How to start a freelance career in the UK – a beginner’s guide

Freelancing expert Dave Chaplin explains how to set your freelance rate, the importance of tailoring your CV and where to find your next project.

As the UK economy recovers from the impact of coronavirus, now might be the perfect time to take the leap and go it alone in a new freelance career.

For risk-averse businesses in this current climate, the immediate access to key skills which freelancers provide presents a more economically viable recruitment solution than a permanent hire. If you possess an in-demand skillset, you are well placed to capitalise.

Though other key concerns include deciding upon a business model, registering with HMRC and enlisting an accountant, Chaplin advises on setting a contract rate, marketing yourself and finding work.

>See also: 7 tips on how to manage freelance workers remotely

Setting your contract rate

Setting a freelance contract rate in the UK is a careful balancing act. You want to establish a competitive rate that ensures you receive a good return for your efforts without risking pricing yourself out of the market.

There are useful sites online that share survey results of the standard rates that specific skills command.

However, while these sites provide useful guidelines, they don’t account for the combination of skills or the level of experience required. Therefore, you should create a baseline rate based on your current salary, assess the results from your research, and ask around. Otherwise, lack of clarity over your market value could leave you vulnerable.

Ask other contractors. “Human intelligence” is a good source of information. Talk to as many colleagues and friends as you can, but do so discretely, especially if you’re currently permanently employed. Existing freelancers and contractors, as well as permanent employees who have worked with freelancers, understand the work and recognise the value of specific skills. If you can, speak to an experienced freelancer who has similar skills and experience to your own.

Market conditions can also significantly impact freelance demand in the UK. Browsing contract advertisements online can therefore help you create a clearer picture of the rates you should command in the current climate.

Marketing yourself

Your CV and LinkedIn profile have one purpose: getting an agent or client to speak to you on the phone with a view to lining up a client meeting. These profiles are the key marketing tools you must use to be shortlisted for a possible contract. Think of them as offline and online sales brochures to market yourself with.

To ensure sustained success, both your CV and LinkedIn profile require special attention. Design both as though you were creating an “elevator pitch”, where your most relevant skills and accomplishments are the most prominent, demonstrating that you perfectly match the assignment’s requirements.

Remember, the decision about whether you are shortlisted for a client meeting is made by a recruitment agent or client, who will typically devote 20 seconds to the first make-or-break reading. Don’t expect the reader to take time fishing out qualities that are irrelevant to them. The onus is on you.

‘The freelancer is not always the best person available but the best person at marketing themselves’

Other useful tips when structuring your CV and LinkedIn profile include:

  • Find out what your potential client is seeking to achieve from the project in question
  • Tailor your CV to demonstrate how you can add value to the project
  • Always detail the measurable outcomes of your previous work and how they have benefitted your employers
  • Recall your learnings from previous jobs

The freelancer who secures a client meeting is not always the best person available for the contract but the best person at marketing themselves, so the importance of a carefully optimised CV and LinkedIn profile can’t be overstated.

Finding work

Having prepared to enter the market, following the daily checklist below ensures you are optimising your job search activities. It also gives you a routine. Being at home after years of structured life can be disorientating, but finding your next contract is your job, for now.

  • Call any agencies that you applied to the day before
  • Proactively post and prospect on LinkedIn
  • Chase up any other positions you have applied to and have not yet spoken to the agent about
  • Search job websites and LinkedIn for suitable positions that have recently been added
  • Check some LinkedIn groups, reply to relevant activity with proactive comments and questions of your own
  • Send out email applications

Unfortunately, the search process can often be dull and frustrating, but the harder you work at it, the sooner you’ll get a position.

>See also: Going freelance full time and what to consider for a successful transition

Locating positions – using online job boards

Being such an important source of potential contracts, it’s vital you monitor job boards regularly. Though in many respects LinkedIn has become the primary source of quality contracts, most contracts are still advertised via job boards.

There are many specialist job boards for specific sectors, but some of the most important sites include: TotalJobs; Indeed; Reed; CV Library; JobSite; JobServe; Monster; NHS Jobs; CWJobs. These sites dominate the recruitment sector, meaning agencies frequently post the same position on all boards.

Most jobs boards also have a free alerts function that you can set up to automatically email you when a new job is advertised that matches your specified criteria. You can set up multiple alerts with different criteria, and with a bit of tweaking you should find a way to refine the results.

Ensure you keep a log of what roles you have applied for. It’s a good idea to maintain the log using a cloud service, so that you can immediately access it on your smartphone, tablet, laptop or PC when an agent or client calls. This way you will instantly know which role the call refers to. A log also prevents you from submitting multiple applications for the same role through different agents.

Go for it!

If you don’t want to find yourself asking “What if?”, or, if you’ve been forced into thinking “What next?”, then now is the right time to take control of your future career as a freelance in the UK. You may find freelancing to be the perfect remedy to the Covid-19-induced recruitment problems, and you might never look back.

Dave Chaplin is CEO and founder of contracting authority ContractorCalculator and author of The Contractors’ Handbook – Third Edition

Further reading

Hiring freelancers: seven common mistakes to watch out for

Avatar photo

Lamar Stanton

Dave Chaplin is CEO of ContractorCalculator, a website and essential resource for contractors & freelancers.

Related Topics