My first year of freelancing; four things I’ve learned

It's been a fantastic year and I couldn't have hoped for a better introduction to the world of freelancing.

I thought I’d share some of the things I’ve learned to those thinking about making the jump.

1. ABI – Always be Invoicing

Cash flow is the biggest killer of many small businesses. It’s no good having a full order book if you haven’t got the money to pay the rent.

Being busy doesn’t always mean you have the time to invoice. It took me a couple of months to realise I needed to be invoicing as often as I can. If a project takes 3 weeks, I didn’t send my invoice until a week later and the client had 30 day payment terms that meant waiting 2 months for the money. That’s no good if there are bills to pay.

Ask for 50% upfront if possible, 7 day payment terms if you can, invoicing every 2 weeks, whatever it is you can do to get paid quickly.

2. There are two types of freelancer: contractor and consultant, know which one you are

Are you a contractor or a consultant? It’s an important decision to make. It’s worth thinking about why a client hires a freelancer (or an agency for that matter). Generally it’s for three reasons

I. They don’t have the skills to do the work themselves
II. They don’t have the time / people available to do the work
III. To say something they can’t say


Contractors do regular 9 – 5, five days a week work, often on site working on a specific project for a number of weeks with a defined deliverable. They fit into option I or II, the client doesn’t have the skills or time / people available to do the work. Great contractors look for clients who match type 1 and don’t have the skills needed. Making this work challenging and fun.

It’s easier to set yourself up as a contractor working on type II work where client does’t have time to do the work. There is a lot more of that work around and it’s easy to get; often from recruiters or working for an agency. The inverse of availability of the work is that often it is filling in gaps the client has or doing work employee don’t want to do. This can make that kind of work a little unfulfilling.

A contractor might work on a responsive site redesign. A consultant on the other hand will help define the solution to a problem, is this case the client needs a responsive site as opposed to an app.


Consultants fit very much with option 2 and 3. They work on specific problems rather than projects and have shorter engagements, sometimes only a few days. Consultants are specialists bought in to solve an issue and typically define the best way to approach that problem.

Consultants need to be bringing in more client work as they have to do a few projects a month. They rely on their network to recommend them and to find the volume of work they need. Typically, it’s challenging work which only suits certain people.

Knowing which you are will help you talk better about the work you want and ultimately attract the clients and the projects you want to be working on.

The Make Money Online Podcast (awful name but great content) is useful for helping to define your offering and services.

3. Get as much help as you can

Hire an accountant, a bookkeeper and don’t be afraid to get support for routine admin work. A good accountant is worth their weight in gold, especially if they are familiar with good accounting software like Freeagent.

Being organised with your admin will save you time and lots of money. I regularly use and the amazing people who offer their services to help with writing up workshop notes, proofreading, entering expenses or formatting documents.

If you are busy with paid work you don’t want to, or indeed won’t have time to, be doing admin.

4. Don’t wait for the phone to ring or that email to arrive to bring work in.

Because sooner or later the phone will stop ringing and the emails will dry up. To be a successful freelancer you need to go looking for work.


Nobody wants to be a sleazy salesmen. If you find yourself having to do that, look again at where the leads for your work come from. Tweet, blog, write, go to conferences, speak at conferences, go to local tech events, answer questions on Stack Overflow or Quora, join mailing lists, Slack communities, Facebook and LinkedIn groups, share, grab a coffee with colleges or clients you’ve not seen for years.

Don’t ask for work, just be helpful. Understand what problems your clients are facing and solve problems for free, write about what you have learned, share all your insights. By helping people you will find clients who need your help.

Freelanceer Resources

Also published on Medium.

3 Responses to “My first year of freelancing; four things I’ve learned”

  1. David McCartney

    Great stuff, Joe! Absolutely agreed with the last point – you really have to do whatever you can and be creative when it comes to getting your name out there, and getting those clients in, especially after a dry spell. Offering a little bit of help – nothing too much – is also a great way to get a foot in the door.

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