Your first six months as an independent consultant

Embarking on a freelance career can feel like stepping into the unknown. Who will your first client be? How much will you earn? What challenges and opportunities will come your way? As you wave goodbye to the security of a full-time job, this unpredictability can be daunting, to say the least.

So, to retain as much control as possible over the situation, it can help enormously to put a plan in place for the first six months of your journey. Having a list of actions, timescales and deadlines won’t just help calm those early freelancing nerves and give some structure to your weeks; it will also ensure you lay all the necessary foundations for a successful freelancing future.

Here are a few essential pointers to ensure your freelance career gets off to a flying start in those first few months:

  • Hire an accountant: Setting up on your own involves a fair amount of administration, along with several important decisions that can affect everything from your future earnings to your public liability. That’s where a qualified and experienced accountant is well worth the investment, to provide advice on everything from how to set up your business structure, to explaining how taxation works and managing the paperwork involved in completing your annual accounts. Ideally, aim to find someone that specialises in working with freelancers in your sector, as they will understand all the intricacies involved.
  • Tools of the trade: In our hyper-connected world, it’s easier than ever to become a freelancer, and to manage clients from anywhere in the world successfully. But without the infrastructure of an employer and office environment, it’s vital to set yourself up with the right tools and tech to deliver your projects professionally. So, as well as the obvious things such as a laptop and workstation, consider what else you will need. Many professionals require software of some kind, or specific databases. Often there are tools (or packages) specifically for freelancers and, by looking online, you may find a freelance community where there is an option to share the cost.
  • Your proposition: Take some time building your brand and proposition. For example, are you planning to focus on a particular niche or industry sector? What kind of clients would you ideally like to target with your services? And what areas are you passionate about? Even if you have an extensive network and reputation already, being clear on these details will help you to sell your services in emails and meetings, while ensuring you stay focused on work you actually want to do.  And if you’re going to go a step further, consider developing a more public profile, such as a simple website, where you explain what you do, and include examples of your work. There are lots of simple website building tools around, or you can find a good value web developer to do this for you.
  • Your portfolio: Before you start approaching potential clients, make sure you have as many referrals and case studies to hand as possible. These could be as simple as recommendations on platforms such as Outsized, or more detailed case studies on your website. It’s also worth speaking to old colleagues and clients to see if they would be happy to act as a referee for you. With freelance work, requests for referrals are likely to come up fairly regularly.
  • New business pipeline: Your first port of call for new business should be word of mouth. Make sure you inform old colleagues, clients, suppliers, friends and family of your career change and update any online platforms related to work. Your ability to secure a couple of quick projects at the outset can make or break your long-term success. However, if you don’t have a big network, there are a myriad of other ways to build a new business pipeline, including networking groups (both on and offline), talent platforms like Outsized, and good old-fashioned pitching for work, whether by email or over the phone. Build this element out in your plan, with actions and deadlines to keep you accountable. Whatever you do, stay positive and focused, and remember that this will get easier as you build up your reputation and pipeline of work.
  • Know your worth: Finally, and most importantly, you must determine your rates. This can be one of the biggest challenges for new freelancers; too little and you can end up undervalued, with an uphill struggle to increase your fees. But too much, and you may find it hard to build up your portfolio and get some momentum behind your business. To help you work out your optimum rate, talk to other freelancers about how and what they charge, as well as doing some online research, to find out the going rate for your area of expertise, level of experience and industry. A great place to start is by looking at the salary you want to earn in 12-months and working out your day rate from there. Remember to include holiday days in this and take account the benefits and bonuses that you would have had in a full-time role.

As with any career, there are highs and lows to freelancing, so be prepared that it won’t all be plain-sailing. Always remember what drove you to embark on a freelance career and embrace it. Maybe it was to achieve a better work-life balance, more autonomy, or perhaps it was simply to earn more money. Whatever it is, don’t lose sight of the end goal and stick at it.

Are you looking for more details? Great, have a look here to see how you can run your freelance career like a business.