Recent statistics from the ScreenSkills' workforce survey showed that close to a third of people in the UK creative industries are self-employed. When you look deeper, different sectors employ freelancers at very different rates, from just 14% in games to 90% in film production.
There are a few different ways of describing freelancer, so it's important to know the key differences:
If you're self-employed it means that you file your own tax returns (ordinarily this would be handled by your employer).
If you're a freelancer it means that you work for multiple clients without being permanently employed by them. You can be self-employed without being a freelancer, but you can't be a freelancer without being self-employed.
A contractor is just a term for a freelancer that works on long-term projects, sometimes for months or even years at a time, but will usually be self-employed, and will usually be freelance.
A limited company is just another method of self-employment, with more options to grow into a larger business in the future. It can be a little more complex to register a limited company, and it's not usually worth it until your business is up and running, and stable enough to support you.
- Moonlighting is loosely defined as working a second job in the evening, or at night. If you're doing a job that isn't too stressful and it feels like you can balance it, then it can be a great way to try freelancing out. It's worth reading your contract of employment to make sure that moonlighting is permitted, and if you're unsure talk to your line manager or someone equivalent.
It's important to state that freelancing is hard. It's the same amount of work as a day job, but with managing your own sales and marketing, finance, tax, facilities and equipment on top. Work-related benefits such as sick pay, maternity pay and holiday pay can also be more difficult as you don’t have an HR department to cover it for you.
But don't let that put you off. Working freelance can give you more flexibility than any day-job and you can decide your own pay, pick and choose jobs that you want to do, and decide on your own hours and workspace.
Five key skills for being a freelancer
As a freelancer, sometimes you will be asked to do a job outside your comfort zone. It may be more complex or specialist than you're used to, maybe it requires outside support. But whether it's by calling up friends in your network, reaching out on social media or searching for information on public forums, you'd be surprised at the resources you already have available. Sometimes the place of work may even provide basic training if the job is highly specialised or if they have their own systems and workflow.
Being able to clearly explain your ideas goes a long way. You may need to communicate your ideas over a coffee, a video call or a frantically-typed email from a train station in the middle of nowhere.
Some freelancers like to log their phone calls online or on paper as well as their emails to avoid any conflict later ("You told me on 2 July that the budget was confirmed..."). This is particularly important when it comes to payment - make sure you agree the conditions of payment and the amount. Being a generally articulate person will help you pitch and tender for bigger jobs at bigger companies and answer any difficult questions they have lined up for you.
Many freelancers have been put out of business by the lure of late-night Netflix, going out and taking holidays whenever they feel like it.
Being dedicated to wake up and start work can be more difficult than you think, so having the discipline to keep your working hours consistent and helping your friends at family understand that you're at work even if you're at home will go a long way in keeping your freelance business successful. Take time to figure out the best routine and structure that works to keep you motivated. Many freelancers start their day with early morning exercise or business meetings to get in gear for the rest of the day.
Understanding your practice and sector is vital. In a traditional job you may be offered training opportunities but when you're self-employed you'll need to pay for training yourself. This is one reason why training is in decline, falling from 64% of creative industry employees taking training during the last 12 months in 2005 to just 51% in 2014. The advent of sites like Lynda and Skillshare can be an affordable alternative to training in-person.
Maintaining your online presence will help employers see that you're engaged and interested in the work you do. When it comes to the offline world, read industry publications relevant to your sector to keep up with the latest projects, technology and issues. Find out where the people working in your industry congregate, and go there.
Self-employment boils down to selling yourself and your skills. From setting rates to writing ‘about’ pages and newsletters to networking at industry events. It can be daunting if you're a bit of a wallflower but the more events you go to, the more people you get to know and the more familiar it all becomes.
Rate cards from a union, diary service or agency can make sure you're setting your rate in line with your peers in the industry. And make sure you keep a roster of clients or a portfolio of work freely available and up-to-date.
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