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Insights & Advice

Making a success of your freelance career

Going freelance can be a bit like diving into the unknown, and we understand that. That’s why we’ve put together this advice sheet; to help you to plan and prepare yourself for launching into the world of a self-employed freelancer.

First and foremost, it is important to bear in mind that a good freelancer is not only armed with the skills and experience needed in the marketplace, but also with business management skills. As a freelancer, you are a business and, therefore, need to know how to best market yourself, present yourself, manage your finances and equip yourself appropriately, to make your freelance career a success. Ultimately, your journey is what you make of it and it requires a good deal of planning and preparation.

Know your marketplace

Before you embark on your journey, it is essential that you assess the market and the demand for your skill set on a freelance basis. Our advice is to start with researching your marketplace at a local level to see if your skills and experience relevant to current needs. If they are, what type of businesses tend to have a need for your skill set and what are the range of rates you might expect for your skill and experience level?

Once you have identified your marketplace, are there enough companies in the area that you would be happy to work in, and that might keep you busy on a freelance basis? If not, are you willing to travel further afield in order to ensure that you can build your career? The more flexible you can be, the more opportunities you will have, but that does often require travelling further than you normally would for a permanent role.

A good recruitment company specialising in freelance should be able to advise you on all of this, but it is also important that you familiarise yourself with your marketplace and potential opportunities for work.

Good financial planning

You can’t build a successful freelance career overnight and will need to allow plenty of time to build up your client base and workload. Do you have enough money put aside to keep you afloat while you build up your contacts? Also, try to think about the income you need in the short-term and consider it could take some time for money to come in.

Most businesses operate on 30-day payment terms, which can be from the date of receipt of invoice, or from the end of the month. However, it can also be 60 days and sometimes even 90 days! The exact date on which the money lands in your account does also depend on the company’s payment run – so allow -/+ 4 days on top of the agreed payment terms.

With all bookings through us, here at Beyond the Book, our freelance consultants will discuss these terms with you, before you commit to a booking. However, when working directly for a client, especially if you have just started off, we recommend you always check the payment terms at the outset. This allows you to better plan your finances for the coming weeks and months. Also, find out who is your contact in the accounts department, to make sure you know who to contact for any enquiries.

It is also important that you maintain that ‘buffer’ as much as you can on an ongoing basis. Freelance can be very much affected by market changes and being well prepared financially means you can adapt to any sudden shifts. It also enables you to undertake bookings with clients that have longer payment terms, without having to panic. Also, when the money starts finally coming in remember that, depending on how you are set up as a business, you will need to pay tax on income, National Insurance contributions and VAT bills (if you are VAT registered), so make sure you do put an equivalent sum aside each month.

Feeling financially in control right from the start will give you the freedom and confidence to accurately market yourself.

Marketing yourself effectively

While ‘word of mouth’ is undoubtedly the best marketing tool in the box, it’s now more important than ever to have a strong social media presence, so that you can market yourself, gain new clients and showcase your work.

Before launching yourself onto various social media platforms, it’s important that you’ve built a strong CV and portfolio and that they are as up to date and as relevant as possible. If yours is looking a bit tired or is not showcasing your skills and experience effectively – have a look at our handy tips here.

LinkedIn is currently the most important platform for you to get your personal brand out there, to showcase your work and connect both with both potential new clients, as well as your peers. However, it is really important that you have the best profile possible. This will ensure that you are found in searches and look credible once people land on your profile. Therefore, we’ve listed some very useful tips below:

Creating the best LinkedIn Profile

Your profile needs to be easy to find and then easy to read and full of relevant information. When you are perfect for a job, it will be obvious!

  • Job Title - Make sure that in your job title, under your name, you put your core offering. For example: Joe Bloggs, Freelance Designer, Digital Designer and Art Director. All the words in the job title are searchable fields, so if someone wanted to search
    for a Freelance Art Director in your location, you would come up. Had you just put Freelance Senior Creative, you would not have come up; be specific.
  • Showcase your portfolio - If you have your own website, be sure to put it under your contact details so that people can review your work. If you don’t have a website, make sure have portfolio samples in your Featured section so anyone looking at your profile can get a good visual on what you can do. If you write a blog, put the link in the contact section as well. It’s all about someone understanding more about you and what you could potentially do for them and remember, you need to make it easy for someone to find your creative work.
  • In the About section, make sure to include your complete offering, along with your skill set, so it’s really easy for someone to understand what it is that you do as a freelancer. Using bullet points, or similar, can also make it easier to read. The About section should also be written more informally to allow your personality to shine through.
  • Featured section - this is a great way to showcase content that you want to direct people towards, as you decide what goes in this section. It’s easy to add and you can pick from; posts, articles, web links or photos/slides. Also, if you are a Creative, you can add your portfolio, or various portfolios. You can also change the order as you see fit and direct people towards the content that you want them to associate with you.
  • Hashtags – make sure to follow certain hashtags like #creative #marketing #design, but also make sure to add hashtags to your posts so that they get shown outside of your network, to people who follow those hashtags. About 3-4 hashtags per post is the optimum number.
  • Ask for Recommendations from happy clients. No one likes to ask, but it’s so easy to do one and most people don’t mind. It could easily make the difference to someone who is looking to potentially hire you. If they don’t yet know you a recommendation can create significant trust right from the start – what other people say about you is very powerful.
  • Consistency is key – make sure that you post regularly, comment on other’s posts or work, and support others on LinkedIn. It’s a community and you will find so many like-minded people who can offer advice and support, as well as introduce you to their networks. With LinkedIn, the more you put in, the more you get out!
  • Open to new opportunities - make sure that you click the button in your profile that says that you are ’open to new opportunities’. If a recruiter, or client, is searching for someone with a specific skill set – for example Freelance Art Director, Birmingham, they may (see below) identify 78 people with that as their title. However, there is a much lower figure of 17 people who are ‘open to new opportunities’, and this is where they will start to look in more detail.

