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How to become a freelance copywriter

Leif Kendall

Kendall Copywriting Ltd

PRO

Going freelance is as easy as breathing.

But it’s also full of surprises, and relentlessly challenging.

Rather like Michael Scott declaring bankruptcy in the American version of The Office, simply by bellowing, “I declare bankruptcy!”, you can decide to be a freelancer, at any time of the day or night, and it becomes true.

Congratulations, you’re a freelancer!

Now, I know what you’re thinking.

“There must be more to it.”

And there is.

There’s *loads*.

Freelancing is a challenge that you can (and will) spend a lifetime puzzling over.

In this article we’re covering all the different aspects to going freelance and staying freelance.

Firstly, let me tell you that I’m not a neutral party to this conversation.

I *love* freelancing.

Freelancing is how I’ve earned a living for the past 14 years (and counting).

Freelancing saved me from a life of menial jobs and incompetent bosses

I wrote a book about freelancing (Brilliant Freelancer).

I started a podcast for freelancers. (Our Freelance Life, now deceased)

I run a community that includes hundreds of freelancers (ProCopywriters).

Freelancing is essential to my being, my family, and my future.

Freelancing rescued me from a closed loop in which I traded my time for a fixed sum, and brought me to an infinite game of endless opportunities. Freelancing has brought richness and variety to my life because it forced me to step outside the confines of a tightly-defined role and an organisational hierarchy. I’ve written a book, travelled, made friends and formed partnerships – all of which wouldn’t have happened if I was still employed.

But that’s enough about me and my love of freelancing. I just needed to let you know that I’m deeply biased.

Back to the important stuff.

Contents

This epic article on becoming a freelance copywriter covers…

1: Set your rates

2: Find your clients

3: Manage your clients

4: Business and legal considerations

5: Money and taxes

 

But first…

Here’s why you can ignore all of this advice

The magic of freelancing is its infinite potential.

When reading this article, please remember that these words are presenting one man’s incomplete vision of a vast, unknowable world.

You could adhere to every suggestion presented here and fail miserably. Or you could ignore me and be a runaway success.

Please use as much of this information as you like. Take what feels helpful. Discard everything else. You know yourself. You know your talents. You know what you want from life. And that’s what matters most.

Now, back to the “advice”.

Set your fees (or rates)

You can charge people whatever you like, in any way you want.

You can charge people premium rates for chunks of your time.

You can charge people bargain prices for doing specific tasks, like writing a page.

You can charge people recurring fees for achieving certain goals.

You can invent a new currency that only you accept.

As a freelancer, you decide your fees and how you charge them.

!But!

There’s always a but.

Your desire to charge certain fees for certain services will have to confront the harsh reality of:

– Market expectations
– Client budgets
– Basic human decency.

You might feel that your expertise is worth £6,000 per day, but if every other freelancer in town is charging £600, you might struggle to find clients.

And while I don’t think we should all be limited by the expectations of others, you won’t always have a choice.

Warning 1: your rates will seem expensive to you

There are several ways to gauge the market and settle on rates that make sense for you.

But before we get into that, I want to you to put aside everything you know about money and shopping. Your freelance day rate may seem very high to you. It might be more than you can afford. You might be outside your own budget. This is normal and good. You are not your own customer. You are not the ideal prospect for your professional services.

Let that sink in.

As a freelance copywriter, you will be offering professional services to *businesses*. The budget of a business is not like your household budget.

So make sure that you’re not choosing your rates or fees according to what seems reasonable to you personally. Your rates and fees only need to relate to the value you offer.

If you can help a business make 5 additional sales that are worth £10,000 each, then your £5,000 invoice is very good value.

Warning 2: low rates can make you look incompetent

Are you inclined to price yourself cheaply?

You might be a modest person with modest ambitions, or perhaps you’re eager to help other fledgling businesses by offering low rates.

There’s nothing wrong with this approach.

But be warned. Because low rates carry a lot of other subliminal messages. In most scenarios, shoppers equate low prices with low value and/or poor quality.

If a client approaches three copywriters to discuss a project, and your price is the cheapest, there are two very likely outcomes:

1. You get the job because the client is price-focused. They are more interested in saving money than in getting quality work. These clients are rarely the best to work with.
2. You lose the job because the client assumes you are the least qualified, capable or experienced.

