This is a guest post by Martine Warburton. Martine has been a freelance graphic designer, illustrator and web designer since 2003 and now jointly runs Huskii Studio with fellow designer/director Andy. We asked Martine to share her experience of being freelance with the Brighton Digital Women community.
Is freelancing the silver bullet you need for your career or is the bed of roses a little thornier than you were hoping?
Going freelance is often held up as the ultimate way to create a more independent and fulfilling career and a better life in general. However, it’s not for everyone and sometimes it’s not easy.
Before you throw caution to the wind, here are a few things to consider…
Getting paid (or not!)
When you leave a full-time position, you say goodbye to the regular predictable pay cheques and hello to the joys of invoicing.
There is nothing more satisfying than sending off a fat invoice for your most recent project, but sadly getting paid can sometimes be a painful process. Prepare yourself for chasing clients for late payments and listening to some pretty lame excuses. Cash flow can suffer when clients don’t pay on time and it often follows that the larger the client the slower they pay.
You should never feel embarrassed about chasing your payment though. You have earned this money. To protect yourself have a contract or quote for the client to sign. Be clear about your payment terms and invoice regularly to help with cash flow. It’s a good idea to take a deposit upfront as well.
Working out what to charge
Even experienced freelancers sometimes struggle to figure out how much to charge.
Newbies often undervalue their time and can end up losing out. Remember to consider that it’s hard to fill an entire 8-hour day with billable work. You’ll also need to set aside money for paying taxes, and covering holiday and sickness. Asking other freelancers what they charge can be awkward but it can help to get a sense of where the benchmarks are.
Unlimited holiday and flexibility
If you manage your finances well you can reward yourself with plenty of time off, or if the sun is out you could have a long lunch on the beach. In fact, why not just take the whole day off?!
Just remember that, if you have regular clients, your absence could make way for someone to replace you, or make you seem unreliable. Also, if you are not working you are not getting paid! So, you’ll need to set money aside to cover your expenses.
If you are drawn to the freelance life so you can travel, it certainly can make a digital nomad lifestyle possible. Or if you are taking short to mid-term contracts, that can help you build up the coffers and take trips between contracts. For those hoping to build up their own client base you’ll need to think about what level of support you want to offer your regular clients. Can a fellow freelancer cover you while you are away or are you willing to deal with urgent requests from the poolside?
Clients are your new boss and the buck stops with you
Freedom from the boss can be a big motivator for taking the leap. Just keep in mind you’ll still be accountable to your clients.
When things are not going to plan, it can feel pretty lonely. You won’t have the team you are used to around to back you up. Creating a good network of other freelancers in your profession can help for moral support and advice when your back is against the wall.
Comfortable with your own company?
Freelancers can spend a lot of time working alone. This can feel antisocial and a little bit depressing, especially if you are working from home.
Think about joining a co-working space such as Platf9rm or The Skiff, to prevent you becoming a hermit. This way you won’t miss out on Christmas parties, taking turns to make the tea, and a sense of community. It’s also a great place to build you network of supportive freelancer friends and maybe even picking up a few clients.
Wearing all the hats!
Many people cite focusing on what they love as a key reason for going freelance. It’s certainly true that you’ll be able to steer your business in any way you choose. But, keep in mind that along with doing the bit you love you’ll need to provide you own IT support, accounts department, office cleaner, legal, business strategy and marketing. So, you may spend more time each day doing things which are not your forte.
Once you are established you can (and should) pay other experts to do some of this stuff, freeing you up to focus (again) on what you love! Software like FreeAgent can make the accounting and bookkeeping easy, a business coach can help you get an outside perspective and help you with strategy, and an accountant can be a real weight off your mind.
Developing your skills
It’s easy to discount how much you learn from working within a team. If you are working alone it becomes harder to keep your skills up to scratch. You’ll need to be more proactive about learning and developing your skills.
The internet is a great resource for staying up to date with the latest news in your industry and doing courses or tutorials. YouTube and Skillshare is great for this. Just beware of the Youtube rabbit hole if you have a deadline on the horizon.
Everyone has their off days, but when your income reflects how hard you work, slacking off can be costly.
Before taking the leap to freelance life, be honest with yourself. Are you the kind of person who can keep your distractions to a minimum? Or will you end up sorting your sock draw or watching cat videos on Facebook without your boss looking over your shoulder?
Reaping the rewards
Slogging away to make someone else’s wallet bulge is something that niggles many would-be freelancers.
There’s no denying that receiving a paycheque that reflects exactly how much hard work you, and you alone, put in is hugely satisfying. Not to mention the appreciation of your clients when you’ve done great work. That said, what you earn month to month can vary wildly. You’ll need to build up a buffer to see you through the lean months.
There are inevitably pros and cons to any career choice. I hope this quick summary will help you decide if freelancing is for you.I’ve found being freelance hugely rewarding overall and wouldn’t want to choose any other path — but my journey has not been without bumps in the road.