Before you start freelancing

Seven things you need to know

Motion Graphics student work

Thinking of going freelance, or perhaps you are already? Here are the seven things you should do right now to give yourself the best chance of success.

  1. Research the market
    Are you a look-before-you-leap type of person? Then you’ll probably have worked out that you need to have a vague understanding of what kind of market is out there for your work. Are you a rush-out-and-do-stuff-anyway type? That’s fine too – good freelancers are enthusiastic by nature – just make sure you have a back-up plan for financial survival in case your first attempts at getting work don’t go so well.
  2. Figure out a strategy for tax and accounting
    Once you’ve got your freelance career off the ground, you need to tell HMRC that you’re a ‘sole trader’. And once you’ve done that, you’re on your way to filing a tax return form. There’s no turning the oil tanker that is HMRC around once they’ve got your details, so you need a strategy for reserving some money from every fee you’re paid – around 25% - so that when it’s time to pay up you haven’t spent it all. You may also want to think about getting an accountant and sorting out some sort of ‘filing system’ (like an old shoe-box) to put your receipts in, so you can claim back against tax.
  3. Work out if you need insurance
    Some clients require their contractors to have professional indemnity insurance, and film makers may need public liability insurance to film in public places.
  4. Know how much, roughly, you’re going to charge
    Even if you’ve never been paid for your work before, it stops you looking like a total amateur if you are able to confidently name your price. It might be sensible to have a range – for example, a price for corporate clients and charity clients, for people who are just getting to know you and, eventually, those you’ve been with a long time.
  5. Hello, financial insecurity
    Freelancers often find they have too much work, or too little – and so, either lots of payments coming in at once, or none at all. You need to budget for the lean times by setting aside at least a month’s rent/bills/food money to tide you over. Use a budgeting app or good old fashioned spreadsheets to work out how much you need a month to live. There’s more advice about budgeting and saving for young people at Money for life.
  6. Get your website, portfolio, CV and social media profiles sorted
    If you’re already freelancing it may be that word of mouth is getting you the jobs you want – well done. But most of us need to work on our ‘personal brand’ and social media presence so that if the work dries up, we can go out and pitch.
  7. Sort out your support
    Freelancing can be lonely and there will be days when you don’t have any work lined up, and days when you fall asleep on the couch at 2pm because you’ve lost the will to face any more knock-backs. This is when you need a support network – an online community, a professional body with a helpline, even just a bunch of friends who also work irregular hours and can listen to you and remind you that you’re actually an unrecognised creative genius.