Be Your Own Boss: The Essentials of Freelancing

freelancing essentials

Do you want to work for yourself or be your own boss? Have you ever considered becoming a professional freelancer! We have all the info you need here!

Even though freelancers are an important part of the business population, they are also hidden because the IPSE do not explicitly clarify these workers as freelancers. But, data from a Labour Force Survey estimates that there are 1.91 million freelance workers in the UK alone and they make up roughly 6% of the UK workforce. According to Forbes, the number of people switching to self-employment is so large that half the working population in the UK will be their own boss in just 4 years!

With so much new technology, it is easier than ever before to become a self-employed worker. As Xenios Thrasyvoulou says, "while freelancing and self-employment used to be an intimidating prospect for many people, offering uncertainty over income and the prospect of a hand-to-mouth existence, this is no longer the case, thanks to changing working patterns and new technologies."

[Producr #59]

UK freelance workforce at a glance

Freelance infographicIPSE

The IPSE’s (The Association of Independent Professionals and the Self-Employed) recent report contains several interesting statistics about the world of freelancing. Freelancers are present in all the key industries, with the biggest concentrations being found in the education, health and social work sectors (21%). Closely followed by the professional, scientific and technical sectors (20%) and then entertainment and recreation (12%). Another interesting number is that four in ten freelancers are women, with the majority being male.

Results from the survey show that older individuals choose self-employment due to economic and non-economic reasons such as avoiding ageism at work, raising their life expectancy and job satisfaction because the largest proportion of freelancers are 40-49 years old (25%). With 16-29-year-olds and 30-39-year-olds comprising just 11% and 20%, respectively.

And even though 43% of UK freelancers live in London and the surrounding areas, this shouldn’t be a problem as the best thing about self-employment in the 21st century is the ability to work from anywhere in the world.

What is a freelancer?

But what exactly is a freelancer? A freelancer is someone who is self-employed and is offering their services to several clients at a time. That person is responsible for having their own service menu, setting the price and choosing their target market; they are their own boss.

Some people are under the impression that freelancers provide their services for free - because their title has the word "free" in it. But, this is not the case as they can actually earn more than their full-time counterparts.

A freelancer sets their own working hours, and works on the projects of their choice - it is similar to an independent contractor because even though a client might offer specifications for the work, the freelancer has control of how the work is completed.

Kevin Green, Chief Executive of the Recruitment and Employment Confederation, says that “It is called a labour market for a reason. On one side you have increasing demand from businesses wanting to keep costs down and hire in skills as and when they need them, and on the other you have a growing number of individuals who want to work flexibly”. This is why various skills are being supplied by freelancers to businesses across the UK.

freelancing skills

Top qualities of a successful freelancer

Can anyone become a freelancer then? Yes, in theory, anyone can become self-employed, but, if you want to become a successful freelancer, there are some qualities and personal traits that you need to possess to achieve your goals. Some of these are:


This is one of the most important qualities because without it you won’t be able to handle all the work and life as a self-employed person. Setting up a working schedule, with working hours is vital for the organisation of your freelancing career.


Being a freelancer can be hard, especially at the beginning so it is crucial that you believe in yourself and your skills and never give up when the road is steep or has any bumps.

Time management skills

Time management is not about your working hours - it is about how much time a task would take, how many tasks you can complete in a day and planning your tasks wisely to stay true to your plan.


If you want other people to treat you as a boss and a professional freelance consultant you need to let your work speak for you. Complete your projects on time, provide them with quality work, keep your arrangements, be ethical, honest and communicate well with your clients.


As soon as you become a freelancer, you will no longer be told what to do. You need to take initiative and do everything that needs to be done to complete the best projects on time and to the highest standard. You have to be your own boss!

Having principles

Think about what your principles are as a freelancer and always make sure to stand by them. If you compromise once, you will do it again.

Determination and responsibility

As a successful self-employed person, you will have to make all the decisions as well as take responsibility for your actions. Good clients seek freelancers who are responsible and determined so even if you don’t have them at the beginning, make sure to slowly build and develop them.


Being a flexible freelancer will help during the decision-making and situation assessment of your career. It will help in diversifying your portfolio, new opportunities or skills. You need to be able to adapt and learn new things if the market requires it.

Communication skills

As a freelancer, you will be working exclusively online in many cases and, you will constantly be using email, voice and video calls to communicate with clients. Therefore, you should always be well clear and precise with your communication.

