Making the move to go freelance isn’t easy, for anyone. It’s quite a risk to take, even if you’ve got clients ready and waiting.
The days of a guaranteed income at the end of each month is gone, and it’s up to you (and you alone) to bring in the business, keep yourself organised and pay those bills – have I put you off yet?
I loved my job before I went freelance, working at a digital agency with the best team anyone could ask for, but that business started changing and I wasn’t enjoying it anymore, so decided to go it alone. It was the best move I ever made. It’s tough, and can seem overwhelming at times, but the freedom it gives you is worth it. The air feels full of opportunity, and your life is ready to become whatever you make it.
I’ve been riding the freelance rollercoaster for about 6 months now, and have learnt a few things along the way, as well as using knowledge I learnt in my previous role.
So, whether you’re thinking about going freelance, or have taken the leap already, here’s the 4 biggest pieces of advice I can give you to help you see success.
1. Use a calendar, properly
Ask anyone, they’ll tell you – I’m a list maker. I bloody love making lists, and that sense of accomplishment of crossing things off.
But what I’ve found easiest for managing my time and my to do’s whilst working freelance, is by really making the most of an online calendar.
I use an online app called Teamweek – I actually used it in my previous role, and it’s meant for whole teams so you can see what other people are working on each day. The reason I set up my own once going freelance, is because I love how easy it is to create new tasks, use colour coded projects so you can see whatever client you’re mostly working on that day at a glance, and how simple it is to move tasks around, or book them in advance.
If you have trouble managing your priorities and keeping your task list in check, I’d recommend using a calendar where you can book your time out in advance, rather than just having one huge list that you tick off as you go.
This means that if you get some work that isn’t due for a few weeks, you can scroll along your timeline, book it in and forget about it – it’s out of your head, so it can’t cause you stress.
It also means you can quickly see, in advance, weeks where you’re full to capacity and times where you have a little more leeway, enabling you to give more realistic deadlines to clients, and avoid missing them too.
I even use my Teamweek for plotting in personal tasks and appointments, so I can see everything in one place and not try and balance the task of remembering them all in my head.
So, I may not be their target audience, but I really couldn’t be without Teamweek. The best part? If you’re only using it for one person, or up to five people (I think) then it’s completely free! Get in.
2. Be disciplined with contracts – FREE download
It’s one of the hardest and riskiest things in business – making sure you get paid. Cashflow can be the downfall of small businesses and freelancers alike, but one thing you can do to give yourself some kind of protection is be disciplined with sending contracts to your clients.
Getting your client to sign a contract confirming what you’re delivering, how much they’re paying, and all the other legal stuff, is really helpful – not only for giving you a formal document to fall back on if they don’t keep their end of the bargain, but also to help you forecast your incoming payments for the year ahead.
If the idea of creating a contract sends you into cardiac arrest – fear not! You can download a blank template of the contract I use here. I’ve highlighted where you need to personalise it to your business, client and services – how kind of me!
Please note, I can’t accept any responsibility for the usage of this contract, it just works well for me. Please read it thoroughly before sending to any clients!
My freelancer contract template uses different schedules, one for invoices you’ll send to the client, and one for the deliverables you’ll actually produce. Be as specific as you can with what you’re actually going to deliver, to stop the client pushing you for more work that’s out of scope, with you ending up out of pocket. It’s a good idea to give all your contracts an individual number too, so you can easily keep track and refer back to them.
For sending contracts to my clients, I use something called Adobe Sign. This was actually only around £20 for a year when I signed up, but it seems to have increased a lot in price since, which is a bit of shame and might make it a bit too spendy – though you might be able to find something else similar.
Essentially, with Adobe Sign, you’re able to send PDF versions of your contract directly to your clients, they sign it electronically, and a copy gets sent to both your inboxes – easy peasy! I’ve found it so easy to use, and a quick, easy way of getting signed contracts from clients remotely.
3. Keep your accounts in order – yes, it’s possible
Ah, accounting. Taxes. Self assessments. It’s enough to make anyone quit freelancing, and one of those key life skills you never got taught in school, for some reason.
But, it doesn’t have to be hard. Yes, it takes some effort to keep track of your ingoings and outgoings, but if you stay on top of it, it will make your life so much easier – believe me.
Set up a business banking account
It took me a while to get round to this, but I’m so glad I did. Setting up a separate business account to your personal one is really handy – it stops your invoice money getting confused with your personal funds, makes it easier to track any drawings you take for yourself, and means you can charge any outgoings you have directly to that, not your personal money.
