Starting out as a freelancer

Photo by Roberto Nickson (@g) on Unsplash

Received wisdom is to look for stable and secure jobs. But in today’s job market, there are no guarantees whether you have a permanent job or not. So more of us are going freelance.

It offers the chance for control over your working pattern and freedom to work on different projects with a variety of organisations. But making the move from permanent employee to freelance contractor can be a scary step into the unknown. Having recently switched, here are my top tips on making a smooth transition into freelance work:

Have a financial buffer zone

The ideal place to start as a freelancer is with money saved up. A buffer zone of roughly 3 months salary is ideal. That’s because freelance contracts can take time to find and there are small upfront costs, as well as your daily living expenses. There is also a time lag in invoices being paid. With savings, you ward off the worry with the knowledge you have invested in yourself making this work and you are not desperate. You can afford to wait until the right thing comes up. This is a much better starting point than feeling that you have to take anything available.

Get an accountant

Unless you know your finances and tax regulations inside out, you need this. Accountants take the pressure off by explaining employment legislation and your responsibilities. They will help you to balance your expenses and income. They can also check contracts and offer general advice. Get the professional help you need to allow you to focus on the daily work.

Package your services

What is the essence of the jobs you’ve held and the talent you bring? Think broadly about your experience. If you’ve worked in perm roles, you probably had the same title for a while. But what did you actually do? Take time to consider the most enjoyable parts of your career so far. Position your services that way. You get to decide the story you tell. Pick the job title you actually want. Put it on LinkedIn. This is the first step to getting offered the right contracts.

Know your worth

Now you are operating independently, you need to set a rate for your time. The best way to select it is through talking to other freelancers offering similar services. Recruiters can also help. Pick a range that reflects your experience. Be prepared that some will try to negotiate your rate downwards. Think carefully before compromising here. Don’t undervalue yourself. Your rate could be different from one contract to another. And the beauty of freelancing is you can give yourself a raise!

Refine your toolkit

People say freelancers should hit the ground runing. There is a job to be done and you are tasked with doing it. Which means you need to quickly understand the business challenges, then select and apply the right tools and processes. We have more software available than ever to support us so there is a lot of choice for your toolkit. Find your tried and tested products. Know alternatives in case one of them goes bust or suddenly becomes too expensive. Know how to describe your processes and coach others if needed. How you work will become one of your key selling points.

Look after yourself

Perm roles come with benefits; holiday pay, pension contributions, healthcare if you are lucky. As a freelancer, you need to provide for yourself. List what you need to stay healthy and sane. How much holiday? How long a commute? How much saved for later in life? You can move away from conventional benefits too. Want to spend 6 weeks every year travelling? Or volunteer for 3 months and take paid work for 9 months? You make the rules.

Navigate the rapids

A freelancer friend described this type of work as ‘feast and famine’. Sometimes there is so much work on offer that you have to turn it down. Other times you may have a few lean months. Use free time to regroup, update your case studies / portfolio and attend networking or training events. Start to cultivate a variety of work streams or projects, so that you have options for filling gaps. This will evolve over time as you build your connections and repeat business.

Don’t be afraid of making the move — it’s worth it!