Here’s what you need to know about starting out as a freelancer, from getting started and finding clients to paying taxes and building your portfolio.
What service will you offer?
What are your skills? Writing, marketing, graphic design, project management, teaching and tutoring, web developing, CV writing, administration assistance and accounting are some common freelancing professions, but there is a much wider range of jobs out there. Take a look at some popular freelance websites such as Upwork, Freelancer and Peopleperhour to see if your skills are in demand.
How do you set up your business?
To set yourself up as a freelancer in the UK you will need to register as a sole trader or set-up a company. There are certain responsibilities that come with being a freelancer that you need to be aware of before you start in order to comply with UK laws:
- Register for Self Assessment and file a tax return each year
- Keep a record of all of your sales and expenses
- Budget for and pay your income tax and National Insurance
It’s advisable to put money aside each month so you can cover these costs, and have some savings behind you in the first few months to ensure you’re well covered while you build your client base. Many freelancers work part-time initially until they can afford to live off their freelancing earnings entirely.
You can read the full rules and find out how to register here.
If you feel you need some help building your business skills, check out our professional short courses here.
How do you find your clients?
The quickest and easiest way to start building your client base is to use freelance websites like the ones mentioned above, and start applying for jobs. If you do a good job you will start to build a loyal base of clients who keep coming back. However, be aware that these freelancing sites can be very competitive. Initially it’s likely that you will have to take some more basic jobs and charge less – once you’ve done the groundwork in this way and built up your reputation, you’ll be able to apply for the more desirable jobs and raise your prices.
Networking is also a key way to finding a regular income through freelancing. Take time to make quality connections with former colleagues, friends or anyone in your industry who will be willing to recommend you for work. LinkedIn is a vital networking tool in promoting yourself and your work. Read our guide to networking here.
Speculative job applications
This is where you apply for a job that doesn’t formally exist yet, but can be a successful ‘in’ with a company you want to work for if done correctly. The intention is to advertise your talents in a way that persuades the company that you have what they need, even if they’re not looking for someone or haven’t advertised a position yet. It’s a great way to stand out and tap into a ‘hidden’ job market. Read our guide to writing speculative job applications here.
Creating your portfolio
Many creative freelance jobs such as copywriting, graphic design, digital marketing and photography will require a portfolio of your best work in order to win clients.
Here are a few tips to create a dazzling portfolio:
- Curate your portfolio to showcase the key skills you want potential clients to be aware of
- Include only 5-8 pieces of your best work – there should be no page-fillers
- Take time to write a description of each project, such as the brief, the problem you solved, the results it achieved, etc
- Make it easy to find your contact details, explain the type of skills you can provide and the kind of work you are interested in
- Include testimonials from previous clients
If you don’t have enough work to fill a portfolio yet, don’t worry. It’s perfectly acceptable to create ‘fake’ speculative projects that demonstrate your skills, as long as you clearly label that the work was not done for a real client. If you want to create an advertising copywriter portfolio, choose some existing advertisements and re-write them, with improvements. If you want to market yourself as a graphic designer, design logos, posters and packaging for a made-up company. If you’re a web designer, create an impressive website from scratch.
Being a freelancer gives you a lot of freedom over your own career, but also requires you to take control of the business side of things, be entrepreneurial in the way you promote yourself, and be adaptable to change. You need to be constantly on the look out for new opportunities, because by nature freelance work is not always secure.
However, for many, the benefits of flexible hours and location, and having more control over the projects you choose, make the hard work all worth it.