How to freelance successfully
Working for an employer has its pros and cons, and having a steady salary and someone else to deal with your tax and National Insurance contributions are attractive aspects for an employee! However, amongst the cons are a lack of flexibility and autonomy, so if this is what you crave then freelancing could be for you.
There is a particular increase in freelancers during times of economic depression. This is because small to medium sized employers are looking for better and cheaper ways of recruiting talented individuals. Hiring a freelancer means that businesses can take people on as and when they need them. It also means that the business will not have to pay the associated costs of taking on a permanent member of staff (such as sick pay, holiday pay, maternity pay etc.!). Even hiring contract staff through an employment agency is an expensive process, with fees to pay to the agency and high rates for the candidates. Also, with the new Agency Workers Regulations, which came into effect last year, agency workers become entitled to all the same rights and benefits as permanent members of staff after only 12 weeks of employment!
Becoming a freelancer can be a liberating and exciting way of working. It can also be a great fit for a parent. Being able to work flexibly and on your own terms means you can fit your work commitments around you family life, which is very appealing for a busy mum or dad, but if you are considering taking the leap there are certain things you should do to prepare for the change.
- How to find work
Obviously a key part of being a freelancer is finding people who need to employ you! Ideally you will have a network of contacts from your profession waiting in the wings to employ you on a freelance basis. But, If you are just starting out and don’t have contacts to rely on, then what can you do? There are various websites around that can help you find freelance work, and once you start making a name for yourself hopefully the work will come rolling in.
Many are based in the US, so look for a UK based one if you are looking for more local work!
If you are a parent who is looking to find flexible freelance work to fit around family life then try new website Freelance Parents Network. Signing up is free, and once added to the database you will be sent details of both local and homeworking freelance opportunities.
- Don’t undervalue yourself
Many people make the mistake of thinking freelance means ‘free’ – or at least cheap! But good companies are willing to pay decent money for talented individuals. If using a site where you have to bid for jobs, do not undersell yourself. Employers do not always go for the cheapest option. Many are looking for professionals with many years of experience and are prepared to pay for those skills.
- Do your research
If you are new to freelancing then make sure you identify your competition. You can do this using local directories then searching for them online – many will have websites and blogs. From these you can get an idea of the level of service expected, and it can give you pointers as to how to pitch yourself and the going rate for your kind of work.
- Presentation is everything
Whatever line of work you decide to try your hand at, it’s a great idea to have an online presence. You could decide to pay for a professional website, but an alternative is to create your own blog. This can be done quickly, easily and, most importantly, for free from a website like Wordpress and is a great way of advertising your business and showing potential customers exactly what you have to offer. If you would prefer a website to a blog then try a platform like Create. It is easy to use and you can create a great website with minimal IT knowledge. This costs £2.99 a month for a basic package.
- Don’t get caught out
Whilst legal and tax requirements can at first seem a little daunting it is well worth getting a handle on them early on. The last thing you need is a threatening letter from HMRC about your tax status. Many freelancers mistakenly believe that you do not need to register as self-employed unless you are earning over your personal allowance (basic is currently £8,105). In fact, whether you have earned £100 or £100,000 in a year you do need to complete a Self Assessment for the tax man or you could face a fine. They are easy to complete and can be done online. Visit www.hmrc.gov.uk for further information. There is a wealth of information about this on the internet. For example, the Freelance Parents Network has details of all your legal and tax options which has been prepared by a qualified accountant. This document is free to download from the website.
*Rosalind Kent is founder of www.freelanceparentsnetwork.com.