Going freelance sounds idyllic, right? Working 24/7 on your passion. Clocking-in wearing your PJs. No 9.30pm emails from your boss. Long holidays and living the digital nomad life from a beachside cafe in Thailand. But that’s not the reality (for most freelancers) is it?
Going out on your own can be incredibly rewarding but being successful takes dedication, desire, bloody-mindedness, and a hefty sprinkling of talent. According to The Association of Independent Workers and the Self-Employed (IPSE) there’s over 2 million freelancers in the UK, and they contribute £119 billion to the UK economy. If you’re thinking about becoming joining the gang this year, here’s some advice.
Find someone to (ap)praise you
Everyone loves being praised for good work but appraisals are something most employees dread. Once you’re fending for yourself in the big bad world of freelance, the idea of someone taking the time (a whole hour!) to sit down and tell you relatively objectively how you’ve performed that year will feel like luxury.
One idea could be to find some similar-minded pals and set up an appraisal day where you take it in turns to discuss your successes, failures and roadblocks from the past year. Check out You’re Doing Great! for guidance on this.
Network makes the dream work
As a freelancer, you’re going to live and work by the relationships you build. “You're going to need to get your name out there,” says Matthew Beck, Managing Director of Lightspeed Digital and member of Brighton digital networking group, The Farm.
“Meeting as many people as possible and making sure they know what you’ve got to offer will do wonders for your workload. Brighton is saturated with networking events, there's often multiple happening on any given day. Be open to meeting everyone, you never know who might hire you or refer you on!”
You’ll have to become a jack-of-literally-all-the-trades
One of the most most-cited reasons for going freelance is focusing on what you love. But it’s not as simple as that! “It’s certainly true that you’ll be able to steer your business in any way you choose,” says Martine Warburton, co-founder of Huskii Studio in a blog for Brighton Digital Women. “But keep in mind that along with doing the bit you love you’ll need to provide you own IT support, accounts department, office cleaner, legal, business strategy and marketing. So, you may spend more time each day doing things which are not your forte.
Once you are established you can (and should) pay other experts to do some of this stuff, freeing you up to focus (again) on what you love!”
Get to know your apps
Without the various (and often maddening) systems that companies put in place, you’re going to have to learn to manage your diary, juggle your clients and generally maintain a professional demeanour. There’s a whole world of apps and tools that will help you. Use Toggl to track – to the second – how much time you’re spending on each client. Trello is perfect for step-by-step project management. Shake will help speed up your professional contract-making skills and Wunderlist will help you create the ultimate, anxiety-beating cross-device to-do list.
Don’t overthink it!
Much of the guidance out there suggests freelancers should save a financial wedge – maybe six months of outgoings – before making the leap. This is wrong, according to Toby Moore, Co-Founder and Director of Content Club.
“If you want a successful start at freelancing, get some clients. Side hustle for three months, six months, a year… whatever it takes. Find your time; whether it’s on the train, after dinner, or on the weekends. Go to people that know you and know that your good and tell them you have a dream, you want them to be your first client and you are going to prove you can do a great job before you make the commitment to go full-time.
People that like you and want your skills, will support you and say yes. And that’s all you need. For now.”
Know your limits!
The temptation when starting out is to take every job going. There be danger, according to Noor from Freelance UK:
“When it comes to freelancing, you must make sure that you know your limits. This will be a trial and error game and you will earn with time. However, it's essential you only take on work that you have the skills and the time to do. If you produce work of low quality due to time, then this may cause more damage than if you were to reject the project. Therefore, knowing your ability and limits is key.”
Get. Out. Of. The. House
We say that humans are social animals and, though the internet perpetuates the notion that we can nurture real relationships from behind our laptop screens, nothing makes up for being in the room with people. Even if you’re still working out of your bedroom, make time to be with like-minded folk: meet clients in coffee shops; go on a walkshop (a cross between a meeting and a workshop); go to dinner with your freelance pals and moan about the travails of invoice chasing. Better still! Join a coworking space and live amongst your bredren.
Don’t be afraid of going pro-bono….for the right project
Should you ever work for free? It is a question that raises the temperature of freelancers like no other. There are some that say you should never offer your finely honed skills for nothing, and that by doing so you validate bad business habits and create a working environment that increasingly excludes those from lower income backgrounds.
However, there are plenty of deserving people and organisations for whom your pro-bono work could lift them into another dimension. Emma Betty Lewis-Griffiths from The Social Club says, “I’ve also started working on a few pro bono projects with charities and it’s great to be able to channel my skills into a greater cause than just my own. As a freelancer, you can be very inward-facing and sometimes you have to be. But there’s also more to life than making your next buck. Honest.”