Posted on: 20 September 2019

Intro

While the rest of the UK economy appears to be struggling, the freelancing industry is flourishing by comparison. Worth a staggering £21 billion to the UK economy* and growing 14% over the past decade alone, those who choose to go it alone are not only rewarded with job opportunities, there are handsome hourly rates to be enjoyed, too.

But before you start putting together your portfolio, you need to consider the finer details of becoming a freelancer. From finding your niche to marketing yourself, there is a raft of information you need to know if you are going to thrive in the freelancing market.

To find out more about what it takes to make it in the business, we spoke to four professional freelancers about how they manage self-employed life. Here’s what they told us.

Getting Started

Who is freelancing for?

The world of freelancing is markedly different from traditional sectors. Where other jobs demand a set schedule and office space, freelancers are afforded the chance to decide their own hours, run their own business and manage their own clients.

It is a liberating proposition for those who are specialists in their field and have the confidence to build their own client base. However, there are certain personal qualities freelancers need if they are going to thrive as a self-employed person.

These include, but are not limited to:

Great time management skills: With nobody around to tell you which tasks you need to prioritise, you are responsible for managing your time so that deadlines are met and clients remain happy.

Flexible: As a freelancer, you will soon learn that a job is only done when it’s done - not when it’s five o’clock. There will undoubtedly be long hours, including evenings and weekends, so you need to be flexible with your schedule.

A people person: Freelancers might work for themselves, but they can’t make money without a reliable client base. As such, freelancers must be confident, comfortable talking with new people, and have excellent interpersonal skills.

Calm under pressure: If something goes wrong, you are ultimately responsible for it. Keeping a level head will reassure clients and will help you make sure projects remain on track.

“Freelancing is amazing, but it can be a bit lonely, especially if you work from home. Use your first few weeks and months of self-employment to go out and find your "tribe" and don't be afraid to walk away from a group that isn't a good fit.”

Finding your niche

The freelancing market is booming. With more than 1.4 million freelancers offering their services in the UK, it has never been more vital to own your position in the market and provide a unique selling point to prospective clients.

Of course, this is often easier said than done. To get started with finding your niche and understanding how it fits within the wider freelancing market, take a look at our top tips, below:

Think about what you are good at: Use your experience, whether from a previous career or hobbies you enjoy, to guide you towards your freelancing career. If there are areas which you think could bolster your offering (freelance personal trainers may need certification to teach Crossfit classes, for instance) you will need to factor these into your career plans.

Think about what will make you money: All your enthusiasm won’t mean much if you go back to the 9-5 in a few weeks. Research opportunities on freelancing websites such as Freelancer, Upwork, Fiverr to see which areas of the market offer the most competitive hourly rates. 

Think about what you love to do: Plenty of us are good at jobs that don’t inspire us. Think about what you’d be happy doing day-in, day-out; map out an example ‘day at work’ schedule if you want further clarification.

“One of the best things about working for yourself is the freedom and flexibility. Freelancing, quite simply, gives people the freedom to decide how they work – and our research has shown that four out of five (83%) say the rewards outweigh the risks.”

Marketing your freelance business

As a first-time freelancer, the most important consideration is that you keep client turnover strong. A reliable list of clients and word-of-mouth recommendations will keep the money rolling in so there is a comfortable cash flow for you to fall back on during quiet periods.

To maintain your network, devise a winning marketing strategy. Engage with your immediate social circle - friends, family and ex-coworkers may be able to put you in touch with people who need your services, and some of them might even hire you themselves.

Elsewhere, you will need to make sure those who are looking for freelancers like you hear about your business, and all that it entails. In this case, a website will be key to getting noticed and staying connected.

Set up a website

A website is your chance to show what you can do for prospective employers, so you will want to make yourself stand out with a professional design.

Platforms like Squarespace or Wix are ideal for start-ups who need an easy way to display their skills and portfolios. While they are free to set up, commercial extras such as online stores, mailing lists and personalised email addresses are available for a monthly fee.

Adopt social media

Those who are new to the freelancing industry often find social media is the fastest, easiest way to find prospective clients. Those who are selling artistic services, such as tattooists or florists, should try highly visual social channels, like Instagram or Pinterest, to showcase their services. More traditional domains, such as legal professions, might benefit most from a LinkedIn page; this will tell clients you’re accessible, professional and well-connected. In other words, you’re a reliable pair of hands they can count on.

