Our UK Freelancer Awards have given us the opportunity to speak with numerous newcomers, solo entrepreneurs, as well as successful thought leaders and influencers in the world of freelance. From employment and remote working to self-employment, and many other origins, freelancers forge their own path in a completely unknown territory, for the most part; the move from employment to self-employment being difficult mentally, financially and physically.
The main reason we introduced our UK Freelancer Awards was to help newcomers with these challenges, enabling freelancers to gain instant trust and authority with prospective clients, and celebrate their successes with their peers, followers and associates.
This two-part article has been made possible thanks to the generosity of our collaborators. We also recommend checking out their websites and social media, where you will find yet more actionable advice for freelancers.
Introducing the freelance experts
Katie founded freelance writing website Dream Scribe in 2017 with one mission and one mission only: rid the digital world of lacklustre content. Katie has written in sectors such as fashion, digital marketing, health and wellbeing, and has been featured in publications such as Metro, Look and Bolde.
An SEO Consultant with 10+ years of experience in digital marketing, Francesco heads up BetaKrea.net, offering freelance SEO audits and holistic strategies, with previous clients such as Diadora and Linux Professional Institute.
Dee is a freelance content humaniser for Healthcare/Medical/Tech/Cybersecurity/SaaS, via Wicked Creative – providing B2B & B2C content, copywriting and content/brand strategy for SME’s directly and via agency partners.
Natalie is a freelance SEO and Growth Marketing Consultant based in Brighton in the UK, covering everything from travel and leisure, health and pharma, finance, SAAS, ecommerce, and beyond. Natalie is also known for speaking at BrightonSEO and ReadingSEO, and appearing on multiple podcasts, and can be found at NatalieArney.com.
The freelancer Q&A will hopefully give you an idea of what to expect, and how to succeed in your new freelance adventure – with helpful tips and guidance from professionals who have already attained freelance awards, recognition and achieved success in their fields.
Freelancing in the UK
Freelancing in the UK has seen an unprecedented rise in recent years, with many contributing factors across a multitude of sectors. In the UK, 5 million people were self-employed at the end of 2019, but this number shrunk to just 4.2 million in 2022 according to the government. Though it is worth noting that there has been a recent rise again in self-employment, which now accounts for 13.0% of total employment in the UK.
Also worth noting is the many self-employed who were hit hardest of all by the pandemic have gone back to employment from industries that could not sustain a remote working scenario. Construction was the hardest hit, with 914,000 shifting to employment in this sector during January to March 2020. This dropped by 16.3% to 765,000 in Q1 of 2021.
“The industries with the greatest percentage falls of self-employed workers between the January to March periods of 2020 and 2022 were financial and insurance activities (by 29.2%, from 100,000 to 71,000), public administration and defence, social security (26.2%, from 49,000 to 36,000).” – Gov.uk
Remote working – being widely adopted by many companies in England, NI, Scotland and Wales – showed that working from home is not only viable in many industries and sectors, but preferred by a majority of workers. As we’ll discover further into this article, freelancers are made up of a cross section of professionals who no longer want to return to their workplace, and those seeking a better home/work lifestyle, and they come from predominantly digital professions.
Anyone who freelances or has thought through the pros and cons of going freelance will have seen and heard the positive stories that came from a global event dubbed “The Great Resignation” or “The Big Quit”. Microsoft’s Work Trend Index revealed that over 40% of the global workforce had considered quitting their job in 2021 with the COVID-19 pandemic giving many workers an opportunity to evaluate their work and home life, rethink career paths, scrutinise their working conditions, and contemplate their ultimate long-term goals. The event continued into 2022, and has culminated in an overwhelming number of new freelancers entering the global market in sectors such as content writing, marketing, SEO and other predominantly digital skill sets. The rise of the digital nomad is also worth noting. There are an estimated 35 million digital nomads worldwide with the majority being from the USA (51%). 8% of that number are from the UK according to data put together by twoticketsanywhere.com.
This new paradigm of freedom for professionals who can work remotely is not entirely responsible for the attraction, however. Market buoyancy is at an all time high for freelancers, as many large companies choose to outsource their work to solo freelancers and small teams to reduce overheads and enjoy a more personalised and attentive approach to their digital projects. The potential to earn more money whilst enjoying the freedoms of freelance is certainly a huge lure.
The freedoms of freelancing are indeed well within the grasp of many professionals, but the challenges, hurdles and drawbacks can be enough to dissuade many from taking the leap, or continuing past the first tumultuous year on their own.
It is vital that before you start or expand your freelance enterprise, you research and learn as much as you can about the pitfalls and opportunities in front of you. To support this, we have put together the following Q&A; a collaboration with some of the UK’s most open thought leaders and influencers, with origin stories, actionable advice, anecdotal tips, and the steps that elevated them to success.
Professional freelancers Q&A – Part 1
Our first Q&A is predominantly made up of successful freelancers in the world of digital marketing, SEO and content – a massive growth industry that is perfect for the remote work lifestyle.
