The steps to follow if you want to start freelancing

A person in a wheelchair working at a laptop.
(Image credit: Shutterstock: AnnaStills)

If you’ve had a hard day at the office or you’re fed up with your boss then the world of freelancing can look inviting – what’s not to like about setting your own hours, choosing your projects and keeping more cash for yourself?

A move to the world of freelancing is easier said than done, though, and if you want to make the move work then you have got to do things properly – and that means getting prepared.

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To take away some of the stress, we’ve outlined the seven key steps you need to follow if you’re ready to ditch the office life and embrace freelance freedom.

There’s no shortage of freelance help elsewhere on the site, either. Head here if you want a guide to avoiding home-working distractions, or read our methods for finding the best new freelance clients.

Why do you want to freelance?

It’s no good just deciding to become a freelancer if you don’t know why you want to do it.

You might want to switch to freelancing to enjoy extra freedom, pursue the kind of work that you really do enjoy tackling, or work with a wider range of people. You might also want to increase your earnings or discover new challenges.

It’s vital that you figure out why you want to freelance, because it’s a big commitment – it takes discipline, commitment and focus, and you won’t get very far if you don’t have a purpose behind your decision.

Figure out your niche

You’ll find people freelancing in every conceivable industry – it’s a very competitive market. Because of that, you’ll need to think about what you’re good at and what niche you will operate in.

If you pick something you can do well, you can produce better work, charge higher fees, and find more clients, often just due to word of mouth. Similarly, if you pick a particular industry rather than casting your net widely, you’ll find that you can more accurately market your services.

If you want to be a writer and you’ve worked in the financial industries in the past, for instance, you could become a freelance copywriter for financial companies – rather than an all-purpose writer who will flounder when tackling any job for any client.

Ultimately, if you figure out where your talents lie and what services people are likely to pay for, you’ll have a better time when you transition to freelancing.

Plan your pricing

It’s no good offering top-quality services to specific industries if you don’t know how you’re going to charge for your services, and so this should be a key part of your pre-freelancing planning.

You should review other people who offer similar services to you in similar industries so you’ll know what kind of ballpark figures you should be charging. It’s pretty easy to find median rates of pay through industry studies, too.

You should also consider how you’re going to charge for your work – sometimes it may be using hourly or daily rates, and in other circumstances you might charge per project or per piece of work.

When planning pricing, bear in mind that you may have to reduce your rates to make inroads because you’re a new freelancer without a reputation for quality and reliability. And, no matter what you decide to charge, ensure that it can cover your bills and support your standard of living.

How will find work?

It’s no good planning an effective pricing structure if you don’t actually have any clients. Before you start, then, consider where you’ll find those.

Many freelancers get their first commissions from existing contacts – whether it’s friends, family members or old colleagues. People who want you to succeed will be eager to commission your services.

Beyond that, consider which local businesses could need your talents and think about sending an email to introduce yourself and offer introductory pricing.

Also consider using freelance platforms to find work. Websites like LinkedIn, Upwork and Fiverr are full of companies that need to find freelance talent, so signing up to some of those can help you connect with potential clients.

Build a website

You won’t get very far if those potential customers can’t get in touch with you and see your portfolio. Before you start to freelance, you should build a website that advertises your services, skills and experience – it’s got to look professional and convince people to spend money.

Your website should list people you’ve already worked with, it should include testimonials from happy clients or colleagues, and it needs to have a portfolio with examples of your work. Make sure it has straightforward contact details, too.

It’s not just about your website. Make sure that all of that information is front and center on your LinkedIn profile, and establish social media profiles for your new business – whether it’s on Twitter, Facebook or beyond, a healthy social media presence can be a great way to find clients.

This isn’t particularly exciting, but you should get all of the official, legal stuff done before you start trading.

This could look different for people depending on your location and the kind of business you want to run. Sometimes you’ll have to phone your tax department to set yourself up as a sole trader or limited company, and in other situations you may have to register your business, get new business identification numbers or set up dedicated business bank accounts.

And when it comes to the financial side of things, make sure you find a good accountant who’s used to dealing with freelancers. A good person handling the numbers can pay for themselves in terms of money saved and the time you get back because you’re not dealing with impenetrable tax forms.

Our final financial tip? Save some money before you take the freelance plunge. It might take a while to build up the cash flow to replace a salary, and if you save some money, you’ll be covered with a handy safety net.

Build the ideal workplace

You won’t get very far if your idea of freelance work is to slump on the sofa and watch TV all day. If you really want your freelance business to be successful, you need to take it seriously – it’s a job and you need to treat it as such.

Make sure you’ve got a dedicated workspace – whether it’s a separate office or just somewhere else in your house – and ensure that it’s clean, tidy and has plenty of natural light. Remove distractions, and even consider renting a desk at a co-working space if you’re going to struggle to find an appropriate location at home.

If you treat your new freelance venture as proper business, with firm rules and hours, your brain will be ready to work – and you’ll be more likely to succeed from day one.

When that day comes, make sure that you follow a good morning routine, remove distractions from your workplace, and take your new situation seriously – because, from day one, it’s how you pay the rent.

How to work from home: everything you need for remote working.

Mike has worked as a technology journalist for more than a decade and has written for most of the UK’s big technology titles alongside numerous global outlets. He loves PCs, laptops and any new hardware, and covers everything from the latest business trends to high-end gaming gear.