New to freelancing? Here's how to get started


IPSE was joined by a stellar panel of freelancing experts at HSBC’s sky-scraping Canary Wharf HQ this week. Set against the backdrop of London’s sprawling East End, we led an event all about launching a solo business for the first time. We drew scores of budding freelancers, each of them eager to take control and become their own boss.

It was standing room only as we got underway; our speakers had clearly drawn a crowd. They would be forgiven for mistaking the venue for a venerable art gallery; Lowrys and Sickerts adorned every wall. The speakers were Keith Arkle, Quickbooks UK Senior Marketing Manager, Joe Griston, Head of Europe, Paul Mason, Abbey Tax National Account Director, Business Specialist Ray Stoddart and our very own Interim Head of Sales Corinne Stuart.

The session covered three big questions that every new freelancer will grapple with.

1) How do I set up?

Paul took the floor first. He couldn’t stress firmly enough the importance of setting up a business bank account, and ensuring all your freelance income and expenditure goes through that. Aside from preventing your personal and business finances from being mixed up, it means your accountant has a clearer picture of your business’ financial health.

Speaking of accountants – “they’re essential,” Paul said. “You need a professional to make sure you’re on the straight and narrow so you can just focus on your business.” And as Corinne pointed out, you need to find an accountant with previous experience of dealing with freelancers. 

Another technical question is the type of business structure you adopt. You can choose a limited company, limited liability partnership, become a sole trader or a number of other arrangements. Each can be well suited to different kinds of businesses; new freelancers should speak to a HSBC business specialist to discuss what will work best for you, Ray added. There's also a wealth of information in IPSE’s Guide to Freelancing.

2) What services do I need?

“Insurance is an absolute must-have,” Keith said, speaking in his capacity as both a business expert and a freelancer himself. That’s especially true if you’re a sole trader; a business of this kind means you’re personally liable for any unforeseen problems that occur. So if the unthinkable happens and , your business fails, your personal assets are on the line too.

Keith added that as a business, you’re operating in the public domain, so you can sometimes be accountable for events outside of your control. What if, for example, you’re working for an agency, when without warning it goes bust?

The Guide to Freelancing also has lots of information on different kinds of insurance – some of which is included in IPSE membership.

Some decent accounting software can be extremely useful too. Nobody wants to spend hour after hour poring over a seemingly endless Excel spreadsheet, so investing a few pounds per month in a professional set-up will always be worthwhile.

3) How do I win work and set my rates?

This is a big one for even the most seasoned freelancers. Whatever your industry, your top priority when you’re starting out should be to create an unforgettable online footprint. “Get as much of your work in the public domain as possible,” Keith advised. That’s your website, your LinkedIn profile, your social media and anywhere else potential clients may come looking for you.

Joe explained the power of a strong profile on “You’re reviewed and rated after each job so clients always know they can hire you with confidence,” he said. “Conversely, clients are rated too – so you know who to work for and who to avoid”.

The other panellists were in agreement. “You’ve got to do everything you can to stand out – past examples of what you’ve done, get as creative as you can,” Corinne said.

And when it comes to setting your rates, Joe insisted it should never be a race to the bottom – either on an online platform or anywhere else: “60% of jobs on are given to those who are charging the median rate or higher. So go higher. Always go higher – you’re great at what you do.” IPSE’s Simon McVicker, who chaired the panel, added that you should tell the client what you’re really worth. If they want quality work they’ll hire you.

Paul also made an important point on holiday pay: “Remember: your day rate needs to include the days you’re not working, like holiday time.” As an audience member pointed out, freelancers need to factor a number of expenses into their day rate, like your pension, your sick pay and your maternity pay too. But of course – IPSE can help you help you with this.

“How do I leverage new contacts?” came a question from the audience. Again there was a clear consensus among the panel: bug them! Corinne’s advice was act like you are your own agent – stay on the client’s mind.

Perhaps the most important insight was that no matter what your level of experience, you should never, ever undervalue your talents. That’s advice worth taking.  

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IPSE is the leading association for contractors, consultants, interims, freelancers and the self-employed. We strive to bring our members the most comprehensive and useful range of information and services and all the latest news about what affects your business.