Being cheap will usually attract cheap clients.

If you want to attract better clients with bigger budgets and do more interesting and rewarding work, you may need to raise your rates.

Rates are a delicate balancing act

Despite the previous point about higher rates, you can’t simply launch yourself into the market with remarkably high fees and expect to succeed.

Unless you have an impressive track record, a degree of fame or an extraordinary skillset, then you will likely have to position yourself in relation to market norms (i.e. what clients expect to pay).

If you find that your rates are getting in the way of you winning work, then you can either reduce your rates, offer simpler (and quicker) proposals, or you can go fishing in a new pond. If your ambitions don’t match the clients you’re attracting, you need to go where the big fish swim – or make yourself findable by those big fish.

Clients that routinely hire freelancers, such as agencies and large corporate teams, are more likely to have reasonable expectations of what freelancers charge. Small companies and startups are less likely to know what’s typical.

Again, these are rules of thumb and you will always find exceptions.

When you start freelancing you are likely to assume that everyone around you knows much more about *everything*. Over time, you will learn that almost everyone is just figuring it out as they go. This is a liberating discovery that you will only truly believe when you see it with your own eyes.

Setting rates – where to get ideas

You can sneak a peek at typical freelance rates just by Googling ‘copywriter day rate’.

For the past 5 years or so ProCopywriters has conducted a survey of about 500 copywriters. We ask about rates, and always find a huge degree of variability here. Some copywriters are charging around £200 per day, while some are charging £2000+. It’s important to note that these are *averages* – not suggestions.

Here are the average day rates from the past 3 years:

2021: £387

2020: £379

2019: £349

Copywriters tend to charge significantly more if the work is particularly complex, the client is particularly large, or if the project involves other elements like strategy, SEO, training, marketing or content design.

Already working as a freelancer and want to charge more? You might like: How to increase your day rates as a freelance copywriter

Tom Albrighton, one of the original founders of ProCopywriters, wrote a book all about the financial side of freelancing: Cash Money Freelancing

Charging for projects

You may have noticed that this discussion of rates still leaves you completely in the dark when it comes to *pricing*.

After all, your rate is only half the equation.

Let’s get down to the details.

There are 4 ways that you’re likely to agree to projects with clients.

1. Client books you for a number of hours or days to work on a Thing.
2. Client agrees to your proposal to complete a project for an agreed fee.
3. Client selects one of your packages in which you do some Things for a set fee.
4. Client pays you a monthly fee in exchange for agreed Things.

1: Time-based bookings

Agencies and large corporations often work this way. They probably appreciate the simplicity, and are likely to have a sense that they need you around for a certain amount of time. For example, an agency will be very capable at estimating the time required for each element of a project (not least because it will be a part of *their* agreement with *their* client).

2: Project fees

If you’re working with a small business on a specific short-term project, like writing an or preparing a social media campaign, they might prefer that you agree a fee for completing the project. This gives the client reassurance that they will get the ‘deliverables’ they expect in exchange for the agreed fee.

3: Package pricing

Can you turn your services into products? Like a bundle of blog posts or web pages? Clients may appreciate being able to see clearly how much the work will cost. Creating bundles may help attract new clients who don’t know what to expect, and who prefer the transparency of seeing an advertised price for a defined service.

4: Retainers

When clients want your help on an ongoing basis, it can make sense to agree a retainer fee. This can give you some financial stability – but it can also remove some of the spontaneity from freelancing.

Jackie Barrie, accomplished trainer and expert copywriter, recommends pairing up with a pricing pal – a professional peer who can review your quotes before you hit send. Your pricing pal can sense-check your pricing and ensure you’re never undervaluing your services.

Samples

You may be asked by potential clients to provide a sample of writing. For this reason, it’s a good idea to gradually compile a portfolio of your work. If you’re just starting out, this portfolio will be very slim. You might need to pad it out by volunteering to write copy for friends, or by writing speculative content (not for an actual client).

Clients may ask you to write a short sample just for them. It’s your call whether you do this or not. Declining the invitation is likely to lose you the job, but in my experience these requests almost never turn into paid work.

As a rule, I do not work for free unless it’s an act of charity (usually for a charity).

Here’s why I think free samples are terrible for copywriters and clients

If a client ever proposes any unorthodox working arrangement or requests something for free, ask yourself, “what would my plumber say?” If the honest answer includes expletives, then you’ll know you’re not on the winning side of the deal.

