Disclaimer – If it was easy everyone would do it 😉
Almost three years ago I went freelance in the most haphazard clumsy way imaginable. I have made all the mistakes, fallen spectacularly into all the pitfalls and (so far) have survived to tell the tale because I am working and living in London with lots of lovely clients (yaasssss!).
Friends and colleagues often ask me all the time HOW I managed to go freelance and start up on my so here’s what I tell them. I’m all about honesty, so I will not be talking about unrealistic shortcuts, or suggesting that you’ll be paying your mortgage off in three months while ordering a Ferrari as you work remotely from the Bahamas…but I will give you a step by step guide to stepping into the freelance world…because believe it or not, you can start your journey today. This will cover WHAT TO DO BEFORE YOU LEAVE YOUR JOB or indeed if you have left, WHAT TO DO RIGHT NOW from business plans to networking. Grab a pen, let’s go!
STEP ONE – Hang fire
Ah man. Really? Like isn’t the first step, bouncing up to your current boss, handing in your notice and telling them you are SO OUT OF HERE? *Note – never ever do this!
When you are truly freelance, daily hustling is often the only way to pay the rent, so you will really really miss those regular pay checks. I don’t mean to panic you, BUT you have to assume you might not get that regular, well paying client straight away.
This is where I work to a THREE MONTH BANK PLAN. Try and get THREE monthly rent/mortgage payments in the bank before you leave a paid position. I mean, SIX would be awesome, but let’s be honest, you’ll need shoes and a sharp outfit to be taken seriously 😉
Let’s assume that you’ll have to give clients 7, 14, 30 days to pay your invoices (unless you are lucky enough to get deposits beforehand) and also that you will invoice after you complete work (unless you invoice before the work) so you will have a natural gap between working and seeing the amount in your bank account.
This is called the Freelance Vortex (not really, I just made it up) because you are all proud of the invoice you just fired off….but seeing it in cold hard cash is another matter. Now imagine they do not pay on time, if they are a regular client and you still want to keep working for them, you’ll have to be pretty clever about chasing for it. This is where your Three Month Bank Plan is KEY.
So get cracking today and set up a little savings plan for your new dream.
STEP TWO – Research
God, its like being back at school innit! Sorry, but boring shiz must prevail and like Benjamin Franklin said, “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” You will know your industry inside and out but NOW is the time to put pen to paper (or use Google as I did) and look at the business opportunity and potential.
You need to nail:
Who – are you? Who is your customer?
What – is your product or service?
When – are you offering hourly, daily, monthly or ongoing services?
Where – are you UK/worldwide?
Why – why are you required? What problem are you solving?
How – how are you solving this problem? Do you need training or equipment to deliver?
How much – serious mathematics should occur right here – how much do you need to spend/vs how much you need to earn
Marketing – babes, how will we know you exist? How are you locating your customers?
You can start this little exercise today and start to build a profile of your future freelance profile or start up business.
STEP THREE – Business Plan
Oh yes, just like in The Apprentice, it is time to commit your plan to paper! Remember, as Mahatma Gandhi said “Your beliefs become your thoughts, Your thoughts become your words, Your words become your actions, Your actions become your habits, Your habits become your values, Your values become your destiny.” Write it down, invest in your dream and don’t just plunge into it blindly. In The Apprentice, candidates are regularly blasted for unrealistic timelines, turnover estimates so take heed, go for achievable but with a little stretch.
Take a look at your competitors, speak to other people in the field, use Google Analytics to find out what people are looking for and plan potential revenue streams. Don’t worry about it being too perfect, things will change as you go along – for example when I wrote mine, Instagram barely existed, so you have to be able to adapt to new changes and challenges.
I also assumed that I’d be providing services which I had a low skill level in and realised extremely quickly that I had over 10 years PR experience and THAT is what I could actually get paid for. Try not to overlook your skills just because you are going it alone and are tempted to take any form of paid work. Think about any running costs you are likely to incur and any office space you might require. I always say keep it super tight and overheads low.
STEP FOUR – Branding
Now you’ve got your business plan you will be PUMPED! Look at that great business you are going to create!!! GO YOU! Next step is to make it look like a business, even if you are a one-man-band it establishes your business and gives you authority, plus it looks so cute when it is on a business card 🙂
Again this is perfect to tick off while you are still at your full time job so look for a graphic designer who will work with small businesses and brief them on your new business. If you haven’t got a name (and don’t want to use your own) you can use your business plan to go through a brain storming session and voila – it appears!
I am very lucky to be friends with a very talented Graphic Designer who created me the perfect logo in ‘my’ colours with a branding document so then applying this to a website, business card, poster, you name it all came so easily after that. This process can take a little while, so while you’re all busy in your current job, this can run alongside it. That way you avoid that MAD PANIC when you are freelance and someone asks you to send a pitch, and guess what, no logo, no branding, no nothing.
STEP FIVE – Go viral
Let’s talk digital. Digital is your shop window, your way to be found in a sea of competitors, your advert, your way to connect and your razzle dazzle showcase. This is your opportunity to create a space to be proud of and first of all you’ll need to claim your url and domain – mine is through Go Daddy – and then you’ll need to build it using a platform – I use WordPress.
