Emma Knowles, Editor
October, 2017

If you're looking for an escape from the nine to five, you could take charge of your career by going freelance

What is freelancing?

A form of self-employment, freelancers lend their skills and talents to a number of clients on a flexible basis. They aren't employed by a company or committed to a single customer - they have the freedom to choose the projects they'd like to work on and the clients they'd like to work for. They usually work from home, although some rent studio or office space.

While it's possible to balance freelancing with other employment, many commit to freelancing full time. This is the most effective way to build good working relationships and an impressive portfolio.

Companies look to hire freelancers in a number of roles, including:

Creative roles such as web developer, writer and illustrator are particularly popular among freelancers, although almost anyone can go freelance with the right motivation and skills.

How do I go freelance?

There's no set path into freelancing, but to succeed in any form of self-employment you'll need the motivation, enthusiasm and passion for your work to secure clients and build your career from the ground.

Do your research - Before you give up the office job, you should find out what you're getting yourself into. Talk to other freelancers in the industry you'd like to enter to learn from their experiences.

Become business-minded - Going freelance means starting a business, so you'll have to get to grips with your finances, general admin and paying taxes - areas you may not know much about. Emily Coltman FCA, chief accountant to accounting software creators FreeAgent, recommends writing a business plan. 'Before you get started, make a simple plan of how much you think you'll earn, what costs you'll incur and how much cash it'll bring in,' she says. 'This is called a forecast - without one, you'll be flying blind.'

It's also important to think about the long-term, says chief executive of CMME Jason Powell. 'Develop a plan with specific goals for the short, medium and long term,' he says. 'A basic plan can help you prioritise tasks on a daily basis, but it's just as crucial to plan where you envisage your freelance career in 12 months' time.'

There are a number of practical jobs to carry out when going self-employed, such as sorting insurance and registering with Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs (HMRC). 'As well as how much cash your business is making, you need to know how much you're making in profit, because profit is the figure you'll pay tax on,' Emily says. It's important to stay on top of your cash flow. 

Find out more about how to start a business.

Don't be afraid to network - It's crucial to have your voice heard while building a client base. Some freelancers sign up to agencies such as Freelancer, Upwork or role-specific agencies like to become more visible to those looking to hire freelancers.

Others take a more proactive approach. 'Meeting people and knowing who you're selling your services or goods to is fundamental to the success of any business,' says Jason. 'In the social media era it's easy to think you're always connected at the push of a button. However, the personal touch is key to a good networking strategy - meeting face-to-face and exchanging business cards will improve your relationships and bring in referrals.'  

Be disciplined - 'It's vital to create structure when you haven't got a boss breathing down your neck,' says Jason. 'It's all too easy to put things off. When you're working from home, a good work/life balance can be hard to achieve because both happen in the same place. Your boundaries can become blurred.' To increase your productivity, Jason recommends waking up early to establish a daily routine, and setting your own contact hours to avoid the risk of liaising with clients into the night.

How much can I charge?

You'll be able to set your own rates for the work you complete. You may choose to charge by the hour, the day or the project, depending on the nature of your work and which payment method is more cost efficient.

For instance, you may be able to complete a high-quality project in a short space of time, which if you're charging by the hour leaves you at risk of undervaluing your work. On the other hand, if you've completed a project for a client and they decide it needs reworking, imposing an hourly rate means you'll be compensated for the extra time you put in.

As you gain experience in completing work and collaborating with clients you'll gain a better understanding of how much to charge certain clients for certain projects. With this experience you'll also be able to charge more for your services.

The Society for Editors and Proofreaders (SFEP) has issued a guide of suggested minimum hourly rates freelance writers can expect to negotiate from. As of March 2017, a freelance copywriter should aim to charge at least £27.15 per hour, while freelance editors doing substantial rewriting and development can realistically charge £31.30 per hour.

The pros and cons of freelancing

Freelancing is an appealing option for workers hoping to live by their own rules. There are many upsides to going freelance - these include:

  • Better rates of pay - freelancers have the ability to alter their rates to suit individual projects and clients. An established web developer, for instance, may be able to charge a client hundreds of pounds to create a website that only takes a few hours to complete.
  • Freedom - as previously mentioned, going freelance means you'll have complete control over which projects you take on. You'll also have a new-found freedom of choosing how your working day looks and when your holidays will be.
  • Exploring your options - due to the lack of a structured workload, freelancers can venture into new projects and experiment more with the work they do.

However, becoming self-employed isn't without its setbacks. The downsides include:

  • Little financial stability - a freelancer's income is never guaranteed, only earning when a client is willing to pay for their services. Working freelance, you'll likely experience periods of little to no work. Budgeting to cover these periods is essential.
  • Building a good reputation takes time - when first starting out, you'll be a little fish in a big pond. Successful freelancing doesn't happen overnight, and becoming established in your chosen field may take years of hard work.  
  • Social isolation - although not all freelance jobs involve working from home, removing yourself from an office or workplace environment cuts a lot of social interaction from your routine.
  • No work benefits - freelancers forfeit sick pay, pensions and bonuses.

Find out more