Home working space

How do I become a freelancer?

July 30, 2021

Becoming a freelancer is a dream for many of us. The chance to be your own boss, make your passion your day job and having total control over your own hours. What's not to love? In 2020 there were around 2.2 million freelancers in the UK according to The Association of Independent Professionals and the Self-Employed, so if this is something you want to pursue, you're in good company.

However, deciding to become a freelancer isn't as simple as advertising your skill set and hoping that the new clients start rolling in. Before you take the plunge and decide to become a freelancer, there are some important steps you'll need to take, from registering with the appropriate bodies to figuring out how much tax you have to pay.

You'll also need to do a bit of soul searching to make sure that self-employment is the right career path for you. Starting a freelance career or starting your own business isn't right for everyone, and will take plenty of hard work and a determined mindset.

If you've decided that freelance work is for you, or you just want to learn a bit more about what to do to start freelancing before you commit, then you've come to the right place. We'll talk you through how to become a freelancer and the steps you need to take.

How do I become a freelancer?

To become a freelancer, you'll need to do your homework and make sure that that there is enough work out there to support you in the long term. You'll need to have a clear idea of what you can offer your clients, and why they should choose you over any other competitor. If you already have a side hustle and want to make this your full-time job, then you'll need to do your research and make sure that it is a viable business.

On the practical side, you'll need to register as a freelancer to make sure that HMRC has all your correct details, which we'll walk you through. You'll need to be prepared to submit your own tax returns or find someone who can help you.

There is also a different mindset that you'll need to become a successful freelancer, and there are some tough questions you'll need to ask yourself before you start.

Do you have the discipline?

Before you make the move and take up a full-time freelancing career, you need to ask yourself; do I have the discipline to do this? 

There will be no one to keep you in check and make sure you work regular hours. There will be no manager to fall back on or to report to. If you need to take time off for illness, there will be no one else to pick up the slack. If you need the support of a boss and a team behind you to do your best work (and there's nothing wrong with that) then freelancing may not be for you.

Being your own boss sounds like a dream but it comes with challenges of its own. Are you ready to give up the stability and security of a steady job and a regular paycheck? Freelancing can be unpredictable and, when you're your own boss, the buck stops with you.

If you struggle with self-motivation, then freelancing will be hard work. To get around this, you can set yourself a strict routine of when and where you work. Rather than starting work whenever you feel like it, give yourself set working hours with breaks in between. Decide what workspace works best for your productivity. Is it a busy office with people to talk to and bounce ideas off, a bustling cafe, or your own office where you can close the door to guarantee peace and quiet?

If you need a busy environment with lots of people you can still freelance – just look for shared office space that suits you.

Are you financially prepared?

It's unlikely that you'll make your first million in week one of your freelancing career. Hopefully, you have a strong idea of how much you will make in your first months. If not, you can download our free business plan template which includes sections for financial planning and finding your ideal client.

However, we all know what can happen to the best-laid plans, and sometimes things will go awry. Even if business is slow you'll still have a mortgage or rent to pay. If things do get tight, make sure that before you start freelancing you have enough of a savings buffer to support you while you build up your business.

If you need the security of a steady monthly income to pay your bills and support your family, freelancing might not be right for you now. Instead, wait until you're in a better financial space or keep your passion project to just part-time or a side-hustle until you're ready to make the leap.

You should also remember to budget for extra costs of freelancing, such as insurance, renting office space (if you don't have a home office), and any legal fees. Plus, you need to actively put money away for your pension. When working as an employee, this comes out of your paycheck automatically. As a freelancer, you need to remember to put money away yourself, unless you want to live off baked beans for all of your retirement.

Is there room in the market for you?

Unless you've thought of the unicorn of all products or services, then you'll have to deal with competitors. That's fine, but you need to be sure that there is enough of a market for you.

In your business plan, detail your USP (unique selling point) and be clear about what makes you different (read better) from your competitors. This will help you to see how you will survive and thrive in the market with your competitors.

You'll need to do some detailed market research and identify your target customer. Research your ideal client, what their challenges are and how much money they have to spend. Write down their pain points and how you can address them.

How much should you charge?

Before you find your first client you'll need to work out a pricing structure for your services. There are lots of things that you'll need to take into consideration here:

  • How much do your competitors charge? This will give you an idea of what people are prepared to pay.
  • What can you afford? You want to make a profit, so calculate the costs of providing your service.
  • What is the budget of your ideal customer? No point charging more than they can afford.
  • What's your experience? People will pay more for someone with more experience than a novice.
  • Is it a simple service, or a complex one? You can generally charge more for the latter.

You will be able to charge more as you become more sought after, and when clients refer you to others you will be able to build up your reputation and price.

When working out your pricing structure you should also decide whether to charge a flat fee for your services, or whether you want to charge an hourly rate instead.

Carve out your workspace

If you decide to work from home then you'll need to create a space where you can concentrate, make client calls and get into "work mode".

