So you think you can freelance? (updated for 2019)
After 2.5 years of riding the self-employment rollercoaster I wanted to share with you some of the things I've learned along the way. So without further ado, here are my top 5 things to consider when setting up your own business or going freelance. From the front line. #realtalk
1. Put Your Business Head On
So you’ve set up a business or gone freelance. Go you! That's taken enormous amounts of bravery and guts. But the hard work isn’t over. The real challenge is how you continue to get contracts/clients to ensure you not only bring in revenue but also grow your business.
A couple of pieces of advice when first starting out:
Write up a business plan, even if it’s a simple 2-pager to collate your thoughts make sure you write down a simple step-by-step guide on what you want to achieve and how you're going to get there. Check out the Prince's Trust website to get you started. Don't be fooled into thinking you need to have all the answers straight away or have your five and ten year plan mapped out, we've found six months at a time is enough to give you focus and direction.
Work out a pricing strategy. Whether it’s a day rate, a project fee or any other model that works best for your business, you’ll need to work out how you can make money. Make sure you value your time and if possible, only ever discount if you need to. Reduce deliverables rather than the price tag. Know your worth.
When starting out, keep your overheads low. It’s easy to get caught up in wanting the latest equipment or taking clients out to fancy restaurants to win them over. Use your initiative and come up with ideas that don’t break the bank. For Nat and I it was a laptop each, a pack of business cards and a LOT of coffee, well worth it.
Act like a brand. Whether you’re an individual, a two-man band or a small collective you have to market yourself effectively. You need to make sure you have an authentic personal brand that clearly communicates your business offering. Make sure you’re personable – people want to do business with people. Have a website, business cards & social media at the ready. Even if it's simple, you're showing yourself to be someone who has their s**t together.
2. Get your finances in order.
As somebody who has a penchant for exquisite dinners, vintage dresses and multiple bottles of Sancerre I’ve really had to re-consider what’s important when it comes to my personal finances. Whether you’re setting up as a Sole Trader or Limited Company you’ll need to ensure you are on top of your taxes and always have a proportion of savings to cover a quiet month. Finding a good accountant is crucial, they’ll be able to ensure you file everything correctly and give you peace of mind that the tax man isn’t going to destroy your soul at the end of the financial year. I can’t tell you how important getting this right is – you need all of your time & energy spent on your day job, let someone else help you with the administrative/behind the scenes set-up. Don't forget, your time has a price tag, so the longer you spend on a self-assessment or a complex spreadsheet ... the less you're earning from what you're really good at.
Here are some great websites to read up from how to get your head around VAT to which are the best book keeping apps on the market.
VAT calculator - Doing a pesky VAT return? This VAT calculator does the mathematical legwork for you.
FreeAgent - We used this when we upgraded it from a manual process and it is a LIFESAVER, comes free if you have a NatWest Business account too!
Expensify - Keeping track of expenses has never been easier - ditch those paper receipts once and for all!
Small business money saving tips - Have a read of this article on how to get the best business rates & bank account
3. Don’t just talk, listen (but not to everyone) when networking.
"Being successful at networking is realising that, to get where you’re going, you need to help others get to where they’re going." J. K Hoey
Sounds like an obvious piece of advice to be given but not enough of us do it. There is so much to learn from people, experiences, the environment we’re in that we often forget to stop and take stock. Networking has been so important to us and so far we’ve received almost all of our business through word of mouth. I’ve found that most conversations we’ve had have provided us with some form of value – whether it be a sage piece of advice, a lead to a new piece of business or simply a recommendation on where to buy the cheapest and most delicious coffee on-the-go.
Having said that you’ll also have to work out the advice that is right for you to take. A lot of people will give you their views on how you should run your business and often, although said with good intent, it isn’t always helpful. Listen carefully to advice but make sure before you implement anything from it you’re happy with what you’re doing and it’s in line with your objectives and goals. This is YOUR business, and although other people can be invaluable, no one knows your baby better than you. Oh, and if you’re a woman – be prepared to have A LOT of things mansplained to you.*
*Just nod and smile your way through it and find an excuse to leave ASAP.
4. Work hard, be nice to people
My favourite mantra. It’s important to remember that without contacts in whatever freelance field you operate in then you simply don’t have a business. People won’t forget how you treat them, whether it’s a rude word, a late payment or a no-show when an urgent deadline matters.
We’ve found some amazing communities out there. As we represent #girlpower here are a couple of events, networking groups & blogs we’ve found useful since we’ve set-up:
Women Who - A platform for creative working women. Buy the amazing "Little Black Book" for fantastic freelance and entrepreneurial advice.
WACL - Delivering some awe-inspiring events and the opportunity to network with likeminded ladies.
NABS - One of the great folks in advertising. NABS are hugely helpful when wanting advice on getting a mentor & supporting start-ups like ourselves.
The Noisy Girls Club - Run by our favourite Hannah Taylor, founder of She is Fierce Magazine, and full of wonderful women to offer support and advice
The Quarter Club - We have been to a couple of their events and so impressed with the quality of the content and the awe-inspiring speakers
5. Make mistakes, fail often & ignore the critics
Naturally entrepreneurs are risk-takers. And risks at times don’t always work out. However, this steep learning curve is crucial if you’re going to become a successful freelancer or business owner. Working in the creative industries we have to constantly push and challenge ourselves and our work.
Keep learning, keep making mistakes, don’t care if you “fail”. If you’ve got the right positive mind-set, talent and a good support network you’re going to do well and make yourself proud.
And remember, dictate what success means to YOU not anybody else. After all, that’s who you’re working this hard for.
Finally ignore the critics and the naysayers. And if you don't believe me have a watch of the inspiring Brené Brown who will eloquently tell you why your critics aren't the ones who count.
For any other #freelance tips we've missed please add in the comment section below or give us a shout out on Twitter @macandmoore to links to any other articles you think that would make good reading. Best of luck, and we hope you found this advice useful!