Last Thursday, 8th June was National Freelancers Day (NFD), a day that celebrates the UK’s nearly 2 million independent professionals. In addition to that 2 million, 255,000 people are freelancing as a second source of income. In fact, since 2008’s global economic collapse, the UK’s freelance workforce has grown by an impressive 36% — a sign that people are starting to carpe diem.
While freelancing is often considered synonymous with creative, and it’s true that almost 40% of freelancers fall into an artistically-defined occupational category, many other industries thrive under the freelance umbrella. 28% of UK’s freelancers are company managers or owners, 17% work in education, and 15% work in technology.
The main attractions to the freelancing lifestyle arguably include being your own boss, flexible scheduling, remote work options, and pay rates that don’t suffer from the cost of having to live in a main city. It’s no secret, however, that the life of a freelancer comes with its own unique set of challenges and stressors, from staying self-motivated, to managing your own workflows, to sustaining a regular and reliable income.
In addition to sponsoring The Association of Independent Professionals and The Self-Employed’s 9th annual NFD event this year, we wanted to connect directly with our international community of entrepreneurs to curate the top six tips to not only discuss solutions to these challenges, but to inspire fellow and/or striving freelancers to keep going.
Finesse Your Finances
One of the biggest hurdles freelancers must overcome is learning how (or who) to charge and how to budget.
While it may seem counterintuitive, Stuart Cooke of Pinnacle SEO stresses the importance of saying no to potential work. “It’s important to remember that you are running a business, and as such you have to make your decisions based on what makes businesses sense. Sometimes that can mean saying no […]. You have to be brave enough to let the small fish who don’t want to pay your fee go in the hope of landing a bigger fish who you can have a good working relationship with.”
When it comes to managing budgets and tracking cash flow, Nick Jones of Freelancers in the UK is an advocate for upgrading from excel spreadsheets to low-cost online invoicing software. “Once you’ve tried software like QuickBooks, you’ll see that it’s well worth the monthly subscription fee,” he says. “User-friendly and accessible on the go, online invoicing can save you time and enables you to send professional-looking quotations wherever you are, potentially securing you more work. It also tracks your earnings and spending, making tax returns a doddle.”
Other freelance finance tips we love:
- Establish a budget — An example budget would be 15% for business expenses, 20% for taxes, 20% for personal savings, and 45% for living expenses.
- Have separate bank accounts — One for personal, one for business.
- Prepare for variable levels of income — You’ll have to change the salary mindset.
Make Your Mark(eting)
Being a freelancer, for better or worse, means that you’re on your own. You have to be prepared to wear not just many but all of the hats, and this includes being your own marketer and gain exposure. Stuart Gamblen of Upward Creative agrees: “you need to drive people to your website and lead magnet offer to convert them to leads.”
Thankfully, we live in the social media age, which makes this task a bit less daunting than if you had to handle traditional marketing channels all on your own. This is good news since the stress of worrying about how you’ll get new work can be a constant burden. Laurence Blume of Freelance Copywriter says that “the feeling that, if things go quiet for a few days, you will never work again, is extremely common. The answer is to develop and manage a proper, organised, multi-channel marketing strategy so that you know, even if it goes a bit quiet, that your marketing engine is working away in the background.”
To make managing your social media channels even easier, Nick Jones recommends Hootsuite. “Hootsuite allows you to manage all your social media ‘streams’ in one place, saving you the hassle of logging into each one separately, which would get incredibly tedious very quickly!”
More savvy marketing tips include:
- Analyse your website — Use Google tools to make sure your site is performing well.
- Network in person — Seek out local business groups or use Facebook, Linkedin, and other tools to find other professionals.
Communicate with Clients
Targeting and communicating with clients is likely what you’ll be spending the most time doing — even more time than the actual work you’re doing for them. This makes your client communication skills paramount.
Bret Allen suggests creating a written contract, which should include things like: rates, payment options, a point of contact, cancellation fees, revision fees and deadlines. This will help ensure that everyone knows what they’re responsible for, and there’s plenty of free templates online to choose from.
Above all, though, the most important pinnacles of client communication seem to be:
- Asking the right questions to identify wants and needs
There’s no such thing as “on-site training” when you’re a freelancer, but this doesn’t mean you can ignore the importance of continued education. This is especially true when it comes to topics that can help you become even more effective and successful, including accounting, SEO, Google Analytics, PPC, creating persuasive presentations, etc. Set aside just 10 minutes a day to your learning objectives, and purchase books or take online courses to help improve your skills.
In the end, simply reaching out to other small business owners to pick their brains and gather advice can be the most invaluable way of staying sharp.
Staying motivated and productive is another common challenge for freelancers who must act as their own boss.
The freelancers we spoke to agree that establishing a set amount of work hours each day will help ensure you maintain a balance between work and life, and that you don’t feel like you’re always on the clock. To go along with a set schedule, have a specified space in your home that is professional, peaceful and free of distractions.
Helpful productivity tools include:
- Google Docs
- Cloud apps
Prioritise Health & Happiness
Speaking of needing to set your own work hours — you also need to make sure you make time for yourself, and this includes taking a holiday.
Other ways to promote health and happiness include:
- Exercising daily — This will give you mental breaks while stimulating creativity and energy.
- Accepting rejection — Don’t take it personally; the right clients will come.
Staying happy and healthy will ensure you can continue delivering high quality work to your clients. In the end, listen to Jenna Farmer who built her own blog business and “value everything: your time, your stats, your work!”
Are you a freelancer? What tips would you add? If you’re thinking about joining the freelance workforce, let us know if you have any questions we can answer or explore!
A very special thanks to the following contributors for all of their time and expert advice:
Martina Mercer: Martina Mercer
Stuart Cooke: Pinnacle SEO
Eleni Sofroniou: Fall Into London
Alex Black: Alex Black Design
Joe Huggans: Designed By Joe
Laurence Blume: Laurence Blume
Jane Fairnie: JLF Virtual Assistant
Chris Skoyles: Chris Skoyles
Bret Allen: Bret Allen
Sarah Macklin: Sarah Macklin Editing
Susanne Wakefield: Write Cloud
Nick Jones: Freelancers in the UK
Stephen Marsh: Stephen Marsh
Stuart Gamblen: Upward Creative
Kirsty France: Kirsty France Writes
Jenna Farmer: A Balanced Belly
Pauline Gay: The Creative Nest
Ross Jukes: Ross Jukes Photography