Striking out as a freelancer can be a risk. Get it right and it could be the most liberating career decision you ever make. However, get it wrong and it could turn out to be a costly mistake.
We spoke to a selection of freelance professionals who successfully made the leap and asked them to share some of the most important lessons they wish they’d learned earlier.
“There’s a lot of conflicting information out there – don’t be afraid to seek professional advice”
When I set out as a freelancer, I really struggled to find definitive recommendations around what to do in terms of tax. Should I register as a Ltd. Company or a sole trader and register for self-assessment tax – or should I use an umbrella company?
I quickly realised that a DIY approach wasn’t going to work for me, so I decided to bite the bullet and speak to an independent financial advisor to help me to get the fundamentals in place and create a business plan that made sense for me.
Hannah Ashley, PR account manager
“Get the balance right and don’t be afraid to turn down work”
Learning how to negotiate your workload and build a pipeline of projects can help to avoid the sense of panic that comes when a contract comes to an end. Keep the work fresh, don’t stay too long in one contract and don’t take on more than you can handle – it’s tough to turn down money when you’re self-employed, but you didn’t go freelance to become a slave to your job, and the quality of work will inevitably suffer if you put yourself under too much pressure.
Phil Robson, Fundraiser
“Be very wary of doing favours”
Before I went freelance, I wish I’d known the one golden rule of business. Never do anything for family or friends. That sounds harsh, but it’s amazing how thoughtless people can be about expecting you to give up time and energy that you could be spending on paid work. Once you do a favour for one friend, you can very easily create a domino effect, and that’s how fall-outs happen. Set clear boundaries and stick to them.
Daniel Kidd, Marketing consultant
“Working for free is never worthwhile”
When I was struggling to break into journalism, the line I’d hear from publications most was ‘We can’t pay for your submission, but it’ll be great exposure’. I’d like to go back in time and tell that version of me not to fall for it. A publication that isn’t prepared to pay you is taking the piss out of you, and helping to destroy the industry that you’d do anything to join. Plus, writing 400 words about nothing for a nothingy blog with no discernible readership is actually quite crap exposure. Stick to your guns and the money will come”.
Stuart Heritage, Journalist
“Get face to face with potential clients”
Networking is an absolutely key component of attracting new business. It’s not enough to just have a web presence – although it certainly helps. Go out and meet your clients. You’re much more likely to get a referral from somebody who’s met you face to face.
Luan Wise, Marketing strategist
“It’s hard work, but it’s worth it”
All of the horror stories you hear about freelancing are true. It feels like you spend more time chasing payments than doing your job. Work never arrives in nicely spaced out chunks but all at once or not at all. The peace and quiet of working alone can give way to soul-crushing boredom and isolation at times.
Ultimately though, the one thing I wish I’d known earlier is that despite all of this, freelancing is a much better way of life. If you’re good at what you do, and are fearless about asking people for work, you’ll be fine. The fear of leaping into the unknown was what kept me in miserable jobs for far too long.
Peter Crush, Business journalist
The previous quotes were compiled by John Lucas, a content marketing manager for Local Financial Advice, a free service connecting individuals and SMEs with FCA-regulated independent financial advisors.