5 tips for new freelancers

I’ve been freelancing now for around 10 months, so whilst I don’t have tons of experience there are certainly a few things I’ve picked up that could prove useful for those of you who are thinking of taking the plunge. Obviously my experience is related to the digital industry, but hopefully those of you working in other industries can take something useful from them too.

Try not to burn your bridges

Since going it alone I’d say around 80% of my work has come from previous employers. Luckily for me I get on with all of them (and they appear to like my work) so I don’t have to think twice about freelancing for them when the opportunities arise. If you are in a situation where you dislike your current employer and want out, it would be a good idea to keep your exit as civil as possible. Whilst it might feel great telling your boss he’s a tosser, in the long run there is a chance that decision could come back to bite you in the ass. The digital industry is especially tight-knit and word travels between agencies, so earning yourself a negative reputation at one could result in missed opportunities from many more.

Lets not forget that when freelancing you may have the opportunity to work remotely, so you can get on with work without having to deal with people who might have rubbed you up the wrong way in the office.

Get yourself organised from Day 1

You don’t have to be hyper-organised to be a freelancer, you just need to make sure you keep on top of things and devise a system that works for you early on. I personally use FreeAgent as the hub of my business. I’m going to write a more in-depth post on why I ended up choosing FreeAgent but in short it allows me to organise my clients, contact details, project details, time tracking, expenses, invoicing and the dreaded tax return all from one web app.

I know other people who use other online services, I know a few people who take a more manual approach with Excel and I know people who still do everything via paper. The point I’m trying to make is that there is no right way of doing things, but having a system early on will likely save a whole load of pain further down the line.

Research your rates

Freelance rates are a difficult topic. Typically you can expect to charge more as a freelancer per day than you would earn doing the same role full-time for an agency. Whilst it may seem like you’re rolling in it when you have work on, you need to remember that there are certain perks that you don’t get as a freelancer such as holiday and sick pay (along with the possibility of not having a steady stream of work throughout the year).

On top of these costs you also need to offer a fair price that people are not going to turn their noses up at. My advice would be to do some desk research and try and speak to other freelancers in your area about their rates (of course rates vary massively depending on where in the country you are working). You should be able to gauge what a fair rate for both you and your potential employer would be.

What ever you do, don’t allow somebody to force you into lowering your rate to a price you are not comfortable with. If you are struggling for work you may have to lower your rate to make your services more affordable to a broader audience, but by offering too big a discount you are susceptible to undervaluing your work and being held to that discounted rate for longer than anticipated.

Know your limits

If you are ever fortunate enough to have multiple job offers on the table it can be tempting to accept everything and fill your waking hours with work (especially if you are coming off the back of a dry spell). Having done this myself for a number of weeks when I first started freelancing I can confirm it was incredibly stressful, tiring and not something I’d ever want to do again. My advice would be to take on the work that you are most excited about doing and then ask the other clients if they are open to delaying the start date of the project. You never know if you don’t ask. If after this you still have conflicting offers, do the healthy thing and decline those which you can’t realistically complete without burning yourself out.

Set up a workspace

One of the most difficult things about working from home is knowing when to switch off. I find dressing the same way I would do if I was working in an office and working from a desk with a good supportive chair helps define when work starts and ends. I could quite easily work from the sofa in my pyjamas, but other than probably being less productive, I think I’d have difficulty knowing when to work and when to relax.