There are an estimated 2 million freelancers in the UK. More and more people are choosing to leave direct employment behind, trading in long commutes, stuffy offices, and arguments with colleagues for a taste of freelance freedom.
You might be thinking of going freelance too, but it’s not as simple as handing in your notice and hoping for the best. It takes work to make work. Here are three things you need to remember before you do go freelance, to help keep you happy and financially sound.
1. Be flexible, but not too flexible
Bend but don’t break. Being flexible is key to surviving in the freelance world, but being too flexible can be bad for your health. The freelance project of your dreams won’t come along straight away. So it’s best to try to take on whatever jobs are available, and that you can feasibly carry out. This will build you up a portfolio, a establish relationships with a network of clients who might give you more work in the future.
While you may have ditched the 9-5, you need to realise that many freelancers wave weekends goodbye, as they squeeze in more work in their downtime. Thursday Bram, a freelancer for Envato Studio, admits “it’s actually pretty rare that a weekend goes by that I don’t work at least a couple of hours.” It isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Getting work as a freelancer is about saying ‘yes’ as often as you can, even if that means doing a bit of work on the weekend.
Bram has some tips to help with weekend work, namely: it’s best not to contact clients on weekends or evenings, or even to let them know that you work outside of office hours. That way, you can use that time to catch up, not to let more work pile up.
Beware of overworking as all the hours of day (and week) seem like fair game. Working too many hours can easily be a bad thing. Science has shown that working for more than 39 hours a week can be bad for your health. Researcher Dr Huong Dinh said “Long work hours erode a person’s mental and physical health, because it leaves less time to eat well and look after themselves properly.” This is a very real danger for freelancers, especially when they are starting out, trying to build up an impressive portfolio.
Even if you are willing to try sacrificing your health for your career, studies suggest that working long hours can actually make you less productive, with 50 hours a week being the absolute most anyone can work effectively. It’s best to set strict working hours for yourself, and to make sure you take time off to keep up your health, mental and physical.
2. Keep on top of your finances
A big part of freelancing is saying goodbye to a monthly or bi-weekly paycheck. That will have two major implications for new freelancers.
First, it means you have to pay close attention to how much you are spending and how much you are earning and when, to make sure your income can support your lifestyle. Second, you have to pay your own taxes now. Unless you are becoming a freelance accountant, it is unlikely you are prepared to take any of this on.
If you’d rather focus on your work than on the numbers, it is best to hire an accountant to complete your tax return for you. Specialist accountants for freelancers will be able to help you with taxes and income, and even find you ways to reclaim VAT on work-related purchases.
One aspect of freelancing you might not be able to avoid though is chasing invoices from clients. For many freelancers, this is a frustrating necessity. There’s no special secret that will make clients pay up immediately, but these tips from Hiscox may prove helpful. They include making payment terms clear in a Terms & Conditions document before you begin working with a client, potentially working early discounts or late fees into the contract.
3. See the bigger picture
Understanding what your role is in a larger project is crucial to successfully working as a freelancer. You may not work with your clients full time, but it’s still important that you fit into a team.
Whether you are a designer, a developer, a copywriter or a strategist, make sure you know how what you do relates to others working on the project. Learning a little about other disciplines yourself can be helpful in making sure you give clients exactly what they want.
The best way to do this is to build up a bulk of experience working at an agency for a few years before you take the freelance jump. This way you will know how to work closely with other team members before you work with them from a little further away.