Are you itching to free yourself from the hassle of full-time employment in an office? Read on for our guide for new freelancers looking to get started.
Freelancers tend to have a well-developed set of skills in a particular area such as web design, photography or consultancy.
But this doesn’t necessarily translate into expertise on the business side of things: You’ve probably spent more time developing your talent than learning how to manage a client’s expectations or close a deal.
This article builds off the expectation that you’re already great at your craft, but need some more information about how to handle the other aspects of freelancing life.
Before you start
⏰ Establish an hourly rate
Early in your freelancing career, it can be hard to establish exactly what your labour is worth – but figuring out an hourly rate will help when it comes to negotiations and ensure that you seem serious when talking with clients.
If you’re already working in your chosen field as an employee rather than a freelancer, then it can be helpful to calculate your hourly rate there.
If you’ve worked at an agency, then you should also make sure you know how much they were charging clients for an hour of your labour.
Researching what other freelancers charge online can help you understand what the going rate is for your skills, and how much clients tend to budget. Consider outgoings, too: How much do you need to make to pay your rent, bills, etc?
It’s important to be realistic, but don’t undervalue your time! If a client asks you to quote for a full project rather than an hourly rate, you can simply calculate how long it will take and pitch accordingly.
💼 Spend time on your resumé/portfolio
This is how clients decide whether you’re a good fit, so it’s important to create a representative portfolio or CV that shows your previous experience.
If you’re in a creative field then this should include showing off actual work; if not, you can provide case studies and potentially references.
A small site that introduces you and your work isn’t a bad place to start – even if it’s just set up on WordPress.
Dealing with clients
⚽ Take jobs that fit your career goals
It’s easy to take every job that comes your way in the early days of a freelancing career. It’s flattering when people want you to work for them, and reassuring to know that your bills and expenses will be covered.
While most people end up taking a few jobs that don’t fit all their criteria, it’s good to be discriminating where you can.
Think about your career goals for further down the line: do you want to specialise in a certain sub-sector of your industry? Do you want to be known for exceptionally high quality in one particularly area?
Specialising like this can help you get valuable experience in the area that will eventually become your niche. In turn, that’s a good way to start raising your prices and gathering more clients.
If you’re struggling to find suitable roles, most recruiters unfortunately don’t tend to work with freelancers – however some do – especially in the creative industries.
For example at Orchard we specialise in freelance roles for the creative and marketing industries, mostly in the North West and Yorkshire/North East. You can view a list of our latest jobs here.
📃 Always use a contract
A contract sets down the work that’s been agreed and how much your client has agreed to pay for it. What’s not to like?
As a freelancer, you should think of your contract as a vital piece of armour: the chest plate that protects you from being underpaid or taken advantage of.
It can also help you set those essential client expectations. If you’re clear about the scope of a job and what you’re going to be supplying before you start, and you set it all down in writing, then it can help to avoid nasty surprises later down the line.
You can find plenty of articles about how to create a contract online.
Managing your income
📊 Create a business budget
Thinking of your freelancing career as a business – even if you only do it part time – is a good way to keep your finances in order.
Any specialist equipment or overheads should be factored in when you’re calculating your earnings.
You can then pay a salary into your regular account, whilst also setting aside money for taxes, expenses and maybe even a pension.
Again, there is plenty of information out there that can help you understand what a freelancing budget could look like.
🤓 Tax & freelancing
Last but not least: taxes. Ignoring your tax obligations is a sure-fire way to get yourself in trouble.
Taking a little time now to register properly and make sure that you’re paying what you owe can save a lot of hassle further down the line.
Starting a healthy bookkeeping process early is a great idea – make sure you invoice all your customers and keep a record of everything.
One of the biggest decisions you will need to make regarding tax when freelancing is whether or not to set up a limited company.
Talking to accountant about this is a good idea – they will be able to advise on the best company structure, as well as help you get your company filings, taxes, and bookkeeping processes in place.