Kickstart a successful freelance career

Kickstart a successful freelance career

Last Monday (2nd March) I attended the Archives and Record Association’s one day training course Kickstart a successful freelance career in the archives and records sector. At the time I booked the course it was one of several options I was considering but in the intervening weeks, as my previous blog new beginnings describes, I made the decisive step to becoming an archives consultant. 

The day was hosted by Marge Ainsley and Christina Lister experienced freelancers working across the heritage sector who also co-run The Museum Freelance Network. The day was advertised as being practical and inspiring and it certainly ticked both boxes by covering a wide range of topics. It would take several blogs to go through everything that was said and discussed so let me just highlight a few aspects that resonated with me.

1. The realities of freelancing

I was surprised to discover:

  • that almost 15% of the UK workforce was freelance
  • that only 3% want to stop and return to becoming an employee
  • that 20% of sole-traders don’t survive the first year
  • that 80% of freelancers work when they are on holiday

A key reason cited by many of the delegates attending the event was looking to improve their work-life balance. A pointer to the New Economics Foundation’s Five Ways to Wellbeing showed us how to integrate this wellbeing into our freelance work practices. 

2. Finance 101

Understanding the financial implications is a key consideration of going freelance. We looked at registering with HMRC as self-employed, how the tax year works for sole-traders and the impact of working in both an employed and freelance capacity at the same time. Topics like tax limits, National Insurance, allowable expenses and the importance of keeping records were all tackled through worked examples. We also looked at the legal rights regarding late payments (after 30 days) and the reality that some clients will take months to pay, again reinforcing the need for financial resilience.

One aspect I hadn’t encountered on my research to-date was that of “payment on account”. This is the process by which sole-traders make payments in anticipation of the likely tax they will incur once the self-assessment forms have been processed. (There is further information on payment on account on the very readable and informative HMRC website).

3. Establishing your offer

We were all encouraged to think and reflect on what we would offer as a freelancer with emphasis on the difference we can make and the value we will add for a client. This included considering the Japanese Ikigai (“reason for being”) which looks at four aspects:

  • What you love
  • What the world (sector) needs
  • What you are good at
  • What you can be paid for

I wasn’t familiar with this model (see this more detailed account) but it provided a very useful perspective about what we wanted to do, who we wanted to work for and what our “unique selling point” might be. This led into a useful conversation about working out what to charge and to remember that sole-traders have overheads like business insurance, IT equipment and software, travel, training, marketing and much more to cover.

A huge thank you to Marge and Christina for a thoroughly enjoyable day full of practical advice and suggestions. A large number of topics were covered with numerous pointers to further information. I left feeling positive and upbeat about the possibilities. I signed-up to the Museum Freelance Network e-newsletter on the train home and made a note to address the following as a matter of urgency:

  • look into a pension 
  • to put at least 30% of income into a separate pot in anticipation of tax and NI
  • be positive, step outside my comfort zone (occasionally) and create opportunities for myself
  • accept that upto 40% of your time in my first year will be non-client work (building the business)
  • the mantra for the day was “think like a business” – a useful focus and reminder  

If you are considering going freelance – do look out for this excellent course you won’t be disappointed.

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