Sick of the daily grind? If the nine-to-five lifestyle has got you down in the dumps, you may dream of being your own boss. You’re not alone.
More than four million people in the UK currently work for themselves and the self-employed market has skyrocketed in recent years. So, how can you get a slice of the action?
Whether you’re a copywriter, graphic designer, you’re wondering how to go freelance and have no idea where to start, read on for our guide.
We’ll go through the process step by step so you have everything you need to get started as a freelancer.
Make sure you’re prepared
Becoming a full-time freelancer is full of advantages. You might picture yourself working from some remote beach, with your laptop in front of you and a cocktail in your hand. However, you don’t want to be blinded by the light here. Working for yourself can be real tough.
Before you dip your toes into the freelance ocean, make sure you have what it takes. To succeed in the realms of being self-employed, you will need to have the following:
● An in-demand skill set (writing, design, photography, IT, etc.)
● Dedication and self-motivation
● The ability to network and find new clients.
● Excellent organisation and time management
● Basic admin skills (for invoicing and paying taxes)
If you’re the type of person who struggles to get out of bed when the alarm buzzes each morning, you might want to think twice about becoming a freelancer. Sure, this move means you won’t have a boss breathing down your neck (hurrah!) but that lack of authority may not be a good thing. Take some time to consider whether you’re ready for this leap.
Give yourself a safety net
Next up, you need to think about money. If you’ve been working a regular 9 to 5 for a while, you probably used to having the same income every month. All that predictability can go out the window when you become self-employed. When you’re freelancing, your income can fluctuate from one month to the next.
What’s more, when you first start working for yourself, it may take a while for you to build up a solid base of clients. You’re gonna need a safety net. It can be a good idea to save at least three months worth of expenses before you take the plunge. That includes your rent or mortgage, bills, and any other living costs.
Having that buffer will mean that you can survive if things are slow in the beginning.
Register with HMRC
“Nothing is certain except death and taxes,” — Benjamin Franklin
Now for the red tape. Alas, we all need to pay taxes. When you work for an employer, your tax deductions automatically come off your salary. But when you work for yourself, you’re going to need to start calculating and paying your own taxes each year.
The first step here is to register with HMRC as a sole trader or a limited company. Most of the time, becoming a sole trader is the most straightforward option. There are easy steps you can follow on the government website which explain how to pay your taxes and National Insurance contributions. You will need to pay these at the end of the tax year.
Pro tip: Open a savings account or create a new pot in your Monzo and use this as a place to save a percentage of your income each month. When the time comes to file your tax return, you’ll have the money set aside to pay your tax bill. If you’re a basic rate tax payer, set 20% of your income aside. If you’re a higher rate tax payer, save 40%. If you’re an additional rate tax payer, save 45%. This should give you more than enough to pay your tax bill.
Work out your standard rates
Now that you’ve dealt with the admin, let’s talk about how much you’re going to charge.
One of the biggest mistakes that new freelancers make is underselling themselves. What do you want to be known for? Do you want to be thought of as cheap or do you want people to see you as a trusted expert in your industry?
Charging too little runs the risk of attracting clients who don’t value the work that you do. These same clients can sometimes be the most demanding and least respectful.
You can end up resenting your clients and failing to deliver your best work.
By charging a decent price in the beginning, however, you can avoid future stress and give your clients results they’ll want to sing about.
There are some excellent resources to help you figure out how much to charge.
For example, if you’re a freelance journalist, Journalism Resources lists the average prices for various projects. These can range from £160 a day for online news shifts to £1000+ for a page lead in a tabloid newspaper.
If you’re a freelance copywriter, ProCopywriters has a great guide on how much to charge. According to a 2020 survey of 640 copywriters, the average day rate stands at £379. Rates typically reflect a copywriter’s experience, as well as their level of demand, capabilities and the nature of their work.
I’d strongly recommend checking out The Futur, no matter what industry you’re in. It’s primarily created for designers but I’ve gotten so much value from it as a writer. Since subscribing to The Futur’s YouTube channel, I’ve learned a lot about pricing, positioning and managing client relationships.
Start finding clients first
Before you waltz into your boss’ office and announce your imminent departure, try to get a client or two under your wing. Doing a little outreach work early on will mean that you have a network to use.
Look, I’m no fan of hustle culture, but keeping your 9 to 5 for a little longer and spending a few months freelancing during evenings and weekends can save you from financial stress later on.
Finding clients is one of the biggest challenges you will come up against. Nobody knows your name, so you need to get it out there. Make sure your portfolio or CV is ready to go first. Invest in ProCopywriters membership if you can afford to – I’ve had a few enquiries from there. Create a LinkedIn profile and start sending connection requests to the types of people you’d like to hire you.
You could try UpWork and PeoplePerHour. These websites have a bit of a reputation for encouraging freelancers to charge low rates, but there are examples of people who manage to make a good living from these websites.
Don’t forget to make the most of your immediate network. Ask your friends or family if they know of any opportunities. You could speak to ex-employers or any other business connections you have. Be sure to cast your net far and wide.
It doesn’t end there. Facebook is a treasure trove of groups that you can join. Use the search function to find freelancing groups within your sector. Joining these groups will not only open you up to countless opportunities but can also give you a sense of community.
Reduce your working hours
As you start to gain work, you’ll have a decision to make. It may be time to drop your working hours at your day job. Of course, this may not be possible in all careers, but it’s worth a shot. Speak to your manager about cutting back to two or three days a week. That way, you will have more time to focus on your freelance work and can find a balance.
Take the full-time plunge
Got more freelance projects than you can handle? It might be time to take the plunge and go full-time. Take a deep breath. Quitting your day job might be scary but—by this point—you should have proved that you have what it takes to make it.
Armed with a few solid clients and a safety net of cash, there are few things that will hold you back from reaching your goals. Draft up that resignation letter and pat yourself on the back. You’ve made it. You can start living your self-employed dream. Go get it!