Branding

Your branding can be a powerful way to reassure potential clients – and to filter out time wasters.

Why?

Because investing in branding (this can be as simple as getting a logo, a website and a domain-specific email address {i.e. YourName@yourownwebsite.com}) shows people that you’re committed to your business, which suggests you’ll still be around next week, and that you care about your reputation, and are unlikely to ghost them if a project gets difficult.

Branding your business also filters out the bargain-hunters and time-wasters, because they will see your professional identity, recognise you as a person of influence and power, and go find some other shmuck to hassle.

Of course, there are plenty of freelancers who go their entire career with just a Gmail address and a Twitter account.

So branding is not essential. But it can certainly be helpful in a very practical, tangible way.

Branding doesn’t have to be expensive. Consider doing a skills-swap with a friendly designer. You write their copy. They design your brand.

I expand on this point, perhaps unnecessarily, in this article:

Why is branding important for freelance copywriters?

Finding clients

Without clients, you’re not really a freelancer. You’re just unemployed! 😢

Finding clients is probably the hardest part of being freelance.

It’s the thing that freelancers talk about most, and the thing you’ll be thinking about routinely for as long as you’re freelance.

Finding clients is an ongoing challenge. You don’t simply ‘find clients’ once, and then cease all efforts in this domain; you’re going to be finding clients forever.

But fear not!

There are ways to make this easier.

Before we get to the tactics you can use to find clients, I want to share the biggest little well-known secret that I keep in mind when looking for clients.

There are two groups of clients, and you get to choose which you seek

Client type 1

The first group is an absolute nightmare to work with. They are sceptical about your skills, reluctant to pay your rates, suspicious of your provenance and they expect you to transform their entire business in exchange for £5.50.

Client type 2

The second group is an absolute joy to support. They have heard great things about your talents, they think your rates are a bargain, they trust your judgements, value your input, and can’t wait to tell their friends about the wonders you work.

Okay, so I may be slightly exaggerating here.

In reality, good clients can do stupid things and terrible clients might actually pay you on time.

How can you tell the difference between these two groups?

Inbound Vs outbound

The difference is simple.

You can either chase clients, or let them come to you.

It’s a little more complicated than this, of course.

*Inbound* (they approach you) **clients don’t just appear out of nowhere. You have to create pathways so they can make their way to you. And that takes time.

*Outbound* (you approach them) clients are often quicker to find, because you can do the work to find them. You’re actively pursuing clients that you want to work with.

You might find that you need to begin your freelance career with clients you can find in a hurry, while you invest time in creating pathways that lead your ideal clients to your door.

That’s why we’ll look at the outbound marketing methods first.

See also: How to find freelance work in a hurry

Outbound: you do the chasing

The first group includes clients that you have pursued and persuaded to work with you. You may have reached out to them directly, or responded to a job ad, or a request on a freelance job site.

While this customer group may turn out to be a valued business partner, they typically require more effort to find, secure and appease. This is because you must do the work to find the job, then work to persuade them to choose you, and then work hard to convince them that they made the right choice.

Applying for publicly-shared jobs and responding to freelance job site listings takes a lot of time. And much of that time will be for nought.

You can spend a huge amount of time chasing clients that don’t want you. It’s heart-breaking when you think about it. ;(

Again, it’s important to note that some freelancers love using job boards, and find long-term clients this way. But for every 1 freelancer who finds great clients that pay fair rates, there will be 99 who waste hours chasing pennies.

Outbound marketing techniques

Need to find clients in a hurry? Time for the direct approach.

Here’s a few ideas.

They gradually get harder – but more immediate in their potential.

– Freelance job sites
– Warm emailing
– Cold emailing
– Social media outreach
– Networking
– Cold calling

Freelance job sites are immensely popular with both clients and freelancers. While there may be plenty of clients on these job boards, there are also many thousands of freelancers, and many of them have lower standards and lower living expenses than you. Pricing is often a race to the bottom. And your relationship with the client may be strained through the constraints of the platform you’re using.

However, there are plenty of legitimate clients who value quality work and have reasonable budgets and expectations that also use freelance marketplaces. Some freelancers swear by these services and make the majority of their income using them.

