How to become a freelancer

It’s a huge step going from working for the man to being in control of your own time and work, so here is some advice on how to become a freelancer.

Start slowly

If you can, become a freelancer while you have at least a part time job. You can take your time, do good work and pick your clients this way instead of taking on every crap project that comes your way for low rates because you’re desperate to pay your rent.

If you’re going to go freelance full time, try and get a few months living expenses in the bank first as a buffer. This will give you some time to get things up and running properly, but you still need to be making enough money to get by quickly if you want this freelance business to be sustainable. Believe me, being critically stressed while trying to be creative is not a good place to be.

Choose your services

It’s tempting to offer everything to everyone at first, but you’re better off focusing on what you’re good at AND what you can make good money doing. If you’re starting off slowly, you can have some confidence in yourself and your abilities and take on great projects that will help you build your freelance career.

This is a business too, so focus on the profitable services and projects to make sure you can keep this going. It’s tempting to just do the fun stuff now you don’t have a boss breathing down your neck. If you want to set aside time to work on fun things or do pro bono work for people that’s fine, but do it in a measured way after you’ve hit your targets to pay your bills and save some money each month.

The Business Model Canvas can help you work out what to offer, who to offer it to and how to reach them.

Build a portfolio

A good way to get your portfolio started is to do a couple of free projects for people you like, who you think will appreciate your work and who will give you a testimonial. Having some projects to show prospective clients makes it so much easier to sell them your time as they can see what you’re capable of.

Charities and other non-profit organisations often appreciate your volunteering your time to do things that could go on your portfolio. Be careful you don’t end up working with highly disorganised people or time vampires on projects that will never see the light of day however.

If you can’t find any people to do work for to build your portfolio, make some things for imaginary companies or brands to demonstrate your skills.

Get organised

Even if you do a few gigs for free, you’ll be taking money from people soon so you may as well set up a business bank account and work out how you’re going to invoice people. I set up a TSB business account in my lunch break from work one day, and as I wasn’t asking for any credit it was easy and painless. It costs me £5 a month after the free startup period. Other banks may offer business banking for free too.

I started off sending invoices made in MS Word, with the filename the client name and invoice number: “0001 – John Smith”. I now use an automated billing system but this lo-fi approach got me up and running.

There are other systems like Harvest, Invoicely etc if you want to go the cloud route from the start. A system that chases overdue invoices automatically will save you a lot of time emailing people.

If you’re doing complicated stuff, a project management system can help. You can probably handle things by email to start with though.

Have at least a simple contract and terms in place when you take on a project and take some money up front to weed out the time wasters. The freelancer subs on Reddit are full of people moaning about being ripped off because they didn’t do this. Do this.

Getting freelance clients

This can be the trickiest part of how to become a freelancer. You first need to find people who need what you can offer, and then you need to sell yourself to them.

Finding clients can tie in to what services you decide to offer. I went for web design as it’s a huge market and people often need upgrades etc over time. Pretty much everyone with a small business is a potential client for me.

If you’re still working a day job and freelancing on the side, when people ask you what you do, try telling them your freelance job first. Many jobs come via word of mouth referrals and this can be a good way of kickstarting things.

Networking can be a good way to meet potential new clients, as well as asking your contacts if they know anyone who needs your services they could introduce you to. Offering referral fees has consistently brought me enough work that I haven’t ever paid to advertise anywhere.

Often overlooked is contacting people you want to work with directly or via your network. Being able to work with businesses or people you have chosen is powerful as you may find your motivation and enjoyment levels higher than working with randoms.

There are paid advertising methods like Facebook ads and Google Adwords but I found they brought low quality enquiries that rarely turned into profitable projects.

Agencies can be a good way of building freelance skills and contacts. You will be working for bosses again, but day rates can be attractive and meeting people in your industry can be very useful.

At the bottom of the pile are freelance marketplaces like, upwork etc. If you’re freelancing in a developed country, you’ll be up against other freelancers in India, the Phillipines etc who can massively undercut you. There are good projects on these sites but the time investment might not be worth it.

Selling yourself might seem a foreign concept if you’ve been working a day job. If you are good at what you do and clear about what you can offer, with a portfolio of similar work, your services should sell themselves.

Stating your prices can be hard at first, but stick with it and don’t negotiate against yourself by offering discounts. I strongly believe that doing that and being unclear about your offering is what hampers many freelancers. Act confidently (even if you don’t feel it) and don’t be afraid to walk away from a bad deal or if you get a weird feeling about a client.

Deliver the work

To be successful, you need to finish the projects you take on and deliver what’s been agreed. This is very important to build your reputation. If you flake out and deliver late or not at all, that person is very unlikely to recommend you. Be reliable.


