Becoming an IT freelancer: 8 tips for success
Many IT professionals and developers aspire to become IT freelancers. But setting up your own business in the IT sector cannot be a spur-of-the-moment decision. This change in your professional life needs to be prepared in advance so as to minimise the risks you take – particularly financial risks. Here are 10 tips to help you protect yourself before going freelance!
1. Do some market research
If you have a well-paid permanent contract in IT, it would be unwise to leave in order to become an IT freelancer on a whim!
Becoming self-employed takes months of preparation. You need to think more than twice about what you really want to do. And once you have a definite answer, you need to start gathering information about that specific sector.
In fact, it’s never a bad idea to carry out a little market research before setting up your own business, to find out about the economic potential. To do this, you need to gather the figures for the market you want to enter. For example, if you want to become a freelance web developer, it’s definitely worth finding out which programming languages or CMS (Content Management System) are the most popular – and which ones are on the rise – what the demand is in your area, what types of companies have this need, who your competitors are, etc.
2. Build up your network before starting out as an IT freelancer
Once you know more about your market’s potential, you can start talking to people about your desire to set up as an IT freelancer.
You should also start building up a network of professional contacts before diving head first into entrepreneurship. That’s why it’s not advisable to set yourself up as an IT freelancer straight from school, because you don’t yet have a network. Your various professional experiences will also help you ascertain what you want to do, on top of helping you build up your professional network.
Once you’ve made your decision, send an e-mail or LinkedIn message to all your professional contacts so that they are aware of your new status. They will then be able to contact you if they have an assignment for you – or keep you in mind for future opportunities.
Don’t shy away from discussing your difficulties or questions with your peers at afterwork meetings or on forums dedicated to IT freelancers. They’ll be able to advise you or direct you to the right people for administrative or legal questions, for example.
3. Create your professional profile on LinkedIn
Of course, you’re going to create your profile on LinkedIn, with a portfolio of the sites you’ve developed (if you’re a developer). Many companies are looking for IT profiles on LinkedIn. Being visible on this professional network is non-negotiable. To do this, describe your experience and IT skills in detail, adding lots of keywords.
4. Choose an umbrella company
If you want to keep your benefits as an employee, you can opt to work via an umbrella company. You sign an employment contract with an umbrella company. This work organisation model defines a three-way contractual relationship between an employee, the umbrella company and the client company. In this way, you retain the advantages of salaried employment, while remaining independent.
This comes at a cost however, as the umbrella company deducts a fee from your pay.
It can work out better financially to operate via limited company, depending on your IR35 status. So an umbrella company is sometimes considered better for those just starting out, or who do not want the responsibility and administration tasks that come with running a limited company.
5. Take a business management course
If you have no idea about business management, it might be worth taking a short course on the subject. Many organisations offer such courses.
6. Draw up an IT freelance business plan
Before setting up your own business, we strongly advise you to draw up a provisional business plan to calculate your break-even point and your forecast ADR (average daily rate).
A word to the wise: build up a “safety cushion” before you start. Put some money aside before you register. There will undoubtedly be slower months; especially at the beginning, when you’re looking for your first customers. You should also bear in mind that you will not be paid during your holidays, as you will no longer be an employee.
7. Take out insurance
As a self-employed person, it’s essential to protect yourself against life’s setbacks. To do this, it’s best to take out a health insurance policy that will cover you and your family in the event of partial or total incapacity, disability, dependency or death. You will also likely need professional indemnity insurance, as well as policies such as public liability insurance, IR35 insurance and cyber insurance.
8. Make sure you have the support of your family
Last but not least, make sure that your family supports you in your decision, because your household will also be affected by it.
Life as an entrepreneur can be intense. You may not always be available in the evenings or at weekends. The people around you need to know in advance. You need to discuss the situation with your partner to make sure they accept it.
Finally, if you are in a relationship and your partner is also starting a freelance business, having the both of you to start out at the same time may not be the best decision. One of you should remain employed, to minimise potential risks.