7 steps to carving out a successful freelance career

Charlie Spargo's picture
National Freelance Day is June 20th

On National Freelance Day, Rick Ward, creative guru and founder of the North's first ever creative freelance network Creative Allies, shares his top tips behind enjoying a successful freelance career.

1. Do all the sensible stuff first

Have some savings in the bank. It'll take you a few months to get paid.

Ensure you set your payment terms with your clients - 30 days is standard but be prepared for this to be 60/90 days on occasion - that’s why having a buffer in the bank to cover outgoings will help take away some of the pressure and keep you focused on your journey to being a freelancer. 

2. Register your company 

This makes accounting and taxes much more manageable, and keeps your personal finances separate from work. Use these details on all invoices.

Remember to put money to one side for your annual tax return as you go along to save on finding a large chunk of cash when this is due at the end of the tax year. 

3. Get all over admin 

It’s easy to get busy with the work, but you must stay on top of your admin, invoices and chasing invoices - otherwise you won’t get paid. I’d set aside half a day a week to do this. Remember to chase your invoices - there’s a good chance it’s been lost in the system.

Seven steps to freelance successfully
"Never in the history of creative did anyone negotiate up!"

4. Do your research & believe in yourself 

It can be quite daunting leaving a full-time role to become a freelancer. The benefit of getting a guaranteed pay-check versus waiting to be paid is sometimes a barrier. Try to chat to as many people you can in the industry about going freelance and see what the freelance market in your area is like. Make sure that you’re doing the right thing then go for it. You can do this! 

5. Be confident with your rate

Research your rate, chat to other people who do your job and find out what the going rate is. When you’re going from a full-time role, freelance rates can feel high in comparison to your previous wage.

Don’t be afraid to ask for a fair rate for your role, you can always negotiate down but never in the history of creative did anyone negotiate up! Try to limit the negotiations you do as much as you can, be confident that you’re worth your full rate. 

6. Network, Network and Social Network

Letting people know you’ve actually gone freelance is a really important part of this whole thing. If you don’t tell people you’ve moved on then they’re not going to know!  

LinkedIn is a good channel for this, or register with a network such as Creative Allies. 

Ask old colleagues out for coffee, ask them if they know anyone you should speak to. Go to networking events and hand out all those new business cards you’ve had made - making friends with other freelancers is key; we all pass each other work. Post on LinkedIn, set up a website and a new Instagram for yourself, and add everyone you know in the industry. It really is who you know.  

Where possible, showcase your work so that you build credibility and people see your talent. Always ask for permission to use any work you show though, as you may be under an NDA.

7. You’re only as good as your last client interaction

Remember to leave a lasting impression on your clients. Don’t be cocky, but let them know you’ve got everything under control. If you’re working from home, make sure you update them on your progress so they can relax - don’t wait for them to come and ask how it’s going. If you have to tackle a tricky scenario with them, make sure that the last impression they come away with is that you’re genuine, hardworking and want to help them get the job done. It’s the "don’t be an idiot" clause. 

And don’t be afraid to say no to a project that isn’t for you. If you’re chatting to a client about a new project, it’s so important not to over promise, you have to make sure that you can deliver on what your client needs before you give them the green light to book you. Be a problem solver and suggest someone you know, or point them towards a great freelance network.