Although 2020 was a particularly tough year for the self-employed (especially in the entertainment sector), there are still over 2 million freelancers working in the UK. Here’s our guide to navigating self-employment in the UK, whether you’re working in the creative industries as a writer, graphic, designer, photographer, etc., do support work including admin and virtual assistant (VA) roles, or earn money through dog walking and pet sitting. Let’s get into it.
Disclaimer: This article is intended as a general guide to becoming self-employed in the UK as a freelancer. Please consult with a lawyer and/or accountant for professional advice on UK self-employment.
Where to find freelance work
The rise of remote and hybrid means that being freelance or self-employed in London isn’t much different to freelancing elsewhere in the UK. A lot will depend on your sector. For example, if you work in TV, film production or theatre, being London-based will be more relevant than if you’re offering marketing or VA support. But, wherever you’re based, you need clients, and even in the remote world it helps to be where they are, physically and virtually. Here are a few tips to do just that.
Find out how your clients hire: Some might use freelance platforms such as YunoJuno or Worksome. Others may place ads in places like If You Could Jobs or hire via recruiters. But not everyone advertises—so it’s worth keeping tabs on company websites too.
Set up job alerts: Some freelancers work across different disciplines, so set up specific alerts (i.e., “dog walker, Hackney” or “part-time marketing consultant”) so you know when opportunities pop up.
Build a community of other freelancers: They’re your colleagues, not your competition—so join freelance platforms, professional groups on social media and consider professional industry memberships.
Make sure you’re easy to find online: Whether it’s keeping your website or Linkedin profile up to date, getting on top of SEO or having a portfolio or professional profile site.
Promote and pitch your skills: Look out for promo days on social media groups. Answer questions or take skill assessment quizzes on LinkedIn. Let your friends, former co-workers and previous clients know you’re available for work. Collect and share testimonials. Cold pitch to the clients you want to work with.
Getting set up as a sole trader, limited company, or via an umbrella company
Freelancing got a bit more complicated in 2021 with changing tax rules around IR35 in the private sector. The TL;DR version is a piece of legislation used to determine whether a contract worker is viewed as an employee by HMRC. But there’s plenty of advice on how to navigate those changes from organisations like IPSE.
If you’re new to freelancing, you might be trying to decide whether to be a sole trader or set up a limited company. To answer that, look at the kind of work you do. For example, are you a contracter who works set hours at an agreed hourly or daily rate and report to someone at the organisation? If so, you’re likely to be considered inside IR35 and may be required to use an umbrella company that will deduct your tax, National Insurance (including the employer’s contribution), and a fee.
However, if you’re mainly working on a project basis wih an agreed deadline using your own equipment, with the right to appoint a substitute, you’re more likely to be deemed outside. You can check your status using the government’s online tool. Be warned, it’s not great, and you may want to get advice from contract experts too.
Keeping your finances in order
However you’re set up, make sure you get your taxes in order from the start. Get an accountant, which you may only need once a year to help with your tax return, or with more regular bookkeeping and compliance if you have a limited company. Limited companies are legally required to have business bank accounts.
But as a sole trader, it’s worth setting up a business account or two to make sure you’re putting money aside for tax and National Insurance. You can apply for accounts with high street banks like Barclays, HSBC, or use digital-only banks and Finance apps like Starling, Monzo, Tide.
Choosing the right insurance
Whether or not the murky waters of IR35 affect your freelance sector, you’ll still need to make sure you have the right insurance in place. There are different levels of insurance you could buy as a freelancer, including income protection if you’re unable to work due to illness or injury. But the main two are professional indemnity and public liability insurance.
All freelancers will need professional liability insurance because as a self-employed person you’re taking on the risk if something goes wrong. In the (hopefully unlikely) event a client decides to sue you, you’re going to need cover. A lot of clients ask for your policy details as a condition of working with them too.
If you do most of your freelance work at home, with very little in-person interaction, then you probably won’t need public liability insurance. However, if you’re working anywhere involving the public or going on site, you should definitely get it. That way if someone happens to trip over a leash while you’re out walking dogs, or something is accidentally damaged because of your work, you’re covered. In that case, it’s worth looking at a bundle that covers both; you can save some money by getting a dual policy, rather than taking out two separate policies.
Finding co-working spaces
And finally, for home-based freelancers looking for a change of scene or a place to meet clients, we’ve got plenty of suggestions for cheap, flexible co-working spaces in London.