Surely it’s the ultimate dream?
No need to pussyfoot around office politics, sit in meetings about meetings, or be under the glare of colleagues carefully watching when you clock in and clock out.
To be in control of what you work on. To choose who you work with. The have the authority to say ‘no’ whenever you want.
Where there is no ceiling on what you could earn. Where holiday is limitless. Where you have access to anything and everything you feel you need to do your job.
Going freelance may feel like your future is full of wonder and excitement, but will the reality live up to the expectation? To help you decide, in this guide we’ll cover:
A side gig to earn some extra cash: last year, of the UK’s 2.2 million freelancers, 1.9 million stated it was their main job.
A stop-gap between roles: only 15% of freelancers have been working for less than two years, and over a quarter have been freelance for over ten years.
A last resort: freelancing is a legitimate career choice -- within the UK IT and technology sector, 40% of design and media professionals are self-employed.
A 'proper' job: this year, the UK’s biggest industry by employment is supermarkets with 1.2 million staff. There are nearly double this number of freelancers.
Hugely important to the UK economy: last year, freelancers contributed about £162 billion to the UK economy -- that’s equal to 8.5% of GDP.
Full of expert gigsters: according to IPSE, nearly half of freelancers are approaching retirement and work in highly skilled managerial, professional and technical roles.
It’s never boring: choose who you work with and what you work on. Nearly 9 in 10 (88%) freelancers cite control over their work as the main reason they chose to become freelance.
It’s the most secure job in the world: unless you’re particularly harsh on yourself, it’s highly unlikely that you’ll be fired or made redundant.
Work when you want: able to choose the hours you work, freelancing is a popular option for parents. Right now, 1 in 7 freelancers is a working mum.
Work where you want: break free from the confines of the same old office desk because it’s up to you where you work -- from home, on client site, in a co-working space…
Work for as long as you want: you set the workload, which means you can work as much, or as little, as you want. Of course, this directly correlates to our next point…
The sky’s the limit with your income: the more you work, the more you earn. Only 12% of freelancers believe they earn less than an equivalent full-time employee.
Be your own boss: forget office politics, invest as much as you want in your professional development, and enjoy the power to being able to get on with whatever you want.
Of course, if freelancing was that great everyone would be doing it, right?
The freelance feast vs. famine: your income is erratic and you need to accept the peaks and troughs and plan for them so you can weather any storm.
No benefits: forget about paid holidays and sick leave, private insurance, perks and a pension. As a freelancer, if you want it, you have to pay for it.
BUT…it’s worth checking out Collective Benefits, a startup that offers freelancers the same benefits as employees.
It's all on your shoulders: as Chief of Everything you have to do it all -- including sales, which over two-thirds (68%) of freelancers cite as their biggest challenge.
The right work-life balance: you may choose the hours, but I challenge you to be freelance and not constantly think about your business, or sacrifice the occasional evening/weekend.
Legal responsibilities: around tax, National Insurance and filing financial accounts. As well as GDPR and any regulations specific to your industry.
And freelance data protection guru, Emily Overton, has created a very handy guide to put GDPR in really simple terms.
Imposter syndrome: feelings of not being good enough, which lead to anxiety and depression, are something freelancers are more susceptible to.
Late invoices: it’s a problem so common within the sector that the FSB has been tirelessly campaigning against late payments.
Don’t forget: as a freelancer you have a legal right to claim a £40 late fee to unpaid invoices under the Late Payment of Commercial Debts (Interest) Act 1998.
For some people this can be a really difficult decision because their career has exposed them to a variety of roles so they’ve acquired multiple skillsets.
Our advice: start by writing a list of everything you can do. Then cross off everything you don’t enjoy doing.
If in doubt, start broad and continually evaluate and refine your offering until you know it’s right for you and your ideal client.
To set up as a sole trader, you simply need to tell HMRC that you will pay tax through self-assessment and then file a tax return every year.
If you decide to trade as a business, you will need to register with Companies House and pay an administration fee. In addition, you have to register with HMRC for pay-as-you-earn (PAYE) so you can pay yourself. And you must still complete your annual self-assessment. There is more administration, but it offers more protection over your personal assets, there are more tax-efficient ways to pay yourself through the company, and more opportunities since some organisations will only work with registered companies.
Regardless of which route you go down, it’s also worth considering whether to get a registered office address. This can be particularly useful if you’ll be working from home and wish to retain your privacy and anonymity. There are many providers who offer this service for a small fee -- if you decide to work with an accountant it’s usually something they offer as part of their package.
If you earn in excess of £85,000 per year you must register for VAT. However, the threshold only includes money earned in the UK, so if your sales are from the US/EU it won’t count.
If you earn less than £85,000 you can still register voluntarily. If you’re a business where you may need to purchase a lot of equipment it might make sense so you can reclaim the VAT. But if you’re offering a service, it’s usually simpler not to, and save yourself the admin headache.
If you trade as a limited company, you legally need to have a business bank account. Since the rise of the challenger banks in the UK there are some great new options specifically designed for freelancers. Starling Bank and Coconut are both online banks that offer free business accounts. While Mettle, which is part of NatWest, includes a free subscription to FreeAgent accounting software.
If you’re a sole trader, completing your self-assessment tax return is pretty straight-forward. But when you operate a limited company there’s a lot of additional admin and you have to question where your time is best spent.
