Freelance or self-employed? Five ways to make your job secure
Words by Alice Weightman
Everyone is talking about the gig economy, with recent research showing that between 20-30% of people in Europe and the US are now self-employed.
While much of the talk around freelancing has been negative, with claims that giggers are exploited, underpaid, and lack job security, reports show that some prefer the flexibility, freedom and control self-employment affords them.
What’s more, there are many ways you can boost your job security as a self-employed worker, so you’ll spend less time worrying about winning your next project and more time enjoying your flexible lifestyle.
As a self-employed worker, your client contracts are likely to be quite flexible, which usually means they can end at any time with very little warning. And while that may sound scary, the key to minimising the risk is to have a number of different sources of work, so that losing one doesn’t feel like the end of the world. Try to cover a variety of industries and even different services within your portfolio, while being careful not to rely on one client for too much of your work. That way if one of your income streams drops off a cliff, you have the others to fall back on, while you line up some new projects to fill the gap.
Be financially savvy
You need to get used to fluctuating earnings and no holiday pay, which means a rainy day fund is essential to give you peace of mind and cover any dry spells. Some freelancers also opt have two bank accounts – one as a current account and the other to receive client payments. They then pay themselves a regular monthly income from the payment account into their current account (the amount based on slightly less than their average monthly earnings). This means that whether you have a particularly busy or quiet month, your income will remain stable.
Also remember that, unlike permanent employees, any money that comes into your business account won’t be taxed until the following year, so you might be less flush than you think. Always save more than you think you need for HMRC and Companies House, or you could be in for a nasty shock later on. A good accountant is essential to help you plan your finances and stay on top of your responsibilities.
Make sure your services are in demand
In an ideal world, you should be turning down work, so never be complacent and make sure your services are always in demand. There are plenty of online tools you can use for your own marketing and PR, whether that’s social media, online talent platforms, or creating a website or blog. These ensure you remain visible even when you’re busy with other projects, while also giving you a way to showcase examples of your work and boost client confidence in your ability to deliver. The investment will be more than repaid with a steady stream of exciting new projects.
Cultivate a mix of long and short-term clients
Just working on short-term, ad hoc projects can be tiring and inefficient, as you’re constantly having to look for new work and build new client relationships. Plus, you have no way of planning your earnings on a month-to-month basis, making feelings of insecurity all the more likely. It’s better if you can secure a couple of retained clients that guarantee a certain income every month, while also giving yourself a bit of flexibility for any interesting (or lucrative) projects that come up.
Join freelancer networks and platforms
Being self-employed doesn’t have to mean being alone. There are now a number of online networks and talent platforms that can help you manage your career, providing a support system and access to benefits style packages, similar to those enjoyed by permanent employees. One example is Broodfonds, in the Netherlands, which works by creating small groups of 20-30 whose participants pay into a mutual sickness fund. Meanwhile, employees in the UK can purchase relatively affordable private income protection insurance.
Be very clear about payments due
Online platforms, such as the website I run, can provide you with a place to manage your projects and organise payments. They can help to formalise the client relationship, so both sides have increased security, while also helping to resolve any disputes or payment issues that may arise. There are also growing opportunities to collaborate with other freelancers through these sites, so you can take on additional support when you need it and go for bigger projects by working together.
Get it in writing
Most clients are trustworthy and will pay in a timely fashion, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take precautions. Even if you don’t have a formal contract in place, make sure that you have agreed in writing the activity, deliverables, how much you are charging and payment terms, before you start work. That way, if there are any disagreements down the line, you have something to fall back on. For ad hoc projects, it can also be a good idea to charge 50% of the fee upfront to give you additional security. Talent platforms can charge the client and hold the funds for both of you, releasing them when the work is successfully completed. This gives both you and the client protection.
Whatever you want to call it, there’s no doubt we’re entering a new era of employment, where the job for life is becoming more rare, while self-employment booms. With both businesses and individuals discovering more flexible and efficient ways of working, it’s time to redefine job security for the 21st century.