Equipment and workspaces for freelancers

As a brand-new employee of yourself, you'll be needing somewhere to work and specialist equipment to get you started in your field. 

Ordeal by Innocence © James Fisher, Mammoth Screen 2018

As soon as you start freelancing you'll run into the first hurdle: where are you going to work and find your own equipment. 

The extent of what you need will vary from industry to industry: a laptop to design on, recording equipment for radio or even just basic tools for creating costumes, props or sets. Your first contact with a client should involve a discussion about the tools you need to work and whether you'll be expected to join them in their office or work remotely. When this involves travelling, you then have to question if your rate can cover your travel and accommodation expenses, if they're not covered by the company.

It pays to set out your ground rules early on. If it's not feasible to purchase, maintain and ensure your own tools in your sector, make sure rental costs are part of your initial pitch so that you can do your best work with the equipment you need.

Keeping your work safe

Storing your own projects when you don’t have an IT department can be a bit of a struggle. If you’re a photographer, music producer or graphic designer, you may find yourself with more files and versions than you can handle. While cheap external hard drives are an option, they can be unreliable and are not really ideal to juggle long-term.

World Backup Day has some great information, including an outline of the 3-2-1 principle:

  • have three copies of all important data
  • stored in two different formats
  • with at least one of those off-site

It’s up to you to interpret this. Photographers may want their original photos on a local USB drive, with JPEGs uploaded to a web-based service and a library of DVDs of client work at their office. Video producers may keep a copy of everything on a local server, another drive with a copy of the same data at their house, and an LTO tape set up to keep copies of the oldest work. This may seem like an expensive process to start out, but anyone who’s ever lost client work to a fire, flood or failure will tell you it’s worth it.

You should keep clients' work for at least as long as has been set out in your contract, and as long as you feasibly can as you never know when a client could come back to you to offer you more money for changes, updates and revisions. 

Finding a work space

 Many workers need specialist facilities (think photography darkrooms, ceramic studios or rehearsal space) and sadly their options are more limited than workers who can move around a little more easily. There are a few options for where you chose to base yourself:

Home office
Working out of your bedroom, living room or kitchen raises some obvious challenges. If you share your home with anyone you'll struggle to get time to focus, and setting up your workspace can be a challenge. However, it's by far the cheapest option.

Investing in your workspace is key, so buy the boring stuff like stationery, a decent chair and desk and any of the tools you need day-to-day. You don't want to be hunting around for stamps when your tax return is due. This is especially important if clients will be coming to your home office.

Virtual office
Your address and phone number will show up on most of your paperwork, from your invoices to your tax return. As many freelancers work from home a new service has sprung up that offers a virtual office service. You can get a postbox and address for a monthly fee, with many companies even offering a receptionist that will answer your office line and patch it to your mobile. Large serviced office providers like Regus and Servcorp offer this service, as well as smaller coworking spaces like Hoxton Mix and Impact Hub. 

Renting your own space
If you require meeting space frequently, need somewhere to store your equipment or just want to work with other people this can be feasible depending on your local prices. Some freelancers even come together to form cooperatives, sharing a workspace or studio space to save on costs and generate more work.

If you have connections at a large company with high staff turnover you may be able to negotiate a desk in return for some work or a rental fee. The same goes for post-production facilities in TV and film. If you can find a personal connection rather than a company it will be a lot more affordable. Some even purchase or rent space that they can rent out to others while they aren’t using it as part of their business plan.

Co-working or hot-desking
Co-working spaces are getting more and more popular in larger cities, you just pay your subscription and get access to an office in a central location with basic facilities like printing, meeting rooms, wi-fi and coffee. If you work from home most days it can be a great way to meet up with other freelancers and small companies, have some social interaction, and get a change of scenery. It can also help your focus without the distractions of your home and offer a classy place to meet clients.

Take into account the travel time, membership fee and additional costs for premium services. Some co-working spaces like Impact Hub and many University-based incubators charge extra for more desks, meeting room rental or drinks and food. Finding one that suits your working style is key.

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