Earlier this year I was asked by a magazine for five tips for people considering setting up business and becoming self-employed. As is so often the case the deadline was along the lines of “the next half hour”. What I came up with was off the top of my head. (I don’t know if they were ever used in the final article as I do not subscribe to the publication). I’ve recently had a few people ask me about going freelance so I thought I’d reproduce the tips here. I might have changed a couple of them if I’d had more time to think about it but I’ve left the five as I originally wrote them.
- It’s feast or famine. Clients don’t spread their custom neatly throughout the year. They are like buses: you wait for one for ages and then half a dozen come at once! There will be “quiet” periods when you will not be earning (for me they are August, end of December and beginning of January) and times when you have to be here, there and everywhere. Make sure you have a cash buffer or reserves to cover the quiet times so that you can continue to pay the bills.
- You can say no. It is tempting to say yes to everything especially as you never really know when the next job or project will be, but be realistic. Can you really travel from Reading to Cardiff to Edinburgh to Huddersfield to Canterbury and then on to Aberystwyth in one week? And if something is outside your main area of expertise think twice about taking it on. It is good to stretch yourself and expand your knowledge and the services that you can offer, but if it is going to be a one-off and take you a week or two to get up to speed – DON’T DO IT!
- Be realistic in your estimates of billable work and time and fix your fees accordingly. If you are lucky, you will be working for six months of the year. The rest of the time will be taken up by the “quiet” periods ( see 1 above), travelling, marketing, social media, preparing proposals, keeping yourself up to date, admin, invoicing, chasing payments… you get the idea. Holidays? No holiday pay. Not feeling too good? No sick pay.
- Use social media to the full. Get yourself on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Slideshare, Flickr etc. Write a blog. It all takes time to set up and establish a presence but it really is worth it. Google, Bing and Yahoo all include social media in their search results so it makes sense to exploit every opportunity to reach as many people as possible. As well as a marketing tool it is a great way to keep in contact with other self employed people, share experiences and – sometimes – clients.
- Don’t be afraid to admit it is not for you. Being self employed does not suit everyone. It can be difficult keeping yourself motivated if you are working on your own and some find it difficult to cope with the uncertain cash flow. If it becomes too stressful, walk away. At least you will have a better idea of what is involved in running a business and, hopefully, appreciate freelancers a little more.