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Freelancing Guide: How to Freelance Like a Pro

Protect your interests and ensure you are properly compensated. Our documents are for anyone providing services, from babysitters and freelancers, to contractors and consultants.

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Step 1

Service Agreement

A Service Agreement is a contract used when a service provider offers his or her services to a customer in exchange for pay.

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Step 2

Independent Contractor Agreement

An Independent Contractor Agreement outlines the terms of a project, commitment, or job (e.g. build a fence) that an independent contractor (e.g. carp...

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Step 3

Consulting Agreement

A Consulting Agreement sets out the terms of a working relationship between a consultant and a client. It includes compensation, services provided, co...

Last updated March 11, 2024

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For many, freelancing is an ideal lifestyle.

Being your own boss and working with your passion can make work more enjoyable and rewarding. Freelancing also lets you set your own hours for more autonomy, which is especially helpful to anyone looking for a side gig or additional income.

But diving into the deep end of freelancing can be intimidating. There are a lot of steps to getting started and even more to learn before you can start growing your business.

By knowing the basics, you’ll know how to handle some of the challenges being self-employed can throw at you, and you can aim for success in your field of choice.

What is freelancing?

Working as a freelancer lets you work for different clients at different times instead of being permanently employed by one company. Freelancing gives you the freedom and flexibility to work only on projects that you choose to take on.

Freelance work often consists of intellectual or creative services. Common freelancer roles include, but aren’t limited to:

  • Business consultant
  • Graphic designer
  • Social media manager
  • Web designer or developer
  • Computer services
  • Content writer

Freelancers are self-employed, essentially meaning that you get to be your own boss. Most freelancers do business as sole traders, which are businesses run by only one person. Independent contractors also count as self-employed, but where freelancers and consultants sell intellectual and intangible services, the term independent contractor usually describes a physical form of labour. 

Being self-employed takes a lot of work and effort to manage. Unless you hire someone else, you’ll most likely be in charge of every aspect of your business. Freelance responsibilities often look like:

  • Taking full responsibility for the success or failure of your business
  • Paying for the business equipment you need
  • Being responsible for your own accounting, marketing, and legal protection – or hiring other people to do the work for you
  • Setting your own schedule to finish up all the necessary work

Being a freelancer vs being an employee

Freelancers are not covered by employment law. To find out if you count as a freelancer or an employee, you can check your employment status.

While traditional employees have rights like leave, holidays, sick pay, and security of work, freelancers don’t have access to these same safety nets. Instead, a freelancer’s income and security of work depend on their ability to find and get jobs. 

This doesn’t mean freelancers are entirely without protection, as you’ll have entitlements according to the agreements you make with your clients. Any contracts you sign with your clients will make sure you get paid for your work and let you maintain some form of security of work.

Additionally, you still have the right to a safe working environment and protection against discrimination

It is possible to be both employed and a freelancer. A lot of freelancers work a part-time job alongside their freelance business. 

Getting started as a freelancer

You’ve decided you want to work freelance, and you know what type of work you want to be doing. Now it’s time to set yourself up for success.

1. Plan your business

Getting started as a freelancer is the same as starting a business. You’ll need to prepare and plan in order to make your self-employed dreams come true. Start by creating a Business Plan to outline your goals and plan how to reach them.

Consider how you will market your services. Find out what form of advertising works in your field and how to best connect with clients. You can also research competitors and see how they advertise their services. This way, you can see what works and what doesn’t, and you might even be able to improve on their tactics. 

2. Invest in equipment and training

Part of setting up your freelancing services is being prepared for the work you’ll be doing. This includes buying equipment and tools you will need to do your job, as well as ensuring your training and practices are up to date. 


Some professions require you to get a permit, licence, or certificate before you start practising in the field. Clients will want to see that you have the correct experience and knowledge for the job, and in cases of higher-risk jobs, there might be mandatory courses you need to take. 

Even if your field doesn’t rely on certification to show experience, you should still seek out learning opportunities. Because most fields are rapidly changing, consider investing in classes and other tools that can help further your education. The more you know about your field, the better you can serve your clients.

