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Working for yourself is one of the best decisions you’ll make, and it’s also the bravest, scariest and most exciting.

If you’re one of the record numbers of self-employed people starting out this year, here are 10 top tips to help you through the initial fog.


1. Give yourself a cushion when you take the leap

Whether going freelance is a life-long ambition, or the result in an unexpected change of circumstances, it’s important to create as much of a financial buffer as possible. Switching from receiving a regular salary to invoicing and waiting a month (sometimes more) can be punishing.

If possible, try to tuck away three months’ worth of expenses (utility bills, debt repayments, mortgage and living costs such as food). If that really isn’t possible, look at ways to reduce payments and talk to your bank about the possible effects of your change in employment.


2. Network like mad

You never know who will turn out to be a great source of work, so tell everyone who’ll listen that you’re going into business. Set up a simple website, which details your skills and what you’re offering, and has clear ‘calls to action’ that show people how to get in touch. Make sure everyone you meet has your business card and that your cards clearly show your website address.

Attend local events for small businesses, such as those put on by the local chamber of commerce. If you’re not a member of your chamber of commerce, you may be able to attend a limited number of events for free.

Join LinkedIn, making sure your profile is up-to-date and that you join relevant discussion groups.


3. Don’t rest on your laurels, but do rest

Although you mustn’t get complacent, it’s also essential that you rest. It’s tempting to go hell for leather, working all day and all night. After all, it’s down to you to make this work, right? But the truth is: 12 burnt-out hours are far less valuable than eight truly productive hours.


4. Do what the A-listers do

Take a tip from Hollywood biggies like Angelina Jolie or George Clooney. Doing the big blockbusters allows them the freedom to follow their hearts into lesser-paid, lesser-watched pet projects. While you’re unlikely to be offered a part in Ocean’s Fourteen, you can learn from this approach. By finding regular, safe work that is related to your field, you can buy yourself a little freedom to follow lesser-paid work that indulges a passion and keeps things interesting.


5. Say no

It’s hard to turn down work, especially when you’re getting started. But try not to undersell yourself and end up working too long for too little. That time you’re spending burning yourself out for little reward, is time you could be networking and pitching for better paid, more rewarding work.


6. Step away from the computer

If you work from home or take your work home with you, it’s vital you carve out some time for ‘not work’. Whether that’s actual ‘play’ or just watching TV (without checking emails on your phone), going for a walk or meeting up with friends, your sanity, your creativity and your energy levels will thank you.


7. Don’t compare yourself to others

Watch your competitors carefully and learn from them: What do they do well that you can replicate? What do they do poorly that you can beat them on? But you must measure your success by your own goals, not by how much money (you think) others are making. Freelance life is about achieving a lifestyle that works for you and your family, not your nemesis in the next town.


8. Get tax stuff right from the start

You know you have to pay it, you know you have to keep back some of your earnings, so why leave it until you’re in a pickle before tackling tax? It’s easy to get behind, but it’s also very easy to stay on top. Before you even receive your first payment, set up a spreadsheet to record any invoices you send out, the date, invoice number, work done, client and amount received. Do the same for expenses. Make sure you record absolutely everything, and keep back at least 25% of everything you earn to cover your tax and National Insurance. Do check with HMRC or an accountant if you believe you will be a higher rate taxpayer.


9. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket

By all means build up a reputation within your niche, but try not to rely on one source of income. Even long-standing relationships can change very quickly, a company could be bought out or even close down. Consider related work with a spread of different clients.


10. Be nice

If you’re polite, kind and professional and do a good job, and your rival does an equally good job but is surly and late, who are they going to call? Something as basic as manners can really make the difference and people remember a friendly face.


Guest post by Holly Seddon

Holly Seddon (1)

an experienced writer and columnist who has written for The Sun, Daily Mail, Guardian, MSN and Quibly. She has been freelancing on and off for the last decade and in September 2009, was highly commended in the Remote Worker Awards. She is also a busy mum of three, and finds freelancing fits in with school runs, dog walks and frantic last minute baking projects. You can follow Holly on twitter @HollySeddon