At this time of year, many of us are thinking about how we can make changes that will improve our quality of life and enrich our relationships. Perhaps you’ve had time to think about your job and have decided that it’s time to make a change?
Traditionally, we would have started looking for new versions of the old job. A different employer in the same industry, or perhaps a transfer of skills to a slightly different job. But increasingly, there are many who have come to realise that moving to a new job doesn’t solve the underlying problem. If you are anything like me, you thrive in the first 6 months to a year only to find that dissatisfaction and disillusion set in very fast.
The only way that you can satisfy your need for a challenge, avoid the office politics that seem to get in the way of getting the job done and have the career that you have always desired is start out on your own, dictating your own terms. Whether you chose to call yourself an entrepreneur, a freelance or whatever, working for yourself could well be the answer to job satisfaction.
But freelancing doesn’t work out for everyone. Be honest with yourself, and if some of the things that I’ve listed below sound alien to you, ask yourself if freelancing is for you. You can always join one of our events for freelancers, where you can meet other like minds and find out for yourself. But as a starting point – here’s a quick 10-step plan to launch your freelance career successfully.
1. Get the mindset
The first and most important step to take is to think about how your life will change if you go freelance. I cannot underline this enough. If you have spent your entire career in corporate life, then things will be dramatically different.
Now is the time to be very honest with yourself. Of course freelancing can be very lucrative and the freedom is intoxicating. But it is a double-edged sword. Freedom for one person can mean loneliness and isolation for another. Will you be able to cope financially if the work doesn’t come in?
But the biggest change of all is that you are solely responsible for yourself. That might sound obvious, but it’s surprising how many new freelancers we see whose attitude is passive when they leave a larger organisation where everything is decided for you. They lack the necessary ‘get up and go’ to seek new work, find a network of support and motivate themselves when the going is tough (and it WILL be tough at some point).
Freelancing is all about collaboration not competition. Yes there are lots of other freelancers looking for the same work and talking to the same clients. But they aren’t you and you bring something unique to the party. If you don’t, you will struggle. Learn to collaborate, to ‘pay forward’ (i.e. don’t think about getting something back for what you contribute) and I promise you, you will be first on everyone’s list when a job opportunity comes up.
2. Get planning!
If you’ve already been thinking about going freelance, you may even have started planning. But I can’t underline how important it is to have the basic structure of a business and financial plan before you start. Trust me. When you get going, you’ll need all your time and energy to get new clients and make sure the money is coming in regularly.
If you are coming to freelance in your 40s or later, you’ll no doubt have financial commitments so you really do have to think about how much is enough to get by, or what you’ll need to stop doing.
Think about your new identity too. I don’t just mean a website and a logo, but how you will describe and promote yourself. There will be thousands of independents out there who are likely to have the same skills as you, so it’s all about how you differentiate yourself. We’ve published lots of information here on KindredHQ to help you with this.
3. Decide how and what you are going to charge.
You could start with what you earn or last earned. This should give you a good indication what you’ll need to bring in in client work. There are simple tools to help you work out what your day rate should be, but you should generally add a third onto your existing salary to give you the same earnings (this allows for holidays, new business and admin time).
Try and find out what other freelancers earn in your field. Most existing freelancers are happy to share this information – we all have to start somewhere.
4. Identify clients
Remember. You are not a freelancer without clients. That may sound obvious but if you don’t like asking for money in exchange for work, then you are going to struggle.
Where are you going to find your clients? Many freelancers start with their existing networks. You’ll know your industry and where skills are needed. You might even have worked out how to deliver a service or fix a problem that will benefit your industry. It’s certainly a good place to start, but don’t count on your old colleagues to keep supplying you with work. You need to start building new relationships straightaway, if not before you go freelance.
Do any of your friends or family have useful contacts? What about connections on LinkedIn, or your wider local community?
Remember that you need to keep a strong social media presence. I’m afraid you can’t be a shrinking violet when you work independently, and you need coordinate these and keep them relevant. The pay off is that prospective clients might well find you through social media, directly or indirectly. They will certainly be checking you out. It’s also a good way to share your views on your specialist area, another thing that will distinguish you from the crowd.
5. Get out and about
Alright. I mean networking. Except that if you speak to many freelancers they will say that they hate the idea! Networking doesn’t have to be about thrusting business cards into people’s hands and superficial meetings. Come and check out our coworking for freelancers if you don’t believe us! But you do need to find a way to meet others like you and prospective clients, and to do so on your terms.
Check out events websites like Eventbrite and Meetup.com. Start with something that you enjoy. I have a freelance friend who loves tango – and integrates her love of dancing with her freelance career.
6. Learn to enjoy money and admin!
I can’t tell you how much I hate admin. I’ve never been any good at it and used to use the excuse that I was a creative type. But there’s no getting away from the fact that it’s an integral part of freelancing. Even if you earn enough to hire a virtual PA, you are still going to have to address some of it yourself.
The important thing is to stay on top of it, and at the very least, allow yourself a few hours a week to deal with expenses, invoicing and chasing invoices. The trick is to understand that it’s not pointless time, but is an important part of bringing in the money.
I use a couple of fantastic tools specially designed for freelancers – Receipt Bank which helps me log my expenses with my smartphone and Freeagent.com which is how I do all my book keeping and run my finances.
7. Get yourself a great accountant
One the big advantages of being freelance are that you have more options to structure your finances and be clever about money. And an accountant can not only help point you in the right direction, but take away all your tax and national insurance headaches.
A good accountant will make sure your freelance business is structured properly (whether you’re a sole trader or limited company) and that you’re taking advantage of every possible tax break, while staying within the law.
8. Don’t run your business on a shoestring
I understand that when you start out you need to bring in some money in order to make it. But once you have some money in the bank, consider investing it in your business. Buy decent equipment that is less likely to let you down at the crucial moment, and get the right software. Don’t forget that if you have a limited company, these can legitimately become the property of the company, meaning that you will have a tax break on the cost of buying it.
Consider investing in yourself and your skills base too. Training is something that we take for granted when we work for larger organisations, but it’s essential to keep your industry knowledge up to date and relevant if you are selling your expertise. It doesn’t have to cost much. You can do a lot to improve your skills and learn online for free – see this list we developed recently.
9. Develop a network of freelance associates
One of the things that keeps clients coming back time after time is your ‘can do’ attitude. That doesn’t mean that you need to be a jack or jill of all trades, but if you can help your clients out by recommending the right expert for the job, you will gain their trust and make a freelance ally in the process.
Don’t forget, that you’ve also got to go on holiday sometimes and with any luck you will also have times when you simply have more work that you can fine the time to deliver.
So, start looking out for like-minded and trustworthy freelance associates who do similar work to you. The freelancer mindset is not one of competition but collaboration, and in any case, it’s a good thing to have someone to bounce ideas off and keep you motivated. And, it works both ways!
10. Join KindredHQ
Or another group of ready-made freelance friends who will help and support you all the way through your freelance journey. At KindredHQ, we run coworking groups, nights out, special events and training, so there’s bound to be something there for you. But at the very least, you’ll have people who can share your journey to freelance and help you when the going is a little tough.