No matter what field you work in, here are some skills you should develop and maintain in order to sell and promote your own services:

  • Communication skills
  • Project planning skills
  • Marketing and salesmanship skills

Tools and equipment 

The tools you’ll need depend on what field you’re working within. A business analyst will have completely different needs than a photographer, but they should both invest in quality tools and software that will let them succeed.

Some equipment and tools you might need include:

  • Desktop computer or laptop
  • At-home desk setup or rented office space
  • Web camera, microphone, and headphones
  • Accounting software
  • Writing and editing software

As you expand your client base and knowledge, you should upgrade your equipment to suit your needs.

Legal requirements

Depending on your field, you might need a licence or permit in order to sell your services. You should always check with the appropriate authority if there are specific requirements for your profession.

3. Create your name and brand

One of the most powerful marketing tools you will have in your arsenal is your brand. Consider if you want to use your personal name to advertise your services or if creating a business name will suit you better. Things like a logo and a consistent colour palette can make clients more likely to recognise and remember you.

An online presence is key to building a strong reputation. Create an online portfolio with examples of your work so potential clients can see what you excel at and how your services can help them. You can also request reviews and testimonials from previous customers and use these in your marketing materials. Having an online presence will also give your customers something to refer to when they mention you to others. 

Consider using social media to build connections with both clients and other freelancers; this can help you reach new markets. Sites like LinkedIn can be helpful – frequently posting about your work can offer you more visibility and will also show your clients that you are professional and serious about your business.

4. Register with the government

To set up as a freelancer, you should register as self-employed. While you can choose to create a partnership or a limited company, most freelancers opt to work as sole traders.

To register as a sole trader, you will first need to choose the name you will be doing business under. You can elect to use your personal name or create a business name. Check that the name and logo you pick aren’t currently used by someone else, as the owner could take legal action against you.

You don’t have to register your business name unless you choose to trademark it.

You’ll also need to register for Self Assessment and apply for a National Insurance number. Make sure you keep your business records so you can do your tax return correctly and on time. 

Selling your services

Now that you're all set up, it's time to move on to finding clients and making offers. Figure out how you will find jobs and what you will charge for your services.

Freelance platforms

An easy option for finding work is online freelance platforms, such as Fiverr,, Toptal, and Upwork. These pages connect service-based businesses to potential clients, and using them is often easy and convenient. Some professions even have specific web platforms catered entirely to their services.

See the table below for the pros and cons of using online freelance platforms.

Pros Cons
Convenient, accessible, and easy to navigate High competition for typically short, one-off tasks
Regulations to help prevent scams or fraud Website service fees, where a site may take 10-30% of your earnings
Rating systems for both workers and clients Potential wait times for getting your payments from a platform
Automated contracts Limited ability to customise contracts and change terms for things like intellectual property ownership
Support teams that help facilitate positive work relationships International markets drive competition and reduce the availability of worthwhile projects

While there are some downsides, using a freelancing platform can offer you a helping hand as you’re starting out. They will let you grow your experience, portfolio, and reputation without having to fend entirely for yourself.

Once you have more of an established client base and a wider reach, try using freelancer platforms less. Instead, you should rely on satisfied customers' online reviews and word-of-mouth recommendations. By using your own resources to find work, you can avoid having to split your earnings with a platform, and it might also result in higher-paying projects.

Other potential channels you can use to advertise your services:

Fees and pricing

To ensure you get fairly paid for your services, research the standard rates of your field in your target market. YunoJuno has created a 2024 Freelancer Rates Report that sorts income by discipline and contains information about average daily rates according to experience.

When you know what others charge, you can decide where to set your own rates. Make sure you value your time and work at a rate that will let you maintain your business model.

Hourly or flat rates

Some freelancers prefer to take payment per project, while others do work in exchange for an hourly fee. 

Hourly rates ensure you get paid for all the time you spend on a project. It’s especially beneficial when working on longer projects because you can adjust the total cost if there are unforeseen variables. However, hourly rates might make some clients uncertain about hiring you, especially if their budget is smaller and they’re not sure how long the work will take. Previous clients who trust you and your work might be more open to hourly rates.

