Becoming a Freelancer After University

Our guest contributor, Zeeshan Anwar, head of compliance at Dolan Accountancy offers some useful guidance into becoming a freelancer after university. His insights could help you decide whether this might be a good option for you, either as a temporary earner while you find a permanent job, or as a means to becoming fully self-employed.

Photo by Andrew Neel on Unsplash

After graduating from university, there are so many different opportunities and paths for you to choose from, which is both exciting and overwhelming! Whilst freelancing is not the most common or traditional career path, it can be incredibly rewarding working within various industries from writing to graphic design. Whether you want to freelance to gain some experience for full-time employment, or you wish to dive headfirst into being your own boss, this article will guide you through the process and help you decide whether freelancing is right for you.

Is freelancing right for you?

Before jumping into the world of freelancing, it’s important to consider whether it could be right for you. There are various different factors to take into acoount, including your skills, passions and business sense. Here are some key questions to ask yourself:

Are you good at organising your time?

You’ll often be juggling multiple projects at once with several deadlines; organising and prioritising are key.

Are you comfortable working alone?

Sometimes you will collaborate with other freelancers and clients. However, freelancing is often a solitary career with a lot of time spent alone.

Can you wear multiple hats?

Whilst most of the time you’ll be focused on your freelance work, you will also have to be your own boss, pitch to clients, market yourself, network, invoice and carry out bookkeeping. If you enjoy all aspects of business, freelancing could be for you.

Can you pitch yourself?

A huge part of securing clients is having self-confidence and selling both yourself and your skills. Communication is key when freelancing.

Can you self-motivate?

When freelancing, you are the boss. Whilst this offers a great deal of flexibility, it also means that you must be self-motivated and disciplined when it comes to distractions like Netflix or social media.

Are you comfortable with uncertainty?

Particularly at the beginning of a freelance career, workflow and income can be unpredictable. You need to be constantly pitching to new clients, and be able to manage your finances, as work is not always guaranteed.

Do you have a skill?

Whether you’re a freelance photographer, web developer, videographer or writer, you need to stand out with your amazing skills.

Different ways of working as a freelancer

Freelancers have two main options when it comes to working for themselves: setting up a limited company or working through an umbrella company.

A limited company is a separate entity that you can create to run your business. This means that your limited company’s assets and liabilities are completely separate from your personal finances. Limited companies require annual tax returns and annual accounts to be filed with HMRC.

Freelancers can instead work through an umbrella company which acts as an intermediary between freelancers and the client. Umbrella companies take care of tax and payroll as you are an employee of the company. As a result, students and recent graduates may prefer working through an umbrella company which takes care of tax and National Insurance, meaning there is no need to file accounts, making it much less intimidating to beginners.

What are the advantages of freelancing after university?

Freelancing comes with plenty of benefits, which is why it’s such a popular career choice for many people.
Freelancers can charge more for their work, dictating exactly what they want to be paid, which is often more than junior full-time roles. A great deal of freedom comes with being your own boss: you can set your own working hours, take time off when you need it, and work wherever you feel most productive. Many life lessons can be learnt when freelancing, including independence, self-motivation and dealing with uncertainty. One of the main benefits experienced by freelancers, is being able to work on projects they are passionate about. Equally, it is liberating to be able to turn down work that does not resonate with you.

Be prepared for the challenges

Before becoming a freelancer, it’s important to consider some of the challenges you are likely to face, particularly when first starting out.
Finding clients and establishing a consistent workflow can be an initial challenge for new freelancers, at least until you build a reputation in your field. As freelancing is very competitive, it can be hard to increase your pay rates; however, it is important to know your worth and not allow people to take advantage of you as a new freelancer. Clients can sometimes make unrealistic demands, so knowing when to push back or say no is important.
One ongoing challenge for freelancers is being paid on time and having to chase invoices. One way to combat this is to establish clear payment terms with the client before commencing any work. Accepting a range of payment types, and sending automated reminders will also help to ensure you are paid in a timely manner.

Finding clients as a new freelancer

If you have just started your freelance journey after university, you might wonder how to find paying clients with few if any contacts. Here are some actionable tips that will help you get started:

Tell your network

Sharing your freelance journey on social media and LinkedIn can be a great way to reach potential clients.

Attend events

Going to events in your industry is an effective way to network with potential clients and other freelancers.

Create a portfolio

Even if you don’t yet have any paying clients, you can still create a portfolio. If you’re a writer, consider creating your own samples. A photographer? Get out there and take pictures! Crafting your own portfolio proves to clients that you’re talented. Instagram is a great way to showcase creative work (and it’s free!)

Use job boards

There are plenty of freelancing job boards that can be a great way to land your first client. These can be used to build your portfolio initially.

Cold email

Make a list of clients you would like to work with and start reaching out. Simply sending an email with your portfolio and a note about what you can offer them, is a great way to gain some contacts.

Are you entitled to any holiday pay as a freelancer?

Freelancers are not entitled to holiday pay as they are not in official employment. You are free to take a holiday whenever you like, but this will be unpaid. However, you can use an umbrella company, which will act as your employer when working with clients. In this case, you will be paid on time, and will have access to certain benefits that employees have, including holiday pay. Find out more about the employment rights freelancers are entitled to here.
Freelancing can be incredibly fulfilling as a way to pursue your passions, be your own boss and grow your confidence. You’ll become experienced in all aspects of business which is very rewarding, as long as you’re prepared for the challenges along the way.

Find out more:

Braving the Storm: Going Freelance
A freelance writer shares tips on how to set up your venture, whether you want to launch an exciting new career or kickstart your passion project
Why I Chose the Life of a Freelancer…
A personal account by a designer, who explains why he chose to leave his permanent job to become a freelance video editor & photographer
Asking for Money as a New Freelancer or New Business
Pricing your work can be hard, particularly when you start out. An experienced videographer shares some tips she has learned along the way 
Pricing Your Services when Self-employed
Things to know when figuring out how to price your work