Q1 – In the beginning, what encouraged you to go freelance? What resources did you use to forge ahead early on?
I’d been working in marketing offices for a couple of years post-university and I just felt like the 9-5 lifestyle didn’t suit me. I’m more productive in short bursts and being sat at a desk all day every day drained my brain and my soul. I liked the idea of setting my own hours and being my own boss and I also had a burning urge to travel.
When I realised that I could travel while making a living through freelance writing, I started to actively research how to get started and follow the journeys of a couple of industry leaders who were already experiencing success. Jorden Makelle’s YouTube videos were a huge inspiration and resource for me in the beginning, as well as Elna Cain’s blog post tutorials.
In early 2017, I had just come back from a month-long trip in Thailand and was between jobs so I thought it was the perfect time to dive right into the freelancing thing. And the rest, as they say, is history!
Working on my own terms has always been one of my goals. Looking at how suppliers (agencies and freelancers) were working, approaching problems, solutions and communicate.
I sort of fell into freelancing in a gap year between getting my Open University degree and starting teacher training. Until that point, I didn’t realise that “copywriting” was a thing. I’ve always been good with words, and a friend pointed me in the direction of a platform where people could get hired to write blogs.
The pay was poor (although I didn’t know it at the time!) but it enabled me to earn a few extra quid each month without any real impact on my position as a full-time mum.
Within a few months I had started to get to grips with applying for new gigs on the platform and started earning some regular money. I began to realise that I could actually both work part time and raise my kids without needing to go into teaching.
I may have fallen into freelance, but I have stayed freelance because it gives me the flexibility I need to be a full time parent to my two kids, AND have a career. I went full time after about 18 months and started to move away from the platform and find my own clients. That was nearly 8 years ago and I’ve never looked back.
I enjoyed the freedom of choice – it offers me the variation of working on multiple clients like I did in an agency but with more of the freedom and versatility of working in house.
Q2a – How did you overcome the initial trust factor when you had no portfolio or testimonials?
Luckily, I’d already interned for an online magazine so I had published articles I could share when I first started freelance writing. Likewise, I had my own blog that I used for portfolio purposes.
Even so, I worked at a heavily reduced rate until I built up more of a portfolio and had sparkling testimonials I could share to gain new, more high-paying clients.
Initial lower rates (not too low) and guest posting on some important publications helped me to be noticed. And also getting in touch with old friends/colleagues.
I was largely doing work through an online platform which enabled me to get “rated” and build up a reputation. However, I’ve also offered a reduced rate for testimonials in the past, and – regrettably – done some free samples!
I worked on building my personal brand further, which I still continue to do, and as and where needed I provide testimonials from former and current clients.
Q2b – How important is it to earn the trust of prospective clients with industry awards & accolades?
Being able to show unique achievements, like industry awards and accolades, can set you apart from other freelancers and make you more attractive to a hiring manager. You should definitely not shy away from sharing these on your freelance marketplace profile, website and/or social media channels.
This can be definitely important, it also defines the kind of clients you attract.
I think reputation is essential in the freelance community, and having awards and recommendations from trusted industry organisations, communities and individuals can really help bolster your reputation and help you to stand out from the crowd.
In some spaces awards can be beneficial – being part of an award winning team helped me to build my personal brand which I was then able to bring into my role as a freelancer.
Q3 – The Covid-19 pandemic had a huge impact on UK freelancing, but there are some polar opinions on this. Some say that it improved their business in a remote world, whilst others say it impacted them heavily. Post pandemic, what are your key learnings and positive takeaways?
I would say that the first year of the pandemic was the toughest for me – with all of the uncertainty, a lot of my clients at the time were cutting back on costs and reducing their marketing budgets. This resulted in a decrease in my workload and income.
Since then though, my business has actually gone from strength to strength! I accredit this with being able to be flexible and adapt to client needs, learning new skills and strengthening my value, and regularly increasing my rates accordingly.
I have also diversified my income by adding new services to my business, such as UGC creation.
Pandemic made small(er) businesses approach the digital marketing spaces even more. My key learning is that, as usual, expectation management is important, especially with businesses with little or no experience in digital marketing.
I’m fortunate enough to primarily produce content for the health industry, so while I did experience a reasonable reduction in turnover during the pandemic, it wasn’t anywhere near as bad as many other freelancers as there was still demand for health content.
The main thing that I learnt during the pandemic was to ensure that you maintain strong relationships with clients so that if things do drop off, you can rekindle working together if they pick up again. You also shouldn’t put all your eggs in one or two baskets (clients) as if they suddenly drop off, you could very quickly find yourself financially vulnerable.
To be adaptable and to be able to use data to my advantage. From my previous experience I was able to gain the skills to be able to communicate the impact – or estimated impact – of actions, and be able to use this to not only sell in fixes to those who make the decisions (and/or hold the purse strings) but also to prioritise work as and where needed.