Flat rates allow you to charge the same fee for every project. By charging flat rates, you can give upfront estimates of the costs and know exactly how much you’ll be getting paid. However, if the project takes more time or effort than anticipated, you won’t be paid for any extra work. Flat rates are convenient for smaller projects where the scope of the work is predictable.

Which one you choose depends on your personal preferences, the type of work you do, and the clients you work with. You can set hourly rates for specific projects and maintain flat rates for others.

Payment schedules

Often, freelancers will take payment upon the completion of the project since this can make invoicing and accounting easier. After you finish the job, the client pays a lump sum as per the service agreement. Payment upon completion is a good option when the project is smaller and short-term.

You can also choose to charge a series of payments. The client pays you periodically throughout the job, following set dates or certain milestones in the project. If you’re working on longer-term projects, a series of payments provides a steadier income and can also help hold your client accountable for payments. When you invoice a client according to the agreed-upon schedule, you’ll have the opportunity to describe the work that went into each individual bill.


In many cases, you often can – and should – ask for deposits or retainers from your clients. Unlike lump sums, deposits give you a steady income stream and protect you from clients who may not be serious about paying for your work. Even if a client backs out later, you won’t be left entirely in the red.

A deposit might be appropriate if the project requires a higher amount of business expenses at the outset of the contract, for example, if you have to purchase materials before you can start your work. The need for deposits also depends on the payment schedule you and your client agree to.

The amount you charge for a deposit is up to you. Deposits are often a set percentage of the project quote.

Protecting yourself and your work

As a freelancer, you aren’t protected by employment law, but there are still protections available to you. The most important thing to remember is that because of the nature of self-employment, you are the one in charge of every aspect of your business, including protecting your work


Contracts are vital for freelancers. Every project you take on should have a legally binding contract to ensure proper communication between you and your client.

In your contract, outline the work you’ll do for the client and the payment you’ll receive in return. You’ll be able to protect your work by deciding what rights and responsibilities you give to your client and to yourself. In the event of a dispute between you and your client, a legally binding contract will provide evidence of the agreed terms, which you can rely on a court or tribunal to enforce.

Use a Service Agreement or Independent Contractor Agreement to outline terms and conditions for the project. A standard agreement should contain the following:

  • The scope of the work
  • Pricing and invoice schedule
  • The terms for cancellation
  • Details about copyright and ownership for any intellectual property you create

Should you or your client want additional assurance about the confidentiality of your project, consider using a Confidentiality Agreement or a Non-Disclosure Agreement in addition to your Service Agreement. These documents can help keep intellectual property and sensitive information confidential, protecting you and your clients from competition or breach of confidentiality.


While not always legally necessary, insurance is nonetheless invaluable to freelancers. Different forms of insurance will protect you, your work, and your equipment. Depending on your profession, you’ll have different needs, but there are some types of insurance that will be helpful for most freelancers.

  • Professional indemnity insurance can help protect you and your business against things like professional negligence, defamation, and breach of copyright.
  • Public liability insurance offers protection if you’re deemed liable for an injury or accident.
  • Contents insurance protects business equipment you keep in your office – whether you’re working in an office or from home.

Other forms of insurance you might need:

  • Cyber and data risk insurance can protect you in the case of cybercrime, covering the cost of things like recovering lost data and lost income.
  • Personal accident insurance protects you if you’re temporarily unable to work.
  • Portable equipment insurance covers any business equipment you bring outside of your workspace.

If you hire any employees to help you out with your business, note that you’re legally required to get employers’ liability insurance (EL).


Because there are few innate protections available to sole traders, many freelancers choose to join a freelancer’s union. There are multiple unions to choose from, and the membership benefits might vary, but they all aim to help freelancers with rights and entitlements. They might offer things like training, benefit packages, and legal advice to support you in your freelancing career.

In the UK, many professions have specific unions for their field in order to get specialised support, but you can also choose to join a general freelancer’s union. 


National Insurance gives you access to various benefits like pension and maternity leave. For traditional employees, National Insurance contributions are deducted from their paycheques along with their taxes. However, being self-employed, you might have to pay mandatory contributions out of pocket to qualify for the benefits.