Basic things you need to consider

For those of you who are interested in pursuing a freelance career, there are a number of things you must be ready for. First of all, you need to be ready to negotiate with numerous potential clients when your bottom line and the bottom line of your client are on opposite sides; the challenge comes when trying to find a happy medium for both sides.

1. You have to be realistic

If a client is clear that they only want to spend £200 on a project you want to earn £800 for, chances are it is going to be very difficult to find common ground with this client. In such a case make yourself clear and let them know if you want to accept it or not. In case you do, you could ask them to get credit for the work; for example, if you are a freelance writer you can ask for a “by-line” in the work and get your name appear on the project.

2. Never back down

If you already have your hourly rates set, try to be as firm as possible and do not back down unless there is a really good excuse. For example, if you charge clients £10 per hour and one client asks for £8 per hour then you should take the time and think about this offer. But, if the client asks for a £5 per hour rate and the actual work needed requires a higher rate then it’s okay to say no and stay firm to your rates.

3. Create a pay schedule

Even though it will be difficult for new freelancers to ask a potential client to pay up front, you should take some time to negotiate at the beginning and convince them that they should be paying 25% up front. A good plan could be like this:

  • Pay 25% up front
  • 25% extra halfway through the project
  • 25% extra at 75%
  • Pay the rest upon completion of the project

Depending on the project, you might ask for a lower upfront payment, but no matter what make sure that you get paid 50% by the time the project is 50% done.

The art of negotiation

One of the most important factors of being a successful freelancer is knowing all the tips and tricks on how to negotiate with your clients.

Apart from knowing what your lowest rate could be for an assignment, it is also very important to acknowledge your bottom line, too. A job may sound very promising and interesting, but do not accept any contracts or offers for less than your bottom line.

While you can be very excited to agree to a new assignment, remember that you must always communicate and negotiate with clients both ethically and fairly; be careful not to make any promises you cannot keep or oversell your skills. You must always be careful of unfair clients, too; if they are only interested in saving money do not accept the job regardless of how appealing it looks.

When negotiating with a client, ensure that you make your expectations clear right from the start. Do not allow a client to pressure you to do a project faster than agreed; remember, quality matters the most. And even though deadlines are important, be careful not to take on a task that has a very tight deadline as this could impact the quality of your work. Bonus tip: consider under-promising and over delivering as a tactic.

Negotiations are one of the most important things and usually most disliked - of freelancing. But, they are so vital, they can decide whether your business is going to succeed or fail.

Long-term and short-term contracts

One of the greatest challenges a freelancer can face is the decision regarding short term and long term contracts. Here are a few considerations before you decide on the length of the contract.

Short-term contracts

Short term contracts are something most freelancers do and usually become their everyday thing. The problem with this is that most short-term contracts could only last for a day or a week and as soon as this is done, they have to go on to the next one. You will have to start all over again and look for the next project. So, there will usually be some downtime (meaning no pay), searching for new clients (meaning time) and some serious marketing efforts. Therefore, it is only logical to request a better payment for short term gigs than long term ones. Here are some questions you should ask when a short term project comes up:

  • How long will this project last?
  • Are there any follow-up assignments?
  • Is this going to be an ongoing relationship?

The client should give you sufficient answers to these questions so you can make up your mind whether this short-term project is worth taking.

Long-term contracts

A long-term contract may be a rarer occurrence, but, they are more desirable for most freelancers. Nevertheless, you must be very careful before you accept them because if a client is telling you exactly how they want the work accomplished, you could be categorised as an employee instead of an independent contractor according to the HMRC.

If you are not sure whether you are classified as self-employed or an employee here is an employment status indicator by the HMRC to calculate your situation. If they hire you as a worker with the expectation that the relationship will continue indefinitely, rather than for a specific project or period, this is considered evidence that the intent was to create an employer-employee relationship.

Growing your freelance business

Landing your first freelance gig and, of course, getting paid for it is a very exciting first step in someone’s freelance career. Don’t get too cosy, though. If you want your business to grow and succeed then you need to constantly be on the lookout for new gigs that fit your niche, take active marketing measures but without overwhelming yourself.

There are several ways to market your brand, depending on the time available for your assignments. Sometimes you will be available full-time whereas other times you might only be available on weekends or just for a couple of hours over the week. No matter what, make sure that your marketing strategies and time spent match your availability.

