This second part of our series on how to succeed in freelancing we will be hearing from professional and successful freelancers to get a better understanding of how to grow a digital marketing company, what it’s like freelancing as a digital nomad, and getting the best advice from the ones who have already made the mistakes (so you don’t have to!).
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 goal of our UK Freelancer Awards is to assist new freelancers in overcoming common challenges and establish trust and credibility with potential clients. The awards also provide a platform for freelancers to share their achievements with their colleagues, followers, and associates.
We are grateful to our collaborators for making this two-part article possible. In addition to the valuable insights shared here, we encourage you to visit their websites and follow their social media channels for even more practical tips and advice for freelancers. Don’t miss out on the wealth of knowledge and resources they have to offer.
Simon is an award-winning freelance web & graphic designer and SEO developer, as well as being a Computer Science teacher. Simon has over 12 years industry experience, with a proven track record of quality work, specialising in creative design and technical development. You can find out more at HelloHQ.co.uk.
Nele (pronounced “Nay-la”) runs TheNavigatio.com, a travel blog that has been featured on many prominent travel platforms, such as Verge, British Airways, OnThebeach, Expat.com, and many more. As an experienced writer, content creator and SEO expert, Nele is also a successful freelancer who lends her skills to clients and projects around the world.
With a diverse client base including UK Government departments, banks, global fintech companies, and startups, Eddie has gained a wealth of experience working in various team sizes and configurations. Eddie has also made his presence felt in the tech industry, including working with developers, testers, UX/UI designers, technical writers, and product owners. His skills and expertise have been recognized through numerous awards in the tech field. You can find out more about Eddie and his work at EddieJaoude.io.
Through this Q&A, we hope to provide you with a better understanding of what to expect as you embark on your freelance journey and equip you with the knowledge and guidance of professionals who have received awards and recognition, finding success in their freelance careers. These experts will offer helpful tips and advice to help you succeed in your new adventure.
I left a 20+ teaching career in the Winter just prior to COVID and spent several weeks wondering what to do with myself. I launched my business just prior to the first lockdown and experienced a huge uptick in enquiries from small businesses who didn’t have a website and desperately needed one as they wanted to continue trading during lockdown.
My skills and experience lie within the digital arena (I was a Computer Science teacher) so I used all my knowledge and existing resources to plough ahead as best I could. I used Youtube alot in terms of PHP and SEO knowledge and that has been my best friend since.
Nele van Hout
I quit my 9-5 when I got close to a burnout. Working for a start-up straight out of university didn’t quite work out very well, and I found the 9-5 life pretty limiting as my family lives abroad (visiting them wasn’t as easy with set holiday days).
I was lucky that my blog was already making me some money, but it was nowhere near enough to live on. So, freelancing seemed like a natural addition. Freelance Facebook groups, LinkedIn and Twitter have helped me a lot when I first started out.
I realised that climbing the career ladder in an organisation was not for me. I was more interested in being able to be more in control of the type of work I did, location and also the team I worked with.
As to resources, there was not a lot of YouTube content on this subject back then. I mainly spoke to others who had already gone freelancing to learn from their experiences. I also understood from day 1 the value of engaging proper services from accountants, for example, rather than trying to navigate the complexities of taxes and setting up a company on my own.
I have been designing websites as a side hustle way before I left teaching so already had a portfolio and several contacts, but I didn’t have a brand. I was also dead against Social Media at the time so set myself up on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter and off I went.
I devised a Managed Service method of charging so clients were paying for a website as a service with monthly contracted payments which helped their cash flow as they didn’t have to pay a huge outlay at the start. Once word got round that I was doing this (in what seemed to be quite a unique business model) I started to pick up new clients at around 1 a week,.
Nele van Hout
I was lucky that I had my blog, along with work I had done for my previous employer, that I could use as my portfolio. The blog in particular was a huge help, as it showed my skills in SEO, WordPress and affiliate marketing along with my writing examples.
However, I did take on some jobs with low pay to grow my portfolio and get testimonials when I first started.
I started out as a freelancer by working on contracts for larger companies. Therefore the selection process was similar to that of an employee. For me, it was a mixture of doing well at the interview stage, but also having been recommended for these positions by other freelancers I knew.
Building a small but tight-knit network of like minded freelancer colleagues was invaluable in the early days.
As a former teacher, ‘every day is a school day’ is a rule I still live by today, so I enrolled on various courses that empowered me to show off my skills in a professional remit. One of the most powerful accreditations was enrolling on two Google qualifications which I’m able to display still and it’s a trusted body that everyone recognises.
I also won an industry accolade recently through the Prestige Awards and that has helped too.
Nele van Hout
While I personally haven’t given awards much time, I think they help within certain industries to get acknowledgement of your work. However, I do believe a strong portfolio, network and testimonials are more important.
When it comes to my blog, I think awards can help when it comes to working with tourism boards, but again, the numbers (readers, income, clicks) are more important for those types of collaborations.
My thoughts are that this depends on the prospective client. Some may place more value on this than others. For those clients who do, I would say that it does represent somewhat of a good starting point as they feel they already have your standard of work/expertise.
However, this needs to be backed up by how you perform, no matter what award you have won.
The bubble has burst in marketing, that’s for sure. Everyone was posting about using small businesses for shopping and for everything and that really helped me power through COVID, however that has all but gone now. Amazon and Ebay are lapping up the profits once more.
