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Is going freelance a viable career option for you?

In this exclusive extract from Startups’ latest book, Going Freelance, find out the pros and cons of freelance work

More money, more varied work, and more control over your working life. Who wouldn't want to be a freelancer? Freelancing sounds very attractive, but these advantages are just one side of the equation.

Setting aside the fact that some people may be forced by economic necessity into freelancing, it doesn't suit everybody.

Key points to consider before going freelance

Whether you are doing a bit of freelancing on the side of your main job or making freelancing your new full-time occupation, there are a few things that you should bear in mind. Don't be completely seduced by the upside, because there is also an accompanying downside.

Freelancing differs from a full-time salaried job in a number of respects, not least the fact that there is no longer the comfort of a salary miraculously popping into your bank account at the end of the month. You have to find your own work, deliver to exacting deadlines, work out what you are going to charge for work, and keep that supply of work coming in.

There are also a lot of plates to spin. As a freelancer, you are effectively a one-person corporation. So, as well as actually doing the work, you need to be:

  • the marketing person raising awareness of your skills and availability
  • the salesperson, who converts that interest into paid work
  • the accounts department, which generates the invoices, chases payment and deals with your accounts and tax returns, and don't forget VAT. If you have outgoings, you will also have to deal with payments to your suppliers
  • the client services person who liaises with clients to ensure a smooth working relationship
  • the IT department when your computer goes on the blink
  • the office cleaner at the end of the day.

You will also be responsible for your own training and making sure your skills are up to date as well as any general administration that would have been handled by somebody else in a bigger company. Once you are out on your own there is no longer the shelter of senior employees to correct your mistakes or cover your faults. For this reason, freelancers are typically well rounded in their skills.

So, is freelancing for you?

Here are some things to bear in mind before making that decision.

Finding work

As companies make redundancies and restructure to leaner, meaner operations, there is a lot of freelance work out there as companies look to outsource more work. But getting a job is a job in itself. Think carefully about where your work is likely to come from. Will there be enough of it and will it be regular enough? What will it pay? As well as existing contacts, you will need to market yourself a bit more and let people know about what you can do. What will your strategy be?

Your skills

Do you have skills or experience that others require? The more in-demand your skills are, the more work you will generate and the higher the fees you can command. This is why it is often better to embark on a freelance career later in your career. Clients use freelancers where they have a skills gap of their own, and it's more likely that somebody with a packed CV is going to be in demand than a new starter.

Will you earn enough?

Take a close look at what you need to earn in a given month and try to honestly assess whether you can earn that through freelancing. Day rates for freelancing may sound fantastic as a pro rata calculation, but what about the days when you are not needed? Also, work into your calculations how you will fund holidays, illness and other downtime.

Limit your own pay

Remember that there is a difference between what you need to earn and what you want to earn. As a full-time salaried person, you will have got used to being paid a set amount every month, and you will probably spend all of it by the next payday. As a freelancer, the equation switches. There is no set pay for the month, and it is a good discipline to pay yourself what you can get by on and set the rest aside for a rainy day. As a freelancer, some days are more rainy than others.

Payment gaps

A month can seem a long time as you try and eke out your salary, but imagine waiting several months for payment at a time when your own bills are mounting up. Different clients have different payment policies, but periods of 60 or 90 days from the production of an invoice are not uncommon. It can also depend on when your work is published – some publishers only stump up after a magazine or newspaper hits the streets and you may have been commissioned weeks in advance. For these reasons, you will need to have some reserves to tide you over. Many freelancers look to have at least three months of salary in reserve, although six will put you in a more secure position.

Deadlines, deadlines

Although freelancing may seem to promise to free you from the nine to five rat race to a certain extent, you are still prey to the demands of your clients. You may decide to spend your daytime hours watching art house movies or visiting museums, and working into the night, but ultimately the project needs to be delivered. Freelancing is also a numbers game to a certain extent. The more work you do, the more you get paid, so hitting those deadlines is not only good for your reputation, it allows you to cram in more assignments. If you are the sort of person who will use up all the available time to complete a project, freelancing may not be for you.

Time management

People who freelance have to be realistic about the amount of work they can take on. It can be seductive to look at the fee for a project and have it mentally spent before you've done the work. Consider how you are going to be able to do it and what effect that will have on your health, family life and sanity. Don't overburden yourself.

Marketing yourself

Clients will judge you on the quality of your previous work as much as recommendations from others. Work out how you will present the best version of yourself. Do you need a portfolio? Can you point to examples of your work online? Do you have your own website or blog?

Are you a jack of all trades?

You no longer have the back-up of working in a larger organisation. The most senior person finds themselves doing their own filing, not to mention making their own tea. More importantly, if you're used to working within a managed or supervised environment, it can be a shock to find that you make all the decisions and set timelines. You may not have all the skills that you need at first, so are you prepared to pick them up?

Can you pull an all-nighter?

There are times when a pressing deadline will mean you have to work around the clock to complete the job on time. The nature of freelancing can be feast or famine, and it's often a case of having to work when the work is available and catching up on your sleep when you can. Flexibility is important, and who knows, next week you may have no paid work at all.

Are you a lone wolf?

Rather than the social environment of an office, many freelancers can find themselves working at home alone. Although this can mean you will skip lots of interruptions such as colleagues discussing what was on TV last night, you also miss out on essential office scuttlebutt. Social media can make working remotely or alone less isolating, but it is something that may not suit everybody.

This exclusive extract is taken from chapter one, ‘What to consider' in Going Freelance: How to set up and succeed as a freelance worker, published by Crimson Publishing. To read the full chapter, and the rest of the book, including chapters on popular freelance careers, how to get work and how to succeed, pick up your copy of Going Freelance, available on Amazon now.


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