Marketing methods you can use

  • Social networking - Facebook Pages, LinkedIn, Twitter or FourSquare are great active networks to promote yourself online.
  • Personal networking - Talk to prior business contacts, friends and family and let them know about your abilities and availability.
  • Traditional marketing - Even though your business is done mostly online, there is nothing wrong with using newspaper ads, mailings or other forms of traditional marketing.

What you can promote

  • Skills - Try promoting your numerous skills individually and land gigs on a skill by skill basis.
  • Portfolio - Always check your portfolio for errors or any updates and do everything to promote it heavily.
  • Online brand - An important part of your promotion should be all about your personal website, or blog.

When to say 'no'

As a new freelancer, you can easily get swamped with assignments and pushy clients. You can get soo excited about getting new gigs that you forget you already have too much on your plate. So, before you find yourself in this difficult and incredibly overwhelming position you need to make sure that you know when to say no.

The job from hell

You get a call from your client at 9 am on Monday morning asking for a 1,500-word article on a subject that you are not very familiar with and they are willing to pay you a lot; only there is a little catch- they want it completed before 6pm the same day.

Unless they are willing to pay you AMAZING money, you have NOTHING else to do and can actually finish it if you are fully concentrated then you should just say no. Take the time to think carefully about the quality of work you can produce in such a short period of time.

The client from hell

The micromanaging client is everywhere! If you are a freelance writer, they want to tell you exactly what you should write about, what sources to use, how to structure your own paragraphs or what programs or spell checker to use to write your article. Just say NO! they will suck you dry so run away as soon as possible!

Violating your standards

Whether it is about religion, politics, adult content or anything else that you don’t feel comfortable doing,  don’t even think about it; just say no. There shouldn’t be any shame, turning an assignment down that violates your personal ethical standards.

There are several valid reasons to turn down a potential opportunity; you don’t have to do anything you don’t want to, especially if it is for money.

How to set your rates

This is always tricky for everyone, not just new freelancers. What you need to do is try and come up with an hourly rate for yourself and your freelance business. Most newbies will make a few mistakes when setting up their rates; sometimes they underestimate what the market could pay them or set their rates too high for their experience.

Therefore, you need to research online and determine the average fees in your field and area (for self-employed individuals). Try to include your background knowledge and skill set, as well. Here are some starting points:

  • Look at current job ads
  • Chat with other freelancers in your field and area
  • Use freelancing rate calculators and apps
  • Check out freelance industry reports for average hourly rates
  • Set a test drive hourly rate
  • Rate it per hour or per project?

Once you have a full understanding of the rate you are willing to charge future clients, you also need to establish a rate card outlining your different services. For example, are you going to charge per hour or per project? Is the hourly rate going to change based on the complexity of the project?

What do you do when things go wrong?

Things go wrong all the time; this is the world we live in. So, the sooner you acknowledge that things could go wrong at some point and learn how to deal with these situations, the sooner you will be able to succeed as a freelancer.

You need to have a good exit plan for when things are starting to go south. First of all, you need to ensure that your contract specifies that you can leave at your discretion. Remember, when you and the client have signed the contract, the client also has to uphold their end of the contract too, so don’t be afraid to raise the issue when things start deviating from the initial agreement. This way you will try to stick to the agreement as much as possible.

One of the most common issues of freelancers and clients is getting paid. As we have previously mentioned, as soon as the total payment is agreed you must always agree on a pay schedule before you both sign the contract.

We are not saying that you should be extremely rigid since all projects are different and vary, therefore, being a bit more flexible is definitely a good thing. One great thing you can do if a client isn’t paying is to be mindful of your power; let them know how far ahead you are in the project or that you have completed the assignment but do not deliver it until they pay you.

The pros and cons of freelancing

freelancing advantages
  1. Create your own schedule
  2. Work from anywhere in the world
  3. Choose your projects
  4. Better pay
freelancing disadvantages
  1. Work-life balance can suffer
  2. Managing your money
  3. Never-ending race to the next job
  4. It can get lonely

Now you know everything there is to know about freelancing and succeeding at being your own boss. This growing industry may sound a bit intimidating at first; however, with hard work, determination and passion for your field you can become your own boss have a great work-life balance, enjoy your working days and get paid for following your passion.

Treat this guide of the essentials of freelancing as your starting point towards changing your mundane routine into an exciting and fulfilling life and career.

Are you ready to start your freelancing career? What are your first steps? Share your thoughts in the comments section below…