Many of us have thought we could work for ourselves, but few take that big step. Here are the basics on how to set yourself up as a freelancer.

Choosing how to operate 

Many people start doing freelance work alongside their main job, notably in the creative or consultancy industries. This is a safe starting point, allowing you to build up contacts and business. You can also test the water to see if you enjoy working in a freelance, consulting or contractor role, before committing to going for it full time. 

If you decide to go full time, you can either set yourself up as a limited company or work as a sole trader. These require some thought, as there are various tax, legal and financial implications. A limited company is a distinct entity and protects you with limited liability. Plus, being a registered company sounds more professional, which is essential in some markets. Sole traders enjoy simpler tax returns and accounts, and there's no need to publish financial information about the company, but all the risks and any debts are your own. 
 

Creating the business

The internet has helped create a boom in small businesses, making it easy to create a website selling your services. With a clear explanation of what your business offers, a strong logo and a little search engine optimisation, you can appear near the top of local or industry-specific search results. That, and some strong word of mouth from your first clients or a spot of advertising, is a good base to get your freelance career started. 

The key to success is to focus on what makes your offering distinct or unique from the competition, or what you do better than others. Once you have several clients, you should also ensure that you treat them as your only client, to ensure you don't over-focus on one. That's because what starts out as low-price or infrequent work could easily become lucrative and regular payments later on. Finally, always ensure there is a clear brief or contract from your client to work to - ambiguity and verbal agreements are not a freelancer's friend. 
 

Ticking the freelance boxes

If you're working from home, you may need to check issues like paying business rates, potential changes to your home insurance or even mortgage and other issues. If you require a vehicle or specialist equipment for work, there could be tax implications for those. Also, if you deal with the public, a public liability insurance policy is a must, to protect you should something go wrong or if there is an accident. 

If you are unsure about any aspect of becoming a freelancer, there are plenty of online resources offering tips and advice from the government, successful freelancers and small businesses about what to do, and what not to do. Once your operation is up and running, you can progress from being a sole trader and move to the greater protection of a limited company, or you could find yourself working with similarly-minded freelancers and form a partnership. For a successful freelancer, the sky's the limit.

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