How to work as a freelancer
It can be very useful to create a business plan or a business model canvas for your freelancing practice. It will help you put your thoughts on paper and think through what you want to do and how. A good plan can help you evaluate your progress, prioritise your workload and make better decisions on the work you pursue.
Create a basic plan for your business
You don’t need to create a long business plan (unless you're applying particular funding which requires it). A basic plan should include some clear financial and marketing goals for the next year, a budget and a short explanation of your business idea and your market.
It is important that your business plan is well researched, as it will act as your road map to a successful business.
- Structuring a business plan 2015 (PDF 99KB)
- Gov.uk - Writing a business plan
- Start-up donut
- Writing a business plan - MOO (Design Works Wonders)
- Decide how much money you want to earn through the business and what salary you’ll need to survive.
- How many products do you need to sell, or projects do you need to complete, to achieve your financial goals?
- Think about what products or services you will offer.
- What are the outstanding features and key benefits of your products and service? – are these well explained on your website?
- What price will you sell at?
- Think about who your clients/customers will be.
- Who will collect or commission your work?
- What kinds of people will use or buy your work? What kind of life do they live? What age or gender are they?
- Think about how your clients will access your work.
- Create a website/ portfolio site that showcases your work, expertise and what you can offer.
- Utilise social media to create a network and professional reputation and brand story around what you do and why.
- If you do need a more formal business plan you can use our template to help. Download Structuring a business plan 2015 (PDF 99KB).
When you’re setting goals it’s a good idea to start with what you want to achieve in 1 or 2 years time.
Set yourself some SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Time-bound) goals for your finances and marketing, for example: “I want to earn £12K from my design work with 20 projects this year”, or “I want to get eight illustration commissions this year, earning me £10K.”
Presenting and pitching
Once you've gained interest from a client you might need to pitch an idea or your service. This could be in the form of a presentation or might be through prototypes, depending on the industry.
Preparation, practice and presentation are the key to a successful pitch.
Working with a client
Some of the things you will need to consider when working with a client are:
- Your fee and how much you are prepared to do the work for. Consider the amount of work/number of hours that will be involved.
- Your deadlines, and other work commitments, and how you plan to fit everything in.
- How you will maintain communications with the client?
- What’s included in the service you’re offering (eg. Updates, redrafts (how many) – so that expectations are in writing.
- Decide in advance which areas you are prepared to compromise on.
The negotiation itself can take the form of a face-to-face meeting, an email or phone call but it is important to close a negotiation with an agreement. Repeat back to the client what your understanding of the agreement is, and consider whether you need to create a contract for clarity and protection.
Tips to surviving as a freelancer
Be flexible. You need good listening and people skills. You need to be self-motivated as there might be long gaps between jobs. You’ll also have to present yourself confidently to potential clients on a regular basis.
Be realistic about your earnings. Freelancing can be lonely, so make sure you meet up and network with other creative freelancers and sole traders on a regular basis.
Develop yourself in your downtime. Do online courses to improve your technical, creative and business skills.
When you start a new project or job, make sure you get a written agreement signed by you and the client.
If you work day-to-day at your client’s studio, the contract might include the job title, an estimate of the time it will take and your daily rate. If you’re creating an entire project for a client, such as a website for a new business, then it needs to include much more information, such as how many changes will be allowed and an estimate of your turnaround time.
Make sure you have written confirmation of the following:
- Will you be able to show the finished work in your online portfolio to future clients?
- Who will have the copyright of the work? For more information visit UAL’s Creative IP website creativeip.org
Download our learning guide
Find out how to exhibit and sell your work, including opportunities to exhibit with Careers and Employability and guidance on selling work.
Get advice on self-promotion and marketing yourself as a creative professional.