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How to go freelance

Posted on August 15, 2023

Are you looking to go freelance? 

Freelance life can be liberating: you have great creative control; you enjoy flexible and remote work schedules; and it’s a chance to work independently and be your own boss as well as potentially increasing your earning potential too.  

With benefits like these, it’s no wonder that over 4 million people in the UK are self-employed. The creative industries such as TV, film, radio, music, theatre and many others hugely rely on freelancers with freelancers making up a third of the industry, double the rate of self-employment in the wider UK economy – so you’re far from alone in taking the leap.  

But whilst freelancing can be empowering, like anything, it does come with its challenges such as late payments, lack of sick and holiday pay, and you have to be working autonomously to some degree. Here’s our advice on getting set up as a freelancer in the creative industries so you can navigate securing clients, taking care of your mental health and wellbeing, and ensuring that you’re future-proofed for any tricky situations that may arise.  

Setting rates and taking care of your finances  

It’s absolutely vital that you make sure you’re clued up on taxes and your finances as a freelancer.  

Firstly, you want to set rates. You can figure out a lot from researching what freelancers in similar industries to you charge on websites like Glassdoor, Fiverr or simply asking those in your network what they charge. From there you can set your own hourly, daily and project rates. Be sure not to undersell yourself and don’t settle for ‘exposure’ just because you’re new to the freelance game. Get a clear idea of a client’s budget and charge your worth.  

Joining an industry union (like the NUJ for journalists or the Musicians Union) can also help give you a good idea of standard industry rates and unions like these will provide legal and financial support, which can be a vital lifeline for a freelancer.  

Prepare your portfolio and work on your personal brand 

As a freelancer, among other new business activities, you have to make time to self-promote your services, skills and offerings to ensure you’re attracting a steady stream of new clients. It’s also goes hand in hand with building up your portfolio to establish your personal brand. By using social media platforms such as Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter or TikTok you can showcase your work to the world. However, we’d recommend setting up a website solely dedicated to showing examples of your previous work and experience, as well as making it clear how potential clients can get in contact with you. 

Don’t fret too much if you’re not a computer-whizz, there are some really great tools out there to help you create a website like a pro. Websites such as Wix, WordPress, and Squarespace who offer loads of templates that you can use. Here’s a handy guide on how to set up your first website. It’s super helpful to optimise your website with SEO practices (this basically just means structuring your web copy to ensure you rank highly on search engines based on what audiences are searching on Google when people go to search for your services or niche). You can find out more about how to do that here.  

Marketing yourself as a freelancer is key. Shouting out about your achievements on social media, keeping your LinkedIn profile up to date and following and interacting online with others in your industry are all great ways of establishing yourself as a freelancer. The more vocal you are about your achievements and abilities and the more of an online presence you have, the easier it is for clients to find you and use your services. 

You should also ask former colleagues and clients to leave recommendations for you on your LinkedIn profile and testimonials that you can highlight on your website.  

Build a network  

In our 2023 freelancer survey, 88% of freelancers we spoke to cited networking as a critical factor for success in their careers.  

Take time to map your network. You can even build a spreadsheet with everyone you’ve worked with and jot down how you could be of use to them and vice versa, then ask to go for a coffee to discuss mutually beneficial ways you can help each other. If you’re just starting out, it’s more than ok to be clear about the fact that a coffee meeting will be a chance for you to soak up information.  

Send a message to everyone you know (professionally and personally) telling them about your new career path and asking them to share the news with their friends and keep you in mind for any upcoming opportunities. You can also share the news across social media and ask friends to reshare with their networks.  

And whilst it’s important to build a network of future employers, don’t neglect the power of networking with your peers. You never know who might be in a hiring or commissioning position in the future.  

Ensure that you maintain a work/life balance 

Whilst it’s important to recognise the benefits of a freelance career, it’s equally important to be realistic about its challenges.  

If possible, separating your workspace and living space can be useful in establishing boundaries between your personal life and your professional life. Getting into a good working routine can also support this goal.  

Networking with likeminded creatives or opting to go to a co-working space a couple of times a week can help offset the loneliness that some freelancers feel when they start working alone. You can also join more official networks dedicated to freelancers in your niche or industry.   

Many freelancers feel the pressure to say yes to work due to fears around financial security, however taking on too much work without real breaks can lead to burnout. It’s super important to manage your finances and know realistically how much work you can take on throughout the year to prevent this. Learn how to say no to jobs when you need to take time to recharge your batteries.  

Don’t forget to register as self-employed!  

As a freelancer you’ll have to pay tax via self-assessment (rather than through PAYE like you would if you were employed by an organisation). You can find out more about becoming self-employed here.  

There are a couple of different types of business that you can operate under as a freelancer: 

Sole trader 

As a sole trader, your finances and your business’ finances are one. You’ll be in charge of every element of the business including invoicing and bookkeeping.  

Limited company 

As a limited company, you get to keep your personal and business finances separate.  

Top tips from our community: 

Sadé Lawson, freelance creative consultant in the music industry:

“Have all your admin sorted, having a list of clients, making sure you understand when you need to do your tax returns or any legal requirements for a business that you’ve set up is very important.” 

Olaide Sadiq, freelance TV prodcuer:

“My best advice would be for anyone who is looking to go freelance, or is already freelance, is networking within the teams that you’re already working in.” 

Links to resources and guides: 

Creative Access Development Programme – freelancer training

The Association of Independent Professionals and the Self-Employed (IPSE) 

Creative Lives in Progress