A graduate’s guide to freelancing
As a recent graduate, the world is full of opportunities to seize, and freelancing is just one of the many ways you can start your career. There are around 2 million freelancers in the UK that contribute £109 billion to the economy. The number of freelancers in the UK is always growing, there has been a 25% increase since 2009, according to the IPSE. More and more people are taking on freelancing to leave the shackles of employment behind or to earn a little extra on the side.
There are many reasons why freelancing may be a better option than being an employee and taking the traditional route of making an income. If you are considering going freelance after university, this guide will help you decide if it could work for you.
What is freelancing?
Freelancing is when a person decides to work for themselves and are known as ‘self-employed’. With freelancing, you are your own boss and have greater flexibility with all parts of the job. You are essentially creating, setting up and running a business, providing clients with a service. You can start freelancing as a graduate fresh out of university, whilst you’re a student, or you might even decide to leave permanent employment to become a freelancer. Freelancing can be a great option for graduates that want to work for themselves.
Is freelancing for you?
When it comes to deciding if freelancing is for you, there are various factors you will need to consider. You will need to have the combination of essential skills, passion and a business mind in order to succeed when it comes to freelancing. Here are the essential skills that you need, but don’t worry if you don’t have all of them yet as you can pick them up as you work.
- Time management – it’s essential that you are able to manage your time when it comes to working on more than one project at a time, as well as working to deadlines.
- Self-discipline – yes you could spend an entire day binge-watching the latest TV show on Netflix, but you also need to secure and keep clients for your freelancing business.
- Organised – this ties in with time management. Running a business as a freelancer is a serious job, so you will need to be organised in order to get the work done.
- Communication – it’s essential that you know how to communicate effectively, as it will play a big role in securing clients for your work.
- Budgeting skills – when you are running a business you will need to know to how to budget.
- Skills in the field – it goes without saying that you need to be great at what you do, whether you are a freelance photographer or a freelance web developer.
Some other skills that are important to have and will learn as you run your freelance business are accounting skills, networking skills, negotiating skills, research skills and sales skills.
Types of freelancing
You can freelance in a variety of different fields depending on your interests and skills. If you want to work in the creative sector after finishing university, freelancing may be particularly relevant for you. Here are just some of the sectors in which you can freelance: photography, graphic design, web design, web development, copywriting, proof-reading, journalism, editing, marketing, PR, teaching, and tutoring. There are many other areas in which you can freelance, but you need to make sure that you thoroughly research the sector you want to work in to see if it is a viable option.
Some of the things you need to look at when researching the type of freelancing you want to do is; the pay rates, the demand in the field in your area and the progression in the field.
Pros of freelancing
There are many pros of freelancing. Here are some of the biggest advantages of freelancing, when compared to employment or other routes of making an income. It’s important to remember that you will have to look at both the pros and cons before making any decisions.
- You are your own boss – which means that you can dictate how you run your business.
- Control – it’s your business so you will control everything.
- Work from home – freelancers usually have the option of working from home.
- Flexibility – you can take time off whenever you need and work the hours you want to.
- You won’t be unemployed – after graduating, you won’t have to experience unemployment if you go freelance.
- Independence - freelancing will teach you how to be independent without having to rely on anybody else for anything.
- Profits - when freelancing you work for yourself by yourself, so you get all the profits from your work.
- Work/life balance – you will likely have better work/home balance if you are managing your time effectively.
- Passion - freelancers are usually passionate about the work they do, so you won’t be doing work you hate.
Cons of freelancing
Here are the cons of going freelance that also need to be taken into consideration:
- Lonely – it can get lonely working by yourself.
- No sick pay – if you are forced to take time off work, then you won’t get paid for it.
- No employee benefits – you won’t receive other employee benefits such as holiday pay, employer pension contributions etc.
- Lack of job security – you will always have to worry about securing clients and jobs, without having the security of a monthly income.
- Lack of experience – if you start freelancing straight out of university, you may find it more tricky to find work than people who have freelanced for a while, as you will most likely be inexperienced.
- Admin – you will be responsible for doing your accounts and taxes so there is a fair amount of admin required in being a freelancer.
- Long hours – running your own business can mean long hours, so you may overwork yourself. This can mean that your mental health and well-being suffer.
Getting experience and having experience in your field or in any field will help you get better jobs and pay rates, whether you are an employee or a freelancer. However, it’s even more important to gain work experience when you are freelancing. A client is more likely to trust you and offer you a good pay rate if you have the experience to back you up. If you are a recent graduate, you will likely lack experience, unless you have been proactively trying to get experience during your studies. Here are some ways in which you can gain work experience, be aware that you might have to do some free work:
- Offer your services to a local business.
- Help out a friend or family – you might want to offer your services to friends and family to build your portfolio. If someone you know is setting up a website, you might be able to help them with the graphics if you are a graphic designer.
- Offer your expertise to a charity – for example, if you are a photographer you might want to cover an event for the charity's website.
- Create a blog – if you want to freelance in the creative field, a blog can be a great way to showcase your skills. For example, if you want to be a writer/photographer/journalist, a blog could be great for you.
- Network – if you can and are able to, go to networking events to make contacts. This can help you gain experience and even secure paid work.
If you are a recent graduate or are graduating soon you will be well versed in using social media. Use this to your advantage by using your social media to promote your work. Social media platforms such as Instagram can even allow you to create a portfolio of your work. You can also create more than one profile on Instagram so that you can interchange between profiles quite easily.
When it comes to setting up social media for your freelancing business, make sure that they all tie in together with the same branding (logo and name etc.). This can help potential clients find you and instantly know who the profile belongs to. Social media is essentially a free way of marketing your business, but it does require both time and commitment in order for it to really help your business.
There are a number of freelance websites on which you can create a profile and start getting clients. Some of the most popular sites in the UK for freelancers are People Per Hour and Upwork. These sites allow you to create a profile and put you in front of clients that are looking for freelancers. You can also do this on our Freelance Directory to start attracting clients. If you are serious about freelancing and have decided that it’s the route for you, then it is worth getting yourself on these websites. Freelance websites are also a good way to research your field. You can get a good idea of the skills people have and value in your field. You can also get a good idea of kind of prices that other freelancers, similar to you in experience are charging.
When you go freelance, you essentially decide to start and run a business. You will be selling your services to clients. When it comes to running a business there are various things that you will be responsible for. Some of the main things you will need to do when freelancing are: actually doing the work for your clients, looking for and attracting clients, networking to make connections with others in the industry, look after your accounts, be aware of all the tax information, do the marketing for your business, keep on top of business costs and cash flow and all the paperwork. You will have to wear multiple hats in order to ensure that you are running your business effectively.
When it comes to your freelance business, you will need to first decide if you want to be a sole trader or if you want to set up a limited company. When you are starting as a fresh graduate, it may be more suitable for you to start as a sole trader and then later convert into a limited company. A sole trader is the easiest and quickest way to set up your business. A limited company is a little more complicated, however, limited companies are known to be more tax efficient.
Research really is key if you are seriously thinking about being a freelancer. It’s important to understand all the implications of your decisions. Also, take into consideration both the positive and the negative of freelancing compared to going into employment.
More on setting up a limited company and deciding if freelancing is for you.