Warm emailing is when you email people that you already know. There’s a good chance you already know someone who might hire you. This could be a former colleague, an old university friend, or a family connection. It’s worth sending an email to anyone who fits the bill, explaining that you’re freelancing and are available for work (as well as mentioning how you can help).

Cold emailing is when you email people that you don’t know, but suspect they might need your services. There are plenty of agencies, charities and government departments that regularly use copywriters. Create a list of all the most promising partners, and then email them. Be sure to focus on how you can help them, and be friendly.

Social media outreach. If you’re active on LinkedIn and Twitter (in particular) you’re likely to see occasional pleas for help, from people who need you. If you can respond quickly enough, and have the right skills and experience, you can find some of your best clients this way.

You can also use social media to reach out to suitable businesses, just as you might via email. Although social media, and particularly LinkedIn, can help you get to the decision-makers, rather than dropping an email to the reception desk.

Networking can be a joyful opportunity to meet cool people, or an excruciating cringe-fest. And you won’t really know which version you’re getting until you go.

Try to find networking events that aren’t described as networking events, because these social gatherings tend to be more fun, more friendly, and less of an excuse to swap business cards with creeps in shiny suits.

Look for meet-ups, conferences, talks, demonstrations, quizzes – literally anything but ‘networking events’.

And remember to go with the intention of helping people, rather than just finding work. If you go out into the world to be helpful and kind, good things will find you, and you’ll have a lot of fun in the meantime.

Cold calling. The type of person who loves calling random strangers is rarely the same type of person that becomes a copywriter. Cold calling takes either extreme confidence, a radical willingness to try, or utter desperation.

Because cold calling is Hard with a capital H, few people do it. Most freelancers send emails instead. Consequently, cold calling makes you stand out. Sending emails makes you blend in. When you need to stand out, and you need to get work fast, try calling a few of the prospects on your list who are most likely to hire someone like you.

Remember, if you’re calling a handful of businesses that are extremely likely to use freelancers like you, then your call is much more likely to be a welcome introduction. You are not knocking on every door in town to flog double glazing. You are offering a selection of businesses a service that probably need.

Remember: all of these methods are opportunities, not obligations. Pick what works for you. Ignore the rest.

Inbound: clients come to you

The second group is full of businesses that need your help, and they know it.

They have problems and they know you’re the solution.

They’ve gone searching for the best person to solve their problems, and you’re on their short list.

They’ve read about your skills, your services, and your background. Oh, and they took a look at your portfolio and think you’re perfect for their job.

They’re ready to chat about their project and are curious if you would be interested in taking on their work, providing you have the time.

These clients have self-selected themselves as your potential client. They’ve already passed you through the sieve of their expectations, and measured you against their criteria. You’ve passed the vibe check, as the youth like to say.

Sounds amazing, right?

You’re probably wondering, “So how can I get clients to come to me?”

MAKE YOURSELF FINDABLE

This takes a little time and involves some work, but you can get started immediately.

How to become a findable freelancer

You want to be found as a freelancer.

So start by thinking like your ideal client.

How does Dream Client go looking for freelancers?

They might use:

– Google to search for websites
– LinkedIn to browse profiles
– Directories
– Industry forums
– Industry magazines and blogs to get ideas
– Social media to ask for recommendations
– Conferences and industry meet-ups

Insert yourself into the places where your clients go. This can be tricky if your ideal clients are in a different industry to you, but it’s usually possible to get in front of the right people.

Write a list of all the places that your clients lurk, then devote some time to hanging out in those places. Most of these will be virtual spaces, like websites, online communities and webinars, but there may also be popular social venues or professional events that you can attend to learn more about the sector. Be sure to check the comments on popular blog posts too – these can occasionally reveal priceless insights about the community.

The bullet points above can also be used as a task list. How can you get your name in all these spaces?

Get a website

When you have your own website, you have an infinite billboard visible to the entire world. It’s cheap and easy to create your own website using a service like WordPress, Squarespace or Create.

Search engine optimisation is essential if you want people to find your website. If you are a copywriter, you will want to make sure you include words like ‘copywriter’ and ‘copywriting’ in a few key parts of your website:

– Title
– Meta description
– Headings
– Body copy

Your website will perform better if you write occasional blog posts about copywriting (perhaps once a month) and include links to your website everywhere you can (this is called link building and is a craft in itself).