What now? Building a network and approaching potential clients

  • Once you have your LinkedIn Profile completed, link in with people who could be key decision makers in your market and location. For Creatives, this could be Studio Managers, Creative Services Manager, Creative Directors or for Marketing/Client Services freelancers, connect with Heads of Marketing, Marketing Directors, Client Services Directors and MD’s.
  • DON’T message someone the minute that they accept your connection. You want them to get to know you by seeing your LinkedIn activity, posts, comments and likes, before messaging to ask if they could use your help.
  • On LinkedIn, Job Portals, Google and online trade publications; find out who is recruiting and use this information to build your network.
  • Stand out from the crowd by doing your homework on the companies you think you should approach. Do they appear to do the type of work that fits with your experience? Who is the right contact? For small local businesses this is likely to be the owner. For large companies this is probably someone in the HR function, and for agencies this could be the owner, or head of department (Creative Director, Studio Manager, Client Services Director). You can often find out the key contact names and contact details on their website or LinkedIn profile.
  • When approaching these businesses, either through LinkedIn or other channels, bear in mind that it is likely they receive a fair bit of communication from freelancers in general and have a think about the most appropriate channel or method to get their attention. It may be that it is best to email them at work rather than LinkedIn, or even a phone call if you can find their contact details, whilst we all have a number of emails in our inboxes, we don’t get hundreds of calls each day.
  • Once you have decided to contact a potential client, be brief, polite and try and showcase what you do succinctly and how that relates to them. Demonstrate that you have done your homework on them and, for example, talk about a campaign that you have seen them create. Ensure that you are friendly and breezy, no one wants to hire someone who seems desperate for work, so do your research.
  • Make sure that your approach communicates your competitive advantages and relevance. Think about all aspects of the communication you are about to send out to ensure maximum responsiveness - timing, tone of voice and messaging. While the response rate may be low at first, do not let that dishearten you. Often you won’t hear back from clients until there is a need for your skill set, so keep ‘getting your name out there’.

Finally, when marketing your freelance services, bear in mind that the people you have already worked with are your best ambassadors, both clients and other freelancers, so make sure you are always on your best performance, and never leave on bad terms. As a freelancer you are only as good as your last job, which leads us to our next point.

Behaviour on the job

  • A successful freelancer oozes an appropriate level of confidence, thereby putting themselves and their client at ease
  • Be adaptable and confident in picking up new systems and processes quickly
  • When chasing payment, do so with professionalism. If payment is late be firm but polite
  • If the brief is loose and you need more information, don’t suffer in silence. Be clear and polite in extracting more information - you’ll find most clients know when they’ve provided a less than tight brief
  • As with any service, everyone wants to feel that they have got their money’s worth – this, of course, also applies to freelance
  • Stay focussed on the task at hand
  • If you have finished a job early, offer to help on another project instead of browsing the internet or chatting with the team
  • Freelance isn’t always a 9-5 thing and if your client is busy, they would expect you to finish the job before leaving for the day unless agreed otherwise. So be prepared to stay late if required
  • Remember to stay professional at all times – it doesn’t matter how long you have worked with your client on freelance basis, it’s never good to get too comfortable

Understanding relevant legislation

As a business, it Is important that you familiarise yourself with the legalities when it comes to working as a freelance service provider. What makes a true Sole Trader? What do you need to do to set up a Limited Company? What is the best solution for you for setting yourself up as a freelancer? What are your rights as a self-employed freelancer?

It is crucial that you keep yourself up to date with any relevant legislation changes that might affect how you conduct your business. Legislation changes such as IR35 Off-Payroll reforms in the public and private sector (April 2021) have changed the freelance
landscape significantly over the years and before you undertake a booking that is ‘inside IR35’ it is important that you know what that means.

In summary, a successful freelancer…

  • Is business-savvy – you need to understand all aspects of organising and running a business; best marketing practise, managing finances and understanding and keeping up to date with the relevant legislation.
  • Is an expert in their field – to build a successful freelance business, you will need to already have significant work experience in your area of expertise. You cannot grow your business offering a substandard service.
  • Is a confident people person – it is not only your skills and experience clients buy into, it’s also the way you come across, your work ethic and the way you conduct yourself in general
  • Has chosen freelance as a career – you know what you want to achieve from being in business
  • Is self-motivated – you are only as good as your last job, so it’s important that you keep yourself motivated throughout the day, aiming to exceed expectations
  • Is sensitive to their environment and the people they work with – you will need to have the ability to easily adapt to different environments, cultures and conditions
  • Is always on the lookout to develop their business – to ensure your business is sustainable, you will need to be seeking opportunities to grow your business constantly. Don’t get too settled working with your regular clients only, as circumstances can change quickly. Explore the different avenues out there, to maximise your reach. That means working through recruitment companies as well as seeking direct work
  • Focuses on the long term ‘commercials’ - recognising the value in building long lasting and lucrative relationships

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