Q4 – What are three things you advise a freelancer to do before they start marketing their skills?
- Create Samples: You’re not technically a freelance writer unless you have samples to show of what you can do. You can start a blog for free and/or micro-blog on social media sites like Instagram and share the links to the published posts. Alternatively, simply write a piece in a Word, Pages or Google document and use this in your portfolio.
- Build a Portfolio: Put all of your important information in one place so you have somewhere online to direct a potential client so they can learn all about you, your services and your previous work. Canva allows you to create a portfolio for free, or you can build a website via Wix, Squarespace or WordPress.
- Set Up Business Social Media Accounts: When a client is working out whether they’re interested in hiring you, they will want to explore your digital footprint to find out more about you, including your social media accounts. Set up some professional profiles (I recommend LinkedIn and Twitter at least) and use social media to network with potential clients, as well as other freelancers in your niche. You never know what opportunities may arise!
- Network as much as possible
- Create a personal brand
- Make your case studies sharable
- Decide what your core offer is. It’s much easier to market your skills and attract the right clients if you know exactly what you are offering.
- Decide who your target clients/audience are. This will help you to decide which platform to use to market your skills and how to target them.
- Have your processes in place. Lots of clients want to know HOW you are going to help them, and what your processes are. Being clear on this demonstrates your expertise and experience and helps them to feel more confident when choosing you to support them.
- Have your own website – it doesn’t need to rank to begin, but having something you own and control that you can send over to prospective clients and explain your services is super important.
- Have an idea of the clients you want to work with – you may not get your ideal client straight away, but at least knowing who you want to work with gives you something to work towards.
- Discuss with other freelancers what red – and green – flags to look out for, so that you’re able to notice them when leads come in – and hopefully your fingers aren’t burnt as often as others.
Q5 – Passive incoming enquiries are the long term aim for most start-up freelancers. What are some of the best ways they can achieve this?
Advertising revenue from YouTube, websites and blogs is a great passive income source. You can also create and publish your own digital products (like eBooks and courses), share affiliate links for products you endorse, or create and sell other digital assets (like photography and music).
Whatever channel you decide to work on, be consistent, be helpful, be specific and talk to you target audience.
I’ve not yet got any sort of formal passive income. However, I am very well known and get a LOT of word of mouth referrals – and I’ve achieved this by maintaining a constant, helpful presence on communities and networking sites such as LinkedIn, Twitter, and my own community, The Female Copywriters Alliance. Being a helpful, friendly person who is willing to support their fellow freelancers is a great way to ensure that you are the forefront of people’s minds when it comes to referrals.
Create good content, work on your personal brand – including responding to journalist requests, and get involved in communities. You never know who will refer you!
Q6 – Do you have any further advice you would like to share with start-up, seasoned or future UK freelancers?
If you have a passion to succeed, there’s no reason why you won’t. Ask for help if you need it (I originally made the mistake of thinking I had to do everything by myself and burned out pretty hard). Roll with the punches and don’t be afraid to fail, because every failure teaches us an important lesson.
Oh, and always have savings in the bank for those quieter months! You’ve got this.
Confidence is one of the main characteristics you should consider developing.
Join communities. I really can’t overstate the role that freelance communities have played in my success as a freelancer. Many people view other freelancers as competition, but this really isn’t the case. Other freelancers are your constant support – whether it’s to ask for advice about a client or project, or to help you drum up work during a quiet spell. BUT, you only get out what you put in. It’s really a two-way street, and if you help others, they’ll be happy to help you.
Also, get your paperwork and processes in place as early as you can. A robust but clear, HUMAN contract to secure work in your diary. Work asking for a deposit into your SOP. Block out your diary into workable chunks that fit with your routine. Monitor how long jobs take so you can plan your time efficiently. Don’t forget to allow time for your own admin, marketing and content creation. Market now for next month’s projects. And make sure you plan in regular periods of time off to avoid burn out.
Don’t be afraid to say no, to stand your ground, and enjoy it!
Make sure to join communities of fellow freelancers and beyond – there are some brilliant ones out there, with people to have a chat with, share frustrations, joke, tips, work and more!
Is now a good time to go freelance?
One of the reasons we have put together this article and Q&A is to examine the pros and cons of taking the leap into freelancing. Certainly, for those who already work hybrid or remote positions, there is the opportunity to try it out before taking the final plunge, if your contract allows.
Our best advice? Follow the advice of professionals who have been there, deep in the trenches, and learned from their mistakes. Their experience – which is offered as advice for free on social media and in articles such as this, is worth paying attention to.
Experience is the best teacher – first comes the test, and then the lesson.
In Part 2
In the next Q&A we will be speaking with Simon Pykett of HelloHQ.co.uk, Nele van Hout of TheNavigatio.com, and Eddie Jaoude of JaoudeStudios.com and getting a better understanding of growing a digital marketing company, freelancing as a digital nomad, and more.