Recently, I read an article on SEO, as part of my attempts to improve the Google listing for my clients and my site. In said article, the author recommended using question forum Quora in part of your marketing strategy as you establish yourself as a person of knowledge for your particular field. I spent the next couple of hours answering questions about freelancing, marketing, social media and mental health, linking back to relevant blogs and articles I’d written on the topic.
To my surprise, these answers went down very well and my inbox soon became flooded with an increasing number of questions on other areas of self-employment, from the best hourly rate to charge to setting up your first Self Assessment account. With that in mind, I wanted to write a blog post that tackled some of these big issues all in one, as an informal guide to becoming a freelancer for the very first time. If you do have any more questions, or just want to know my recommendations for starting out, feel free to drop me an email and I’ll do my best to get back to you!
In the meantime, let’s start with the basics.
Q: How do I set up a website for my services?
A: Investing in a good quality and informative website for your freelance business can be a game-changer for finding new clients. However, they can also be time-consuming and complicated to set up. For my website, I used WordPress, with the Elementor plugin to build the site, Unsplash for sourcing my imagery, Canva for any neccessary graphic and I’m currently hosted by TSO Host. I really do recommend TSO Host as a great, and cost-effective, platform to set up your first site with. They have great customer support and can typically get any existing domains or information transferred over to your new site in a number of hours. They can even set up your SSL certificate for you, which is vital for a safe and reliable site.
One of the first things I would do is to write up a quick sitemap, or a list of the pages you want to include. This would usually include Home, About, Services, Case Studies, Blog and Contact but you can add your own variations depending on your brand and industry. This can then help you to flesh out those pages with copy, images and links before you start implementing it into the site itself. Try not to put too much pressure on yourself to get a flawless website the first time around – most sites go through evolutions and edits, and you’ll learn what looks right as you go. It can be a really fun experience to teach yourself how to build your own website, and will be a huge selling point for your new clients too!
Q: What’s the best way to handle your finances as a freelancer?
A: One of the biggest differences between working self-employed, and working for a company, is the lack of external and automated resources at your disposal. You no longer have an accounts team, a manager who pays your salary, automatic tax deductions or an inbuilt pension scheme. It’s now up to you to be all of those departments in one, whilst still carrying out your full time role. For many people, the easiest way to manage your money is by hiring an accountant to organise your taxes, budgets and any other financial duties on your behalf. However, they can be expensive and if you’re just starting out in your business, that’s one expense you just can’t afford. Luckily, there are many other resources out there who can help – from Gov.UK to freelance accounts charities across the UK, with free financial advice available online.
A few tips I can recommend for managing your finances when working as a freelancer are to keep records of everything. Every coffee meeting, every train journey, every software payment, every new keyboard and camera lens. Set up a couple of spreadsheets to help you monitor your expense spending, your monthly invoice payments, your personal spending and your client rates per year. You can divide these up into each individual financial year to make it even easier when it comes to filling out your Self Assessment forms, and even though it can take a little while to track back every payment and work-related expense, it’s always better to stay aware of your money. It’s also important to understand that there will be quiet periods, where your clients are out of work or simply unavailable, and you’ll need to fund yourself. Prepare for quiet months by putting aside a small percentage of every invoice payment, and work out ways to cut back on any unneccesary spending throughout the rest of the year too. Could you work from home instead of in a coffee shop? Could you re-wear that jacket, rather than buying a new one? Could you wait for that film to come out on Netflix, or skip takeaway night this week?
Q: What do you do if a client hasn’t paid your invoice?
A: Typically, clients will have two weeks in which to pay any invoice sent to them. This means that all money owed is due 14 days from the day you sent it to them/they recieved the invoice. If a client fails to pay this amount – either by paying too little without reasonable dispute, or by simply not paying at all, there are several steps you can take. At first, it’s generally acceptable to send a couple of follow up emails, particuarly when the 14 day date is approach, politely reminding them that the balance still has not be cleared. If they don’t send a reply or refuse to pay within the two weeks stated, you then have the right to add on either £40 to your final invoice or 8.5% interest, sending them a new updated invoice to pay within a fresh two weeks. It’s better to explain why this additional fee has been added on, and to explain that if this invoice continues to be ignored, a further 8.5% interest will be added after the next due date.
Throughout this process, it’s also important to remember that these are most likely clients you want to continue working with, so ensure that you remain polite and professional – even though it can be frustrating to handle. There are many reasons why a client might not have paid an invoice on time, and most of the time it is simply due to poor organisation i.e. lost emails, missed communications, staff absences, etc… Try to be patient, but if your invoice is still unpaid after a month, it could be time to bring in a legal professional to help.
Q: How do you stay motivated when working from home?
A: For most of us, working from home seems like a luxury occasion. We can wear what we want, work to our own schedule, spend time with our families or partners, listen to our own music and stay cosy inside without the pressures of an office. But after a while, the appeal can soon wear off. When we’re facing piles of washing up in the kitchen, distacting pets, the lure of the sofa and Netflix, and we’ve spent 3 hours stealing snacks from the kitchen, it can be incredibly de-motivating to work from your own home. The best advice I can give is this: you will adapt. Your body and your mind will come to think of your working space as a site of productivity, you will learn to find your own routines, you can be your own source of motivation and you can incorporate so many refreshing and mindful activities into your working day that soon, working from home will just become work once again.
It’s important to take advantage of your working space – make it clean, organised and aesthetically pleasing to get the most of your home. Spruce it up with fresh flowers, scented reed diffusers, beautiful stationary and motivational prints. Invest in a great coffee machine to keep your attention levels up, without splashing out at coffee shops every week. Make sure you have everything you need close by, to avoid that distracting walk across the room to fetch a bin, a tissue, your phone charger or a glass of water. You can control your working environment and simple changes such as these can increase your productivity and motivation to the point where sitting down at your desk is your favourite activity to do each morning.
Q: How do you cope on months/weeks without work?
A: It can tough to accept that this month or this week, we simply have no clients to work with. There are often situations or circumstances that can mean your clients don’t have any new work for you such as public holidays, vacations, budgetary issues or staff sickness. They may have left your services for good, or are simply taking a break to consider other options. Their business might have even collapsed or gone into administration, making your role suddenly redundant. It’s a strange period, particularly after you’ve formed your own routines of work and scheduling, to suddenly be faced with empty calendars and long, quiet days. So how do you cope?
It’s important to see this time as your time now. This is your chance to catch up on every piece of admin you’ve been putting off – from organising your budgets to updating your website content for the new financial year. You can sort out your receipts, download that productivity app, set up your podcast and batch write your blog posts for the next quarter. Prioritise you in this time, rather than your clients, and make the most of your days by visiting networking groups, workshops and learning opportunities. Working for yourself means setting yourself new goals and challenges too, so why not take advantage of this by teaching yourself something new to offer your clients next month? If you’re struggling financially, perhaps this is your chance to find some temporary or short term contracted work related to your field i.e. proofreading, editing, guest writing, etc… This is not a period of failure. It is a period of business development, and the sooner you begin to accept that, the sooner you’ll bloom.
Thank you so much for reading this week’s blog post! I love writing and answering these FAQ style blog posts, so if you have any questions about freelancing, marketing or working from home, make sure to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to be included in my next post!
Have a great week!