MY FREELANCE JOURNEY: BLOG Eight – NEW YEAR, NEW YOU

AMA conference 2018 © Brian Roberts Images
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MY FREELANCE JOURNEY is a new bi-monthly blog series where we follow Arts Marketing and Fundraising consultant Beckie Smith on her journey into life as a freelancer    

 

BLOG 8: New Year, New You 

Before we look at what the New Year holds, lets reflect on the first six months of my leap into freelance life. 

Fortunately, I had heaps of beginner’s luck and contracts came my way quite easily. Life was good for three months – I had the happy (yet chaotic) balance of a family life, and a work life with clients, and my invoices were being paid.  

Unfortunately, I fell into the trap of forgetting to market myself during times of ‘feast’ and when my contracts came to a natural end; I plunged into a period of ‘famine’ that I really struggled with. Thankfully, I was never between clients completely, but it is safe to say that I have lived both feast and famine already.  

I realised that I needed to make a change. I trawled the jobs sites and applied for every contract going (some of which – dare I admit it – were employed jobs. Even the strongest of us lose our nerve in the middle of a dry spell).  ArtsJobs, Twitter, Arts Professional are great stating points for this, but I really turned things around by making an effort to get myself to every meet up, networking event, and social that I possibly could, and made appointments to follow up conversations afterwards.  

The week before Christmas, I had the best news. I won two contracts, one of which runs January till March and the other runs from March until the end of the year. I landed an entire year’s work, and found out about each contract within 24 hours of each other. As you can imagine, I was ecstatic – and the news completely changed my Christmas!  

 

What does the New Year look like then?  

 

Well, these two contracts have given me a real spine of stability. Each contract is approximately 2 days per week, and ideally, I would like to work 3.5. This means that I still have capacity to apply for additional, smaller or shorter-term contracts to top me up. If they come to fruition (and one of the did this morning – YAY) then great, I’ll be in real ‘feast’ mode, and if they don’t, I won’t need to worry too much. 

 

Where do I go from here?  

 

At the moment, I’m doing really well as a Freelance Consultant, but how can I grow, develop and expand what I do? Am I Beckie, a working mum, who puts in the hours in order to pay for the kids shoes? Or am I Beckie, the owner of a Consultancy business who, currently only has one member of staff (myself) but would like that number to grow? I think the latter is more fitting to my personality.  

Although I am a sole trader, I tell myself that I am an employed director of a business, and it is my job to ensure that that business goes from strength to strength. This encourages me to think big; I want to lead the business to increased productivity, increased income, and increased recognition.  

To do this, I need a business plan. I need a vision for what I would like the business to look like in 1, 3, 5 and even 10 years time. I need targets, objectives, outcomes, and KPI’s to keep check of whether I’m growing and progressing. I need contingency plans which I can fall back on if things don’t go to plan.  

Ultimately, I’d like the business to be sizeable enough to employ staff, transforming my role to focus on winning clients and delivering the really big contracts. I’d have a team of experts in their field who help deliver work for other clients. 

Reminding myself that I work for a business also forces me to be strict with the finances. For example, following Christmas when everyone is a bit skint, it would be so easy to borrow a bit from the business account. But if an employee of a business would do that, they would lose their job immediately. Therefore, tempting as it may be, I mustn’t do it either.  

So there you have it. The blog for AMAculturehive comes to an end. There have been real ups and downs. Winning contracts makes you feel like you are standing on top of the world. Being between clients can make you feel so very alone and isolated, but if you keep plugging away at it, contracts will get bigger and stability will come.  

To end things with a bang, here’s a top 10 do’s and don’ts of things I’ve learned over the past six months:  

Do 

  1. ALWAYS save 1/3 of your income for the tax man 
  2. ALWAYS save a bit of money to compensate for quiet months 
  3. Meet people and network 
  4. Market yourself and apply for contracts even when you have work 
  5. Make decisions based on the business, not yourself 
  6. Always recommend other freelancers 
  7. Always celebrate with prosecco when you win a client 
  8. Create a ‘working agreement’ or ‘contract’ with every client 
  9. Create a financial forecast for yourself and your business and stick to it.  
  10. Write yourself a business plan.  

