I’ve dived into the brave new world of freelancing…again. It’s been 3 months since I’ve taken the plunge and it’s been quite the journey where so many doors have opened up that I wouldn’t have expected.
Now that I have a spare moment, I thought it might be useful to share some of my experience and tips since starting back up as a freelancer to help you with those first steps, regardless of your career :
Get organised. Seriously, like, really organised. I don’t mean buy a nice pen, note pad and some biscuits. I mean, you will need those things eventually, but start a spreadsheet and get an accountant – there’s more on this below – don’t put it off, in fact do it before you even begin freelancing – get your ducks in a row before you start.
How much time do you want to be working? There’s a risk of saying yes to everything and finding that your life goes out the window because you’re constantly working. Factor in working to a pattern, or making sure you have a day off or 2 to do the life stuff, buy food, socalise etc. You do need to be disciplined about everything though. I have a routine in the morning of waking up and planning my day as though I was going out of the front door, when in reality I’m trekking only as far as my kitchen table – it helps you focus the mind.
Biscuits. I mentioned them earlier and they’re amazing radio content fodder, as well as going well with tea. Basically though – don’t buy them. Since becoming a freelancer, I’ve had to quite literally hide them as I work from home. They’re every self employed persons kryptonite.
Spreadsheets. They are now your friend. We were quite literally forced to do spreadsheets at school and most people I know hate them, but slowly I’ve learned to love them like a small teddy bear with a missing eye and stuffing pouring out. My spreadsheet has several pages to it and tells me everything from invoice numbers and when they were sent and due, all the way up to how many hours I work each day – which you’ll find out more about when I mention accountants next . My spreadsheet is quite literally my guide because it tells me how much I’ve got coming in, how much I’ve got going out, how much I should put to one side. It’s like a giant shopping list, but with fewer biscuits on it. It’s also useful to have a spreadsheet that’s organised for the end of your tax year that you can just hand over to your accountant to make life easy.
Accountants (Now also your friend). Unless you are a mathematical genius that understands how to submit a tax return in one swoop this may bit may not apply. For the rest of us, myself included, get yourself an accountant. It’s all a bit grown up, and they make you sign scary forms at the start which makes you gulp so hard that you think you’ve swallowed your tongue, but trust me. GET. AN. ACCOUNTANT. Not only will they be able to do all the mathy type of things, but they’ll also be able to point out things that you might not be aware of. Working from home? You can run a portion of your electricity and gas bills through your end of year expenses, which is why I mentioned earlier to keep a tab on how many hours you do each day. Using a mobile phone? It goes towards your expenses. Taking biscuits to a client? Expenses. A good accountant will be able to point all this stuff out to you, and some even offer business advice if things aren’t going so well and are able to fill out benefits forms based on your earnings while you try and get up and running smoothly. Anyway. Get an accountant. (You can also run the cost of hiring one through your expenses).
Now that you are a fully fledged human in the world of being self employed, you need to actually go and get some work. It’s not likely to come knocking at your door any time soon if you don’t tell people that you’re good and ready to go. Talk to people who you’ve worked with previously, introduce yourself to people you’d like to work with, network with as many people as you think you need to get somewhere. It sounds obvious, and it really is, but if you don’t tell people that you’re now self employed then how will they ever find you?!
Insurance. Some people need it for what they do. Some people don’t as they are covered by the company they are working for. It’s worth looking at though.
Get a diary and plan your life. Don’t just try and remember to be places – you will forget. Write it down in a diary. Take it with you where ever you go and make it your new best mate. If someone offers you a job, pull out the diary and say yes or no straight away. It’s a basic business skill, and being able to give an assertive answer to someone there and then is more likely to win you brownie points than saying you’ll check later when you get home (and then forgetting).
Have an invoice system. It may be as simple as numbering them from 0 to a million, I have a coded system depending on who I am sending it to and what it’s for, but create a system that works for you and cross reference it somewhere on a spreadsheet with when it was sent, how much it was for, when it was due… whatever. It’ll make life easier if you need to refer to something. Just have a system.
My final point is money. It’s that all important thing that will keep you afloat and will allow you to buy nice shoes and occasionally food (biscuits). Whoever you’re working for, always write down and even confirm by email if you want, what everyone is expecting from the job you’re being paid to do. Again, it sounds like basic stuff, but it’s essential to write this sort of thing down so there’s no discrepancy about what you’re actually being paid to do. Be honest and communicate if you think an unexpected bump in the road means that it’s going to cost more, don’t put it off. On the other side of that point, don’t be afraid to chase an invoice that’s overdue. Be polite, do it nicely – maybe they’ve forgotten, we’re all humans at the end of the day just trying to get by on the merry go round of life.
I hope that if you’re starting out and embarking on a freelance / self employed career that this has been of some use. Of course, there’s lots of other things which you’ll need to consider – social media, websites, specialisms and so on… but good luck, and remember to always stand up straight, give a solid hand shake, and always bring biscuits.