Being a freelancer means you can shape your working day to suit yourself. You can actively create and take on new projects. You can go where the wind takes you.
But you can also feel anchorless, lonely and anxious that if you hit the rocks, it’s on your head. No one else’s.
For me, the most important thing to remember is that even though you’re working on your own, you’re not alone. There are an estimated 1.4 million freelancers in the UK, according to the Professional Contractors Group. And in my experience, fellow freelancers want to give you advice and answer your questions. There can be a real sense of camaraderie out there. Here’s what I’ve learned so far from these conversations with freelancers through online communities, meet-ups and - of course - at cafés.
Put your shoes on
If you’re working from home, it’s tempting to ‘save’ time and money by rolling out of bed, shuffling to the kitchen table and logging straight into your emails while you wait for the kettle to boil. Don’t.
As a freelancer, you may be happy to escape the commute to an office, but that time can also be helpful in giving you some space to think before you start your work. Pull on your trainers and either go for a walk or make your way to a café and spend the morning there - the time spent outside or £2 spent on a cup of tea will be worth your extra productivity. Going somewhere else to work can also help separate your weekdays from your weekends.
Make a list
I’ve also found that if you start the day with emails, you can be pulled into less urgent and often less important tasks than pitching for work or logging time on a project for a client.
Start with a list. You may already have one that you’re working through, or you may want to make a new one for each day, prioritising various tasks.
Break it down into achievable bites so that by the end of the day, you can switch off fully, knowing that you’ve made some progress.
Talk about your highs and lows
One of the great things about working with a team in an office, is the way you can bounce around ideas, gain feedback on a project that went well, or work through problems to find a solution.
That’s why when you’re self-employed, it’s important to find a network, perhaps through co-working spaces or meet-ups, and to communicate honestly with your friends and family. If you’ve had a tricky day, vent to someone. If a pitch has been successful, send a quick text to someone who supports you so that you can share that excitement.
If you’ve pitched for a job and don’t hear back, don’t just sit there. I initially felt nervous about not getting a reply to work proposals, thinking that people had deliberately ignored me. It often turned out that they were simply very busy - many responded positively when I sent out a follow up email.
Figure out expenses early on
When I first went freelance in February, my dad, who has been self-employed for most of his career, put me in touch with his accountant. Instead of booking a call to understand what I could expense, how much tax I’d need to pay and when, I let the email sit in my inbox for several weeks.
If I’d spoken to my accountant sooner, I would have felt much calmer about the prospect of paying back my student loan and known that if I buy a book for a certain piece of writing, that’s a business expense.
I also would have known that a certain percentage of my heating, electricity and water bills can be set against tax as a business expense because I work from my flat. And that every time I travel for something related to my work, I can expense that and set a percentage of the cost against tax.
Set money aside for tax
I was told by several freelancers to set aside money for tax right from the beginning. But did I listen? No. I’ve started to do this now though, and I feel much better about my business finances.
Every time I’m paid for something, I work out 25% of my earnings and add it to a Starling Goal labelled ‘Tax & NI’ to keep it separate from my business account balance. It’s one of the many ways that Starling’s business account makes managing your money easier.
Enjoy the freedom
When you go freelance, there will be downsides, doing your own accounts and stressing over the uncertainty of work among them. But there are also lots of upsides - including the satisfying thrill you get when you are paid. (With a Starling account you get an instant notification every time money enters the account, providing an extra feeling of validation, not to mention an opportunity for you to thank your client). So make the most of it. Go to a mid-morning yoga class then work a little later in the evening. Do your supermarket shop during the day when there are no queues and cook a hot meal for lunch. Find cheap tickets to visit a friend, work on the train and then savour your time off.