Congratulations on making the big decision to start your freelancing career — you’re set to join over two million freelancers in the UK alone.
According to a study by the IPSE, freelancers contributed a whopping £119 billion to the economy in 2016. That’s a rise of £10 billion from the previous year — impressive.
Aside from contributing positively to the economy, freelancing gives you freedom like no other job. If you’re one of the lucky few with flexible working hours in a full-time job, that’s great, and I’m jealous. But, working for yourself brings with it the ultimate flexibility. You can work into the night if you want, or you can get up at the crack of dawn. It’s the job that fits around your lifestyle — whatever that may be. Maybe you fancy travelling the world but still want to earn money — the mobility of a laptop means anywhere can be your office.
There are cons to working for yourself as a freelancer, obviously. For example, unless you bag some retainer clients, your income could be pretty sketchy. You’ll also need to muster up some willpower and stop watching Netflix. Put the washing down and go back to your work!
If you’re truly fed up with the 9–5 grind of the office-based job, the long work commute, and the office ‘bantz,’ freelancing could be the perfect option for you. You just have to work out if your pros outweigh your cons.
Why Do People Start Freelancing?
According to a study by Kalido, there seem to be many reasons freelancers decide to follow the path to self-employment. ‘Earn more and improve quality of life’ placed as the second-highest reason with 54% of the vote. I’m not sure if I understand why the highest-voted answer was to ‘learn new skills for a more secure future.’ OK, you can learn new skills — but, let’s be honest, you can learn new skills in any job. Do you necessarily have to take the leap into freelancing to widen your skillset? I’m not so sure…
Don’t get me wrong, you learn a lot of new skills, but they’re not always job-related. You learn about running a business, how to fill in a tax return, how to diplomatically but firmly ask why the hell invoices are late/not paid, and, of course, there’s winning and then onboarding new clients.
It can be a minefield and very overwhelming. But, like everything, it gets easier with time.
Advice for New Freelancers
When you become a freelancer, it’s easy to get so absorbed in your new work-life that your continued development goes out the window. All you seem to do is chase your current clients for payments and chase new clients for new business. Before you know it, it’s late evening, and you’ve barely eaten all day.
I’ve just started my second round of freelancing — mainly because my first time I said ‘yes’ to all jobs from any client, even when I got bad vibes from them (I’m still owed money two years on). I felt I had to in order to earn money. Chandler from “ Friends” was right — the fear gets to you once you’ve quit your full-time job.
I was miserable, stressed, I had slowly come to resent some of my clients, and the work I was doing wasn’t fulfilling in the slightest.
Here are my top tips for new freelancers.
Think about your decision properly
You need to really weigh up the pros and cons of working for yourself. Are you someone who can work by themselves — sometimes going a full day or multiple days not talking to anyone? I was warned it could get lonely, but I don’t actually feel lonely. I’m a chatty person — anyone who has unfortunately sat next to me in any office space can attest to this. I still talk to people, and so far, I’ve not missed the office chit-chat.
I talk with people online and in cafes I work at. I also make sure to break some days up by meeting friends for lunch. Whatever gets you out of the house and working in a new environment — even if it’s just one day a week — do it.
Pick your favourite cafe with free WiFi and buy a drink. Sit and work for a few hours, and when you go back home, you’ll feel refreshed.
This was something I didn’t do a lot of my first time around. This time, I’ve got a cushion behind me. Having money saved means you don’t make rash decisions when accepting work. I took shit from clients left, right, and centre last time, and I’m sure as hell not doing that again! If you struggle with saving money, I’ve been using an app called Plum. It’s free, and I read all about it on Money Saving Expert, so it was trustworthy. Check it out.
Nail down your client persona
If you don’t know who you want to work with, how will you market yourself properly? I work with business owners, mainly in the B2B sector. I know their pain points and exactly how I can alleviate the issues they’re having. You need to outline something similar so you can focus your offering.
Don’t compromise on price, clients, or contracts
First of all, you need to work out what you’re going to charge. Look and see what other freelancers are charging for similar services. Write into your terms and conditions that you have the right to change your pricing without prior notice. Then, if after a few months you think your pricing is too low or too high, you can adjust accordingly.
