Are you considering going freelance? Maybe you currently work in-house or at an agency and the freelance life looks appealing? I’ve been an unintentional freelancer for nearly thirteen years now, hopefully some of what I’ve learnt along the way will be useful to you. This article is aimed at designers, but much of it is applicable for any freelance role.
Do your research
- Talk to some freelancers to find out exactly what the day-to-day reality is like
- Start a bit of freelance work ‘on the side’. This gives you the chance to try out managing clients on your own as well as build up a portfolio and client base before taking the plunge.
Sort your finances out
- Save a financial buffer (3+ months’ income is ideal)
- Talk to an accountant/book keeper who specialises in sole traders and small businesses – they can advise on expenses and tax issues
- Set up a separate bank account to use for your business
- Keep records of all business-related incomings and outgoings, ideally using cloud-based accounting software (it makes life so much easier come tax-return time)
- Work out your monthly expenditures (design software, insurance, networking, marketing, savings: for tax, for lean periods, for future/pension, towards future business expenses such as a new laptop).
- Admin – look into CRM (customer relationship management software) to keep track of your client pipelines. Keep your computer filing system organised – and backed up remotely.
- Email – set up a separate email address for work-related emails
- Research and choose project management software to keep track of projects and deadlines
- Track your time – both on live projects and day-to-day admin (over time it’s a really useful tool to see where you use/lose time and how much to allocate to similar projects in the future – invaluable for working out quotes)
- Automate processes wherever possible – ideally having these ‘talk’ to your project management system so you can have a bird’s eye view of everything in one place
- Make sure you’re familiar with GDPR and let your clients know where their data is stored.
Define your personal brand
- Work out what your core values are (what’s most important to you)
- What are your areas of expertise?
- Do you have a niche (by skills or business sector)?
- What do you most enjoy? Now’s the chance to focus mostly on what brings you the most satisfaction.
- What do definitely not enjoy? It’s just as important to define this to ensure you avoid saying yes to things that will frustrate you.
- Research how to work it out – base it on how much you want to earn and covers ALL your overheads
- How you price your work / time will follow from this – keep a schedule of fees detailing hourly rates, day rates, prices per project type, value pricing and contingency pricing
- Define your ideal client (what kind of individuals and businesses do you want to work with – outline their demographics)
- Choose a name (most freelancers simply use their own name, but it can be easier to scale up to a company if you choose a ‘company’ name now)
- Buy the domains (ideally at least .com and .co.uk)
- Get some photos taken – professional headshots can make a huge difference to how you’re perceived online). Use these on your website and social media accounts.
- Build your website – showcase your best work in your portfolio that targets your ideal client – include testimonials. Don’t worry if there’s not much to start with, sometimes less is more and can look really confident in its own way.
- If you haven’t had any clients yet, offer to do some free work for a charity you care about. Get a testimonial and put the work in your portfolio.
- Social media – concentrate on just 2-3 accounts, where your ideal client is likely to see you.
- Start a regular blog – this provides material you can repurpose on social media.
- Start an email newsletter – invite clients to sign up (but never sign anyone up without their permission).
Networking (on and offline)
- Research and attend local face-to-face networking groups to find one you feel most comfortable with.
- Networking isn’t just for finding new clients (in fact, I’d place that as the lowest priority) but for building relationships with other people. From these real relationships, genuine collaborations and work will follow.
- Learn from people who’ve been in business longer than you. Find out if there are people you might be able to collaborate with. Skill swapping can generate unexpected work opportunities.
- Use your social media accounts to engage with other people in your industry and local area. There are some great Facebook groups for freelancers where you can ask advice and share ideas.
- Avoid using social media just to plug your business – it’s a real turn off! Be interested in others and offer help and advice where you can.
- Always be ready to talk about what you do – you never know when someone might be looking for your skills. (One of my clients found me at our local circuit training class!)
- Don’t be shy of inviting local business owners for coffee – make sure you buy the coffee! – ask them about their business
- Books and courses are a valid business expense, use them to keep up-to-date on your industry and develop your business mind.
- Work with a business mentor who can help guide you and your business
Take time out
- This is quite possibly the most important one. Ensure you carve time out in your schedule for ‘you’. If you want to do well in business you must look after yourself. It’s tempting as a freelancer starting out to say yes to every project, but this just leads to burnout.
- Create boundaries for your time. You don’t have to be available 24/7. Make it a habit not to respond to clients when you’re not working.
- Say no to anything you don’t have the time or desire for.
- Say yes to any/everything you want – design your freelance life around you.
Web & Graphic Designer
Karen Arnott is an established and enthusiastic graphic designer, with twenty years’ worth of corporate and freelance experience, specialising in both print and web design.