How to successfully set up as a freelancer
© Artem Medvediev
Dave Chaplin, CEO and founder of ContractorCalculator and author of the Contractors’ Handbook – Third Edition, offers advice on how to establish yourself as a freelancer in the current economic climate
We live and work in unprecedented times. The economy is still being hit by the effects of COVID-19 and many jobs have been lost. For anyone out of work in the current climate, now may be the right time to take the plunge and start a professional career. Many companies are likely to be cautious about hiring permanent staff. For risk-averse companies, having access to key skills that freelancers can offer is a viable alternative to hiring permanent staff. For those with in-demand skills, now may be the right time to establish themselves as a freelancer.
When deciding on a business model, registering with HMRC, and recruiting an accountant are important tasks to focus on. This is where Chaplin gives his advice on setting a contract rate, marketing, and finding work.
How much to charge
Setting a contract rate is a careful balancing act. You want to set a competitive price that will reward you for your efforts without being forced out of the market.
There are useful online sites that share standard rates for certain skills. While these websites provide useful guidelines, they do not consider the combination of skills or level of experience required. Therefore, you should create a base rate based on your current salary, evaluate the results of your research, and ask questions. Otherwise, a lack of clarity about your market value can leave you vulnerable.
Ask other contractors. “Human intelligence” is a good source of information. Talk to as many coworkers and friends as you can, but do so discreetly, especially if you are currently a permanent employee. Existing freelancers and contractors, as well as permanent employees who have worked with freelancers, understand the work and recognize the value of specific skills. If you can, speak to a seasoned freelancer who has skills and experience similar to yours.
Market conditions can also have a significant impact on the demand from freelancers. So, browsing contract advertisements online can help you get a clearer picture of the tariffs you should be charging in the current climate.
And even if you underpay for your first customer, you can be sure that you are not the only person who did it. It’s more important to secure that first client.
Your resume and LinkedIn profile have one purpose: to get an agent or customer to speak to you on the phone to schedule a customer meeting. These profiles are the main marketing tools that you need to use in order to be shortlisted for a potential contract. Think of these as offline and online sales brochures that you can use to market yourself.
To ensure sustained success in your freelance career, both your resume and LinkedIn profile need special attention. Design both as if you were creating an “elevator seat” where your most important skills and accomplishments are most important. This shows that you are perfectly meeting the requirements of the job.
Keep in mind that the decision about whether to be shortlisted for a client meeting is made by a recruiter or client, who typically spends 20 seconds on the first make-or-break reading. Don’t expect the reader to take the time to fish out properties that are irrelevant to them. The responsibility is yours.
Other useful tips for structuring your resume and LinkedIn profile include:
- Find out what your potential client is trying to achieve with the project in question
- Customize your resume to demonstrate how you can add value to the project
- Always provide the measurable results of your previous work and explain how they have benefited your employers
- Remember what you learned from previous jobs
The freelancer who secures a customer call is not always the best person available for the contract, but the best person to market himself. Hence, the importance of a carefully designed resume and LinkedIn profile cannot be overstated.
When you are ready to start freelancing, use the following daily checklist to help you optimize your job search activities. It also gives you a routine. Home after years of structured living can be confusing, but finding your next contract is your job for now.
- Call all the agencies that you applied for the day before
- Post and prospect proactively on LinkedIn
- Keep track of any other positions you have applied for that you have not yet discussed with the agent
- Search job websites and LinkedIn for recently added suitable jobs
- Check out some LinkedIn groups, respond to relevant activity with proactive comments and your own questions
- Send applications by email
Unfortunately, the search process can often be frustrating, but the harder you work on it, the sooner you’ll get a job.
Use online job boards
Regularly monitor job boards as a useful source of potential contracts. Although LinkedIn has become the primary source of quality contracts in many ways, most contracts are still advertised through job boards.
There are many specialized job boards for specific industries, but some of the most important sites are: TotalJobs; Indeed; Reed; CV Library; Construction site; JobServe; Monster; NHS jobs; CWJobs. These websites dominate the recruiting sector, which means agencies often have the same position on all boards.
Most job boards also have a free notification feature that you can set up to automatically notify you by email when a new job that matches your criteria is posted. You can set up multiple alerts with different criteria. With a little tweaking, you should find a way to refine the results.
Make sure you keep a record of which roles you applied for. It is a good idea to manage the log through a cloud service so that you can instantly access it on your smartphone, tablet, laptop or PC when an agent or client calls. This way you know immediately which role the call relates to. A protocol also prevents you from submitting multiple requests for the same role through different agents.
If you don’t want to wonder what if? Or if you are forced to think about the next thing, now is the time to take control of your future freelance career. Freelance work may be the perfect remedy for the recruitment problems caused by Covid-19, and you may never look back.