#freelancelife might be the most misleading hashtag on Instagram. Invariably, it accompanies images of coffee and a great view, or cosy PJs on a cold Monday morning. However, being a freelancer isn’t an easy life – the reality is that, while you don’t have a boss or the requirement to show up to an office every day, it’s a lot of work and can be a huge risk. So, how do you make sure you succeed at it?
Find a niche for your skills
Being successful at freelancing means ensuring that there is actually a market for what you’re offering. There are currently some 4.8 million people in the self-employed sector, according to the Association of Independent Professionals and the Self-Employed (IPSE). 42% of those are freelancers. Freelancers make up around 6% of the total UK workforce. So, if you’re thinking of going freelance you’re not the only one to be trying to make a success of it.
Over the past decade, the fastest growing sectors for freelancers have been healthcare, artistic, literary and media, as well as sports and fitness. However, it’s possible to freelance in almost anything today, thanks to more agile working styles, as long as the market is there.
Top careers for freelancers
If you’re assessing the top careers on a financial basis then freelance lawyers, investment consultants and software developers top the tables with average salaries of £40k – 60k. However, a freelance yoga instructor can make as much as a freelance business consultant (£37k – 38k) and also the same as a web or interiors designer. For those looking at lifestyle desirability as a way of judging the top careers for freelancers the situation is slightly different. Photographers, musicians and actors tend to top the desirability polls, followed by architects, designers and landscapers.
Setting up as a freelancer
If you’ve identified a market for what you can offer it’s crucial to begin developing the necessary skills if you don’t already have them. Anyone considering employing you on a freelance basis will want to see:
Evidence of ability e.g. a writing or design portfolio
Feedback from clients. If you don’t currently have any you can build this by doing a few initial jobs for a free or low fee
Any necessary academic qualifications
Up to date professional certifications where appropriate
You’ll also need to ensure that you have everything prepared to start your first job, such as any key equipment and a space where you can work. Many freelancers start out working on their sofa or kitchen. However, there are a range of options if you’re looking for something more professional – or with networking opportunities – such as co-working spaces.
How to market yourself as a freelancer
To get the work you need you need to make yourself as visible to as many relevant people as you can:
Network like mad. Contact everyone you know, personally and professionally, and let them know you’re going freelance. Opportunities for work can arise from the most unexpected connections.
Create a personal brand. What are you offering, what makes you unique and why should clients choose you?
Use social media. Many freelancers market themselves very successfully via social media. So, your profiles on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram etc need to be updated and maintained.
Have a website. No matter how small your efforts, depending on what you’re doing, a website could be essential. It will provide a way for people to get information about you and can give you credibility.
Sign up to freelance jobs sites. Although the hourly rates are often low, sites like freelancer.com can be a great way to start building up a profile.
Top tips for success in the long term
You don’t want your success to be short lived. This is your personal business so treat it as one and apply these rules:
Always use a contract. If you’ve got paperwork in place then everyone knows what’s expected, when payment is due and what happens if it’s not made.
Take a deposit. The big risk for freelancers is not getting paid. If your clients won’t agree to pay up front then ask for at least a 50% deposit.
Be prepared to work weekends. When you start building up your business office hours may have to go out of the window.
Don’t treat freelancing like a hobby. If you want to make a living from it then focus on it full time.
Avoid taking on more than you can do well. It’s essential to maintain the quality of your work so avoid the trap of taking on too much and doing a bad job.
Be prepared for dry spells. It happens in freelance work – it’s a good opportunity for a holiday or a bit of planning or creative time. Don’t waste it panicking about where the next job will come from. And ensure you have built up a reserve cash fund so you can avoid borrowing. But if you need a short term loan then options are available.
Get organised. There is no boss breathing down your neck when you’re freelance. So, if you’re not good at time management, you need to get better at it, fast.
Put your phone down. When you’re at home it’s easy to end up falling down an Instagram vortex for an hour and be completely unproductive. Be disciplined with yourself to make sure you get the work done.
Get used to asking for work. As a freelancer, especially a new one, work won’t just come to you. It’s important to be comfortable pitching for jobs and approaching potential new clients.
Being freelance takes guts and hard work. However, if you do manage to establish a life like this it can be a great way to live, as well as very rewarding.
Alex Hartley is a keen advocate of improving personal finance skills. She's worked at Solution Loans since 2014 and written hundreds of articles about how people can manage their money better. Her interest in personal finance goes way back to...Read more about Alex Hartley