Going Freelance

  | James Innes

Freelance workers are self-employed professionals who are generally home-based and, rather than working for one particular employer, are responsible for generating their own client base and undertaking work on an ad hoc basis.  Some industries are better suited to freelancers than others; for example, writing and editing, web design, consulting and administration.  However, competition can be fierce as freelancing is a career options seen by many as the ideal route towards the achievement of a healthy work-life balance.  The image of freelance professionals has also changed in recent years.  Whereas in the past people may have thought that freelancers were inexperienced and lacked focus, now they are seen as highly skilled and efficient professionals who are able to provide expert assistance, often at very short notice.

The pros and cons

There are many advantages to working in a freelance capacity the first of which is the degree of flexibility and professional freedom that you will develop.  Having nobody to report to except yourself means that you are accountable for your own business decisions such as how often and where you work.

The choice of who you work for enables you to refuse work from an employer whose ethics or procedures you disagree with.  You can also work for more than one employer, something that is considered to be of the utmost importance in today’s highly competitive markets where businesses are forced to make redundancies on a regular basis.  If one of the companies that you contract for does experience financial difficulties, you will not necessarily be adversely affected because you do not rely solely on them for your income. 

Freelancers are generally paid more by the hour than their permanent counterparts and the ability to be flexible and to come on board when a company need arises means that you are often in a better position to negotiate a higher rate. 

Depending on the nature of the work undertaken, freelancing can mean that you gain a broader range of skills and experiences.  For example, a freelance writer can work for various different publications in a range of sectors, or a freelance project manager can gain an insight into diverse industries.  This knowledge can then help you to decide which contract you wish to undertake in the future. 

There are also tax advantages for a company to employ freelancers.  Because freelancers are responsible for their your own tax, the burden on the employer is reduced and they may choose to pass this benefit on in the form of an increased freelance rate.

However, despite all of these potential benefits to freelance work, there are also negative aspects which need to be considered.  Many people that have undertaken freelance work have found that they become lonely, in particular if their work involves many hours spent by themselves at their computer.  This in turn can lead to a lack of motivation which can then result in a reduction in productivity.  Keeping yourself motivated is often very hard so it is important to be able to discipline yourself, remain focused on your objectives and manage your time effectively. 

The nature of freelancing also means that work is not guaranteed so your income is therefore also not guaranteed.  You have to be absolutely sure that your finances are managed effectively to enable you to cope with the inevitable quiet periods that you will encounter. 

As a freelancer, you will not be entitled to any additional benefits from your employer such as pensions and healthcare provision and you will also not have the opportunity to enjoy the satisfaction of promotion within a firm.

Getting started

You should make sure that you have carefully researched the market place to assess the viability of your freelance business and create a business plan accordingly.  Due to the difficulties you may experience of breaking into the market, you may benefit from having some savings behind you before you start so that you can get through the first few months while you build up your client base.  Have business cards made up for easy distribution among friends and former colleagues and prepare a portfolio containing references and evidence of relevant work experience.  This will be invaluable in the early days when you are trying to secure your first clients and before you are able to rely more on word-of-mouth recommendations.  You then need to focus on getting yourself known.  Networking skills are essential when starting out as a freelancer and it useful to attend any relevant trade fairs, exhibitions and events to find new contacts and clients.

Top tips

  • Keep your home office space separate from the rest of your house if possible.  Allocate a room as your study or office that is solely for that purpose, otherwise you may find that work encroaches too much into your personal life.
  • Make arrangements for a pension scheme and other insurance policies that normally would be provided by an employer.  Be sure that you are adequately covered should you be unable to work for any significant length of time.
  • And finally, be absolutely sure that freelancing is right for you before you start.  If you can achieve your career objectives through freelancing, and can maintain a healthy work-life balance, then you should be able to enjoy a long and successful career as a freelancer.
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