Besides the obligatory technical skills and knowledge, there are other things to take into account to become a successful freelancer or contractor. If you dream of going the self-employed route, then it’s important you’re aware of what it takes to change careers and achieve long-term success.
As contractor accountants, we want to help you on your journey there, which is why we’re looking into a few things you can do to increase your chances of success. Take a look.
You can’t do your job in a vacuum. When you’re employed, you can easily chat to your co-workers, attend events, go to industry-specific conferences, and more. When you’re self-employed, you may not have co-workers, but you can still attend events and conferences and talk to people.
In fact, networking is one of the most important things you can do as a freelancer or contractor, since it helps you to develop relationships with key people in your sector and to find work. You can network through LinkedIn and connect with your peers and potential clients, as well as sign up for industry events, like trade shows and presentations. You can also join online groups dedicated to your sector.
There are endless possibilities to connect with others, so see this as a crucial part of becoming self-employed.
Being Mindful of IR35
You can still be successful even if your contracts are within IR35. However, you need to be aware of what this legislation is and what it means for you – as well as what you can do to minimise its impact. When you’re inside IR35, you must pay all the income tax and National Insurance contributions you owe HMRC.
This also means that you should charge the appropriate fees, since you’ll pay more tax if inside IR35. If you’re looking for long-term success, including financially, this is certainly something to keep in mind. We can help here at Gorilla Accounting; check out our “What is IR35?” page and get in touch if you’d like to learn more about this legislation and how to stay compliant.
Being a Self-Starter
Another thing to consider is whether you can go out and search for jobs, since you’re the one responsible for finding work. Being a self-starter means being able to thrive in this type of environment. It can be difficult to get used to it when you’ve been employed most of your life, but it’s not impossible.
Persistence is key here as well. If you give up easily or get demoralised with unexpected challenges or obstacles, then it may be harder to keep going until you achieve the success you’re looking for. If something happens – for example, if a client decides to cancel a project at the last minute – you must be able to brush it off and carry on, even if it’s upsetting.
After all, you have to continue working for your other clients in order to continue earning. So, if you’re interested in self-employment, make sure that you can deal with this side of the business.
Another key trait that successful freelancers and contractors share is the ability to be flexible. Due to the nature of self-employment, it’s crucial that you can adapt to new situations and circumstances, and that you’re ready for the unexpected. For example, you may want to get a particular gig but, if you can’t find exactly what you’re looking for, you may have to take on a different contract that requires you to make use of other skills.
You’re also likely to have to work very early in the morning or late in the evening. While you certainly have more control over your schedule when you’re self-employed, you still have commitments and deadlines to meet. So, you have to be able to work at odd hours even when you don’t feel like it.
In addition, you may not always enjoy the work you’re doing either. There are going to be parts of a project that are not as exciting to you and, when that happens, you must be able to push on until that part’s done.
If a client needs work completed by Monday, then you may have to work evenings and the weekend as well. When you opt for a freelancing or contracting career, keep this in mind.
Growing Your Skills
Improving your skills and learning new ones is also important. You don’t want to become stagnant, especially because things change all the time, and you must be able to keep up with them. For example, if you’re an IT contractor, you know just how crucial it is that you keep investing in your skills in order to stay relevant. Technology is a rapidly moving sector, but it’s not the only one, so carve time out of your busy days to attend courses and learn new skillsets.
If you’re a graphic designer, you should stay on top of what’s popular at the moment. If you’re a fashion guru, you must be aware of the latest trends. As a solicitor, you have to know every time a regulation is updated or introduced.
So, this means that it’s your responsibility as a freelancer or contractor to develop your skills and keep them up to date. Doing so also allows you to charge more, so it has several benefits. If you were employed before, your employer usually set out development plans or ensured you had the necessary training for the job, but that all changes when you become self-employed.
And it’s not just hard skills that you should invest in. Soft skills like time management, organisation and communication also need to be developed. They will make your life easier and help you to network with others better or to organise all the projects you have going on at once.
One thing successful freelancers and contractors have in common is that they set goals for the work they do, for their business and for their personal development.
Self-discipline and motivation are vital for this, as they help people to stay on track and to know which direction to take their business. Goals can also help you to feel a sense of accomplishment.
However, successful entrepreneurs are not so inflexible that they can’t re-evaluate their previously set goals and create new ones. This is because circumstances change, so it’s important that self-employed individuals are able to change as well.
Reaching Out to Potential Clients
While you may already have a good client base, you should still consider trying to get new customers. This is because being a contractor or freelancer doesn’t offer as much certainty as being employed – you need to hunt for work to do and this is not always guaranteed. Likewise, a reliable client may one day choose to stop working with you, so having your eggs in more than one basket can help you during slower times.
You can do this by emailing people, approaching them during events, and more – getting new contractors is not always an immediate process either, with details hammered out for weeks or months. So, already having a list of potential clients on the backburner can be helpful.
This might seem obvious, but it’s worth mentioning just how important it is for contractors and freelancers to meet all deadlines. Doing so can help you to get more work from the client and to get good references. For many self-employed individuals, word-of-mouth is a big part of getting new gigs, so keeping up a good reputation is crucial.
Set realistic goals with your clients so that you can deliver work in a timely manner. No point stretching yourself thin or overpromising if you can’t complete the tasks when you say you can. If you’re unsure how long it takes, measure the time you spend on similar tasks and use it for reference.
No matter how long you believe a certain task will take, it’s always good to add extra time just in case. The project may turn out to be more challenging that you originally thought, or something may come up in your personal life that prevents you from completing it on time.
It’s crucial that you stay organised, as you’ll likely work on several projects at the same time, so knowing how long everything takes ensures you can meet your deadlines.
You may also want to break a large project into smaller tasks, each with its own deadline, since that can help you to stay on track to complete the project.
Taking Time to Reflect
It’s not all about work. While you have schedules to meet, it’s still crucial you take breaks to avoid burning out. Whether throughout the day or by taking a holiday, think about downtime as something you need, not an indulgence. No one can keep working day in and out without a break so, if you want to remain productive to continue offering your clients the best work you have to offer, make sure to take some time out.
Also, we believe contractors and freelancers should take time out of their busy days to reflect on their business, their projects, their clients, their schedules, and their personal development. This allows you to identify strengths and weaknesses and areas to improve, which will help you to be successful.
Think about the qualities you have and figure out if you’re missing a key quality you can develop in the future, for instance. Can you work by yourself without people telling you what to do? Do you give up easily or do you have the persistence to go after jobs even if you’ve been rejected from one you really wanted? Should you raise your rates? Is working with a particular client more trouble than it’s worth?
It’s important to take a moment to consider these and other issues, since it can help you to look at your business with fresh eyes.
As sole trader accountants and limited company accountants, we’ve helped thousands of self-employed individuals to manage their accounts and maximise their tax efficiency. So, we know a thing or two about what it takes to become a successful contractor or freelancer. Speak to us today to learn more about what we can help you to set up and grow your business.