Freelancing in Five Minutes

This is a write up of Paul Silver’s talk at the Wired Sussex Digital Media Jobs & Skills Fair 2009.

This is not a comprehensive how-to for freelancing. It’s a quick run down of things I’ve learnt over six years of freelancing.

Talk to People

The best way of getting work, advice, get on well with your clients and build up good contacts is to talk to people.

Other freelancers will send you good leads for work if they know you, and that’s knowing as in face-to-face met, not just over e-mail. E-mail and forums can be sources for work, but people you’ve actually met will be far better.

Other freelancers are much more likely to send you work or leads if you do the same back. If you’re asked to do work you can’t do, it’s best to refer it on to someone else, that’s good for the client, and good for your relationship with the other person.

You don’t need to hard sell your skills, but you do need to let people know what you do so they can refer work you way.

Tailor your message to your audience. To people in the industry, I do SEO, PHP and ColdFusion programming. To small business clients, I promote websites through search engines, and do the stuff that makes it easy to update their website without needing a techie or designer.

Get a Website

On your website, put:

  • What you do as services
  • What you have done (portfolio)
  • How available you are

You need to look alive, so if you’ve put something live recently, mention it, with a date. If you’re working on a big job, say you are and when you’re next available.

If you like writing, you might want to have a professional blog. It can help with selling. It’s not mandatory. Unless you’re a copywriter, then it’s kind of mandatory.

Designers – it doesn’t have to look perfect. Get something up there, perfect it later.

Developers – it doesn’t have to have an all-singing, all-dancing CMS with API. Get something up there, perfect it later.

What to Charge

Standard rates in Brighton for someone with experience are £250-300 a day. Some people charge up to £450-500 a day. It all depends what it is, and the value to the client.

Most clients want a fixed price bit of work. This is hard to estimate. You get better at it with time.

Get some money up front. Generally a third is a good proportion. People who quibble about paying some money up front also seem to have problems with paying bills on time (or at all.) Money up front acts as a filter to tell you something about that client.

Tax & Accountants

The Sussex tax office ( 0845 366 7856 ) has some very nice people in it who will give you good advice.

Do register with the Inland Revenue. You have to do it within a few weeks of starting as a freelancer (I think six weeks, but have a check.)

If you don’t like sorting out paperwork or find figures confusing, get an accountant as early as possible.

If you’re doing it yourself, the online tax return system is a great deal easier than the paper form.

If you’re planning on earning around £24-25,000 or above a year, it’s a good idea to talk to an accountant. It is probably worth starting a Limited company and having an accountant help you be tax efficient.

Save money as you go along through the year. Best to save 25-33% of everything you earn. This is very difficult.

Client Handling

With your clients be…

  • Pleasent
  • Informative
  • Helpful
  • Firm
  • Only do work agreed in writing (e-mail should be fine, signed paper even better, especially for larger projects)

Generally my work goes this way: talk to client, work out what they want, write up what I can provide and a cost, they sign it, they pay some money up front, I do work, they pay the rest.

Most people pay in 30 days, on the 31st day.

When Things Go Wrong

At some point something will become a mess. The most common problems are:

  1. Client doesn’t pay, or doesn’t pay on time
  2. You underestimate costs and do a load of work effectively for free
  3. You don’t save up enough for your tax bill
  4. You don’t earn enough to live

Brief avoidance / solutions:

  1. Get everything in writing, it makes it much easier to get the money if you have to go to court
  2. Get better at estimates (sorry, it really does come down to that.)
  3. Talk to the tax office, preferably before the bill is due, they can help out but if you don’t pay and don’t talk to them, you’ll just get in deeper trouble?
  4. Try to get more work (i.e. Talk to people.) If you do various work and it just isn’t working out, look for a full time job. If you really want to be freelance you can always do it again later (I really stuffed up the first time I tried it, these things happen.)

Staying Sane

Freelancing can be stressful, and it can mean a lot of working on your own and feel quite isolating. I strongly suggest:

  • Taking weekends off most or all of the time
  • Make sure you get some holiday-length breaks in
  • Mix with people (come to the Brighton Farm meetings!)
  • If you can afford it, get office space to separate work and life a bit more
  • If you can’t afford office space, try co-working. In Brighton you can do this at The WerksThe Skiff, or Chapel Studios (Update: Chapel don’t seem to be around any more, try Platform 9)

Local Resources

Good Luck

And remember: Talk to people and Get it in writing

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