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Introduction to freelancing

Freelancers are common in the creative and tech/digital industries – in fact, around 20% of Ravensbourne alumni self-employed. This guide is to help you get set up and confident as a freelancer.

Ravensbourne student on a laptop

What is freelancing?

Being freelance, or self-employed, means that rather than signing a contract to work for one company, you work for yourself and manage your own tax affairs. This gives you the freedom to work for whoever you like, as much or as little as you want. You’re flexible and the ruler of your own destiny.

 As you launch your career after graduating – or even while you’re still studying - freelancing offers a great way to try out different industries or companies and get that oh-so-important experience employers demand.

Freelancing can sometimes be a bit lonely, plus you don’t get sick pay, a pension or holiday pay. We talk about the pros and cons here.

I think I’m freelance already! What should I do?

If you’re working for someone and they’re paying you and you’re not being taxed ‘at source’ (look at your paycheque – if you’re getting cash in hand then you are almost certainly not being taxed) then you’re what the Government calls a ‘sole trader’ – the current definition for people who are freelance or self-employed.

This means you should fill in a self-assessment form. Say you started freelancing between 6th April 2017 and 5th April 2018 – you have until 5th October 2018 to register. Any later than this, and you risk a fine.

There’s more information about registering as a sole trader on GOV.UK.

If you’re only earning a tiny amount from your freelancing – say under £2000, you might not need to complete a self-assessment form. Take a look at our tax article to find out more.

Freelancing, self-employed, contractor & sub-contractor – what’s the difference?

You’ve probably heard people use these terms interchangeably, but they’re not actually legal definitions and the law changes all the time anyway. Confused? Instead of worrying about terms, here are two key scenarios you should be aware of:

You don’t need to set up a company to be self-employed

Many young people think that if they’re self-employed, they should set up a company. This can be an expensive mistake until you’re earning a certain amount, when it may become an advantage in terms of tax. We explain more in our article about setting up your own company.

Cheeky companies may say you’re a ‘freelancer’ or ‘self-employed’ when you’re not

If the same company is using you alot, you might have the same rights to a pension, sick pay and holiday pay as their other employees. This useful factsheet will help you understand your rights.


Are you ready to go freelance?

Choosing the right time to go freelance is important because successful freelancing is about having the confidence to pitch yourself and your skills. If you’re ready to go freelance, you will have some, if not all, of the following sorted:

  • You’ve already done lots of work experience in your industry and feel confident.
  • You’ve got good contacts, or the networking skills to get those contacts. Freelancers have to generate new work all the time.
  • You know there’s a market for your work. Ideally, you’ll already have been approached for work – for example, by a friend who knows you build websites and wants you to help them out.
  • You know what you’re worth. You’ve researched the market and can put a price on your skills.
  • You have the tools you need – eg the right software/camera kit/driver’s licence – whatever your industry demands.
  • You’ve got a mini-CV and portfolio or site explaining who you are. Don’t worry if it’s not very full or exciting yet. You’re just starting out.
  • You’ve developed your interpersonal skills. All freelancers have to manage relationships with their clients. Listening skills, good eye contact and dressing for the job are all-important.
  • You know you’re good at making deadlines and managing your time.
  • You know how to deal with rejection and move on.

Amazing things happen here