One option is Gold Stag Accounts, which specialises in helping freelancers, startups and small businesses. Being freelance himself, Martin Brooks completely understands your situation, will take care of the process of setting you up as a limited company, help you keep on top of your monthly financials and offer general business advice.
As a freelancer you should have a look at:
What you decide to take out (if anything) will firstly depend on your risk appetite -- for example, how likely do you think it is that someone might sue you for copyright infringement? And if so, could you afford to pay court fees and potential fines out of your own purse? Some freelancers choose professional indemnity insurance simply for peace of mind.
If you decide to get an office, or if your business activity will put you in contact with people, public liability will protect you in the event someone gets injured and tries to make a claim against you.
If you have a lot of expensive equipment, contents/equipment insurance is a good idea to ensure your business is back up and running quickly. But if you’re a copywriter for example, and only use a laptop, it’s probably more cost-effective to have an emergency fund stashed to one side.
And finally, income protection will safeguard your finances in the event that you cannot work -- this could be because you fail to find work, you’re injured, too sick to work, or need to care for someone who is.
There are a few specialist freelancer insurance providers. Most allow you to take payment holidays if work is slow, and you can increase/decrease your coverage depending on current workload. Take a look at:
Top tip! If you sign up for memberships to any of the industry bodies it’s worth checking whether they offer special discount rates you can take advantage of.
As a freelancer it’s your responsibility to organise your own pension. And while you don’t have an employer making contributions, HMRC adds £25 for every £100 you put in. Start by taking a look at:
Both providers tailor their services to the freelance market, pride themselves on jargon-free pensions advice, offer a simple sign-up process, and (should you wish) the option to consolidate/transfer other pension pots so all your money is in one place.
A good rule of thumb is that if it’s something you only need for business you can expense it (for example, website hosting). But if you also use something for personal use, you can only expense the business proportion of it (for example, a mobile phone).
If in doubt, check the Government website.
And make sure you don’t forget to claim your working from home allowance. Doing freelance work from home, you can expense the proportion of the utility bills that are attributable to your business. If you need help working it out, take a look at this handy infographic.
They might seem scary, but contracts and non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) are a simple way of keeping your business safe and setting expectations for the working relationship with your client. And they don’t need to be full of legal jargon.
Freelance community Worknotes has compiled some great information on contracts, including templates for ones written in simple English. Alternatively, take a look at Freelance Heroes, which welcomes members to share templates and documentation in the community.
Again, this is easiest explained by sharing what you DON’T need:
Of course, all these things help make the process easier, but none of them should stop you from taking that first step.
Your clients want you, so just be yourself, show your personality and be honest about your strengths and weaknesses.
Articulate who you are, what you do, the companies you can help and the value you add. Get to the point and make it easy for them to understand why you would be the right freelancer for them.
You don't need to be everywhere. Pick the channel(s) where your audience is. And the ones you enjoy being on so promotion doesn’t feel like a chore.
Just like any good marketer, try everything and figure out what works best for your business. Learn from every test, tweak and improve to create a constant drip feed of leads.
Work today is good. But work tomorrow is better. The freelancers who no longer need to look for work get to that point because they’ve established a good reputation.
The advice from 200+ freelancers on the Being Freelance podcast is to tell your existing network, because you already know people either in need of your service(s), or happy to make introductions.
Get involved to make friends, find advice and support, learn and improve your craft, share leads and make introductions.
Make a wish list of ‘dream clients’ and say hello! Unless you’re very lucky, you won’t win them as a client on day one, but you can get on their radar and start engaging them to build the relationship.
Grow your network, get noticed and find clients. If you’re nervous, try LinkedIn for Humans, a course full of simple tactics to raise your profile by being yourself and getting involved in the conversation.
Beware of charging a freelance marketing hourly rate because your fee isn’t just covering your time. To be a sustainable career option, think of your fee as a ‘freelance marketing salary’ and factor in:
Worknotes has created an excellent guide that takes you through the process of building a sustainable pricing model.
Rather than doubt your prices, check you’re aligned with the market rate.
If you’re a copywriter, the ProCopywriters annual report includes salaries and freelance rates.
If web design and development is your thing, check out this online calculator…
Or grab a coffee and flick through these general market reports:
Alternatively, you can always ask other freelancers in the community who do the same thing as you.
Think before you discount. If you want freelancing to be a sustainable career option, you can’t be giving away quality work for a fiver. Charge what you’re worth. Rather than reduce your fee, look to add more in to the deal (think revisions, keyword research, competitor analysis, briefing time…) so the client feels like they get more for their money.
Keep it simple, make it really clear what the agreement does/doesn’t cover, set expectations and protect your business.
Regardless of whether this is a written brief, a phone/video call or a face-to-face meeting, get all the information you need to do a good job. If you’re unsure about anything -- ask the question(s) upfront.
Juggling different clients with different projects at different stages is tough. Trust technology to keep you organised. Trello, Asana, and Monday are great for managing your workload. While Office 365, Google Drive, and Dropbox help you share, collaborate and communicate with clients.
If you’ve done a good job, chances are the client will want to work with you again, as well as provide testimonials, a case study, and referrals.
We want to help you generate more great clients by introducing you to senior marketers at some of the most successful B2B tech firms. We promise, it won’t cost you a penny, just the time to chat with our Customer Success team so we can find out more about who you want to work with, and help you set up a great online profile.
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