Every month hundreds of people give up their job and go freelance. What are the pros and cons of freelancing? What advice would the seasoned freelancer give to the uninitiated? Here are ten tips to get you off to a good start.
1. Don’t give up the day job (at first)
Ideally, gain in-house experience before starting your freelance career. Work in your spare time, or part-time, until you have established some contacts and made your name known. It takes a while to build up a list of clients. Freelance work – particularly proofreading and editing – is rarely full-time or consistent.
2. Sell yourself effectively
You may have the best skills in the world, but clients need to be made aware of them. Many freelancers create their own website, to showcase their skills and services and allow people to get in touch to discuss these in more detail. Others use LinkedIn, social media, or word of mouth. Many send out a regular email to contacts to remind people of their existence and enhance their brand.
3. Behave professionally
Remember that your clients will value qualities such as reliability, promptness, flexibility, good communication skills and knowledge of the latest technologies. Always honour deadlines, or re-negotiate with ample notice.
Maintain a positive and professional impression through your appearance, your correspondence, your work and even your invoices. Practise what you preach – and what you sell.
4. Acquire the right resources
As a freelancer, you are responsible for your finance, HR, IT, marketing and office management, as well as offering your own specific skills. Make sure that you are equipped in these areas to do your job. You may need to invest in business cards, computer equipment, reference works, software, stationery, a telephone and the like.
5. Become financially literate
Even when you are established, you must budget for lean periods, time off for sickness or holidays, and time spent searching for work. Keep a record of your work-related outgoings and expenses, including equipment, insurance, pension, stationery, telephone, training and utilities. These can be deducted from your taxable income. Remember that you can often charge expenses, such as travel to meetings, to the client.
You will be responsible for your own tax and National Insurance, so set aside a percentage of each payment, and consider hiring an accountant if you are not good with figures.
In terms of fees, the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (CIEP) recommends minimum hourly rates for proofreading and copy-editing. In other roles, such as marketing, you are more likely to charge by the project or a day rate.
The PTC’s course Successful Editorial Freelancing works through the intricacies of finance and helps you to answer questions about how much to charge and how to organise your money.
6. Use networking and membership organisations
Networking is a vital way to stay in touch with existing contacts and find new ones. Join membership organisations such as the Society of Young Publishers, CIEP, Association of Learned and Professional Society Publishers, ELT Publishing Professionals, Institute of Data and Marketing, Chartered Institute of Marketing and others. You can claim tax back on their fees, and they may well pay for themselves if you attend conferences, events and training as member rates will be lower.
Go to the London Book Fair, events and conferences if you can. Think of every meeting and interaction as a potential opportunity. You are always selling, and the product is you!
7. Avoid social isolation
With freelancing, there are no office politics to contend with, but you need to be able to work without interaction or others to motivate you. You must be strongly disciplined, self-motivated, and able to manage your time effectively.
Offer to communicate with your clients in person, by telephone or on Zoom/Teams, rather than email. Get to know other freelancers, join local groups and go out of your way to meet new people. Join groups outside of work interests to widen your social circle.
8. Continue with your training
Publishing changes constantly, with new technologies being introduced all the time. It’s worth investing in yourself to stay up to date. Clients will be impressed if your skills are relevant.
Many organisations, including the PTC, offer discounts for freelancers. Remember that you can claim back the cost of training as part of your work-related outgoings when you submit your annual tax return. Have a look at the PTC’s recently updated e-learning modules for a start.
9. Adjust to a different working rhythm
As your own boss, you are working from home and free to choose your working hours. You have a greater variety of work, and more control over it, and potentially higher earnings. But you must be prepared for slow and hectic periods, and the irregular income this can bring.
You may need to work unsociable hours to meet deadlines or attend meetings outside of your normal working hours. Gone are the commute and social aspects of working. Freelancing is much more intense, as there can be few stimuli to break up the day or week. Each day can be different, and each week or month unpredictable.
10. Look after yourself
Create a positive work environment – adjust your chair to have your eyes level with the top of your screen, invest in a chair that will support your spine, and buy an anti-glare screen to protect your eyes.
Take regular breaks. Go outside for a walk at least once a day. Remember to eat and drink regularly. Turn off your machine at the end of the day and leave work where it belongs. One of the main advantages of freelancing is that it offers a better work-life balance. Make sure that you make it work for you.
This blog was originally published in 2011.
It has been updated and expanded by Petra Green, Head of the PTC and a freelancer for three years.
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