Your contribution rate depends on your income, National Insurance class, and profession. The rates change yearly, but you can estimate your contribution by looking at the rates from past years. Your tax return will decide your contribution amount, and you’ll pay anything you owe through your yearly Self Assessment.

Filing taxes

As a sole trader, your personal and business taxes are the same. You’ll be filing your taxes yearly through Self Assessment. You must keep a record of all your business income and expenses throughout the year to make sure your assessment is accurate.

Remember that in the UK, the tax year starts on April 6
and ends on April 5 of the following year.

Consider getting an accountant or investing in an accounting tool like FreshBooks.


Your accounting can be recorded on a cash basis, or you can use traditional accounting.

  • Cash basis means you only have to declare money when it comes in or out of your business. You record the income or expense when you receive the money or pay the bill. Cash basis accounting is often suitable for small businesses earning less than £150,000 annually.
  • Traditional accounting means you declare the money when you invoice or get billed for a transaction. You get taxed for the transaction, but the money might not leave or enter your accounts until the following tax year. Traditional accounting is often more feasible and common for larger businesses.

Self Assessment

Reporting your own income as a freelancer includes completing a yearly Self Assessment. When you report your business and personal income to the government, you’ll find out how much you owe for taxes and national insurance. You might have to budget for your Self Assessment by putting money aside throughout the year.

Depending on your income and business type, different forms of taxes may be relevant to you.

  • Sole traders pay income tax. Income tax is declared through the yearly Self Assessment, and it also includes any contribution towards National Insurance.
  • Dividends paid to shareholders are also charged to income tax. If you have this type of income, include it in your Self Assessment.
  • You might have to register for Value Added Tax (VAT) if your taxable turnover exceeds the threshold of £85,000 yearly.
  • If you have employees, you will need to collect Pay As You Earn (PAYE) taxes and National Insurance for the government by deducting them at source from your employees’ earnings. 

Claiming allowable expenses

Being self-employed lets you deduct certain business expenses from your taxable income. You can claim these business costs as tax deductions if they’re allowable expenses.

Some of the potential costs you can claim as allowable expenses are:

  • Office costs, including home office upkeep
  • Travel costs, such as fuel and parking
  • Advertising, including print media and your website
  • Training courses related to your business
  • Financial costs, such as banking or insurance charges

Some businesses using traditional accounting can also claim capital allowances, which lets you deduct some or all of the value of an item from your taxable income. Items that can qualify as capital allowances include:

  • Equipment
  • Machinery
  • Business vehicles

Note that if you are a sole trader using cash basis accounting, there are specific rules for claiming capital expenses. If you buy a car for your business, you can claim it as a capital allowance, but everything else should be declared under allowable expenses.

To make the record-keeping and expense tracking easier, you can use simplified expenses. If it suits your business, simplified expenses let you use flat rates to calculate things like business costs for vehicles and the cost of working from home. You can’t claim capital allowances if you use simplified expenses.

Other ways to work for yourself

Instead of freelancing as a sole trader, you can choose to set up your own business as a partnership or a limited company. 

In a partnership, the partners are jointly and individually liable for the debts and liabilities of the partnership. In other words, each partner is liable for all the debts of the partnership.

A limited company, however, is a separate legal entity, so the owners generally won’t be held personally responsible for the debts of the company and only stand to lose the money invested in the company.

To form a partnership, you and your business partners should sign a Partnership Agreement. Setting up a limited company includes filling out Articles of Association.

Learn more about setting up a partnership or limited company in our guide on How to Legally Start Your Own Business.

Freelancing success

Freelancing gives you autonomy over who you work for and how and when you work. It can also be a great opportunity to make your job something you’re passionate and excited about. While choosing to become a freelancer might not be the easiest path, there’s a high reward if you succeed.

The key things to remember when freelancing are:

  • Plan and build a brand to market yourself to potential clients
  • Invest in yourself, your skills, and your equipment
  • Sell quality services at a rate you deserve
  • Protect yourself and your work with contracts and insurance
  • Keep records for when you file your taxes, and contact an accountant for support

Building a career will take patience, dedication, and hard work, and there will undoubtedly be struggles to overcome. However, by maintaining a solid foundation and remaining adaptable, you can create a life where you work with something you love every day. 

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