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How to work freelance: 7 tips to get started

For many of us, working freelance is the dream. Providing flexible working hours and full control of your earnings, it certainly comes with many perks and rewards. And if you’re stuck in a full-time job you dislike and you crave a more flexible way of living, you might be itching to figure out how to work freelance. It’s certainly an exciting way of working.

But take heedfreelancing can have its downsides. The lack of security can throw even the most ardent worker into turmoil, while the non-existence of holiday and sick pay can be massively unsettling for anyone. And a pension? Pah. That’s something you’ll have to organise and pay into yourself.

But if you’re still convinced that the pros outweigh the cons and you’re keen to give it a go, congratulations! You’re officially on your way to working freelance. Here are some tips for getting started…

Don’t dive in—gently does it 

As touched on above, job security as a freelancer can be a little iffy to say the least—even those at the height of their careers can be dropped without warning. It’s therefore a wise idea to play it safe to begin with. If you’re already working full-time, consider building up your contacts and doing bits on the side before taking the full leap. This will likely involve a lot of work but by doing so, you’ll be building up your portfolio, making an extra bit of cash and getting a general feel for the market you’ll be entering. 

Create a website and an online platform

A bit of an obvious tip, but building a website is critical when navigating how to work freelance. It doesn’t have to be anything super-fancy—a basic homepage with your contact details and links to your work will suffice. Oh, and an About You page can do wonders for making your brand and business more personable. If you can afford it, it’s worth seeking the help of a graphic designer to help you with this. But if you’re on a bit of a budget, Squarespace and Wix are handy free website-building tools. 

Embrace self-promotion

Self-promotion makes many of us squirm, but you’ll need to get used to the idea if you want to work freelance. For people to hire you, they need to a) know about you and b) trust you. So if you do a bit of work that gets positive feedback, shout about it. Thankfully, with us living in a world that’s predominantly online, promoting yourself is becoming a lot easier and less invasive.

Creating social media streams and following potential clients is a great way to get their attention for free. But if you’re working on a more local level, there’s nothing more effective than attending good ol’ networking events armed with your business cards.

Consider specialising in something

If there are many strings to your bow, it can be tempting to go all out and market yourself as a copywriter-come-graphic designer with SEO skills and a penchant for keynote speaking. But actually, this could be more damaging and detrimental to your career. Instead, research your industry to see if there’s a niche you’d like to focus on. By positioning yourself in a certain way, you’ll be more ‘sellable’ to those looking for that exact service. 

Treat every situation as a valuable lesson

When you’re first starting out freelance, everything can seem like a bit of a minefield. From determining pricing to figuring out how long things actually take and how much you can do, there’s a lot to get your head around. But be open to the experience. Treat everything as a lesson. Allow yourself to make mistakes and learn from them. And whilst we definitely don’t advocate working for free, you might choose to charge low for your first project with a client to prove your mettle. And then if they’re happy with the work, you’re in a better position to negotiate a higher fee next time. 

Set yourself clear boundaries and perimeters 

Now, there’s quite a lot that goes into this section. Firstly, it acknowledges the general assumption that when you’re working freelance, you should be happy for any bit of work to come your way and devour every opportunity with gratitude. But this is not a healthy way to work and 9 times out of 10 it will leave you feeling frazzled. So once you’ve figured out how much work you can realistically get through in a given week without fainting, stick to those hours as a guideline. And if a new client approaches you but you’re at maximum capacity, let them know. Sometimes you might lose the work, but often it can have the reverse effect by making you appear more lucrative and in demand. Often the client will be happy to wait a little longer until you have the time.

Secondly, this section is a careful reminder to switch off from time to time. Don’t make yourself available on evenings, weekends and holidays for client enquiries. Because if you do, it’ll only manage their expectations into thinking you’re available 24/7. And that’s really no way to live.

Third and foremost, be upfront with your client about the work you’ll be doing before you actually do it. Be clear about the deliverables and the price tags attached. That way, it avoids any niggles and push-backs and sets clear expectations from the off.

Hire an accountant (or wisen up on tax returns)

Now, for the fun bit (depending on how you look at it). Working freelance can sometimes mean the sky’s the limit when it comes to your income. Essentially you choose how much work you do and how much you’ll charge for doing it, invoicing your clients at the end of every month or project. Sounds pretty simple, right? Well, it is until your client base grows and the deadline for 31st January looms.

We therefore recommend getting clued up on the ins and outs of being self-employed from a tax return point of view. And if you can afford it, hiring an accountant is the fastest and most reliable way to do this. They’ll also be able to recommend whether working as a sole trader or setting yourself up as a director of a limited company is the best thing for your circumstances. More importantly, they’ll keep a record of all your invoices and expenses so you don’t have to. It definitely takes the pressure off a bit—and heaven knows there’s lots of that when you’re a freelancer.

Good luck.

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2020-07-21

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