Freelancing sounds enticing. Working for yourself; not having a boss to, well, boss you around; throwing over the 9-5 for the 8-4, 10-6 or whatever suits you; losing the commute; deciding how much you’re worth rather than having that dictated to you…

Hmm, all sounds rather lovely. Think I’ll try it myself.

Hold on. I did try it myself, 6 years ago, albeit only on a part-time basis until recently, and I have friends who freelance too. That means I know what you should be thinking about before you slap your resignation letter down on your manager’s desk and flounce out the door to start the life of working bliss described above.

Do you have skills that are saleable as a freelancer?

Some industries have been choc-full of freelancers since before freelancing was a Thing. Writers of all kinds have been freelance for, well, centuries, along with artists and sculptors. Creative industries are dominated by freelancers and IT is close behind, particularly where web skills are concerned.

A lot of small web design businesses are actually solitary freelancers plying their skills.
However, there are still some industries where freelancers are few and far between and the opportunities for making a self-employed living are few, so do your research.

How many people out there are doing what you want to do—and doing it successfully?  It’s a bit like eBay. Just because there are people out there asking £100 for a supposedly rare CD doesn’t mean they’ll get it; the sold listings filter tells a different story.

How many long-term freelancers are out there in your industry, and does your skill set match or exceed theirs? And is there room for you in the market? Yes, that sounds like business talk. Get used to it! You’re proposing to become a one-person business.

Freelance in haste, repent at leisure

If you’re searching for a new job—a new employed job—what do you do? You find out as much as you can. What’s the wage and the working hours? How flexible is your employer and what’s your line manager like to work for? Do you get a good vibe from the working environment and the people when you go for a look around or an interview? What are the perks and benefits? You need to do as much research, if not more, before you decide freelancing is the right path. Think I’ve gone off my rocker? Read on.

How much do you need to earn—and can you?

Freelancers don’t get perks and employer benefits, nor do they get sick pay, annual leave, parental leave, carers’ leave or employer contributions into their pension. If you’re earning 25K in your job, think about how much all that leave, which you currently get for free, is worth. Freelancers must earn enough to cover all the time they want or have to take off, pay all the money necessary into a pension and ideally pay into an insurance that will pay out if they are ill or unable to work.

Then, of course, there’s the cost of equipment, resources, stationery and software (not just for the job you do, but the admin. That’s all down to you now. You’re boss, employee and admin staff (we’ll get to your other roles later). What about internet, energy, mobile and landline costs? Or the cost of hiring a workspace if you won’t be working from home? Public liability and professional indemnity insurance?

While business expenses can be claimed against tax, you need to earn the money to pay them upfront, and giving yourself 25 days of annual leave does not count as a business expense (unfortunately). As you can see, 25K as a freelancer is a lot less than 25K as an employee. Unless drastically reducing your standard of living is something you’re fine with, start calculating how much you need to earn to maintain the same standard of living as you had as an employee.

Then ask yourself if earning that much is feasible with your skill set and within your industry. Root around in forums and freelance marketplaces. How much are people charging and earning?

Leave one job, take on many

Congratulations! It’s your first day as a freelancer. Now look in the mirror. Spooky… you seem to be seeing double. You’ve just split into an employee and a boss. Whoops! There (both of) you go again. Who are those other two people? Ah, the admin assistant and bookkeeper any small business needs. Oh no! It’s not stopping! Who are these next four? Ah, this will be the  marketing director, social media manager, web designer and content creator…

The stark fact is that unless they’re in a sales-based role, most employees have their work handed to them on a plate. The paperwork they need to handle is put on the desk, details of the next pipe they need to fix comes through on their phone, customers turn up to eat the food they’re paid to prepare. Their national insurance contributions, tax and leave allowances are handled by other people.

On your first day as a freelancer, unless you’re very lucky and/or well-prepared, there will be zero work to do. In fact, you’d do well to count this as annual leave and take it off your allowance…

The work isn’t there unless you generate it, pitch for it, seek it or attract it. How to go about it is a subject for a whole other article (or several), but my point here is that if you’re a shrinking violet, freelancing isn’t for you. Freelancing isn’t about tucking yourself away cosily at home and having less interaction with that most pesky of things, people. You need money, and money comes from work, and work comes from people. You will need to interact with clients, discuss budgets and estimates, and sell your skills and services confidently. If you don’t act like you believe you can do it, why would anyone else believe you can (and be willing to gamble their money on it?).

While some of the roles above can be outsourced to experts (web design, accountancy etc.), that will cost money, and there are some roles you will have to take on yourself. Marketing, admin, keeping your website up-to-date, maintaining professional social media accounts; it’s not just about doing your job (the one you’re trained for) any more. And these tasks take time, even though you’re not paid for them—something else you should think about when considering the earnings, pay rates and time dynamic.

Can you be your own boss?

Old school friends were discussing my freelance career at our very small reunion recently. My friend Della (names have been changed to protect the innocent) shook her head.

“I could never do that,” she said. “I don’t mind working from home occasionally, although to be honest, I prefer being in the office. I’ve got a proper office chair and desk there; when I work from home, I get backache! But it’s not that. I wouldn’t be able to focus on my work. There would be too much temptation! I’d end up spending half the day watching Netflix or reading a book! I just haven’t got the self-discipline.”

Della has a successful and lengthy career in insurance and is used to an office environment, and I don’t hold her lack of ability to freelance against her one bit. We’re all different. But her point about self-discipline is important. Most freelancers do struggle, at some point and to some extent, with focus and distractions (you’ll find a swathe of articles on the subject on the internet). With luck, they find strategies to overcome them by making changes to their environment or working practice.

However, some people just aren’t made for freelancing. They can’t be firm enough with themselves to be their own boss, they’re not driven enough to get in the work they need, and—another point pre-freelancers rarely think about—they don’t cope well with the stress of not knowing how much they’ll earn next month,  if they’ll even have any work,  or if this this new client will like their work/actually pay them/ leave a bad review on a freelancing site. That’s fine; just make sure that’s not you before you resign.

If I’ve made you think, then my work here is done. Don’t feel bad if freelancing isn’t for you; the economy needs employees and many households need at least one person with a steady, reliable income! If you’re sure freelancing is for you, hold fire on slapping that resignation letter down for a while. Put money aside for a financial safety net, do your research and perhaps dip your toe in the freelancing waters, finding a small project or two you can complete in your down time and contacting potential clients.
Good luck!


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