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How to be a Successful Freelancer

On Thursday 28th May we held our first freelancer workshop of 2015, led by a fantastic panel and attended by 22 freelancers working across Sussex (plus a further 350 people tuning in via Periscope).

Our freelancer panel for this workshop was made up of:

Dan Young - Director and Customer Insight Consultant, Shed Research Consulting

Kate Saker, Freelance Creative

Richard Nash A.K.A Mr. Biscuit, Freelance Illustrator

As spaces for this event were in high demand, we wanted to share as much of the conversation as possible. Below are 27 key points of conversation from the session covering areas ranging from how to set your day rate, to how to stave off loneliness:


Networking comes naturally for some, but can be like reliving the first day of school for others. If you’re part of the latter camp, rest assured that networking gets easier every time you do it. It's also a great way of honing your pitch and is essential for getting new business. See our blog on networking for more tips.

You don’t have to act like an Apprentice candidate when you’re telling people what you do. Find what works for you and what you’re comfortable with. Try telling stories or recounting case studies, rather than explaining what you do in sector-specific terms.

If you make valuable connections face-to-face, follow up with a friendly and well-crafted email.


You don’t need to engage with social media to get your name out there – you can get just as much new business through real-life networking and word-of-mouth recommendations. But if you do, select a channel that makes sense for your work; Tumblr is great for visual work and LinkedIn is good for words.

Don’t be afraid of putting work up online for free – use it to position yourself as an expert in a particular field, someone with an opinion or a unique voice.

If you are using social media to promote yourself, don’t feel that you have to tell your followers to “check your work out!” - think of it as a real human interaction, start meaningful conversations and make valuable connections.

There are a lot of online tools for finding freelance work – but securing work through them often comes down to who will do it the cheapest.


Deciding what to charge for your day rate is an art form – there are a number of online calculators to help you out, but to calculate it yourself you need to factor in; what your living costs are, how many days of the year you’ll be working, if you’re going to give yourself holiday (you should), the risk/reward ratio for being freelance over being in paid employment, and also spend a good amount of time researching into the market.

Many freelancers have different day rates for different things – you might charge less for work that is less challenging than you would for a big job that is going to require a lot of you. If you work internationally you may also have different rates for different parts of the world.

Make sure you’re accounting for all the extra time outside of the core workload (answering emails, raising invoices .etc) and communicate clearly with your client if you’re going under/over the agreed amount – they won’t always realise.

No matter what you’re charging, there will always be someone charging less. A little wiggle-room is fine with the right clients, but stick to your guns – people who understand and respect the value of your work will pay your day rate.

Always include terms and conditions from the outset in your quote – they’re a business standard and will not be seen as back-covering. Make sure to outline payment terms to avoid trouble with late payments, and have different payment terms for different types of clients if necessary.

If you’re likely to have out-of-pocket costs you can ask for a percentage of your full quote upfront, and the rest upon completion.

Send invoices and chasers from a separate email address (e.g. to keep your working relationship and finances separate. Additionally, online accounting software such as Xero and FreshBooks can automate these processes for you.

Professionalise what you do – you are a business, you have processes, and if people want to work with you they will need to follow these processes. Clients will respect this.


You need “bread and butter” jobs to pay the bills, you can’t have “jam” all the time.

Although freelancing gives you the freedom to be pickier with the work you do, don’t be afraid to take less desirable work if you need the money.

Take time to develop yourself both personally and professionally. Investing time and money in yourself can be just as profitable as saying “yes” to every job that comes along. Keep yourself motivated by taking time to work on personal projects and interests that improve your overall well-being.

Taking on a lot of work could mean that you’re at your desk 7 days a week – it’s extremely important to give yourself the rewards and structure you would get in paid employment such as holiday and a training budget.

You’ll probably find yourself working through bank holidays and weekends – make sure to give yourself a day off mid-week in return.

Working from home can be incredibly insular so be sure to spend time with others when you can. You can work from a cafe or library for the day, or look into getting a desk at a Coworking space.

Don’t let work consume your life – set a period of time in which you won’t respond to emails and go for a run, visit a museum, or see friends and family.

Know your strengths when it comes to working at different times of the day - you don’t have to work 9-5.

Know your weaknesses and when you need to bring in other freelancers to fill a skills gap. Pitch as a package.


Don’t be afraid to pitch for big contracts as an individual amongst large agencies – individual freelancers can offer the same experience and passion. It can be a valuable experience even if you’re not successful.

If you find a good agency to work with, stick with them. They differ depending on sector, but agencies can be a safe source of income in lean times.

You don’t have to pitch for free. If you know you’re going to spend a few days preparing for a pitch, ask the client if they have a budget to pay for your time.

Useful Links:

Brighton Fuse 2 Report into Freelancers in the Creative, Digital and IT Sector (.pdf)

Wired Sussex Projects Board

Local Workspaces listings

Wired Sussex Events Calendar

The benefits of Wired Sussex Member as a freelancer

Own-it is a fantastic source of information around copyright, contracts and licenses for creative freelancers.

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