If a client tries to ask you to complete work for a price you’re not comfortable with, just stay firm with your pricing. If they want to pay, they’ll hire you. If not, they’ll find someone else, and they weren’t for you anyway. As soon as someone repeatedly questions my pricing, it’s a red flag that they might not pay. So stay away from them and politely decline.
A contract or at least an email chain is a must when working with a client. I use PandaDoc for sending professional proposals and contracts. This software enables me to track when a client has opened and read the document. I can also put an expiry date on the proposal, and it comes with e-sign signature built-in.
You need to protect yourself and your earnings when freelancing. This means not holding back when it comes to chasing invoice payments and insuring your business. I’m insured with Policy Bee — not only does insurance help keep you protected, but it’s also a sign to a client that you’re not a risk.
What Are the Pros and Cons of Working From Home?
I spoke with nine freelancers and asked them what they’ve found are the pros and cons of working from home — from napping to being able to watch the Tour de France, they’re very varied!
Sarah Henderson — Freelance Copywriter
The absolute best thing about working from home has to be the naps. Yes, you get a lunch break in an office, but you can’t really take a nap. Working from home, you can schedule in a refreshing nap to give you a boost for the afternoon. As a woman who has been through two pregnancies, I can testify that this is not something to be taken for granted.
The worst thing about working from home? It has to be the endless opportunities for procrastination. You think you’ll just hang the washing on the line before you get going and, before you know it you’ve vacuumed the whole house, tidied the kids’ rooms, and mowed the lawn. All the while thinking, “I’ll just do this and then get started.”
Emma Jane Venables — Graphic Designer
So for me, the pros of working from home are the flexibility. Being able to take my daughter to and from school, not having to worry about getting time off for school plays or sports day — I’m in control of my own diary.
Also, it’s a major pro not having the daily commute, stuck in traffic for hours in the rush hour. Having my own business puts me in control of my own earnings — I’m not working to pay for someone else’s luxury holiday — I’m (hopefully!) working towards my own.
The biggest con is that working on your own can get a bit lonely, so it’s vital to get out and about, maybe see it as a big reason to go to networking events and get to know and make connections with other business owners. It can be hard if you don’t have anyone to work with and bounce ideas off, and you do need to be quite disciplined to make sure you actually make time to do the work.
Taking holidays or sick days becomes a bit tricky as a freelancer — it takes careful planning and a bit of juggling to ensure you don’t let anyone down and always deliver, so it’s worth building in a couple of days leeway where you can. Lastly, you need to be on top of everything — from any IT problems to finances and accounts (though of course, you can always source these out to a fellow business owner).
Tom Powell — Video Editor
- Being your own boss — I LOVE organising my workflow, picking what videos I work on, and who I work with.
- Flexibility — This is very important to me. I love the fact if something suddenly pops up, I have the room to move my workload around it. Also, my partner and I have a puppy who is over one year old now. Since I’ve started working remotely from home, he’s been very happy having me around, which has been a massive positive for us.
- The work — I am really enjoying the work I am doing at the moment, which I think is the most important thing. Every video is different, especially when working on videos for social media. It keeps me engaged all day long, which is something I didn’t find working in full-time employment.
- Money — When it comes to money, I enjoy being in control with how much I can earn — the sky is the limit!
- No employee benefits — You don’t receive the benefits that other full-time employees do (i.e holiday allowance, sick pay, and taxes being sorted by your employer).
- Working overtime — Even though there is flexibility, there may be times you work later or pick work up at a time you wouldn’t usually.
- Social — I work remotely from home. The con to this is you don’t have the social side that comes with full-time employment.
Sheryl Moran — Managing Director
- Managing my own diary.
- Working the hours I want (I can work until 11 pm if I want to have the next day off).
- Being able to go for a girly lunch or attend children’s school stuff.
- Putting a wash on when you need to and be able to hang it out rather than having to wait until you get back from the office.
- No office politics.
- It can be lonely.
- Not having any colleagues to speak to, go for lunch with, having a night out (no Christmas do!).
- Never away from work (I go out training three nights a week, otherwise I wouldn’t leave this house some weeks).
- Friends/family dropping in when they have a day off /asking you to look after their kids as you work from home.
