Freelancing – What you need to know

Freelancing can be job seeker heaven or job seeker hell – it all depends on your personality and how prepared you are.

To see if you’re the type of person who would enjoy working freelance (or otherwise self-employed) read our blog Self-employed…Better off?

If you have decided you want to go it alone and apply your skills to a freelance trade, then here’s what you need to know to get started:

Register as self-employed

As with all self-employed jobs, freelancing requires you to register with the taxman as self-employed within three months. After this three month grace period you will be fined £100 for late registration – so get this done straight away.

You can download all the relevant forms from the website.

Filing your tax return

You must complete and submit your tax return by the end of the January following the tax year (if completing online). So for the tax year 2012-13 you would complete your online tax return and pay by the end of January 2014. Don’t forget to save all your business receipts as you can claim these against your taxable income (it may be worth contacting a chartered accountant to talk you through the tax procedure, they will often be able to save you a fair bit of money!)

Don’t forget to save

It may seem like you are getting paid loads more as a freelancer, but don’t forget to save up for the things you are used to having as a benefit in salaried employment. Holiday time, sick pay, pensions, student loan, tax, national insurance etc. all need to be paid for by you, so it is important to keep some money tucked away each month for these occasions.

The more you can save, the better – don’t forget that freelancing often means variable pay, so one month you could be rolling in it and the next living off bread and cheese.

Have a look at free courses

Your local Business Link will offer free courses such as book keeping (very handy!) and is a great place to meet other freelancers and network. Your local Chamber of Commerce should also be able to provide you with advice and support to help get you started – and the best part is: most courses are completely FREE!


A challenge of going freelance is finding work. Chances are that, unless you already know lots of people demanding your expertise, you will have to go looking for your own work. Networking can be great for making new business acquaintances and swapping referrals. Look out for business networking events and go along with a handful of business cards – you should be able to find plenty of free events in your area.

For more advice on networking read our article Networking to find your dream job

Being the brand

As a freelancer you will be representing yourself as a brand. That means you must be consistent in your dress and behaviour, polite and helpful where possible, and carry your business cards with you wherever you go. Some freelancers pick a certain colour or object to be seen with at networking events to serve as a visual reminder of who they are.

Time management

You will need to start managing your own time as a freelancer, which can be harder than you may think. Certain activities, such as showering in the morning, can serve as handy rituals to get you settled into the working day. See what works for you and use it to get you started in the morning.

Don’t forget to finish

When you’re managing your own time and workload it can be all too easy to keep working right on into the evening. Every now and again this is fine – it allows you to take time off elsewhere or earn a bit extra that month. But on a regular basis this pattern of working will only end in burnout. You need time to relax and unwind after your working day, otherwise your work will start suffering…

All this may sound a lot to take in, but don’t worry it is all relatively straightforward. Once you are set up you can enjoy a rewarding career being your own boss!

For some more advice on becoming a self-employed freelancer take a look at the National Careers Service self-employment career planner.


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