Improve your SEO performance in 3 easy steps

Perpetual marketing

I would bet my house on the fact that you will do some marketing, find some work, stop doing marketing, finish the work, and then wonder why you’ve got no more projects on the horizon.

Every freelancer has this experience at some point in their career.

You get busy, so you stop marketing.

And then the work dries up.

The trick is to try to maintain your marketing efforts even when you’re busy doing the work.

Allow a little time each month to raise your profile, build a link to your website, write an article, talk to a podcaster, or go to a meetup.

Managing clients

Client management requires a subtle set of skills. It’s about managing expectations, planning for the worst, and striving for the best. Over time you will perfect your own personal approach to managing clients, but for now, here are a few things I keep in mind when taking on a new client.

Firstly, I tend to divide clients into a few different categories, according to how they behave as a client, rather than their industry or anything like that.

Agencies and intermediaries. If an agency brings you in to support an ongoing client project, the agency wants you to:

– Make the agency look good
– Do good work that the end-client likes
– Be reliable, flexible and professional

Unfunded startups and owner-directors. When you’re working with a tiny company, potentially under the direction of the owner, that person is spending their own money on you. They are keenly aware of the money they are spending on you, and they may have high (even unrealistic) expectations. The owner of the business wants you to:

– Control costs
– Help them understand what they hell you’re doing
– Deliver transformational work

Corporates. When you’re helping a team within a company, and the money to pay your fees is coming out of a pre-defined budget, the stakes are different. And the people you interact with are more likely to have their own expectations about what you do and how you work. The team you’re working with want you to:

– Contribute to the project so they can meet a deadline
– Make the decision-makers look good
– Act professionally and support their strategic goals

While each client type is broadly different, there are things you can do on every project to reduce the chances of problems arising. Most of this falls into the category of managing expectations.

Spotting the ‘red flag clients’

When you start freelancing, you’ll probably feel a need to accept any client who lands in your inbox. Over time, you’ll learn that some clients don’t work for you, and you don’t work for some clients.

Every freelancer has their own deal-breakers. Some freelancers care most about ethical considerations. Others want clients in certain sectors. You get to choose your ideal client.

Aside from client qualities, you will learn to spot the red flags that indicate future nightmares. You will learn to spot the hallmarks of bad clients over time, but a few classic warning signs are:

Breathless urgency. In 1994, when I was doing my GCSEs at Uckfield Community College, the school office had a sign on the door saying: A LACK OF PLANNING AND FORETHOUGHT ON YOUR PART DOES NOT CONSTITUTE AN EMERGENCY ON MINE. While you wouldn’t want to confront potential clients with such a hostile attitude, it’s a point of view worth keeping in mind; you are under no obligation to give a shit when your clients (or prospects) are hyperventilating because of a professional crisis they have either created or inherited. By all means, get involved, but don’t feel obliged. It’s not your circus and those are not your monkeys.

Unrealistic expectations. Some clients expect you to deliver earth-shattering work on penny-pinching budgets. It’s not possible. And it’s okay to say so.

Focused primarily on price. Money matters. Of course it does. But good clients care about outcomes too. When clients are obsessed over the money, it suggests that the work may be slightly beyond their budget. Such clients are often the same ones that then expect your work to perform miracles and multiply profits (regardless of the quality of their products or the efficiency of their salesmanship).

Emailing at midnight. Night owls don’t necessarily make for bad clients, but night-mailing can be a sign of overwhelm, chaos, or poor planning. By itself, it’s no big deal. But if this red flag is one of several, you might want to decline this project.

Complaining about other freelancers. You’ll eventually encounter the client who begins your relationship by complaining about the previous freelancer they worked with. And while it might be true that the previous freelancer was a swindler or a scoundrel, you might soon discover why the previous freelancer had a hard time completing the project.

Being rude for any reason. A definite warning sign. 99% of clients are wonderful, so don’t tolerate rudeness from the 1%. Just cut your losses and walk away.

Arrogance or dismissiveness. If a client begins a relationship by stating that they could do the work themselves if they weren’t so busy, or tries to minimise your own skills or experience in any way, then you can see that they don’t value you. Working with them could be a constant challenge to get their approval – and get paid.

Remember – you don’t have to give people the real reason for rejecting their enquiry. For all they know, you really *are* booked up for the next 6 years.

