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How to start a freelancing venture

More and more people are going freelance. Could you break free?

For many 9-5 employees, going it alone as a freelancer is a recurring daydream. But it’s one that’s now becoming a reality for thousands of people.

The jobs market has been changing rapidly over the last few years and increasing numbers of companies now use freelancers to cover specialist tasks, staff shortages and holiday periods instead of taking on full-time employees. If you’re thinking of freelancing, here’s what you need to know.

What is it?

“A freelancer is simply a self-employed person with a particular skill such as writing, teaching, IT, or public relations,” explains Avril Harper, a freelance copywriter for 11 years. “I’ll go in and do exactly the same job as an in-house employee would do, and be paid either an hourly rate whilst I’m doing the work or a fixed fee on completion.”

“The main difference from the employer’s viewpoint is that they use me on a short-term, as-needed basis to fill a gap. And because I’m self-employed they avoid all the hidden and expensive employment costs such as national insurance, pension contributions and sickness payments.”

“The big advantage for me is that I can charge around 15-20% more than the in-house employee for my expertise.” Harper also highlights other, often overlooked, benefits of freelancing. “I work for maybe five or six companies on a semi-regular basis, so the risk of unemployment is minimal. I also get a chance to do lots of different work – writing about finance one day, health on another. And that variety and breadth of experience looks great on my CV.”

Who is it suited to?

You have to be a good all-rounder, advises web site host, Pat Jones. “You can be the world’s greatest-ever web wizard. But you’ve still got to be able to market your services effectively, do the books and record-keeping properly, chase payments successfully, and do the 101 other things that keep you in business. And that’s all on top of the 50 hours a week you’re probably putting into the web side of things.”

Self-discipline is the key to success. You have to be able to schedule effectively, setting aside sufficient time for both your work and all those other business tasks as well. “You need to be a good time manager,” stresses Jones. “And when you’re doing the work that brings in the money, you have to make sure you’re not going to be interrupted even if that means putting on the answering machine and ignoring faxes and incoming emails for the next hour or so.”

Perhaps surprisingly, successful scheduling can even mean turning work away. “One of the greatest problems faced by freelancers is too much work, too soon. Everyone wants you to work for them right now! It’s very tempting to just take on everything that’s offered to you, but you’ve only got to miss a deadline or deliver sub-standard work once and you’ve got an unhappy client who’s going to go elsewhere next time around.

“It’s better to know what you can physically do in the time allowed and stick to that. Funnily enough, turning work away because you’ve so much on can actually make you even more in-demand with clients.”

Ready to get started? Find out everything you need to know about how to start your own business here.

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