Everything You Need to Know Before Going Freelance

Hey gang,

I’ve been freelancing full-time for almost two months now and I wanted to write a little post to relay my experiences so far and give you everything you need to know before going freelance!

Ultimately, I wanted to go freelance as, like many people, I have always known that deep down, working for other people wasn’t for me.

I’m very self-motivated when it comes to working for myself, which is why I could finish a full day at work then go home and do freelance writing for clients or the biggest challenge yet, running my own business.

I did these things because I desperately needed to have something that was purely for me.

It’s amazing the kind of lies you will tell yourself to spin the life you think you’ve chosen for yourself.

I was a complete product of the modern-day education system – I felt I had done all the right things. I went to university, I got a good grade in my degree and a graduate job pretty much straight after. And then I inadvertedly made myself miserable for four years.

I told myself that working full-time was just what I needed to do whilst I built up one of my other side ventures to the degree that I could fulfil my dream – quitting my day job and focussing solely on my own pursuits like blogging, writing and my festival fashion business, Festival Queens.

But here’s the thing – whilst I was working 40+ hours a week for other people and with that, using up the majority of my time, energy and creativity, I would never be a position where I could give my side ventures the attention they deserve to be able to scale them and ultimately, make them pay.

I considered working in marketing part-time but told myself I couldn’t afford to work 3 or 4 days a week. Yet another lie that I sold to myself.

Honestly, I have no less money now than I did when I was working my first few graduate jobs. I’m not rolling in £££, but these things come with time and I have complete faith that I’ll grow my client list to a stage where I’m living comfortably and earning more money than I was in the highest paid job I’ve had to date.

And regardless of money, what I can say, is that  I am the happiest I have been in YEARS.

The way I see it, you can always get more money, you can never get more time.

There’s a lot of misconceptions about freelancing and in this post I want to address some of them and explore the hardships & highlights of the past few weeks. It’s been a rollar-coaster, but the ride has only just begun. 

The lack of structure isn’t for everyone – here’s why

Personally, I absolutely HATED having to get up in the dark every morning to go into an office so working from home is a dream for me. 

However, whilst having no set alarm clock in the morning and being able to work in your pyjamas may SOUND amazing, it’s important to remember that the rest of the world are working roughly between the hours of 9-5pm and you need to be available for your clients when they need you.

Before you even THINK about going freelance, you need to have a very frank discussion with yourself AND the people who know you best about if you have the self-control and motivation to work for yourself. 

.The reason I advise you to involve other people is that it’s very easy to think “Sure, I can work for myself” but the reality it can be difficult to avoid distraction and manage your time efficiently without having a boss or manager breathing down your neck.

When you work from home, the boundaries between home and work life can become blurred. If you’re used to your home being a place you use solely for relaxation, this doesn’t neccesarily mean freelancing isn’t for you.

Just consider finding a co-working space or a local cafe to work from instead to help your mind differentiate between “This is the place where I relax” and “This is the place where I work”.

If you have space in your home to create an office, I would highly recommend this to help you focus. This gives you the best of both worlds, provided there aren’t too many cute pets or small children demanding your attention!

Simiarly, make sure you structure your days the same way you would if you had a job. Block out times in your diary to do specific tasks and make sure you’re organised when it comes to meeting deadlines.

Sure, freelancing is super flexible and that’s one of the great things about it but it’s important to have some structure otherwise you’ll end up feeling like a disorganised mess.

I personally use Trello and my Gmail diary to keep track of things. I couldn’t reccommend Trello enough. I have a board for my personal life and a board for freelancing and it helps me keep on track of the little things, like remembering to chase a client about something or the status of a project.

It can be lonely… yet incredibly rewarding

I’m a very social person so I did initially worry about feeling lonely without any colleagues. 

However, being my own boss has given me a substantially better quality of life. I now have the time to go and see friends of mine who live elsewhere, my flexible schedule meaning I can work around them. And there’s the added bonus that I can work from literally anywhere.

My best friend lives in Dublin, so I’m planning on coming over for a week in the New Year rather than the hurried 2 or 3 day visits we’re used to.

Similarly, something I found really hard living in Sheffield is not being able to see my family any time except on the weekends (they’re from Leicestershire). One of the first things I did when I became freelance was pack my bags and go visit them for a week. 

If you have other friends who are freelancers, there’s nothing stopping you from meeting up with them and working together from a nice coffee shop every week or so. It’s lovely having the company and even better, company you’ve picked yourself to spend time with!

Let’s talk about finances

When I started writing this post, I opened the floodgates on Instagram and asked you what you’d like to know about my freelancing journey so far. 

One of the reoccuring questions was “How do you budget when you don’t know how much money you have coming in every month?” and it’s a really good question.

Firstly, the best way to know how much money you have coming in every month is to charge clients a monthly fee for whatever work you do for them.

I much prefer this approach to billing hourly. With hourly work, you’re rushing to make sure you’re quick enough to make the work cost-effective for you. But sometimes, things take much longer or less time than you’d think so charging monthly or per project is much more flexible.

Secondly, focus on quality over quantity when it comes to getting clients and choose people who you will want to work with long-term. Just like getting a job, remember that finding clients is a two-way process. You have to pick them just as much as they pick to work with you.