You never have 5 full days to work in a week

If you are booking in projects and planning your week, try to leave a little buffer for unexpected changes, delays and surprises.

Because although a calendar might suggest you have 5 full days in the week ahead, you will usually have some interruptions – either from other clients, new enquiries, marketing activity, admin – or any of the million other things that happen outside work.

Some freelancers work on the basis that they will achieve 3-4 actual productive ‘work’ days out of every 5.

I prefer to pack in 5 days work into every 5 calendar days, and then update clients at the end of the week to make excuses for why I’m behind schedule.

Managing client expectations as a freelancer

When you buy a newspaper, you know what you’re getting. If you order a t-shirt online, you can always return it if you don’t like it.

Engaging a freelancer is a little more involved than buying clothes online, but you also need to take steps to prevent disappointed clients, and also create an escape route for those occasions when a client relationship is not salvageable.

There are a few practical steps you can take to protect your client relationships and minimise surprises:

– Brief
– Proposal
– Contract
– Show and tell

Briefing

Agencies and corporates are more likely to send you a brief. Solo entrepreneurs are less likely to know what to include in the brief. You might even be the first freelancer they’ve ever hired. So they may need a little more hand-holding.

Some freelancers respond to enquiries with a briefing document. This is essentially a form that asks the potential client to share a lot of details about what they need. And this seems to work for lots of freelancers, and some clients may appreciate having a simple form to complete.

But personally, I’ve always felt like this is asking my clients to do homework, and I know they’re often contacting me because they’re overwhelmed, or stuck. So instead of sending people a form, I usually suggest we have a chat (or a Zoom call) so we can discuss their requirements. I write down everything we discuss, and this becomes the initial brief.

However you get the brief, DO GET THE BRIEF. It can save you many headaches later.

Proposals

The brief is the client’s statement of their need.

The proposal is your statement of your offer.

The two documents may look very similar in some sections, and may include some of the same material.

But it’s worth defining what you are offering to do in as much detail as you can manage. What is the process you will go through? How many pages will you write? How long will those pages be? How many rounds of revisions are you offering? What happens if the client changes their requirements?

Quantify everything so that your work has a limit.

Contracts

Use a proper contract with every client. Yes, it takes a few extra minutes of admin time, but it will protect you from many potential headaches.

You can pay a lawyer to create a contract for you, or you can use one of the many free contracts circulating online:

The Plain Contract – Google Doc an open source, crowd-sourced contract

Freelance contract – Word document download (from John McGarvey)

Show and tell

Show your clients what you’re doing, as often and as early as possible.

This gives your client reassurance that you’re on the right track, gives you a chance to correct course, and also prevents any major disasters. Just imagine writing 20 pages of a website – only to discover that your tone of voice is all wrong. It’s a risk that’s not worth taking.

You might also prefer to walk clients through your initial outputs. This gives you a chance to explain your creative choices and discuss any queries that they have. This can be a much softer way to gather feedback than having blunt notes left in the margins of Word docs. So rather than just emailing over your first deliverables, consider setting up a Zoom call so you can give them a tour.

 

Business and legal self-employment requirements

Starting a business can be as complicated as you want to make it.

Most people start as a sole trader, because it’s easier, cheaper and less onerous to manage.

It’s not unusual to try freelancing for a few weeks, find it’s not right for you, and then return to regular employment. People do this all the time.

And it’s much easier and cheaper to wind up a sole trader operation than it is to close a limited company.

However, if you’re interested in being freelance for a long time, or are interested in working with larger companies, then you’ll probably find it beneficial to operate as a limited company.

I wrote a very thorough analysis of the differences between being a sole trader and a limited company for Tide (the business bank).

Limited company or sole trader. What to consider before you choose

Invoicing and getting paid

Make sure you have a clear definition of what you are charging and what you are delivering, before you start work. Ask your client if you need a purchase order before you send an invoice (many larger companies require a PO number on any submitted invoices).

Credit terms. Some large companies may insist on 30+ days payment terms. But you are free to specify any length of credit that you like. Some freelancers request immediate payment.

Invoicing software. Spreadsheets will quickly become a frustrating nuisance when it comes to tracking invoices and payments.

A simple invoicing and accounting application like FreeAgent or Xero can help you save time. And some business banks, like Tide, include invoicing features.

