For many, the idea of going freelance seems a far off dream, something to think about wistfully as you drag yourself out the house for the Monday morning commute or sit through another pointless meeting listening to your boss waffle on about targets and goals.
But freelancing is no longer an elusive dream that few can achieve. A transforming work culture has led to many more workers successfully pursuing self-employment.
We’ve compiled a definitive checklist for anyone getting started as a freelancer and asking themselves the question: “What should I do next?”
Create a business plan
Don’t be put off by the terminology! This doesn’t need to be a massive document that takes weeks. Outlining what you do and how you do it will help you sell yourself to potential clients, set targets and find projects that align with your long term aims.
List your skills, possible job titles and the types of projects you intend to work on
Many freelancers utilise a number of skills to make a living. Knowing what these are and what people will be searching for when they need them can help you find work. Knowing what projects, you want to work on will help you to say no to opportunities that aren’t right for you and help keep you on track towards your goals.
Decide how you will operate as a business
Do some research to see what works best for you. Will you be a sole trader, enter into a partnership, or do you want to become a limited company?
Set some goals
Keep these relatively simple when you first start out. Setting unachievable goals will lead to a sense of failure when in fact you may be doing very well. Try and give yourself short, medium and long term goals to work towards.
Where and how will you work?
It’s equally important to consider your working arrangements as a freelancer. From the hours you’re likely to be working to the tools and facilities you’ll need, there’s plenty to consider, but getting it right can dramatically increase productivity and your wellbeing.
Location, Location, Location
Depending on your industry you may have already thought about where you will work, especially if you require a workshop. For most desk-based freelancers however, working from home is the go-to choice and not a lot more thought goes into it.
Freelancing is a big undertaking, and it’s important to consider how productive you can really be at home. Will you have a designated office? Will other occupants in your house (children and pets, for example) make working after a certain time difficult?
There are some great solutions for freelancers to have the professional space they need. Coworking is perfect when you’re just starting out as it offers the most flexibility.
Your working week
The flexibility of freelancing is a big attraction to most people. But think about what you do and the clients you’ll be working with. If you’re working with a big firm who want a lot of input on the project, only working during the night when they can’t get hold of you may not go down to well.
Similarly, be realistic about the hours you’ll need to work. Most freelancers find themselves working much longer hours than they did when they were employed full-time.
If you already have a lot of evening commitments, consider if you can work weekends. Think about when is realistic for you to start working in the morning. Planning your working week will give add structure and help with your work-life balance.
List the tools, equipment and facilities you need and know their cost
When you start out it is particularly important to keep track of your budget, as these small costs can add up quickly and eat away at your hard earned profits. Will you need a new computer, a license for online software or to upgrade your home Wi-Fi package?
Have these costs factored in and the tools ready before you start. You don’t want to waste a day setting up a new computer when you have a deadline to meet.
Sort out your tax finances and insurance
This is a step that often creates anxiety for new freelancers. Tackling it early will take a weight off your mind and leave you free to get on with the work you enjoy.
Register for tax on HMRC
This will differ slightly depending how you’ve decided to operate, but gov.uk has plenty of documentation and lets you complete all the registration forms online.
Set your rates
Understanding your expenses should help with this step. Have a long think about what you can afford to work for and what you’re willing to work for. Are you willing to take a job that pays slightly less but will get you experience in your dream industry?
Get your accounting and finances sorted out
No matter how much you love what you do, your freelance career isn’t going to last very long if you aren’t getting paid. You need to think about how you will ask for payment (BACS transfer is a popular and easy choice), how you will track invoices and payments, and how to ensure you’re putting aside enough for your taxes every month.
This article from FreelanceUK has some great advice on sorting out your finances.
Take out insurance
Although it isn’t compulsory to take out insurance, it may be something you want to consider depending on your business type, the sort of clients you want to work with and your own personal circumstances. Take a look at the different types of insurance you should consider to see if any are relevant to you.
Decide on your branding and assets
Again, keep this simple at first. Go through some simple points that will help you distinguish yourself, but remember a brand often develops over time, so don’t panic if it doesn’t seem perfect straight away.
Choose what to call yourself
Will you operate under your own name, or a business name? As well as a name, establish how you refer to yourself. Are you a freelancer, agency, contractor, consultant? This will save confusion in the future when talking to clients.
Consider your tone of voice
A benefit of being a freelancer is that you can create a consistent tone of voice across your brand, as it’s likely to be close to your own tone of voice. That being said, it’s worth creating a few bullet points of certain things that you want to convey in your writing and promotions that may be different from your natural tone of voice.
Consistent logos, brand colours, fonts and design styles can all help to give you a more professional appearance, but at this stage keep it simple. Your name in a professional font can work as a logo, and a tool like Paletton can help you create a quick and cohesive colour scheme.
Depending on the nature of your business (Graphic designers in particular) you may want to spend more time on this section to showcase your work, but for most people it’s best to start simple.
Probably the biggest concern for new freelancers is how they will find enough work to make a living. Get a firm grip on the different channels and assets you need before you start to help ease the panic.
Tell your network about your new venture
Your network can be a great source of new clients, and for more established freelancers, this can be all they need. Be vocal about your new venture and get in direct contact with any key contacts you have (old colleagues, bosses or friends who can vouch for your work) and ask them to keep you front of mind.
Create the assets you’ll need to sell yourself
Consider whether a website is essential at this stage. If you aim to find your work on freelance sites such as Upwork, it may not be. Consider whether an online portfolio will suffice, or if you could use your LinkedIn profile as an online CV.
It may also be worth creating some base proposals for projects. Although you should tailor these on a project-by-project basis, a template can help with consistency and speed up the process when you’re regularly applying for jobs.
Set up social channels to post about your work
You can use your existing channels but having a channel that is specifically dedicated to your work gives a more professional image. Don’t go overboard here. There’s no point having 6 different channels that you only engage with once a fortnight. Pick a channel (Twitter or Instagram are popular choices depending on your discipline) and focus on building a relevant network.
Sign up to freelancer sites
Freelancer sites are a popular way for new freelancers to get their foot in the door with different projects. Take the time to research the best sites for you, build out your profile and write specific proposals for different jobs.
What do you wish you’d done earlier when you started freelancing? Is there any advice you’d give to those starting out?