The way in which we work is changing. There are an estimated 1.4 million freelancers working across all sectors in the UK – a rise of 14% in the past decade alone. And with movements like Flex Appeal gaining momentum and the demand for shared working spaces on the rise, it seems like the traditional ‘job for life’ 9-5 is careening towards extinction.
But is freelancing all it’s cracked up to be? Despite what pop-culture might tell you, it’s not all sipping matcha lattes in hipster cafés and clocking off before 4pm. Any seasoned freelancer will tell you, gravely, of the ‘feast or famine’ caveat to this seemingly idyllic lifestyle. The perilous wait between jobs or – worse still – the drying up of jobs entirely.
Why, then, does anyone go freelance? The reason for this is quite simple. Freelancing offers the vibrant opportunity and freedom of a solo career.
If you’re considering a freelance career in a high-tier digital position – in the UX, marketing or tech fields for example – it’s particularly important that you understand this risk. Because you are no doubt leaving a well-paid position and bracing yourself for the unknown.
Here are some things to consider before making the leap:
1. Sole trader or limited company?
This is one of the most important decisions you’ll need to make. It affects everything in your burgeoning business from the tax you’ll pay to your liability if something goes wrong. Both ‘sole trader’ and ‘limited company’ are viable options and you will find examples of both in the freelancing world. It’s important to pick the one that meets your needs while following any industry trends. Most writers tend to be sole traders for example, while digital designers tend to be limited companies.
2. Factor in tax, pension and healthcare
Once you leave the cocoon of full-time employment, there are a lot of things you need to manage yourself. Perhaps the most obvious one is tax. As a freelancer you won’t be on PAYE and will need to manually deduct estimated tax from every penny you earn. You then need to file a tax return annually, at the end of the financial year. You could do this yourself or get an accountant to oversee it for you. Your pension and healthcare will no longer be covered by a company, so you will need to make provisions for yourself. It’s also worth remembering that being a freelancer can make getting a mortgage more difficult – you will generally need to have been trading as a freelancer for a minimum of two years before you are eligible.
3. Gather your contacts
Once you’ve made the decision to go freelance, be organised and diligent in your approach to getting new business. Weigh up all the contacts you have made in your working life to date, and, without stepping on anyone’s toes or breaching your contract, set up as many coffees as you possibly can before severing ties with your company completely. Are there people in your periphery who could become potential clients? Do you know any freelancers in your industry you could meet for advice? Put yourself out there, meet anyone who might prove to be useful in the future – and gather your contacts.
4. Market yourself
Make a slick business website and update your portfolio. It’s important to have a really strong digital presence. But it’s also important to have a physical one as well. Attend industry events and conferences with some memorable business cards in your pocket and seize any chance for networking.
5. Don’t say ‘no’ but don’t over-promise
In the beginning at least, it’s not advisable to say ‘no’ to work. You’re building a name for yourself and the way to do that is to cast the net wide and get as many glowing references under your belt as possible. But having said that, taking on more projects then you can handle or over-promising can be detrimental to your reputation. After all, who wants to hire someone who can’t manage their own time and turn in work when they’re expected to? It’s all a matter of balance.
As Director of Technology here at Cogs Agency I work closely with candidates going through the transition as well as placing those who have freelanced for years. If you work in the tech and digital sectors and are looking to change up your job situation, let us help you – we know the world of freelance inside out. We have a broad spectrum of roles across London, Berlin, Singapore and Hong Kong – and are adept at matching top talent to exciting positions. Based in London? Give me a call today.
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