Back in 2011, PCG (the UK association of freelancers) estimated that 1.35 million people in the UK worked freelance as their main occupation. Another 200,000, they reported, were working freelance as a second job.
In the three years since the publication of PCG’s ‘UK Freelance Workforce’, tens of thousands more people have given up on the insecurities of employment to take their livelihood, and their lifestyle, into their own hands.
But if you’re about to take the leap, what are the basics that you’ll need around you to be able to operate effectively as a freelancer?
First of all, you’re going to be a freelance what?
Being a freelance isn’t an occupation, it’s simply a way of carrying out your occupation. There are now freelancer workers offering virtually every service the workplace uses, and so the things that you’ll need around you will depend on what work you actually do.
And where do you plan to work?
Many freelancers in areas like programming, web development, social media, copywriting, design, PR and bookkeeping, work on-site. This mean’s they’re effectively subcontracting work from companies with client relationships, and doing the work at the company’s premises. Other people, however, work mainly off-site, in their own workspace. So, again, what things you’ll need around you to freelance successfully will depend to an extent on which of these models you follow.
Sorting your workspace
There’s a romantic notion that a laptop, a mobile phone and a branch of Starbucks are all you need to freelance. Most freelancers agree, however, that it’s a huge advantage to have a dedicated workspace. If you’re fortunate enough to be able to rent a desk in a shared office, or to be able to take over a dedicated room at home, you’re off to a great start. Otherwise, do the best you can to set up a dedicated, permanent work surface, however compact, in a well lit place, preferably near a window. Somewhere that will be quiet when you’re trying to work is clearly best.
Buy a good office chair, spend your money on getting one that provides proper back support. Then choose a good desk lamp, that adjusts properly, and get a good quality, switched multi-socket trail block with a cable long enough to allow you to plug in all your equipment, safely, around the back of your work surface. If you can run to it, get one with surge protection, do your hard drive a favour, make sure it is protected in case of sudden spikes in power.
Bagging the great bag
Your bag is your office on the go, choose it carefully for the kind of freelance you are. If you work on site, it needs to be your home from home throughout the day. If that’s the case, figure out everything you need or want to take to work with you, and invest in a well made bag that’s comfortable to carry, and easy to find things in even if you’re rummaging at your feet on a train. Choose one that can be secured, you never know whose office you’re going to be working in. If you’re more the kind of freelance who goes to meetings and then comes back to base to work, think of your bag as part of your self-presentation, as well as a place to carry your stuff. Rummaging for your laptop in an old Tesco carrier may not convey quite the sense of professionalism you’re hoping for.
Fixing your communications
Even if you’re watching your expenditure, don’t skimp on communications. Being reachable is the key to being freelance. Make sure your smartphone and network connection work well, and give good coverage in the places you are likely to be most. If you’re going to be working at home, make certain you’re on the network that gives you best coverage there. Some freelancers work solely via a mobile, but a landline still has its uses, too. Whichever way you configure your mobile and landline, make certain you’re paying an inclusive rate for your daytime calls to other business’s landlines as you’re likely to be making a lot of calls!
Get your email accounts, including your new freelance work account, set up properly on the phone. Before long you’ll be juggling calls and emails while you’re out and about. It’s easy if you’re set up, and a pain if you’re not.
If you don’t already have one, get a good navigation app (Google Maps or Apple Maps both work for me) on your smartphone. You’re going to be going to lots of meetings and on-site bookings at addresses you may not be totally familiar with.
Investing in tools
Depending on what you do, where you work, and what you like, there will be a set of tools you need. This may include physical tools of your trade if you’re, for example, a freelance beauty stylist. For most freelancers, however, there’s likely to be a laptop, or a desktop PC, or a tablet, or all three. You may need additional hardware like external drives and a printer/scanner/copier. There’ll be software, whatever they are, get them. It can seem daunting at first to spend money you haven’t yet earned, but every business has start up costs and these are yours. Invest the money, don’t buy the luxury extras yet. Take a deep breath and buy everything you need to be able to do your work properly from day one. Look out for smart offers too. You may be able to find suppliers offering 0% finance deals on hardware, or may be able to arrange a small business or personal loan at your bank. Either route will help your cashflow until the earnings start to roll in.
Organising your admin
Doing the work is only a part of your life as a freelance. (And sometimes it seems like only a small part!) Running your business is the other part. Put good systems in place to take care of your accounting, invoicing, and your marketing. For most freelancers, the accounting starts off with a spreadsheet and a Word invoice template, and progresses from there to a simple software accounting package, or a cloud hosted service like Freshbooks or Quickbooks online, that does the whole thing.
Marketing is another matter, successful freelancing generally depends on a continuous campaign of sending out emails, making calls and keeping track of where the dialogues are up to. Again, you can do this in a spreadsheet, do it in a notebook, do it in a task manager app, or do it using a cloud hosted dedicated solution like Salesforce. It doesn’t really matter how you do it, but doing it diligently is a must. I sometimes get calls from people who first contacted me six months earlier. Being able to bring up their original enquiry while they’re reminding me that we’ve spoken before is a huge plus.
Cloud hosted solutions and wizzy mobile apps are fine, but there are some things about running a small business that never change. Once you’ve got your workspace set up, find a good stationers for a ‘Freelancer Stationery Supermarket Sweep’.
Pick up my five freelancer ‘must haves’
1) Translucent plastic document wallets, open on two edges. Usually come in packs of 100. Jobs come with papers. These wallets keep one job from another, keep your work surface tidy, and transfer all the papers from a job at a stroke into your bag when you have a meeting.
2) Three ring binders. – ‘All invoices’, ‘Unpaid invoices’ and ‘Paid invoices’. Print two copies of every invoice you send. Put one in ‘All invoices’ and the other in ‘Unpaid invoices’. As an invoice gets paid move the ‘Unpaid invoices’ copy to the ‘Paid invoices’ folder. It’s still the best ‘at a glance system’ there is for keeping tabs on who’s paid you and who hasn’t.
3) A4 and DL white envelopes
No business is so paperless that it doesn’t occasionally need to put something in the post. And get half a sheet of stamps while you’re at it.
4) Spare printer ink or toner cartridges. Like petrol, don’t wait until you run out to replace. Because you will run out while printing a last minute document for a meeting for which you are already late.
5) An A4 spiral bound notebook. Nothing tells a client you’re listening to the briefing, and are an in-demand freelancer, quite as effectively as seeing you diligently writing notes in a pad that’s already bulging with previously filled up pages.
What are your thoughts about “Going Freelance? Get these… and get going.”?
- Are you going freelance?
- How much do you think it will cost to set up your home office?
- What apps do you think help your business stay organised?
- Could you be greener in your home officeE?
- Do you use a copywriter for your blog or website?
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