- Husband thinking you have time to do all the stuff he can’t do as he is ‘stuck at work.’
- At Christmas, you are used as a PO address as you are available to take in parcels.
Pete Unitt — Freelance Digital Marketer
Commute. Travelling to and from an office eats into precious work and sleep time. I can get up at 8:59 a.m. and be at my desk ready for 9 a.m., although I’m always late!
Comfort. I can work from my sofa or my garden when the weather is nice. A laptop helps with this, being able to move from one room to another helps with a change of scenery. Not many offices offer this.
Focus. Colleagues can often be a distraction, telling you about their weekend (I didn’t ask!) or constantly asking for your input. At home, these distractions are limited, I can ignore calls and divert emails until I’m ready.
Background noise. I find it easier to work with the TV or radio on in the background — it’s quite hard to watch the Tour de France in an office while working.
Cats. I have two cats, and they constantly crave attention. Anyone who has cats will be familiar with a cat’s bum in your face when you’re trying to write an email.
Loneliness. Sometimes, it helps to have another human in the same room to socialise with. We are social animals so working alone can get boring after a while. I combat this by visiting cafes when I need human interaction.
Familiar surroundings. Sometimes, it helps to have a separation between home and work. Home can remind you of relaxation and stop you from work. I try to stop this by having a home office, which I use purely for work hours.
Ben Harrington — Email Marketing Consultant
I get to spend more time with my family whether they want me to or not. You can work when you want, if I get up at 6 a.m. and want to work I can, or if I want the day off I can. I now don’t need to battle with anyone else in the supermarkets at the weekend, I can just do it in the day.
It can be lonely at times, I do miss that office banter. I have put quite a bit of timber on since working from home — the fridge and cupboards are too close. I also find myself getting distracted by doing things about the house, and if your internet goes down it’s up to you to fix it. I also work in the front room, so when it’s school holidays it can become more of a juggling act.
Col Skinner — Digital Consultant
- You can craft your own working environment, including dogs sleeping on your desk as you work.
- You can choose the music and not be subject to that 90s hits playlist on Spotify for the 100th time!
- No one steals your mug, biscuits, coffee, milk, or lunch from the fridge. Unless your partner also works from home…
- You can work in your pants. But don’t forget to put a shirt on for those conference video calls.
- You save a fortune in lunch break coffees and lunches out by making it all yourself at home.
- You no longer have to share the WiFi connection with that colleague who loves to stream episodes of “Stranger Things” on their break.
- If you are motivated by other people working around you, then you may struggle.
- The washing up stares at you until you stop working and go do it.
- The coffee machine being within arms reach can cause you to justify that eighth coffee of the day.
- You can lose all concepts of days, weeks, and time.
- Not being forced to get out of your pyjamas can create some odd looks from your neighbours.
Matt Drzymala — Copywriter
For me, working from home is all pros. I can work when I want, listen to the music I love, take a break 15 minutes into my day without being shouted at. It’s my day, my way.
None. Sure, I could say having nobody to talk to, but my cactus does that, so I’m covered for conversation.
Bogdan Niculescu — Freelance Director & Filmmaker
- The freedom to work the hours that you feel most productive in (myself being a night person, I do most of my editing between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m.).
- The comfort of your own space.
- When you get tired/bored of doing work, you can quickly move onto doing something else around the house (it’s an easy way to take a real break from the monitor).
- I’m always in for deliveries!
- At the moment we are renovating our house so I can quickly get distracted with housework, therefore not prioritising my actual work.
- As there is no clear 9–5 I haven’t got used to the idea of it yet — I tend to overwork myself and get too tired.
- I have a bad habit of trying to answer emails ASAP even though people don’t expect it. I feel that since I am available most of the time, I should, therefore, make that clear with my quick responses.
- You can miss human interaction (that’s why I do my admin work in cafes).
Let’s Wrap This Up
You’ll notice that a lot of the same points come up — loneliness and flexibility/freedom. I guess it all depends on which aspects of self-employment you value more.
I know for me, self-employment has made me happier, more relaxed, and less stressed — which has got to be a good thing! I like choosing which clients I work alongside and what days and times I work.
I guess the big question for you is — are you ready to start your freelancing journey?