Tempted by the promise of being in control of my own life, and flexibility to work around my children, it felt like an easy decision to become a freelancer.
Then I found myself a few weeks from launch, realising I had no idea what I was doing. Not. A. Clue. Fortunately, a wonderful group of charity freelancers shared their wisdom – so I thought I’d collate their thoughts for fellow freelancers who will hopefully find them as helpful as I have.
Working with clients
As a freelancer, it’s more important than ever to be clear and upfront about the information you need, and by when, to complete tasks on time (and to budget). Unless you’ve worked with a client for a long time, you’re unlikely to be immersed in their work and voice, so it’s key early on to establish how you will do this. You need to become skilled at getting to know your clients, and understanding your role in fixing their problems, very quickly.
Once you’re all on the same page, work out how you will handle clients who don’t do what they say they will. It’ll be different to relationships with colleagues, so be ready for difficult conversations. Being firm on implications of delays will be crucial.
Work on your relationships. Some people send hand-written “thank you” cards to each client. If you see relevant or interesting blog posts or articles, send them a quick email – you can add much more value to the relationship than just the sum of your work.
Money and planning
Without a guaranteed salary, a key part of your survival as a freelancer will be how you manage the planning and financial aspects of your work. Set prices realistically based on experience and don’t feel forced into discounting. I have found lots of people are open about their rates, which helped me set mine. Also, when setting prices, plan on approximately 12 paid days a month rather than 22 (or part-time equivalent), to leave time for everything else you need to do that isn’t directly paid.
Pipeline management is one of the trickier aspects and many freelancers talk about their business going through periods of feast and famine. Working to secure future clients should be an ongoing process – even when you have a full workload, investing in the next project is vital if you want to minimise fallow weeks and months.
Many people suggest getting an accountant. Most freelancers aren’t legally required to if they are self-employed rather than a limited company, but some say it saves a lot of time and is worth the investment. Either way, put aside money into a separate account for tax/student loan/NI from each invoice – around a third should do it and will save you scrabbling to pay your bills down the line.
You will need an invoicing system – I have a free account with Wave and find it straightforward, but others are available. Decide how you will approach invoicing – some suggest invoicing part upfront, especially for bigger jobs; and invoicing monthly on longer-term projects is a good way to manage cash flow. Don’t forget to decide your payment terms and follow up late payers!
Working on your own doesn’t have to mean you lose the team spirit you had in other jobs. You just have to be smarter about building it for yourself. There’s a huge network of people in similar shoes to yours just waiting to chat over a coffee with you and you really should take advantage of that.
As well as providing you with a sounding board to help with business decisions or specific problems, you may find once you get to know people working in your area, they will recommend you for work they can’t do – and you will be able to do the same for them too. If you can’t do a job for a potential client but help to find someone who can, you are more likely to retain a relationship with that client and be asked again in future.
There are also lots of great virtual networks filled with smart people who have been through what you’re going through and who will share their advice and expertise. Fundraising consultants and freelancers group and The freelance lifestylers Facebook groups have been especially helpful for me so far.
Freelancers I’ve spoken to have all emphasised how important it is to say “no” to jobs that don’t fulfill your own needs – even if it’s just based on a gut feeling. While it can be scary – and counter-intuitive to turn down work, ultimately you know if a job feels like a good fit. Taking on work you’ll regret will do you no good in the long run.
Finally – look after yourself. You won’t get paid sick leave, so it’s worthwhile to invest in your wellbeing on a regular basis. Take walks at lunchtime; treat yourself to a massage at the end of a busy month; go and watch a film on your own one afternoon.
Freelancing is an opportunity to take control of your work life balance – and by following these tips you will hopefully be able to create a fulfilling business that makes you happy. Now, isn’t that worth making a leap into the unknown for?
Thank you to: Jonathan Ashton-Cook, Bashiera Rosser-Owen, Lisa Gagliani, Richard Turner, Giles Pegram, Fran Swaine, Catherine Raynor, Kate Hogg, Slaney Wright, Alec Leggat, Nicola Arnell, Sarah Taragon, Dawn Newton, and Gary Bentham for their words of wisdom!
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