Now, becoming a freelancer is often spoken about as an ongoing aim for many creatives in the industry. Whether that be while attending university or your first entry-level job. The thought of having complete autonomy over your life is not only appealing, but it’s also mentally freeing. However, despite it being a hot topic amongst creatives it’s a nerve-racking process which many people never actually commit to. To give up your job, and a secure monthly salary can often prove too daunting.
I became a freelancer in May of this year. Unlike many people, I have come across who make a conscious choice to become freelance I quit my job on the spot. I was a designer at a London based agency and I had burnt out. My mental health had deteriorated massively due to numerous reasons such as workplace culture, management style, not feeling as though I fit in and also taking all these problems home with me. I was in a 24/7 crisis and it was exhausting. I had the least amount of savings in my bank (Something to avoid, but we will get to that later). However, because I felt so desperate it pushed me to make a decision. A decision which turned out to be the best thing I could have done.
When I went freelance I didn’t have much guidance. I new freelancers but they couldn’t coach me on how to do it. So I thought I’d put together a list of things to consider before, and after you go freelance.
SAVE SOME DOLLAR
Unsurprisingly before you depart to become your own boss you should have some money squirrelled away. As I said above I had the least amount of savings I’d ever had but that was still around £1200. Most freelancers will tell you to have around 3-6 months worth of overheads covered before you take the plunge.
The reasons for this is simply down to getting your first jobs. Sometimes you can be lucky and walk into something, while other times it can take a few months. Having money saved means you’re prepared for those rainy days when you might not get any work in whatsoever and will need savings just to cover vital areas such as rent, or bills.
While this might sound scary I wouldn’t worry too much. You’ll earn back any money you use from your savings reasonably quickly once you get a steady stream of freelance opportunities.
GET YOURSELF ONLINE
An obvious one but if you’ve ever changed jobs or been made redundant you’ll know how challenging it is to quickly pull together a portfolio with up to date projects. It’s best to try and get your web presence (website, Behance) updated before you leave to go into the freelance world.
Something else to consider is your LinkedIn which should be updated with all your most recent experience, along with links to your portfolio, or relevant material. You can also look at acquiring recommendations from people you have previously worked with to help booster your reputability, while also writing ‘thought leadership’ style articles. You can set yourself up as an expert in an area without ever showing visual work. You just need to generate the content which shows you understand the theory behind the process.
Make sure to update any bio’s you have on social media whether it be Instagram, Twitter, ello etc people need to understand what you do and who you are immediately (see mine below). It always amazes me how many creatives forget about so many communication touch points when freelancing. Each one has the potential to bring in work, each one is an opportunity to make an impact.
So, you have your website set up, you’ve updated your social channels and you have enough money saved to help you survive and armageddon. Now you need to tell people.
Making people aware of your movements before you leave a job is the best way to go about this, but hey, sometimes life gets in the way. Sometimes you quit a job on the spot. It happens and when it happens you aren’t always as prepared as you could be but not to worry.
When I left my job I instantly set up an email template which I could customise easily. Remember, speaking to people as unique individuals are important when formulating connections. It’s why you get marketers generating your first name on mass emails. It makes you think they care more. Well, nothing says ‘I care’ like a personable email.
Reach out to previous places you’ve worked, friends in other agencies, connections you have on LinkedIn. Ask if they know anyone you can introduce you to. It’s seven degrees of separation out there and a lot of my work has come from people recommending me or introducing me to studios.
Remember. Nobody knows you exist unless you tell them. So use the time leading up to going freelance, or the initial time afterwards really hammering the phones, email and attend meetings to let as many people know as possible.
When you freelance you also take on the responsibilities of being a business owner, marketer and most importantly your own accountant.
Now you might get to a point where it’s more advantageous to hire your own accountant to work your books. A few of my friends do this and it means they spend less time worrying about money and more time actually earning it. At the start, though you’ll more than likely be doing it yourself which is why it’s important to do the following:
Decide if you want to be a sole trader or Ltd Company.
The main differences with this are that as a sole trader you’re responsible for your own tax and you often register under your own name. You get paid into an account of your choice and you pay yourself from that account. You only have to file a single tax return at the end of the financial year (Apr-Apr), and it’s relatively more simple. Which is why people choose this option when first starting out.
As a Limited company you will need to file two tax returns a year. One which is personal and another which is from your business account. You’ll choose a business name which you register and also set up a company bank account. This process actually makes working out your expenses easier because anything which falls under a business expense you can pay with your business card.
Numerous recruitment companies also prefer working with individuals who are set up as an Ltd. as they then know who’s liable for paying tax and they’re protected.
There are numerous pros and cons to each option and I’d strongly recommend reading about it online before making any decisions.
Regardless of what you pick, you’re going to need a way to track your finances, and if you don’t want your own accountant then there are other ways to do it.
Personally, I use the finance app ‘Quickbooks’, which allows you to connect your bank accounts and mark the expenses as a business, or personal. It also allows you to photo your receipts and automatically connects them to your bank transactions. Another feature is the option to email and track invoices directly from the app itself and at the end of the year, you can just generate a tax code which you submit to HMRC.
There are other apps but the government is implementing ‘make tax digital’ in 2020 which will only recognise certain online platforms. As a result, it’s important that if you’re going freelance you make sure you use the correct type of software to avoid any issues later on.
You can read more here:
TO STUDIO, OR NOT TO STUDIO?
Do I get a studio space? Well that kind of depends on you. Freelancing can be a lonely experience at times. When you go into studios you’re usually placed on a spare desk away from the team and if you work from home you usually don’t have anyone around to chat to.
While I don’t have a studio space I do think it’s important that you make contact with humans every once in a while AND would encourage using coffee shops when you can, or maybe renting a desk part-time. It’s not about speaking to people, just being around them.
One of the main benefits of having a studio space is that you can actually invite clients around to meet you, you can appear more professional and you can have a business address. All of these things are worth considering at the start. Knowing where you’re trying to go is crucial when going self-employed as it gives reason to your actions.
Just remember that a £400 a month desk rental is a hefty expense and you should only commit if you feel the value outweighs the cost.
HAVE SOME FUN
Creatives are awesome but they don’t half overthink everything and worry. The best thing about freelancing is you have full autonomy over your life. You go where you want to go, work where you want to work when you fancy it, you can have as much, or little fun as you choose. Obviously, sometimes you need to work just to get some money but if you only want to work for 6 months and then take the rest of the year off, go ahead.
You’re always going to have people try and bring you down and make you question your decisions before going freelance, or while you are freelance. People like to project their own insecurities and worries onto others. What if this happens? what if you can’t do this? and so on. I mean who really cares?
If you try it and it doesn’t work for you then you can find another job. Freelancing is about the hustle and it doesn’t suit everyone and that’s totally fine, but never let anyone dictate the path you should walk because they wouldn’t do it. Sometimes it’s just nice to take a break from the industry and focus on your own health and wellbeing, that’s why I did it. It’s not always about the money.
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