How to become a freelance independent director

Moving out of permanent employment and going it alone as a freelance independent director is an ambition shared by a growing number of senior level women who want greater choice, flexibility and freedom in their working lives.

independent woman working whilst commuting


Women’s need for greater working flexibility was highlighted in a recent report, “Bringing Talent Back to the Workforce: How to make returner programmes work for your organisation”, by the Executive Coaching Consultancy which focused on the fact that many businesses are losing women returners because of a lack of workplace flexibility.

One in six women return to work in a different function and 38 per cent change industry sector saying their current job offers more flexibility than the one they had prior to taking a break (59 per cent). The report highlighted the personal constraints and professional challenges faced by women returning to work and what an employer can do to ensure their return is a success. For these women, moving out of corporate life and working independently is another great option.

We at Working Free reckon that around half of the UK’s working population is working independently in some capacity and many are working at a very senior level – as interim managers, consultants, project managers or non-executive directors.

We have called themSelf Drive workers – people who have chosen to work for themselves driven by lifestyle choices or the need to find alternative sources of income.

Based on ONS figures, I have calculated that around 47% of the 32 million workers in the UK are likely to be self drive workers and this figure is growing every year – as more individuals move from full-time to independent working into the freelance economy.

This shift has partly been fuelled by technology, which has allowed people to work more flexibly and not be office-based, but also because of people wanting greater freedom to act and to improve their work life balance.

There is also growing demand from businesses who increasingly want a more fluid workforce. They want to be able to call upon resources when they need them and not be restricted to always employing someone full time. They want to be able to bring in skilled independent workers as part of their resourcing strategies – and this is an arrangement that benefits both parties.

Mostly, executives coming out of corporate life want projects or gigs – not jobs.  Working Free aims to be the leading resource for those wishing to operate independently at a senior level with guides, tips and advice on issues such as taxation, marketing and business structures to ensure a successful portfolio career.

So how do you get started?

I get calls every week from people who are midcareer and want to leave their corporate life, but they don’t know how to make the leap.

One thing I always tell them is that being self-employed isn’t a consolation prize for not having a ‘proper job’; it is an exciting way of working, but it takes hard work, new skills, huge determination, resilience, training and a clear understanding of how to market yourself and win work – and this is where Working Free can help.

The “Self Drive Worker” concept fits very well into the developing needs profile of women professionals. It’s part of the flexible working patterns that are now an integral part of virtually all businesses – not so much a legal requirement but almost entirely driven by what today’s businesses demand.

Here are my ten tips from Working Free for becoming a successful Director-level independent worker today:

  • Do your homework before deciding to become an interim manager – make sure it is the right career choice for you. Ask yourself what benefits will you bring to a client? 
  • Have a viable professional product
  • Identify and understand your market
  • Understand your market’s context and positioning
  • Prepare a business plan
  • Be very good at what you do and stay good. Specialists generally do better than generalists
  • Know how to get work
  • Think of yourself as a serious small business –  you will have to do all the things a business owner would do, including business planning & strategy, marketing, selling, accounting and IT
  • Manage your own practice
  • Work harder than you ever expected – the harder you work, the luckier you get.

*Charles Russam is Director of Working Free.

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