A quick guide to going freelance
I planned and launched Into The Woods Marketing during the Coronavirus pandemic. It was difficult, but I did it and learnt a lot along the way. I started with one client which just about covered my mortgage and bills. Six months later, I have four clients on retainer and each month, I invoice much more than I earnt in-house.
For five years, I contemplated going freelance in various guises before taking the plunge. The flexibility really appealed to me, along with the chance to have more focus on marketing and helping businesses to grow.
Here’s my guide to laying great foundations and setting yourself up for a successful freelance career.
When I first started thinking about going freelance, I went straight into brand mode. Specifically, thinking of a name. As a freelancer, you have a choice between your own name, or a business name. I chose a business name to give more scope for future growth. Plus, my personal name is difficult to pronounce.
Once you choose a name, you need to check its availability as a web domain and social accounts, as well as registered trademarks. Like me, you may find your first choice has been taken, so check this before developing the brand further. If you’re struggling for creativity, don’t rush the process. Do some research and let the ideas percolate.
I used a graphic designer to work on my brand. We talked about my offering, my values and the brand grew from there. The visuals of the brand are far better than anything I could have come up with myself.
The next stage of my brand mode, was to figure out my offering. As with any marketing plan, you need to look at who your service is for and how you can meet their needs. And be specific, offering “freelance marketing” (or graphic design, or accounting), is too vague. You can then develop your product/service around your ideal customer and what will appeal to them.
I have worked with many small business owners who told me to get in touch if I went freelance. Either they needed short term support, or someone to support on marketing for a few days each month. From these conversations, I knew there was a market and that’s how I built my offering.
The next step of your offering is pricing. Work out how many hours you want to work, how much money you need to earn, and calculate from there. Benchmark yourself in your industry, take into account your years of experience and qualifications. Don’t undervalue what you do.
Don’t forget to account for your overheads and expenses, for example: co-working space, freelance insurance, website hosting, Adobe licence, stock imagery licence.
What you charge needs to cover the hours you are doing admin, or on holiday, or not working at all. Your hourly rate will be more than your salary from your full time, permanent job as your overheads will be higher. Your business needs to be profitable so you can afford to live.
Going into the freelance world totally cold is not advisable. If, like me, you have contacts who have expressed interest in your freelance service, get in touch. Be honest that you are starting up and they are the first person you are approaching. Find out how much work they can send your way.
If you don’t have contacts, find a charity where you can trial your services as a volunteer. You can try freelancing sites such as Upwork to trial your freelance service before doing it full time. It’s also absolutely fine (and advisable) to wait a few months or even years if you aren’t ready yet.
Be careful of freelancing whilst working full time as this can put you in breach of contract with your employer. By all means, do your prep, but you’ll want to leave your full time job knowing you acted ethically and everything is above board.
You need to launch with an online presence, ideally a website, and this takes time. This is your shop front where your potential customers can find out more about your business.
A simple business website needs a homepage explaining what you do, an about page, services, and contact. A blog and portfolio can come later.
I built my own website with WordPress. But please, if development is not part of your skillset, pay a web developer.
All advice points to having so many months of salary saved up. Unless you have fully signed up clients, ready to go, then you will need savings. Whatever your financial situation, you need to know your budget and income in forensic detail and check this regularly.
Do your research on business bank accounts, being self-employed vs a limited company, what records you need to keep and meeting your tax requirements. I pay an accountant each month to keep my business finances in great shape.
As a freelancer, you need your clients to sign a contract with you. Get your contract drafted or at least checked by a solicitor. It’s expensive, but you’ll be so grateful if you ever get into a tricky legal situation with a client. Make sure you have freelance insurance in place too.
If you are in full-time employment, resign from your job after all of the above is in place. Do not burn your bridges. Your current employer might become your next freelance client, or they might acquire the competitor that just agreed to work with you. And don’t breach your contract however tempting it is.
In summary: invest in your brand, make sure everything is financially and legally sound, line up some clients and take the risk!