Join an organisation

Due to the level of competition in the freelancing sector, more and more people are looking for certification of skills before they hand their money over. As such, it is important that freelancers acquire the appropriate credentials before they start head-hunting.

Some freelance career paths, such as accounting, actively require you to be a member of a professional body before you can start working. In these cases, organisations aren’t just handy to add to your CV – they’re essential.

“Joining a professional body demonstrates to clients the level of dedication to your job. There may also be other advantages such as networking and training opportunities. At the Freelance Hairdressers Association, for example, members gain access to a supportive community of mentors, industry specialists and like-minded stylists to network with at national and regional events.”

Money

While you will be following your passion as a freelancer, it is important to remember that you are still running a business, and you need to make money. While it isn’t the most interesting aspect of freelancing, you will need a good understanding of the financial aspects of becoming self-employed before you break away from your day job.

Taxes for freelancers

When you become a freelancer, you will be faced with paying tax on your profits, not your gross income as before. If you are VAT registered, you also get the VAT back on any work-related equipment and supplies you buy for your business. Because you won’t have PAYE to pay your monthly tax, you’ll need to register for self-assessment to tell the HMRC how much you are making and how much you need to deduct – remember to keep those receipts!

For more information on taxes for self-employed, review the HMRC website.

Setting your rates

Knowing how much to charge for your work is a difficult call when you’re starting out. Charge too much and you won’t get work, charge too little and you won’t have enough money to get by on – plus you’ll be doing your fellow freelancers a disservice by depressing prices.

To be sure you’re offering competitive prices, do some research and survey your sector. Browse job boards, see what other people with your skills are offering and compare this with how much you think your services are worth. In the beginning, you may need to negotiate prices, but once you’re established and can afford to turn clients away, you can afford to be firmer with your pricing.

You will also have to consider your pricing strategy: will you charge an hourly or day rate, or will it be per project? Again, see what the wider market is doing but don’t lose sight of context. If you have multiple clients, for instance, a day rate will mean you have to box out blocks of time for one client – and this might offset your other sources of income.

Getting paid for your work

Once you’ve secured clients, the next step is getting paid for your services. Sounds simple, but clients will ignore chaser emails requesting payment, so it’s important you know how to approach them without losing any potential future business with them.

To ensure you are not demanding money last minute or being duped by clients, you will need to keep a record of all your invoices. Small business accounting software, such as Quickbooks, provides an easy-to-use professional invoicing system so that freelancers and clients can keep track of their transactions.

 “If you want to work on 7 days payment terms, get it agreed in an email. Cash flow is the biggest issue with freelancers: keeping the flow of money coming through so you can get some financial structure into each month.”

Top tips for first-time freelancers

Still unsure about what it takes to become a freelancer? Take a look at our four easy-to-follow tips, below.

  1. Go where the money is: If you have an idea for a freelance business, check that there is strong demand for it first. Then, run the numbers to make sure that you can realistically live off a freelancing salary.
  2. Keep your receipts: Understand how you can get the best deal from the taxman. If in doubt, hire an accountant to secure your earnings.
  3. Upskill, upskill, upskill: Make use of training courses as much as you can. It will add more strings to your bow if you ever choose to expand your service offering.
  4. Lastly, look after yourself: To be sure you’re covered for any eventuality on your freelancing venture, you need to make sure you have the right insurance cover for your chosen career.

At Premierline, we can source and arrange freelance insurance policies for the self-employed market. We compare quotes from some of the UK most trusted insurers for a wide range of freelancing careers, including freelance consultants, photographers, and web designers. To discuss your insurance requirement and for advice, speak to the business insurance experts at Premierline today.

Thank you to our contributors:

  • Chloé Jepps, Head of Research at The Association of Independent Professionals and the Self-Employed (IPSE)
  • Katy Carlisle, Freelance Squarespace Web Designer and trainer at The Wheel Exists and Founder of Freelance Folk
  • Shelia Abrahams of the Freelance Hairdressers Association
  • Karl Bilby, Freelance SEO and writer and editor of the Freelancer news

*Stat from 2017

 


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