 

Don’t 

  1. NEVER forget to save 1/3 of your income for the tax man 
  2. Don’t convince yourself have messed up your whole career, just because you have a quiet month 
  3. Don’t convince yourself it has all gone wrong, just because you didn’t win a contract 
  4. Don’t give up – chat to people instead 
  5. Don’t have one phone. Have a work phone and a home phone 
  6. Don’t forget to enforce working hours and home hours   
  7. Don’t let your work emails come up on your home devices 
  8. Don’t feel the need to respond ‘immediately’ 
  9. Don’t work from home all of the time 
  10. Don’t forget to train and develop yourself 

Good luck! 

 

This is the final blog in the series. Click here for the full archive of MY FREELANCE JOURNEY. 

My Freelance Journey: Blog Two – Practicalities

AMA conference 2018 © Brian Roberts Images
AMA conference 2018 © Brian Roberts Images

MY FREELANCE JOURNEY is a new bi-monthly blog series where we follow Arts Marketing and Fundraising consultant Beckie Smith on her journey into life as a freelancer

 

Blog 2Becoming a freelancer – the practicalities

So decision made – I’m going freelance.

Where do I start?

Luckily, I had a friend who made the same decision 2 years ago, and we agreed to meet for a play date (child lingo for cup of coffee) to get the low down.

“It’s great,” she tells me. “You can work your hours around the kids (or traveling if you’re young free and single) and if you’re too tired to hit the gym after work, you can go during the day and make the hours up on your sofa watching Bodyguard.”

“It’s awful,” she continues. “Clients call me round the clock and they never remember which hours I work. You can have one baby on your hip, one hanging off your trouser leg, oven gloves on, and just as you are about to get the chips out of the oven, a new potential client calls you. It’s enough to tip you over the edge.”

It was hard at first – I felt I needed to respond to everyone immediately – but I soon realised it was essential to buy a separate phone that I can switch off at the end of the day, separating work from home life.

The next big decision is whether to become a sole trader (self-employed), or to start your own company. This is a massive decision, and it is worth taking your time over. I used this website to understand the pros of becoming a limited company and this one for understanding the pros of becoming a sole trader.

My biggest fear was getting to the end of the tax year and being hit with a massive tax, NI and student loan bill I couldn’t pay. I decided to become a sole-trader, but put in place very strict rules to discipline myself.

I then had to organise my finances. I have a personal bank account into which clients pay me and through which I pay company expenses, and a personal savings account. (Some people prefer to have a separate business account.) I take one third of my fee and transfer it into the savings account to cover my tax and NI at the end of the year. Finally, at the end of each month, I give myself a monthly salary, which I transfer into our family bank account.

Now, about paying yourself – I explored two options:

  1. a) Take what I earn that month
  2. b) Set myself an agreed salary that stays the same.

I went for option B because there will be some months where work is hard to find (January, February and August are notoriously bad, apparently), and as a sole trader you don’t get holiday or sick pay – I didn’t want my family finances to come into jeopardy. But how much should I pay myself? This was my approach:

  1. Calculate the number of days I want to work a week
  2. Multiply that by 47 (not 52, because of holiday pay)
  3. Multiply that by my daily rate
  4. Take off 20% to cover any quiet periods. This is my base line projected annual income as a business
  5. Take off the 3rd for tax and NI
  6. Take off 10% to accommodate work expenses. This gives me my annual income as an individual
  7. Divide this by 12 and pay it to myself monthly

Point 6 may well lead to a seemingly low salary but don’t forget, this is my net, not my gross.

Hopefully, you will not be out of work completely for three months (if so, this might be a good time to take a holiday), and your business expenses may decrease. Over time, funds will slowly start to build in your bank account.

Getting work takes lots of sheer hard grind at first; if possible, give yourself a phased entry into the freelance world. For me, this meant looking after the baby during the day and working every evening for two months building my website, getting legal and joining networks.

If you are currently employed you might consider dropping a day a week or condensing your hours to free up time. But don’t underestimate the toll working every day and launching a business in the evening takes on your family life, grumpiness levels and ability to make a cup of tea without putting coffee beans in the cup by mistake.

Then, it’s all about organisation. I recommend making a spreadsheet to list your clients, your working log, your income and expenditure and your invoice numbers.

I use Trello to organise my time because it enables me to schedule my work, create check lists, add notes, and keep clients up to date on my progress. It’s worth checking best practice for invoicing as well.

Ok, that’s done – what’s next?

Follow Beckie’s journey as she adapts to the challenges and opportunities of freelance life. Next time, Beckie discusses how to work out your unique place in the market.

 

 

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