Monday, 18 July 2011

Ten tips for going freelance

So it’s been six months since I turned freelance. I’m not going for global domination, which is just as well, but my client portfolio comprises entirely of people I like and I work on projects I enjoy. The finances look healthy, though my backhand is still dismal.If you are contemplating 'the big leap' here are my early days tips, while they are fresh in my mind:

'hammock' & 'sun tan' appear to be missing...
1) Take a break before you begin: Contrary to what I was advised, I recommend you do not quit your day job on a Thursday and start your first contract on the Friday. I think I would have been more able to absorb the culture shock if I had allowed a month in between. Ideally a couple of weeks of doing NOTHING, after 22 plus years of ‘real’ work, I guess I could have cut myself some slack there. And then the next few weeks can be spent sorting out behind the scenes stuff and not just the paperwork but the basics like a comfy chair, stationary etc.

2) Financials: To quote Jessie J 'it’s not about the money'. I knew that from the get go, but it’s quite tricky to unhook your real worth from your ‘take home’. Let it go, you are not your agency day rate or your old job title. You are so much more and being a freelancer gives you the space to explore it. But to avoid the feast or famine syndrome that everyone warns you about, set up a separate bank account, tip some cash in to it to ease yourself in, say three months of a notional wage. You’ll have enough to adjust to, without worrying about money from day one. Keep all your business outgoings and income in this one account, from this you can transfer an appropriate amount for tax into a savings account and also pull a regular wage so you can continue to budget as you did when you were employed.

3) Don’t underestimate how long tasks are going to take: One of the biggest shockers I found was that there was no one to whom I could delegate. I was so delighted that the decision making process was now instantaneous, but all the time savings made on that side were swallowed up by the implementation process now that it was just me to execute. I had to relearn skills I had abandoned years ago, like formatting, attention to detail, spelling…

4) Get out and talk to people: My first project was initially difficult and intense, that compounded with no team support or general water cooler chit chat meant I did feel overwhelmed at first. I quickly made a point of meeting an industry mate at least a couple of times a week to help keep my own trials and tribulations in context.

5) Dress the part: After a few months of looking like Bridget Jones in the throes of a messy divorce, I smartened up. For me the standard that works best is to dress as if you have a mild crush on the postman. Oh and you’ll have to schedule some regular exercise too, if you're gonna have a chance with that postman.

6) Don’t be tight with yourself: I wish now I hadn’t bought a basic printer, trotting off to newsagents to pay for photocopies or coloured printouts, pains me man, it pains me. Also my dining room table is not the right height for a desk and sooner or later I am going to have to come to terms with this.

7) Find your natural rhythm: After so many years working Monday to Friday 9- 5 it’s natural to feel obliged to keep it up, but being a freelancer you can set your own rhythm. Mine follows the sun, if it’s sunny I do less, if it’s not I do more. Family commitments not withstanding, I’m happy to work in the evenings or weekends, if it means that when the sun comes out I can potter in the garden, keeping a squinty eye on the emails. Let go of the guilt. As long as you get the work done and it delivers above, beyond and ahead of your client expectations, then really you can please yourself when and how you do it.

8) Stay in the loop: Now you’re not part of the company chatter, you need to put extra effort into keeping up with what the industry is talking about and what’s trending. Make time in your daily schedule to read, comment and connect. Also go to conferences, training seminar’s etc, not just to network but to actually learn and assimilate.

9) Try to hold out for projects that sound interesting, this has to be a huge plus of going freelance, work for people you like, take remits you enjoy. This is pay back for all those years of doing tasks to which you were painfully unsuited and having to work with people that normally you’d cross the street to avoid. You’ll end up doing such a great job you can easily widen the remit and referrals will surely follow.

10) Finally enjoy being nice to people! When you go freelance there are no power battles to win, no points to prove, no office politics to survive, you can just hang up your battered old ego and be nice. It feels great, really! And who knew people could be so responsive when you show some genuine consideration for their day and their challenges? Certainly not I.

If you found this helpful you may want to read:
Freelance Glorious Freelance - thoughts on how to cope with the feast and the famine
The Fallible Freelancer - a cautionary tale 
What price freedom? - thoughts on how to price up your work/calculate a sensible day rate.

Wordcloud image courtesy of


  1. It's good to hear you are doing well. I'm two weeks in to freelancing as senior designer (4 weeks if you count my gardening leave). It was good to read your tips. My move was forced, so I'm busy trying to build up my contacts through recruitment agents and friends. Have fun! Simon

  2. All very good tips. As a freelancer of three years now, I would have to say that it is important to keep in the loop with industry contacts and learning - never stop learning. When I started, I did not have the luxury of only going with interesting projects but as you build a name for yourself, that comes. It is certainly nice working with people you like!

  3. This was such a great read and I wish you'd written it 9 months ago before I went out on my own :-) You totally hit the nail on the head about the guilt, setting yourself up with 'put a smile on your dial' cool stationery and the flexi (is it OK to nip to yoga at 10am) work hours. Most days I lament "Why didn't I do this sooner?" a thought that dances in and around "Holy sh*t, I'm doing this on my own." Good luck to you my fellow freelancer. Or contractor as they call us here in Australia. Oh and 9 months in and the website still isn't ready. Ho hum.

  4. Great article - I wish I'd seen it sooner as well but so far I really love working as a freelancer/contractor. It can be a challenge to juggle clients as sometimes the deadlines are all at the same time, but for any type A personality I imagine it would be a breeze. I have a much better relationship with my clients and my dog! But I do appreciate some of the reminders in this article. Thanks!

  5. Thanks for the great comments guys. Yes that's another real bonus thing about this life it's perfect for pets!If all continues to go well I'll be adding a dog to our lives soon and our world will be complete:)

  6. Hi Sam,

    I loved this article! Congratulations on your decision and your success. I haven't worked "inside corporate" for over 14 years and your advice is good for when someone first goes freelance and also years later. On really tough days, ask yourself,"Why did I decide to do this in the first place?" Oh yeah, to be able to go to the beach in the day and work at night!

    Warm Regards,
    Linda Berke

  7. Love this post - #5 is my favorite tip! Also, I definitely need to work on letting go of guilt. Whenever I have free time, I feel incredibly guilty if I'm not working on my ever-growing business to-do list. There's always something to do...

    Thanks for the great article.

  8. Uhuh this week had two options, relax and enjoy the weather or suffer in some way as the rest of the world is still working. So elected to suffer by decorating spare room. Killer job but 5 days later it's looking lush and I'm looking forward to getting back to my desk. Love your website Jenny.

  9. Sam, I'm so glad I found you! I went the freelance route in June after 12 years of hard graft in agency and in-house gigs. I felt like someone else was spookily channeling me when I read this post. So glad to know I'm not the only with all this stuff whirring through my brain ("how do i budget?", "wait, pitching a reporter properly takes how long??", "when will i get paid?", "i'm slacking off i finish work at 3:00pm" etc.) I'm moving back to the UK in 2012 after 5 and a half years in San Francisco, so will definitely be reading more of your advice as I go about re-building my professional network as a "Brit" again!

  10. Hi Louise.

    Thanks for your comments. Life on the outside certainly takes some adjusting to doesn't it? It's like 'is it legal to be this happy?' Good luck with the move back to Blighty, sure you'll breeze it.

  11. Very good post, Sam - got a couple of mates going freelance right now and this has been useful for them.

    "having to work with people that normally you’d cross the street to avoid..."

    Ah yes, indeed!!!