This is where I called in a friend to help me – writing I can do, but this bit is a little trickier. Get help with the bits you need help with if you can. If your budget is tight, have a look at YouTube tutorials and there is plenty of advice.
I accidentally started up my website well before I went freelance as I started up a simple blog first. When I went freelance, it meant that I could switch this over to a portfolio based platform rather than starting from scratch.
STEP SIX – Equipment
While you’re still in your well paid job, take a look at your equipment because one thing you will need to be when freelance is bloody efficient. Old iPhone? Upgrade it. Slow computer? Get rid of it. Need a camera for work? Buy it now.
Get anything that will help you to be the best freelancer and can afford to pay for them. I found this to my peril when I struggled with an outdated Toshiba for one and a half years before daring to take the plunge and buy a Mac which was compatible with my iPhone and OMG it is so amazing. Think of it as an investment in your future efficiency.
STEP SEVEN – Networking
You know all those dreadfully boring networking events you avoid? All those snooze-some conferences, coffee mornings and breakfasts? Or those presentations with free warm white wine and a cold sausage roll that you usually avoid? They are about to become your new best friends! It is surprising how many useful people you can meet at these events for business, for inspiration and for friendship, so open your eyes and get ready for a whole new world.
You’ll find natural opportunities all around you – or if not, take a look at Meet Up or Apple or co-working spaces like Campus London or We Work who often run great events. Anything that will inspire you in the field you are working in could lead to countless opportunities. And don’t forget to take your snazzy new branded business cards with you 🙂
STEP EIGHT – Spank the Contacts Book
Guess what? Your life henceforth will mainly about networking, so hope you like people! So remember Bob? You know who you used to work with five years ago who moved to that other great company you’d like to work with? Time to drop him a line. And Sue! Oh you know, Sue who was your mentor at your first job and now has her own business. Time for a coffee with Sue.
One really important thing you can start doing right now is to contact ten people in your business address book and arrange a coffee to catch up. If they are freelance or have their own business, it is fine to meet them to ask their advice. I always try and help people who ask for my advice because when I first started out I had life changing advice from stylist Angie Smith (over breakfast on the perils of starting up a business), stylist Chloe Beeney (on the perils of freelance), blogger LornaLuxe (the perils of everything, mainly wine related TBH) – it is basically the circle of business life!
Try to do this exercise constantly when you first start out – you will find your circle quickly expands and remember that in this industry, word of mouth recommendations can be worth a fortune. All my clients have been introduced to me by word of mouth.
STEP NINE – Bills Bills Bills
Ok money men make the world go round. I still to this day do all my own invoicing but to start with I didn’t know to put an invoice number on invoices (do, or it makes matching them up a nightmare-darling) and I didn’t really keep a log of them (I do now in a simple Numbers/Excel spreadsheet). You can find fancy programmes to do this so it totally depends how many invoices you’re sending and if you need help keeping track as they involve paying (I know right?)
I keep the HMRC happy by having an accountant. Yes literally the one thing I did properly and almost the FIRST thing I did was realise I would like some help in this area. You have to register that you are self employed and you also have to file your taxes every year – my accountant makes sure I do everything properly.
Similarly, if you need advice on pensions or income protection, you might consider a Financial Advisor.
My friend Jonathan Kirkby who owns instinct PR once told me that he is wise enough to know what he is good at, and wise enough to know when he needs help. This is the best advice, so much so I have thought of it so often when starting up on my own and I am passing it onto you now!
Finally remember to keep track of your receipts so that you know your business expenses. Try and keep costs to a minimum though – look after the pennies and the pounds look after themselves….or the pounds get together and have a Gucci party – whatevs 😉
STEP TEN – Get Social
You are probably doing this already so bravo. If you’re not, do consider social media as a place to chat to potential customers on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and so on. It can be a giant time hoover so if this isn’t your main business, and your customers come from elsewhere, don’t go crazy. If this seems to be going somewhere – get cracking and read the Influencer Guide I put together with LornaLuxe. LinkedIn (for all it’s many many faults) can be great to look for opportunities but find the right platforms for you.
And finally – Get Cracking
Eeek. Eeek! You’re ready, well as ready as you’ll ever be. It is quite common to be almost ready but be a bit worried about taking the plunge. Donna Ida Thornton always says that a friend once told her when she was setting up DONNA IDA as a denim boutique to ‘just open the doors’, because some days will be more significant than others but you just have to start somewhere. Once you’ve completed these steps, you can start looking for work and then it is finally time to leave your current job! Word to the wise, your current job may end up being somewhere that you could freelance for. So chat to your boss before you leave as more and more people are working remotely without fixed contracts these days.
It will feel scary and daunting but there are lots of other freelancers and start ups who are here for you! If freelance years are dog years, I’ve been going about a million by now, so tweet me or email me to chat.
Let me know in the comments if you have found these interesting and helpful! Good luck – you’re going to love it!