I’ve been self-employed and working as a freelancer for over two years, and would like to pass on my top tips. If you’re freelancing, you will need:
- A good work-station. If you’re going to spend hours working at home (many researchers already do!), it’s worth investing in a comfortable chair, a large screen and an ergonomic keyboard. I used a lap-top to start with, but soon upgraded myself! Over time, I also invested in a printer, a scanner and a shredder. My speaker and camera are invaluable for Skype calls with clients. If you don’t like working from home, you might find that you can rent office space in a co-working office scheme.
- A good internet connection. I prefer to remain plugged in rather than trying to use wifi.
- Software for business purposes. Home-use software licences might not be appropriate. You could start reading terms and conditions and paying for business licences, or consider using open office software, eg from Apache Software Foundation.
- New information sources. You may need to use sources of information that don’t stipulate that they are only for education or academic research purposes. Open Access (OA) helps to make a lot more scholarly content available to freelancers. I recommend BASE as a search tool for finding open access items, or of course you can find an article on Google Scholar and then search again on Google by title for an OA version of it – I find that Google Scholar doesn’t always present me with the OA versions.
- A way to monitor your hours spent working for each client. I tried out an app on my phone but eventually settled for yast.com online, where I can record what I’ve been working on each day, and then run a report off when I am ready to invoice my client for my work.
- An hourly and a daily rate that you intend to charge to your clients. When calculating what you want to get paid, be sure to factor in all your extra costs: you won’t be billing for the time that you will spend on things like invoicing your client, updating your software backing up your files, etc, and you won’t be getting sick pay, paid annual leave or pension contributions, nor indeed any free equipment, so my advice is to add in more than you think, per hour that you charge to your client.
- A good tax advisor. You can advise yourself and do your own tax reports, of course (I’ve had the added challenge of moving country and learning a new language), but then remember to allow yourself the time to figure out your tax reporting. Record keeping of your expenses and income is essential as the first step: set yourself a spreadsheet for your finances and keep it up to date. I paste my receipts into a spiral-bound book, and write on the page what the receipt is for, and the date and amount: this information then goes into my spreadsheet. With good records, your tax reporting could be relatively painless as you will have all the evidence to hand. I found the UK a much easier system than in Germany, largely because of the higher threshold at which you start needing to deal with VAT.
- A plan “B” for pretty much everything, so that you can still meet your commitments. Give clients both your mobile phone number and a landline number, because you’ll be surprised how often one or the other fails! What will you do when your Internet connection goes down or your computer crashes, or both? I back-up files onto a remote hard drive, I kept my old laptop and there is always wifi at certain coffee chains, at friends’ places and sometimes also at public libraries. Keeping clients informed of problems is ideal: they may be able to flex deadlines or help in other ways. For long-term problems, I can maybe hook into those co-working office schemes…
You may also need:
- Business cards, to give out to potential clients. (We had a great blogpost from Scientist Ian Hancox, about business cards)
- A template for your invoices (some clients ask you to fill out paperwork with them, rather than using your own invoices)
- Time saving tricks: time is money when you’re freelance! I like using keyboard shortcuts like F12 to save a file with a new name. What’s your favourite time saver?
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