In this articles on how to become a freelancer, we’ve covered starting off slowly while working a day job, choosing your services, building a portfolio, getting organised, finding clients and delivering the work. Hopefully by following this guide you can start off your freelance career with as little stress as possible!

Develop your freelance strategy with the Business Model Canvas

I recently went on a course run by The Big House in Nottingham called the Startup Success Series. They used a tool called the Business Model Canvas to help us freelancers and businesses work out and refine our strategy.

What is the Business Model Canvas?

In simple terms, the Business Model Canvas is a structure to work out what you offer, who to offer it to, how to offer it to them and the supporting infrastructure (resources, money etc).

It’s a free download from  and can all fit on one large poster to go on your office wall to keep you focused. We used a huge version with post it notes stuck all over to get our thoughts in order.

Customer Segments

This could be “mass market” or a “niche market”. Rather than trying to offer products or services to everyone, freelancers might focus on one type of customer, maybe “young mums” or “non-profit organisations”.

Value Propositions

These are your actual products or services that solve problems or meet the needs of your Customer Segment. This is absolutely vital, because if you don’t offer what your customers need and want your business cannot succeed. Closing this gap can involve market research and taking feedback into account to change your offering.

Customer Relationships

How do your customers expect to deal with you? Will it be via a call centre, support ticket only or personal service?


These are the ways you will reach your target customers. Website, social media, distributors, word of mouth and trade shows are all channels.

Revenue Streams

How will you make money from your customer segment? Selling them products, services or subscriptions are all potential revenue streams and can be combined. If you offer design, you might also offer print services or websites.

Key Partners

Who will be essential to your business? Manufacturers, investors, technical platforms and experts could all be key partners.

Key Activities

These are the things that you’ll spend the most time doing. In the case of a designer this might be working on client projects, and doing your own marketing.

Key Resources

If you’re a freelancer or small business, these resources could be human, financial, physical and intellectual.

Cost Structure

This covers the major expenses for your freelance business. This could be advertising spend, referral fees or software costs.

Why use the Business Model Canvas?

For your business

In my own experience as a freelancer, I started off offering a wider range of products and services. This has been refined over time to focus on the more profitable and enjoyable elements of what I can provide. This has made me happier and increased profit. By using a model such as the Business Model Canvas earlier in my freelance career I could have got here quicker!

It’s easy to offer too many things to too many people, diluting your effectiveness and reducing quality of your products and services. By focusing on a clear customer segment and value proposition you can be a more successful freelancer or small business.

For The businesses of your clients

If you’re a freelance designer, web designer or work with small businesses to promote what they do, the Business Model Canvas can be a good way of refining their offering and marketing message. Many small businesses aren’t 100% clear about what they do or who their customers are so this is a quick way of working that out.

Freelancer interview: Claire Baldwin, copywriter

This week’s interview is with Nottingham based freelance copywriter Claire Baldwin.

Who are you, what do you do and how long have you been freelancing?

My name is Claire Baldwin and I run my freelance copywriting business Elytra Copywriting. I mostly write digital copy, such as website content and blog articles, but I’ve also written print copy for posters, leaflets, letters and more, as well as various proofreading and editing work. I started freelancing in October last year.

What led you to start freelancing?

I love writing and it’s always been my dream to write for a living. I finished university right in the middle of the recession and it was hard enough to get any job, let alone my dream job! After a few years of awful jobs, great-but-temporary jobs, and mediocre jobs that weren’t quite what I wanted, I finally decided to set up my own business so I could be as sure as possible that I’m doing what I actually want to do.

What three things do you wish you’d known before starting out?

    1. That it would actually be fun, interesting and enjoyable. I’d considered freelancing for years but was put off by the fact that it would be hard. Sure, it can be hard sometimes, but it’s also incredibly rewarding.
    1. Not to be too trusting or too eager to please. There’s nothing wrong with charging a deposit up front, or saying “Actually, no. I can’t do that.” It’s my nature to be nice to everyone and to do whatever I can to please them, which are good qualities, but I’ve had to settle into the business headspace a little more.
  1. This will sound terribly naive, but I hadn’t realised that you still had to pay tax even if you’re not VAT registered. It’s not an issue, it’s just something that I’d never had to know before. I don’t know why they don’t teach these things in school!

What issues have you had since starting up?

One of my very first clients still hasn’t paid me for the work that I did, and I’m currently in the process of court proceedings. It was quite a disheartening situation for a while, but I’ve learned a lot and grown from the experience. We’d all like to think that other people have the same moral code as us but unfortunately that’s not always true. No matter what business you’re in, at some point you’ll come across someone who doesn’t want to pay.

What’s the best thing about freelancing?

The obvious answers are the freedom and flexibility, but I also really enjoy meeting new people. Going to networking events terrified me at first but I really look forward to them now. There are so many fascinating and creative people in our community, and speaking to other people who are in the same boat makes you feel less alone.

