Going Freelance

By Penny Johnson

Going Freelance

H ave you ever wondered about working freelance? As with any change in career, you need to think carefully about the implications of the change before making a move that you may not be able to reverse.

There are many jobs that can be done on a freelance basis, often working from home. Many jobs of the jobs involve IT or words: designing or running websites, writing software, writing articles or books, translating, editing, proof-reading, etc. Other possible jobs are training, where you might have to go and visit clients, or consultancy work.

You can start freelancing from scratch, for example after doing a proofreading or web design course, but you are more likely to make a financial success of your new career if you already have some experience and, more importantly, some contacts in your chosen field. Your contacts will be important for getting new work.

The advantages
You are your own boss. You can decide what time you start and stop work, and what priority to give your tasks. If family commitments permit, you can work through a wet weekend and then take time off in the week when the weather is nicer. You don't have to ask someone's permission before you book a holiday or a hairdresser's appointment.

The disadvantages
You are your own boss (yes, I know I have repeated this!). You have to motivate yourself – there will be no-one coming round to see how you are getting on. If you deliver late it may be OK, or that client may just not bother to ask you again. If you are working from home, you may miss friends you made at work, or just miss the general chat around the coffee machine.

You need to spend some time looking for work – it won't just come to you. You may end up with periods where there isn't much work available – this is great in the summer when your bank balance is healthy, but the slack periods may coincide with lean times financially. You may not want to turn down work, particularly when you are staring out, so at times you may end up even busier than you were when you had a nagging boss! However this often doesn’t feel as bad, as you have chosen to take on the work rather than having long hours forced on you by an unsympathetic boss.

You have to make your own pension arrangements, and you won't get sick pay if you can't work for a while (although there are insurance policies you can buy to help you over such times). You also have to do your accounts, or pay an accountant to look after them.

Getting started
First, and possibly most importantly, if you are leaving a company to start doing similar work on your own, make sure you leave on good terms – many freelancers get a lot of work from the company they used to work for.

Advertise yourself. Write a CV that concentrates on the points that will be most important to the people likely to employ you, and send it to possible employers. If necessary, amend it for different people so that it is directly relevant to them. Phone first, if you can, to find out the name of the person to send it to – it is more likely to be read than if you just put a job title on the envelope.

Have you got a website? Most Internet Service Providers let you have some webspace as part of your subscription, although what you have to type into the address bar to get to it is usually long and cumbersome. However you can buy an easy-to-remember web address that includes your name for a few pounds or dollars and set it up so that it automatically directs to your free webspace. You now have an advertising platform on the internet for a very small charge. You can give your web address to people on the back of a business card, and make your website a full-colour, interesting version of your CV, including samples of your work. Don't worry if you don't know how to write web pages – there are lots of free tutorials on the internet for writing html (the code that web pages are written in) or even places where you can enter basic details and the site will be designed for you.

Set up a proper office space, and get a filing cabinet. There is little more frustrating than knowing the piece of paper you need is here somewhere, but you just cannot find it!

Keep records of all your business expenditure and all your income – on paper and all totalled up on a spreadsheet if possible. Filling in your tax returns is far easier if you have kept your records up to date throughout the year.

Keeping going
Staying motivated and maintaining concentration can be a problem sometimes. Close deadlines sometimes help, but not always. Try to raid the fruit bowl rather than the cake tin, or go for a brisk walk to feel more alert and ready to get on with things.  Break tasks into smaller bits and tick them off, so you know what you have achieved each day. Keep a log of how long you spend on each task. You may need to do this anyway, if you are charging an hourly rate, but it can sometimes help at the end of the day to look at your log and realise that you have done a good amount of work, even if it feels you haven't concentrated well.

Some of the above may seem a bit daunting, but if you decide the freelance life is for you, then go for it! I went freelance four years ago, and haven’t regretted it.



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