Going Freelance Unexpectedly

Many freelancers get started unexpectedly on the back of a redundancy notice. If you’re in that position it can be daunting, but this could be the start of an exciting journey.

Some people choose freelancing, others have freelancing thrust upon them. Over the past couple of years, thanks to our old friend COVID-19, it’s been a lot of the latter. Growth shrunk to the lowest level since the long bow was state of the art military equipment, and millions of people found themselves suddenly without a job. With companies cutting back everywhere, there weren’t many other jobs to go around.

All of which meant there were more people than ever suddenly giving thought to the idea of going freelance. Some might have been considering it off and on, while for others it might have only crossed their mind when they were called in for that dreaded talk in the office. Either way, the prospect of going freelance by force can be daunting and is a very different proposition than for those who do it by choice.

That’s important because almost all of the how to articles on this subject make the assumption that you’re going freelance on your own terms. As such they often start out with the somewhat unhelpful suggestion to save up around six months’ worth of living expenses before you hand in your notice.

That’s nice in an ideal world, but the reality is that – more often than not – freelancers find themselves in this position by chance. They haven’t been planning for this, so they haven’t saved and, with no job to go to, there’s little chance of doing it now. It’s a much less comfortable situation and one which gives everything which follows a real sense of urgency.

Do a financial health check

The first thing to do is to sit down and take time to gather your thoughts. Being made redundant is tough. It will probably happen to most people at some time in their career, but even so the sense of rejection which comes with it will put a dent in your confidence. The important thing is to accept it, deal with it and move forward.

A big part of this will be getting a handle of your finances. Spend an afternoon really looking into your expenses and working out how much you’ll need to live on. This can help you understand your needs and how much money you’re going to need to make to pay the bills.

Mine your network

Once you’ve collected your thoughts it’s important to get things moving. A lot of people will spend time at this stage sitting down and planning. That’s useful, but it often comes at the expense of making real progress. While it might seem as if you’re doing something by getting a lovely home office set up and doing lots of ‘market research’ none of that will bring some money in. Freelancers often work in arrears – in other words, even if you start work immediately it could take some time before the money starts to come in. Remember, things are a little more urgent than if you’d had time to plan all this, you the pressure is on to get things moving.

You can start by making use of your existing networks. Anyone you’ve worked for and with – any people you’ve encountered during your career, they can all be soft leads which could lead to something else. Try sending out emails letting them know about the situation and that you’re available.

The worst thing that will happen is you’ll get no reply – in which case get used to it because rejection will be part of the landscape. Alternatively, you might manage to arrange a chat over a coffee which may or may not lead to something else.

One good idea might be to look at your former employer. Although market forces may mean they can’t commit to a full-time role for you, they may still have use for you as a freelancer. This will obviously depend on the type of company, their situation and the work you did, but it’s worth bearing in mind.

Use jobs boards

For those without a network to full back on the growing number of freelancer job sites can be a useful source of immediate work. These come in many forms, from traditional jobs sites such as Reed which list full time as well as part time and freelance vacancies, to dedicated sites aiming to connect freelancers with buyers. These generally allow you to create a profile which can be viewed by buyers and to bid on proposals. The company often makes its money by charging a commission on each invoice you raise.

These sites can vary in terms of quality and don’t always offer good value for money, but they can be a useful tool for freelancers of all levels – but especially those who are starting out.

Get a good invoicing system

Once the contracts start coming in, you should take time to get a good invoicing system in place. Getting paid promptly is a notoriously difficult task for freelancers, and it’s the source of plenty of angst. More often than not you’ll find yourself chasing invoices which are late, to make sure the money is coming in.

This can be a difficult adjustment, especially if you’ve never been in this position before. Going from a situation in which you have a monthly pay cheque hitting you account to one in which money comes in as and when you’re paid can be a culture shock. It’s stressful, but there are things you can do to ease the flow.

Be clear and concise about your payment terms. If a client comes back with terms which are unsatisfactory, particularly those which have extremely long terms (payment within 60 or even 90 days is still not unheard of) stand your ground. Remember, you are not a lowly freelancer begging for scraps – you are a small business in your own right supplying a service. Like most service providers you should expect to be paid on your own terms.

All of which leads us nicely into the final point. Think of yourself as a business – because that’s exactly what you are, even if it is only a business of one person. Whether you choose to structure yourself as a sole trader or move up to form a limited company, if you treat yourself as a business, with income and expenditure, you’ll be in a much better position to bring money in and start generating growth.

Freelancing – as much as anything – is a state of mind. Getting into that can be half the battle.

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