A common career route for many women after leaving corporate life is to strike out as a freelancer.
Working for yourself delivers fulfilment on many levels and provides the kind of perks you don’t get as an employee such as true flexibility and variety in the kind of work you do and being able to choose the people that you work with. The joy of not having to report to a toxic boss or sit on a project with someone who has an ego the size of a planet is not to be underestimated.
That said – it pays to do your homework before you spend £1,000 kitting out your home office. Here’s what I’ve learned in the 10 years I’ve been freelancing:
What you should know about freelancing
1. It’s important to decide how much you want to earn each year
This seems basic but so many people struggle in this regard. Bear in mind that your corporate salary was defined by a compensation framework based on market conditions and your experience / potential to add value to the company. It shouldn’t become the rule on what you should expect to earn as a freelancer and there’s no reason why you should expect to earn less even if you are working fewer hours!
2. You need to be clear on what you want to charge
The most common question I get asked is “How much should I charge?”. My advice is to draw a sliding scale and decide where you want to put yourself on it. This leaves you with three options:
- Charge a high day rate and accept you may only work a few days a month on the basis there’s a small number of clients with that kind of budget
- Go in low in order to attract lots of business and accept it will be hard to negotiate up
- Sit somewhere in the middle and accept there’s a lot of competition in that space
If you don’t even know where to begin, ask people within your network what they understand the rate to be for the kind of product or service you have to offer. You may also find freelancer forums and organisations useful.
3. You’ve got to be easy to work with
Something that’s as important as the quality of your work is making sure you can get paid! This may include having to set up as a Limited company, arranging corporate-friendly insurance and accepting payment terms of between 30 and 60 days. There is nothing worse than doing the hard work of pitching only to discover you can’t be added to the approved supplier list.
It’s also useful to create templates for quotes, invoices and statements of work – you need to make it as easy as possible for people to do business with you.
4. It’s a serious business
I have an enormous amount of fun ghostwriting and performing but I take the business side of things extremely seriously. For me this means:
- a business bank account
- accounting software
- investing in personal development
- acknowledging my achievements
It disheartens me to hear women underplay their freelance work or have it described as secondary to their partner’s career simply by virtue of the fact that their partner is employed. If you can make it as a freelancer it shows you have talent, resilience, something unique to offer and an ability to generate your own income without being beholden to the review structures and politics that come with being full-time employed.
5. You can’t do it all by yourself
Creating a freelance career – and it’s important to think of it as a long-term career strategy – is exciting, nerve-wracking and not without risk. You might be ‘going it alone’ but you don’t have to do it all by yourself. To give yourself the best possible chance seek support from people who can:
- Do the stuff you can’t
- Do things better / faster than you
- Help you to grow
- Are on a similar path / have similar aspirations
In all of these instances there is an investment required but it will free you up to spend your time on making money by doing the stuff you’re good at. And this is why you’re going freelance, right?
6. You have to remind yourself (frequently) why you’re doing this
Here’s a simple exercise – draw a line down the middle of a sheet of paper so you have two columns. At the top of one column draw a minus sign. At the top of the other draw a plus sign.
Under the minus, write down all the things you want to leave behind (ie: endless meetings, performance reviews, unfulfilling work). Under the plus sign, write all the things you want to gain (ie: focusing on your talents, knowing precisely the value you bring, a healthier lifestyle).
When you’ve finished, put it somewhere you can see it. It will act as a clear reminder of why you decided to make the move in the first place and everything you can look forward to. And if you have days where you’re not quite hitting the mark – the real beauty of being a freelancer comes into play: the power is in your hands to change it.
About the author
Toni Kent is an experienced writer and performer who is trusted by large corporate IT organisations to represent their business leaders and brands through a mixture of ghost writing, coaching and motivational speaking.
With twenty years of experience in technology and as an advocate for women supporting women, Toni is frequently booked by Women in Business networks and organisations that want to promote gender parity. With lived experience of how work transforms the life prospects of women from disadvantaged backgrounds, she is proud to be the official event compere for Smart Works Reading – an organisation that helps women return to the workplace via free interview coaching and work-appropriate clothing.
Toni is also a columnist for Berkshire Life and has written three books of humorous reflections on what it means to be a woman: Reasons to be Cheerful Parts One and Two and I Need a Wife. Her books are all available via Amazon.
You can follow Toni on Twitter and LinkedIn at @tonijkent
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