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10 tips on freelancing as a digital designer

Dear Doctor, Do you have any tips on freelancing as a digital designer?

Toby Thwaites says...

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I interviewed some freelance digital designers at the end of 2012 about what to expect in your first year as a freelancer in London, which is a helpful resource when you’re deciding whether to make the leap, but what about once you’ve leapt? What are the more logistical elements of freelancing through a recruitment consultancy that you need to be aware of in order to make things run as smoothly as possible? Here are my top 10 tips:

1. Ltd. company or no Ltd. company?

As recruitment consultancies cannot engage with sole traders there are three options open to you as a new freelancer:

PAYE: This is where we take you onto our payroll for the duration of your contract. The paperwork is relatively minimal, you pay tax at source and we will manage your income tax and National Insurance deductions on your behalf.

Limited company: This is where you set-up your own company and manage all of your own business affairs. We pay you on a gross (full rate) basis and you are responsible for your own tax and deductions so we would recommend finding a good accountant who will be able to help you along the way.

Umbrella companies: Instead of being supplied through your own company, you are here supplied through a third party (the Umbrella), who will manage your tax and business affairs and charge you a small percentage of your day-rate as a fee for this service.

In all circumstances, it’s important to get professional advice from an accountant about which position is right for you, and to make an informed decision that works for you but also ensures you are meeting all of your obligations under UK tax laws.

2. Insure yourself

If you choose to set-up a limited company, then this one is a biggie, as recruitment agencies and end clients are engaging with your business, not you as an individual. Hopefully it will never happen, but if for whatever reason a claim is brought against your business then we cannot stress enough the importance of having the right protection in place to meet any of these claims.

So, what insurance should you have? I’d love to tell you myself, but why bother when this example from an insurance company explains it so well.

3. Invest in your own laptop

Whilst many studios and companies have spare machines (or at least a second screen) for designers to work on, we have noticed an increase in freelance designers being asked to provide their own laptop with relevant software. Having a laptop ultimately means that you will be able to take on any project that comes your way, and It would be a huge shame to miss out on a dream project for not having one – This one is really a no brainer.

4. Position yourself correctly

In a highly competitive freelance market, it is massively important to position yourself accurately in terms of your skill-set and day-rate. A good recruitment consultant can be invaluable here – we have a unique birds-eye view of the market, and the types and quality of designers populating it. A good consultant will be able to work with you in positioning yourself to ensure you get the best projects.

5. Have a dedicated CV, and update it

There is a noticeable trend in the freelance market to use your LinkedIn profile as a CV, which is ok but generally comes across as a little bit lazy. As a designer, it’s likely that you focus on finding the right balance between form and function, but unfortunately LinkedIn leans too far towards the ‘function’ side of things. We’re not talking illustrations left right and centre, just a nicely formatted PDF showing core graphic design sensibilities. Whilst there may be similar elements on both a CV and LinkedIn (Summary of skills, work experience, references), it really does make a noticeable difference to clients and recruitment companies.

6. Keep your portfolio up-to-date

It’s one thing saying that you’ve worked on a great project, but it’s preferable to show what you have been working on. Always be sure to put new work in your portfolio where possible – it really will help you secure new contracts. If you’re unable to put work in the public space, we would advise putting together a secure PDF that you can show face-to-face at interview (but please make sure this doesn’t break confidentiality agreements).

If for whatever reason you’re not getting the types of projects you really want, then personal projects can be a great way to beef up your portfolio – we’re a big fan of these, and have our own guide to what makes a great personal project.

7. Excel is your friend

When hiring freelance designers, agencies or companies will often reach out to a number of recruiters, who may all (if you’re really lucky) want to brief you on the same position. In this situation, there are two things you should make sure of:

- That you have been fully briefed (either verbally or over email) on a position and give your (written) consent before recruiters introduce you to the potential hirer

- That you keep track of the projects and companies you have been briefed on

This last point is really important, and incredibly easy to manage. At the point you start freelancing, set-up an excel document that tracks every agency and project you’ve been briefed on, when you were briefed, and the recruiter who briefed you on it. Generally speaking, if an agency crops up and you’ve been spoken to about them in the past 6 months then it’s best to speak to the recruiter who originally briefed you.

If your details are sent twice to a company it is really embarrassing for the recruiter, and generally makes you look a bit disorganised – this is a very simple way to make sure you manage the process smoothly and fairly.

8. Be explicit about your schedule

With a number of different projects with different time-frames coming your way, it is vital that you know precisely what your availability is like, and that you communicate this explicitly before any introductions / interviews are made. It may not feel like needing an hour out for an appointment, or a day off on holiday is a big deal (It’s often not), but in a time conscious environment it really could make all the difference – Communicate clearly to make sure things run smoothly.

9. Clarify overtime at the start of a contract

As a freelancer you will from time-to-time be required to put in the odd extra hour to complete a project. Whilst the odd extra hour here and there will be expected of you within your standard day-rate, when the extra hours become excessive* you may be eligible to charge an overtime rate for evening and weekend work. We advise that before any overtime work is undertaken that you understand your clients overtime payment policy, discuss it with your recruiter, and reach a fair agreement upfront.

* Excessive is often taken on a case-by-case basis, which is why upfront communication is so important.

10. Don’t be a dick

Co-Director of Futureheads Be Kaler mentioned this one in her ‘10 tips on being a good and nice recruiter‘ article last year, and it’s probably the best and most simple piece of advice I have ever had.

As an agency freelancer, your recruiter is vouching for your ability and professionalism on a project and your client are relying on the same.

The digital industry might feel massive at the moment but everyone knows each other, news travels fast, and reputation counts for a lot – Follow the tips above and make sure you’ve got a good one!

  • http://twitter.com/dommurphy dommurphy

    use http://t.co/g8auNlMkzu I use this all the time and get great quality

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