I’ve really noticed a mass exodus in the last couple of years from the publishing workplace – the sheer number of people setting themselves up as freelancers. It’s happening in editorial, in PR, digital, design – pretty much every aspect of the industry – as companies reduce their overheads and seek to outsource as much as possible on a project-by-project basis. In this way, they can bring in expertise as they require it, and not have to pay for it on a salary level, getting the benefit of experience and a fresh-viewpoint injection into their businesses.
If you’re thinking about making the leap, you probably feel like I did six months ago – so tethered to a monthly salary that you can’t see any other way of being. Actually handling your own business finances and structuring your own time may feel too scary to contemplate, but I am going to tell you what I’ve learnt so far.
Decide what you’re best at
There’s probably one core skill that you’ve got that sets you apart from the rest in your bit of the industry. You might think you know what it is but it’s worth asking people what *they* think it is. You might not be fully aware of your biggest strength but the person next to you might. You may also be labouring under an illusion as to what constitutes freelance work and be surprised to find what you can offer to a company. Speak to other experienced freelancers about their experiences.
Don’t under-sell yourself. Consult with other freelancers about the sort of daily rate you can expect for the work you’re offering, and get some financial advice from someone outside the business. Don’t simply take your last salary and aim for that – if you want to come in at the same rate, you need to factor in the cost of running your own business, the fact that you may only be working for up to nine months in a given year, you won’t be receiving any company benefits, such as a pension or healthcare, and if you have your own limited company, you’ll be paying corporation tax. You will need to decide early on if you want to be a limited company or a sole trader. If you’re only going to be freelancing on a short-term basis then setting up a limited company maybe not be worth it, but there are financial benefits to doing so.
Get an accountant and get them to explain the finances clearly
This is the barrier to going freelance for many people – having to manage their own finances. It really isn’t as scary as you think – just keep all of your receipts and invoices. Your accountant can advise which receipts can be set against your tax payments and how to handle your invoicing. If you’ve set up as a limited company you’ll need to set up a business bank account as the accountant will be using your statements at the tax year end.
Organise a workspace for yourself
A clear, uncluttered space will make your head feel uncluttered when it comes to your work. If you can find a space at home to do this, then great, but you may need to find a friendly neighbourhood cafe to hang out in, purely for the buzz of people around you. Even better, get a desk in a local studio with other freelancers. One great bit of advice given to me was to get out and speak to someone every day. Especially during the first few months.
Get out and about
Think about your company name, if you have one, and the brand look. It’s going to be your hallmark for months or years to come so it makes sense to get it right from the off. Get some business cards printed up as soon as possible and get out there, revisiting old contacts and making new ones. You’ll be surprised at how generous people are with their time and contacts – they often know what it’s like to be out there so are only too willing to help. Ideally, you should line up a project to start you off as a freelancer, potentially from your current employer.
Get used to non-standard working hours
Get used to them, and enjoy them. If you’re a morning person you can be up and at ’em at 5.30am well before offices open, or if, like me, you’re better in the afternoon and evening, you can do other things in the morning before you begin work in earnest. Fit in exercise around the work whenever it benefits you – no more having to go to the gym at 6am if you don’t want to.
In the first few months you might wake up hyperventilating, having nightmares about having enough work and money to keep you going, or that you’ve taken on too much. No one’s going to say it’s easy, but my advice is get up, go somewhere, do something. Volunteer for a cause you love and/or write a blog. Go out and network. Just keep getting out there.