Working on your laptop from the sofa, or your bed, just won't cut it. Apart from causing you back problems, if you need to take a client video call, it won't give the professional look you're going for. When people were forced to work from home during the COVID-19 pandemic, many people gravitated to the kitchen table. However, this is a naturally busy room in the house, and it's likely that you'll be interrupted by other members of your household.

If you have space in your home, then a separate room for your home office is ideal. This will allow you to set up a desk and comfortable chair. It will also allow you to shut the door for quiet time for when you need to concentrate or speak to a client. If you have sensitive documents that aren't digitised, make sure that they are securely filed and locked away.

Register with HMRC

When you earn your own income as a freelancer, then you need to register with the HMRC, as you'll now be responsible for filing your own taxes. You can register as self-employed or a sole trader. You can also decide to register and operate as a limited company if you wish.

There are pros and cons to both. For example, there's less paperwork to deal with as a sole trader. However, if you set up a limited company then there is a legal distinction between you and the company, which is handy if the company runs into financial difficulty.

If you want to register as a limited company, here at Ember we can help you do that. From helping you pick a business name to sending the details to HMRC, we handle it all for free.

Paying your taxes

When you work as an employee, you don't have to worry about paying your taxes – your employer handles that all for you. However, once you leave employment and start your freelance business, your taxes won't be taken care of by PAYE anymore.

You could file a Self Assessment yourself, which is time-consuming and can be confusing if you've never filled one out before. You could hire an accountant to do it for you, but that can be expensive. Or, you could use an accounting solution like Ember to take care of your taxes for you and take the stress away.

The amount of tax you pay will depend on how much you earn from your freelancing business. The amount you earn will determine which tax band you fall in. Basic Rate is 20%, Higher Rate is 40% and Additional Rate is 45%.

Tax Band Taxable Income Tax Rate
Personal Allowance Up to £12,570 0%
Basic Rate £12,571-£50,270 20%
Higher Rate £50,271-£150,000 40%
Additional Rate More than £150,000 45%

Carve out your time

Because you're your own boss, you can decide what times you work. If you're more productive in the mornings, then that's when you can get your work done, leaving you free to spend the evenings how you choose. If you're a night owl, then you can choose to work later in the day. As long as you're getting the work done when you work is up to you, although you will need to take your clients into consideration for certain aspects of your work. It's unlikely that they'll appreciate a phone call at 6 AM or a meeting late at night.

When it comes to divvying up your time you also need to be realistic. Be honest about how much you can get done in the working day and be careful not to overstretch yourself. Freelancing might mean you pull the occasional long day, but you don't want to be working all hours or you'll risk burnout.

Network

You can build up your client list by attending networking events. These are also great places to meet other entrepreneurs and business owners and learn from their expertise. Just make sure you bring your own stack of business cards along to help people remember you and your services!

Online networks such as LinkedIn are another great place to network and meet new clients. Leverage your existing network by asking for introductions and make the most of online forums.

Use online platforms

There is a range of online platforms where you can showcase your work and get new gigs. For example, Fiverr and Upwork are online marketplaces for freelancers offering bitesize pieces of work starting at £5. If you're just starting out, this is a place where you can hone your skills, start scoping out potential clients and test your service.

Build your portfolio

You want new clients to see what a success you are and give them confidence in your skills. By building up a portfolio of successful work from the past you can advertise your work to potential new clients. 

It's also a good idea to gather client recommendations, whether it's in the form of referrals or testimonials, to build your reputation in your market. If you're looking to become a freelance writer, graphic designer, copywriter, illustrator or digital marketer, consider creating a social media account to showcase examples of your work and to build up your personal brand – just make sure that you get permission to publish your work from the clients first, otherwise you could risk damaging your reputation.

Set up a business bank account

Legally, as a freelancer, you don't have to have a business bank account. However, it's best not to mix up your personal and business finances. Having a separate business bank account will allow you to keep track of your expenses, money received from clients and it makes it easier to handle your taxes and other business bills.

Do you need insurance?

Insurance is a hidden cost that you'll need to budget for. You will need insurance to protect yourself against any potential lawsuits. You should also consider taking out income protection insurance in case you get ill and find yourself unable to work.

The pros and cons of being a freelancer

Pros

  • You get to follow your passion.
  • You have control over when and where you work.
  • You get to pick and choose your clients.
  • You will get loads of experience running your own business.
  • You can achieve a great work-life balance.

Cons

  • You need to be self-motivated and disciplined.
  • There may be months of little or no work.
  • You have to take on all aspects of the business.
  • It can be lonely.

Summary

Starting your own freelance business is an exciting step. However, you need to make sure that it is the right career path for you. By following our step-by-step guide and checklist you can set yourself on the right path to becoming a successful freelancer.

Join us in creating the new age of accounting.

Simple language, simple software, so that you can spend less time dealing with admin and more time focusing on what really matters.

Rachel Cameron-Potter

Rachel is a Content Marketer at Ember with a love of writing, editing and all things creative. After graduating from York with a degree in English, Rachel has dabbled extensively in content creation, working as a fundraising lead for a letterpress studio, a digital marketer on a political campaign, a magazine editor, voice over artist and freelance writer.