I could easily under-price myself and other freelancers by offering say, social media management for something silly like £200 a month.

But why would I want to do complete social media management for five clients to earn £1000 (a lot of work for no where near enough money) when I could find two clients who want an ongoing. quality service and are willing to pay the price associated with that?

I’ve been freelancing for six weeks now and I have so far have two clients – which I think for the run-up to Christmas is pretty good going as I’ve found that people are in a “We’ll think about starting anything new after the New Year” kind of mentality!

I also have a bunch of promising leads to follow up after the New Year from clients who I know want to work with someone who is essentially an extended part of their team on a long-term basis. These are the kind of clients you want!

Just because you’re freelance and have bills to pay doesn’t mean you have to undersell yourself and your skills. Don’t take silly money for something that’s worth a lot more just for the sake of having the work.

Clients who are looking for the cheapest option possible aren’t people you’ll want to work with long-term anyway – trust me on that. 

With just two clients, my income isn’t huge but whilst I’m building up my freelance business I’m currently applying 16 hour a week jobs doing something completely different, like being a Barista or working in retail.

This is for two reasons. Mainly, because I want a part-time job that’ll give me enough money to cover my rent and bills every month guaranteed.

Secondly, I like variation in my life and I really enjoyed being a Barista and working in retail when I was at university. It gives me the chance to do something a bit different rather than marketing and writing 24/7.

Getting a part-time job is a great thing to do whilst you’re getting more established as it gives you peace of mind that you have enough money for the essentials every month.

Also make sure you’re prepared if you want to go freelance and have some savings behind you. Once you start getting clients, work out how much money you need to live off and save everything else to accommodate for any months where you’re not earning as much.

While there are techniques you can take advantage of, like the Pomodoro method, to work well, you still got to find a way to keep yourself organised, so you don’t overspend.

Lastly, remember to register as self-employed with HMRC and submit your tax return before January 31st. Keep a note of all your invoices, how much you were paid and when as that’ll make filling in your tax return a lot easier when the time comes.

How to protect yourself financially

When agencies take on new clients they often put them on a three six month retainer. This simply means a contract whereby they agree to pay for the service for a set amount of time. Then if they want to leave in the future, they have to give 30 days notice – a bit like when you rent a new place.

This protects the agency from taking on clients who, say a month down the line decide they don’t want to work with you anymore for whatever reason.

If they didn’t have that retainer in place, it puts peoples’ jobs at risk. But if you know a client wants to leave with a month’s notice, you have enough time to find a replacement so you’re not in a position where your income drops unexpectedly.  

When you’re a freelancer, it’s a bit trickier. You can also place them on a retainer, but at the very least you need to make sure when you take on a new client you have the work you’re doing for them, how much it costs, when you want to be paid and the procedure for the client cancelling the service down in writing over email.

You would hope that your clients stick to this out of common decency, but to be really protected, consider getting a proper contract template drawn up by a lawyer.

This is by no means my area of expertise but I am pursuing the latter to make sure I’m fully protected and could take clients to court in the case of one deciding not to pay me.

How to make clients pay you on time

I’ve been freelancing part-time for over four years before I took the plunge to go full-time so I understand just how frustrating it is when clients don’t pay you on time.

This kind of fits in with what I was saying about getting quality clients. Hopefully, you will pick people who respect your time and skills and therefore do the proper thing by paying you on time.

However, with the best will in the world, people can appear to be lovely and not the kind who would mess you around but then end up being just that.

The best way to approach this situation is by calling them. People find it so awkward being asked why they haven’t paid for something over the phone as it’s such a direct approach.

Usually there’s a reasonable explanation. but if it happens continually consider severing ties with the client (in a diplomatic way) and finding someone new who will respect you enough to pay you on time.

Only offer services that you’re confident in doing

Now this might sound really obvious, but only offer services to clients that you’re confident you can deliver on.

The reason I say this is because it can be tempting to write down every marketing (or other industry) skill you have any experience in – from basic to advanced.

But if you get hired to do a job that you can’t do to the best of your ability, it’s a lose-lose situation for you and the client as it simply won’t be sustainable.

On my freelance website (you 100% need a website/portfolio) I’ve only listed services that I am confident and experienced in doing.

When it comes to new clients, some know exactly what they need help with and some don’t have a clue and need your advice.

Remember that you are the expert in this situation, so you need to be able to look at what they’re currently doing with a critical eye to suggest the services that would be of most benefit. You can’t do this if you aren’t an expert in each of the service that you offer.

Finally… you need to treat yourself as a business

You could be freelancing from the spare room at your parent’s house, but the most important thing you can do as a freelancer is remember to treat yourself as a BUSINESS.

There are little things that can make you look a bit more professional, such as having an address for business premises like a virtual address.

To be a successful freelancer you need all the tenacity of a new business owner – you need to be prepared to put in hard graft, market yourself and navigate the tricky line of keeping clients happy whilst not over-extending yourself.

But do it right, and you can create a life for yourself that works around you and not a life that revolves around work.

If you’re thinking about going freelance and would like some help or advice on anything, you can reach out to me here on Instagram.

If you’re a business owner and would like to find out more about how I can help you to market your business head to my freelance website here.

Until next time, thanks for reading!

Hannah x

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