Consider taking on freelance jobs or contract work if you're looking for more independence and variety in your career. You'll need the business acumen to build a client base and manage your finances

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 - freelancers 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.

Freelancing vs contract work

Laura Foster, digital marketing manager at ContractorUK, explains the differences between these forms of self-employment:

'Contractors tend to work on one contract at a time. The contract will define their arrangement with their client for a specified period. For example, the contract might stipulate that the contractor will be paid a rate of £400 per day for six months, and that they must complete the work from the client's office during specific working hours.

'On the other hand, freelancers might be working on several freelance projects at a time, and are more likely to have an hourly or project rate as opposed to daily. They also may not necessarily operate under a contract in the same way as a contractor will, and as such will often be able to complete projects remotely during working hours which suit them.

'Contractors tend to work in industries such as IT, engineering, social work, finance, health and education, while freelancers tend to work in more creative industries, in areas such as graphic design, music, photography and writing.'

See ContractorUK - Can graduates become contractors? for more information.

What jobs can I do freelance?

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

Creative roles are particularly popular for freelance or contract work opportunities, although freelancers with the right motivation and skills are welcome in a range of industries.

Browse job profiles to learn more about going freelance in your chosen career.

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 registering with Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs (HMRC). 'As a sole trader you'll be expected to pay income tax and National Insurance contributions. If you're a limited company you must inform HMRC, because there will be corporation taxes to pay,' says Julia Kermode, chief executive of trade association The Freelancer & Contractor Services Association (FCSA).

You'll also need to sort insurance. 'If something goes wrong at any time you could be in trouble if you don't have the right insurance in place,' Julia says. 'Talk to a specialist advisor about public liability insurance, professional indemnity insurance, contents insurance and business interruption insurance for times when you cannot work for one reason or another.'

Find out more about how to start a business.

Don't be afraid to network - 'Meeting people, and knowing who you're selling your services or goods to, are fundamental skills 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.

Weigh up the pros and cons of going freelance at Is self-employment right for you?

How much can I charge?

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

For example, the Society for Editors and Proofreaders (SFEP) has issued a guide of suggested minimum rates freelance writers can expect to negotiate from. As of March 2018, a freelance copywriter should aim to charge at least £28.30 per hour, while freelance editors doing substantial rewriting and development can realistically charge £32.60 per hour.

Where can I find freelance opportunities?

If you're yet to build up a client base, signing up to freelance agencies is a good first step to take. You'll gain access to clients in a range of locations, offering plenty of freelance jobs and contract work to choose from. Consider the following when starting your search:

  • Find a Freelancer - the directory for FreelanceUK, specialising in creative and media-related professions.
  • Freelancer - You can choose between fixed-price and hourly projects, and local and international jobs. It's free to join and you can bid on up to eight projects per month.
  • Freelancers in the UK - hosts a range of freelancers, from graphic designers to sound engineers, as well as a blog full of useful advice and support. Membership costs £12 per year.
  • PeoplePerHour.com - includes a communication service between client and freelancer, with instant messaging and a secure payment method. An artificial intelligence system matches your skills to projects, and you can send up to 15 quotes per month for free.
  • Upwork - jobs are available in hundreds of categories, and a payment protection plan means you'll always be paid for work on time. You can join for free, or upgrade to a Plus account (including features such as a customised URL and higher visibility when bidding for jobs) for $10 (approx. £8) per month.

Find out more

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