How would you like to develop your freelance career in the future?

As long as I’m enjoying myself, doing work that I love, and meeting interesting people from time to time, I’ll be happy. I currently have a part-time job three days a week, which is great in terms of stability, but I’ll probably want to work for myself full-time eventually. I’m still only a freelancing caterpillar at the moment but I’m hoping to become a freelancing butterfly one day.

Anything else you’d like to tell anyone thinking of or currently freelancing?

Freelancing is harder than you think but it’s also better than you think. It’s scary and you’ll always feel like you don’t know what you’re doing but every day you get a little better and a little more confident. Then all of a sudden it actually feels like it’s your job and not just something you’re playing at. And the sense of pride that you get from doing it by yourself is just amazing.

“Deep Work” and how it will help your freelance business

In this blog we’ll discuss the concept of ‘Deep Work’, why it’s important to your freelance work and offer some tips on how to actually do this Deep Work.

What is deep work?

Deep Work is a term coined by author Cal Newport in his book “Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World”. It’s the opposite of being distracted by phones, emails and social media – focusing on one task for a period of time. With multitasking a myth and just meaning doing more than one thing in a less effective way, and the ‘cognitive switching penalty‘ putting us back to square one, deep work is a single focus to produce better results.

Why is deep work important for a freelancer?

As a freelancer our time is valuable. We may be getting paid by the hour or by the task, and either way we need to get on with the important paid tasks as we’re not getting a salary to turn up and sit at a desk as is the case with many jobs. It’s a rare company that accurately monitors productivity and its easy to coast if we’re not feeling like working hard when on a salary. As a freelancer, wasted time is costing you money.

If you’re doing any kind of creative pursuit, getting into the right mindset is vital to do your best work. Settling down for a few hours can mean the difference between a blank page and a great result that your clients are delighted with.

Close the browser, put down your phone, and roll up your fucking sleeves. The creative process takes time, effort, and courage—not Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

How can you do deep work?

Doing Deep Work is a case of focusing solely on what you’re doing. To this end, you will need to remove all other distractions. This could be your phone, email program, TV, kids or whatever else is taking your attention away from your task. This can be scary at first, with worries about people not being able to contact you and that fear of missing out. The more you put time aside to focus on work however, the more you realise that people can (usually) wait and that the world will still be there in a couple of hours.

This concept fits well with the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and Getting Things Done approach – choosing the most important tasks and getting them finished before allowing distractions and other peoples agendas to dictate your actions.

If it’s too much to focus for an entire morning, start off with say 30 minutes to complete a smaller task. The Pomodoro technique can be helpful with this.

If your job is not online, turning off your internet can help focus you on the task at hand instead of checking social media or emails or browsing random fluff instead of getting on with your work.

I also keep a note taking app open while working so I can dump any stray thoughts into that and deal with them later.


In this article we’ve discussed what Deep Work is, how it will benefit your freelance work and offered some tips on how to actually achieve this Deep Work in daily life.

Freelancer Interview: Matthew King

Our second freelancer interview is Derby based designer Matt King. Read on to hear about Matt’s experience of working in his freelance design business.

Who are you and what do you do?

My name is Matthew King and I run my own freelance graphic design business called Matthew King Creative. I offer services in branding, print & digital design and work with businesses ranging from startups and local business to fully fledged brands such as Bundesliga, Go Outdoors and Erewash Borough Council.

What led you to start freelancing?

I started working freelance part time on the side as a way to enhance my skills and eventually the business started growing and gaining attention. When I was approached by the Bundesliga to work for them as freelance digital designer I couldn’t refuse and made the jump!

What three things do you wish you’d known before starting out?

  1. That it isn’t as daunting as what it seems and is in fact extremely fulfilling.
  2. Understanding the value of my work and pricing it more confidently.
  3. To have known more about the great tools there are out there to help you manage your work and time.

What issues have you had since starting up?

Pricing my work correctly so it matches the value of the services I offer and being confident in quoting prospects.

What’s the best thing about freelancing?

I love the ability to be able to manage my own time and work with numerous agencies, clients and business. In contrast to the old agency life where I’d work 35-40 hours a week 48 weeks per year, freelance has enabled me to work from home 1-2 days a week, work in house with 1-2 different agencies for the rest of the week so its varied. You become exposed to working & communicating with so many more people.

How would you like to develop your freelance career in the future?

I’d like to grow my network, meeting new people and businesses while developing the working relationships I have with my existing clients. I’m a big sports fan and would like to score more great projects like that I did with the Bundesliga.

Anything else you’d like to tell anyone thinking of or currently freelancing?

That it can grow much quicker than you would realise and have the confidence in your abilities to be able to freelance. Just start out on the side of your full-time job if it’s easier and see where that takes you. On the other hand I do know some individuals who have been so bold as to make the jump without the work in place and they have still flourished!