I’ve noticed a considerable downtick in both client renewals and organic enquiries and conversions since too, as many have seem to have forgotten the importance in investing in their own marketing, however I’ve overcome that by rebranding and creating a new image and portfolio as I want to start to attract larger organisations with larger marketing budgets.
Nele van Hout
The main thing I have learned is to grow multiple income streams. Before the pandemic, I heavily relied on my travel website as my main source of income. When the pandemic made it impossible to travel, I lost almost all my income overnight. I had the odd freelance job, but nothing sustainable enough.
I now have more security knowing that if one of my income streams/clients disappears, there are others to fall back onto. It has definitely made me a smarter businesswoman and forced me to really start seeing this as a business, rather than something I simply enjoy and make some money off.
I have not actually noticed that much of a difference. I was a remote freelancer before the pandemic and even more so now as I became a digital nomad in April 2021 (and therefore unlikely to take on any clients where I need to physically go into their offices).
I would say perhaps that since the pandemic it has become the norm that you and your clients are not in the same location or time zone.
If there is one thing I’ve learned from this is that you should never sell the product. Always sell the problem you solve. That way, your audience will get it and will make that association with their own problems and inevitably come to you.
Nele van Hout
Regardless of your niche, trust follows excellent marketing. Be it a website, word of mouth, or you as a person. There’s a guy on Facebook who is called the Leak Detective. His videos are poorly put together and the narration is shocking but his storytelling abilities are out of this world. Not once has he sold a product or a service. In each of his videos (that all get hundreds of views and comments) he sells the problems that he solves in a way that the layman can understand, and the public are lapping them up.
This guy has zero experience in marketing, but he’s making a fortune off the social platforms alone in reach as everyone loves his content whether they have a pool or boiler leak or not. This is an excellent case study in how to get the enquiries in. I don’t have a pool but I do have a boiler. I also have a client who is a plumber but if I have a leak, I want the Leak Detector in!
I would be curious to know just how much he makes off his social channels! Someone recently commented on one of his videos; “Do you know how fresh and appealing this content is? Motivated. Skilled. Personality. Achievement. Pool/pipe repair isn’t entertaining, until you make it so” and that pretty much says it all.
I’ll leave you to work out how many passive enquiries he gets. By comparison, I get around two to five passive enquiries a week.
Nele van Hout
For me, my blog brings in a huge chunk of my income. I do this through advertisements and affiliate income. It has taken me a few years to grow the website to this point, but it brings in money even if I don’t have time to work on it. I’m building a few other sites at the moment to diversify my income.
Another great choice is creating courses. At the start of my freelance career, I created an SEO course, which brought in some extra passive income every month for years.
Writing e-books and producing courses.
Henry Ford once said that ‘to stop your marketing to save money is like stopping your watch to save time’ and he was absolutely right. Invest in your own marketing in a way that is future proof and run with it.
If you can build a website and you’re not a web designer, that’s great, but what happens when you start to get super busy and you can no longer maintain the site or it breaks? Outsource it right away so you can focus on doing what you’re good at.
The same applies to anything. If you’re doing something that is WAY outside of your skillset because you just want to save a few quid, find the money, invest in your business and outsource that skillset to someone who knows what they’re doing as your time is the most valuable asset in your business and it’s that that you should be investing in.
Nele van Hout
Go for it! It’s scary and not always easy, but it will pay off. It’s by far the best decision I’ve ever made. Keep pitching and thinking of other ways to grow your income (a blog, a course, etc.) outside of freelance clients.
Freelancing has opened many doors for me. Not only in the type of work that I do, but also from an income and lifestyle perspective. My advice is that you cannot go into freelancing half heartedly – you need to give it your all and realise that it does take a lot of advance preparation, many late nights and forward planning. However the rewards are definitely worth it!
As we have heard from our experts, freelancing in the UK can be a rewarding and flexible way to work, but it also requires careful consideration and planning. One of the first things to consider when thinking about freelancing is whether you are suited to working independently. Are you self-motivated and able to manage your own time effectively? Do you have the necessary discipline to work without the structure and support provided by a traditional employer?
Before embarking on self-employment, it is important to carefully research your field to understand the demand for your services and the going rate for similar work. This will help you to set realistic rates for your services and ensure that you are competitive in the market. You should also consider the business costs associated with freelancing, such as taxes, insurance, and equipment expenses, and ensure that you have a plan in place to manage these costs effectively.
In addition to understanding the financial aspects of freelancing, it is also important to consider the legal and regulatory framework that applies to self-employed workers in the UK. This includes understanding your rights as a freelancer, and how you will keep your accounts in order for paying associated taxes and National Insurance contributions.
Overall, freelancing can be a fulfilling and lucrative way to work, but it requires careful planning and research to ensure that you are well-prepared for the challenges and responsibilities of self-employment. By taking the time to understand your field, set realistic rates, and familiarize yourself with the legal and regulatory framework, you can increase your chances of success as a freelancer in the UK.
We would like to say a huge thank you to our collaborators, and would once again advise visiting their websites to learn more about their successful freelance enterprises. This is the first in a long line of interview sessions we will be publishing, and we look forward to speaking with many more experts in their fields – and providing our visitors with much-needed practical advice!
We’d also like to thank you for taking the time to read and digest this valuable advice. We really appreciate your support – feel free to share this article series on your socials!
You can find out more about how our awards can help you achieve your goals, and how to effectively write an awards entry in our Business Awards Hub. If you’d like any help, or to find out more about our upcoming interview series in Technology, Women in Business, Crowdfunding and more, please get in touch using the Live Chat or Contact page.