location, location, location

Once you’ve set your stall out, you need to consider if there’s enough opportunity in your local area. If you live in London, the answer is probably yes. If not, how flexible are you prepared to be in spreading your net further afield to secure more contracts? The more flexible, the more opportunity.

9. Be prepared for downtime

Freelance work can be sporadic, especially in the early days. There will be peaks and troughs so before you dash out to buy your first Porsche when the money is rolling in, just bear in mind that there may be some leaner periods and plan your finances accordingly.

With that in mind, like in any business marketing yourself consistently (even when the sun is shining and you’re making hay) is key to long term success – the more you get ‘brand you’ in to potential clients’ minds, the more likely you are to have a bulging order book.

10. Clients won’t always pay on time

As with any client-supplier relationship, you need to be prepared for the fact that clients won’t always pay on time, which is why it’s always important to retain a good buffer in your account to allow for this eventuality. Most standard payment terms are 28 days, however, this can often slip to 60 and even 90 days in the worst scenarios.

You’re well within your rights to (politely) chase clients for payment. It’s never the nicest part of the job, but it’s important to be firm and diligent chasing payment, although this should always be done professionally in order to maintain good relations.

One of the benefits of working through a recruiter is that they will ensure regular payments and this payment hassle is therefore substantially reduced.

11. Choose your projects & build your portfolio

When you start to build a regular stream of work from clients and people begin to know you’re someone they can trust to deliver exceptional work, you should find yourself may well find yourself in a situation where you can pick which projects you want to take on.

Turning work away from clients can be very uncomfortable, but think about why you went in to freelance; most likely to do work that you love doing and that you’re interested in. The more you do that interests you, the more you will be able to build your portfolio with this type of work and the more those opportunities should start to come along.

12. Love thy client

The best freelancers are those who have strong interpersonal skills, adapt quickly to new environments and who clients can trust to deliver with minimal input/supervision. Good communication with them is key, as is pushing back when briefs aren’t defined clearly enough, and challenging ideas when you think there’s a better solution. Diplomacy is key, but they’re paying for your expertise so will appreciate constructive input.

Ultimately clients want an easy life; they want to know that when they have a specific requirement they can call on you to help them out. Build strong relationships with them and they’ll come to you again and again.

13. Enjoy yourself

This guide is not designed to put you off the idea of freelancing, in fact, quite the opposite; it can be hugely rewarding and provide the work/life balance you’ve always yearned for. There will inevitably be tough times, but these should always be outweighed by the good. Make sure you enjoy them!