Caroline Gibson covers credit control in great detail here: Invoice payment well overdue? Here’s what to do next

Insurance for freelancers

This stuff is boring as hell, but it might help you sleep peacefully at night. And some bigger clients will require professional insurance before you can join their supplier list.

There are two common insurances that freelance copywriters get:

Professional indemnity. This is ‘professional cock-up insurance’. Imagine that your client asks you to write a brochure for them. You mis-type something crucial. The client loses money. The client comes after you to foot the bill. Professional indemnity insurance can shield you from losing everything you own, because you’re indemnified against your mistakes.

Public liability. think of this as ‘somebody fell’ insurance. This protects you in case a client hurts themselves in your premises, or if you cause damage in a clients’ offices.

PolicyBee are genuinely good for freelancer insurance and we honestly only get small amount of money if you sign up using this link.

Sickness

Being freelance isn’t all sunshine and roses.

Getting sick sucks, because you can’t just phone in sick and focus on sleeping. You may have to update multiple clients to let them know how deadlines will be affected by your illness. And you may have to rethink your budget if you’ve got less money coming in.

On the positive side, as a freelancer you can create the requisite flexibility, security and protections so that you can afford to take time to recover when you get sick. And you won’t have to beg a suspicious line manager for time off to see a doctor, for example. Navigating ill-health as a freelancer can be less stressful than doing so as part of a corporate team – particularly those teams that force you to document your illness and gather evidence to prove that you’re not faking it.

If you want to make it easier to be sick, there are a few things to consider:

Save money for unexpected delays. The bigger your savings pot, the more easily you can rest when sickness interrupts a project. Instead of worrying about the impact on your finances, you can focus on sleeping and watching telly.

Income protection insurance. This is effectively a sick-pay plan for independent professionals. It’s an insurance policy that pays you a fixed sum if you’re unable to work for a period of time. I have a plan with Holloway Friendly, but have had the good fortune to never use it.

Have a support team. If you’re too sick to work on a client’s project, could another freelancer get involved? This is another reason why it’s so helpful to have a network of fellow freelancers.

 

Money and taxes

 

Start saving money and brace yourself for taxes.

Think of a celebrity who went bankrupt. It’s highly likely that their fall from fortune is connected to taxes that they couldn’t pay.

And considering the way taxes work, it’s not surprising that so many people, both rich and nameless, come unstuck.

It happens like this…

You make a million. You’re ecstatic. After years of struggling and fretting over pennies, you spend wildly.

A year later, your tax bill arrives.

You owe £470,000.

But because you’re income has dropped after one incredible year, you don’t have enough money to cover the tax.

If you’re entering self employment after years of regular employment, you won’t be familiar with managing your own taxes. It’s time to start paying attention, because it’s very easy to get caught out by large tax bills that turn up long after the money has landed in your bank account.

The simplest way to account for future taxes, is to always put aside 25-30% of your income in a separate account.

This way, you’ll have enough to pay all your taxes and accountancy fees.

The taxes you pay depend on your status.

Sole traders just pay tax on their income less expenses. This is done through a self assessment.

Limited companies pay tax on profits. This is calculated through limited company accounts. As a director, you will also pay tax on the money you withdraw from your business (either as dividends or as a salary).

Be free

As much as freelancing is incredibly flexible, you will still be answerable to a variety of clients. You will still have obligations, deadlines, bills, taxes etc etc.

And you may well find that you prefer the simpler, more predictable environment of regular employment.

That’s absolutely fine, and there’s no shame in having a go at freelancing, discovering it’s not right for you, and then returning to employment. People do it every day, for all kinds of reasons. Plenty of people have multiple stints as a freelancer, at different points in their lives, and find freelancing feels different each time.

Find what works for you. And ignore anyone who says otherwise.

 

What did I miss?

Are you reading this as a prospective or early-stage freelancer?

If so, have I managed to answer most of your questions? If you’re still wondering how to get started, please leave a comment below so we can improve this resource for the next freelancer who comes this way. Thanks for reading!

Photo by Saad Chaudhry on Unsplash

Comments

PRO
10th May 2022

Karen Evennett

What a brilliant article!

PRO
16th May 2022

John Gilheany

Definitive stuff! Lots to refer back to after the first wave of insights have been taken on board 😀

PRO
17th May 2022

Leif Kendall

Thanks John! Glad you’re finding it helpful.

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