What is freelancing?
We have Sir Walter Scott to thank for the phrase ‘free lance’ who first used it in his 1819 novel Ivanhoe.
‘Free lances’, according to Scott, were medieval mercenaries who, rather than work for one employer, were free to work for any number of people or organisations at the same time.
Today, although the two words are now one, the definition still holds – without the murderous undertones, of course! 😵
Since then, we’ve come up with a whole host of other ways to describe people who work for themselves. These include:
Sometimes referred to as the ‘gig economy’, the number of people choosing to freelance is steadily increasing. And although industry estimates vary, all agree that the sector is set to dominate the employment market in years to come. But how do you know if it’s the right move for you?
‘We predict by 2020, 50% of the workforce will be self-employed and contributing more than £51 billion to the UK economy.’ Xenious Thrasyvoulou, founder of online freelance platform PeoplePerHour.
Decide if the lifestyle suits you
Freelancing is a lifestyle that doesn’t suit everyone, and you need to be honest about whether it’s right for you. Let’s examine the main reasons people decide to work for themselves, why these reasons are so attractive and the other factors you should consider.
Be your own boss
The reality: If you dislike following orders; feel that your ideas are rarely taken on board, or have a skill or product you’re unable to develop in your current job, being able to dictate how, when and where you work will give you, and your idea, the chance to thrive.
Also consider: When you’re self-employed you’re no longer simply an employee, you’re an entire business. It means you’ll have sole responsibility for all business functions: marketing, sales, accounting, business development and so on. In essence, you’ll need to be a ‘jack of all trades’. Yes, you’ll be your own boss, but with lots of additional roles and responsibilities. Realistically, you’ll need to set aside roughly a third of your time for these additional unpaid functions.
Earn more money
The reality: If you have a sought-after skill or knowledge, you’ll be able to earn as much or as little as the work you put in.
Also consider: Initially, you may have to work for little (possibly no money!) while you establish yourself. And once you’re established, you’ll still have to deal with late payments that will play havoc with your cash flow. Think carefully, if you intend to finance something big in the near future (such as a house). Mortgages for the self-employed, although not impossible, require at least three years of accounts to prove your earnings. If this is the case, now won’t be the best time to become self-employed.
Decide when and where you work
The reality: Work from home and you can start work later in the morning and save on the cost of travel and lunch.
Also consider: If you enjoy the social interaction with colleagues, you may find working from home too solitary. Also, do you have a dedicated home-working space? Working on your laptop while propped up in bed might sound attractive, but isn’t practical, healthy or sustainable.
Decide what work you take on
The reality: Because you’ll be actively seeking work, you’ll decide which projects to pitch for. No more being told to work on a project you have no passion for.
Also consider: Pitching for work doesn’t mean you’ll get every contract. There’ll be lots of other freelancers in the mix – some of whom the client will already know. In practice, you won’t always have the luxury to choose what work you take on, especially if there are few other opportunities on the horizon.
Better work/life balance
The reality: You’re the boss, which means you can take as much or as little holiday as you like. You may be able to take on short, well-paid contracts with gaps in between or work a few days a week. You decide.
Also consider: If you decide to take a month off to climb Mount Kilimanjaro or fall unexpectedly ill, how will you cover your monthly outgoings if you're unable to work? As a result, freelancers often end up working harder and longer hours than their employed peers.
Assess whether you have the 5 essential personality traits
Working for yourself puts you centre stage when it comes to finding clients and developing good business relationships. You’ll need each of the following traits to make work as a freelancer a success. Taking time to focus in on them now will help you identify the areas you’ll need to develop.
1. Good communication skills
‘The art of conversation lies in listening,’ according to Malcolm Forbes, entrepreneur and publisher of Forbes magazine. Develop your active listening skills, and you are already some way along the path to communicating well.
Active listening lets the person you’re speaking with know that you’ve heard and understood exactly what they’re saying. Assess whether you’re already an active listener by watching the video below.
Building a successful freelance business rests on your ability not only to listen but to talk with and develop relationships with your clients. This includes good written communication skills; being able to write clearly and concisely, so your message isn’t lost beneath lots of unnecessarily long words, sentences or paragraphs. Thus the key to effective written communication is: keep it simple.
Good communicators are seen as confident and friendly; they’re conscious of their body language and the non-verbal clues of others; they are friendly and empathetic; open-minded and choose the best method of communication to get their message across.
Remember, being able to work, and communicate, in a team setting is as vital a skill for freelancers as it is for employees. Your work will inevitably involve interacting with one or more members of staff, and how well you do this could lead to being re-booked or not hired again.
2. Excellent time management
Good time management is the ability to prioritise tasks, set yourself realistic deadlines and stick to them. If you fail to deliver, you won’t be re-booked. You’ll also need to gauge how long a task will take and that includes having the confidence to have frank and open discussions about your client's deadlines.
Clients need to know they can rely on you. If you aren’t reliable, you won’t be offered more work. This means delivering work when you say you will; returning phone calls and emails in a timely manner and having the flexibility to step in if another freelancer lets them down.
You’ll more than likely be working from home and spending a lot of time alone. We usually associate home with winding down or switching off so you could find your attention shifts too easily to household chores, the TV or numerous other home distractions.
If you work better in a team and lack motivation when working on your own, finding the motivation you need could be challenging in a home/work environment.
Set yourself a daily routine. Get up, get dressed and ‘go’ to your office space – be it an area of your dining room, a studio or shared workspace. Set your working hours, including when you stop for lunch and when you’ll finish for the day, then stick to it. Treat it like the job it is.
When I first went freelance my office space, when planning courses, was my local library, two days a week. It was a change of scene and physically meant I was going 'out to work'.
Apple founder Steve Jobs once said that ‘people with passion can change the world’... and then there was Apple! Enough said. Online magazine Entrepreneur Europe took up this idea with its article on why passion is important for the self-employed.
Without passion, you’ll struggle to motivate yourself. People who are passionate about their work come across as informed, vibrant, professional and engaging. It comes from loving what you do, which is why you went freelance, right?
Clients need to feel that they can trust you to be left alone to get on with the job. They also want to have faith that you know what you’re doing.
Research how much work is available in your field
According to membership body The Association for Independent Professionals and the Self-Employed (IPSE), freelancers now exist in all major industry sectors. But some industries rely more heavily on the self-employed than others.
Over the last 10 years the fastest-growing freelance occupations have been in healthcare; artistic, literary and media roles; and sports and fitness -with millennials being the fastest-growing age group.
But there’s no point moving from employment to self-employment if there’s no market for your skills. Before you leave full-time work, do regular reccies on the work opportunities currently available. To do this you should:
Network at industry events
Check job sites for freelance opportunities
Sign up to freelance-specific job sites
Socialise with past or present colleagues
Research professional associations in your field of work
Build a client base before you leave full-time work
Tap into social media
So, you’ve identified whether you have the type of personality traits that suit freelance work and understand the realities of the self-employed lifestyle. In the next chapter, we’ll explore the do’s and don’ts of choosing the right business name.