To go a step further, I’ve found it really beneficial to also set up a business savings account. This is where I put all my money aside for my self assessment tax bill. As soon as I receive an invoice, I transfer 25% of it to my business savings, and let that accrue so that when it comes to paying the tax man, there’s no need to panic.
If you don’t have business banking set up, take a look at what your current bank offers in that area. Book an appointment with an adviser, and just go in and have a chat. I did, and the whole process was fairly simple and straightforward.
Use accounting software to manage your invoices
One thing I learned at my previous job was how important it is to be punctual when sending out invoices. The longer you take to send them, the longer they take to get paid, and the more stressed you become.
Although it is possible to simply create and send your invoices yourself, without the need for any additional software, I think using an accounting programme like Kashflow is so beneficial.
Not only does Kashflow let you add customers, produce quotes and invoices, and keep track of your earnings, but it even sends you an email reminder when invoices have become overdue, letting you know that you need to get in touch with the client.
It makes everything so easy, and you can access it anywhere. There’s a free trial so you can test it out, and I pay £12 a month for the Business plan because it lets me send an unlimited amount of invoices per month (though I could get away with the £5/month plan too).
Set up a profit and loss spreadsheet – FREE download
If you’re an absolute spreadsheet fiend like me, then you’ll love this kind of thing – if not, you might find it harder to keep your profit and loss document updated, or to even have one in the first place.
The purpose of a profit and loss (P&L) spreadsheet is simply to show your incomings and outgoings all in one place.
Never seen one of these before? No idea how to go about making one, or simply can’t be bothered?
Great news. I’ve done it for you. Click here to download a blank template version of the P&L I use every single day – which meant there was no work for my accountant to do when it came to tax return time.
The template provided above breaks your costs down into different areas – feel free to make this bespoke to you, and the costs you need to run your business. I also split my incomings by client, because I find it easier to keep track that way – you could do that too, or split it by service, if that works better for you and you offer lots of different things.
I kinda adjusted the bottom section so it made sense to me – there’s your gross profit, ie. what you make minus your costs, then your net profit, which is your gross profit minus your tax. I’ve calculated my tax based on me saving 25% of my income, but you can adjust this to what works for you.
There’s also a line that shows how much you should have saved up for tax by the end of each month (if you are using the 25% number that I do). This is just handy to make sure you have enough in your savings throughout the year.
Phew. I know that is probably as exhausting to read as it was to write, but hopefully it will help.
Try and keep your P&L updated as regularly as possible. It will help you forecast for the future and see what you expect to earn, as well as make your tax return so much easier.
Hire an accountant, don’t try to be one
My last bit of advice when it comes to managing your money – just do it. Just hire an accountant.
I like to think I’m pretty good with numbers and stuff, but even I can barely read one page about self assessment tax requirements without looking for the nearest window to jump out of.
Accountants can take all the stress away of submitting your tax return. That’s what they’re there for. They can also give you good advice about the costs of running your business in general.
Get googling for local accountants, have a look around, meet with a few if you want. I can’t recommend it enough. Mine charged me £180 to complete my last tax return, but the way I look at it, I would have lost way more than that in productivity by trying to do it myself.
4. Organise your workspace
The hardest thing about being self employed, in my opinion, is the change in lifestyle to working in an office, with a team.
Going from being surrounded by like minded colleagues, to potentially not seeing anyone but the people on your computer screen all day, can leave you feeling isolated and alone. I did. My productivity plummeted and my mental health deteriorated too.
It’s so important to create a positive environment for you to work in, ideally separate to living space like your kitchen, sofa or bedroom.
For many, that takes the form of a home office, a desk in a spare room, dedicated to work only. That’s a great option, keeps your cost down, and can work if you’re disciplined with yourself and don’t let the distractions of home get in the way.
I’ve actually recently opted for something different. After feeling a bit of a recluse from working at home for 6 months, I’ve decided to invest in renting a desk in a coworking space in Manchester city centre.
Here’s a glimpse at my new ‘office’:
My new workspace is in the super cool Beehive Lofts, a collaborative environment full of other creatives, all working together. It’s a big investment, and early days, but I’m happy with the decision – more to come on this in a future blog post!
Whatever you go for, find somewhere that’s yours for work alone – it can be so hard to switch off, but having a place to work and a place to just be yourself is really important for avoiding burnout and finding a positive work/life balance.
If you’ve read this far, congratulations!
I wasn’t expecting this post to be so long, but wanted to jam pack it with really useful, practical advice for any other freelancers out there looking for ways to be more organised and successful.
Are you a freelancer too? What tools do you use to run your business? Let us know in the comments!
Have a great day.