Preparing for work
Getting Started as a Creative Freelancer
Freelancing, gig work, side hustles and solopreneurship have gained increased popularity and visibility over recent years. If you are thinking of selling your creative or technical skills as a service, either as a career change or to earn some extra $, read on for some tips to consider before you dive in.
Questions to Consider
Freelancing is more popular than ever, and for good reasons! It’s a fantastic way to control your schedule, be your own boss and work on projects that you’re passionate about. It’s especially common in creative fields — not just writers and designers, but videographers and coders often find freelancing is the way to go. However, it isn’t for everyone. If you’re considering taking the freelance route, here are a few questions to explore before you start:
- What kinds of projects do I like and dislike working on?
- Do I need part-time, full-time, or seasonal work right now?
- What do I want my days to look like?
- How comfortable am I with financial risk?
- What can I do to mitigate financial risk while I establish myself?
- What other needs do I have to consider?
- What do I still need to research to be able to make an informed decision that’s right for me?
Your ability to begin a freelance career is highly dependent on your financial stability. If you are not quite ready to make the jump, consider devising a plan, or budget, that works around your needs and schedule. Consider setting up a line of credit or securing a business loan with your bank to get you started. Test the water by starting small. You don’t have to jump into the deep end right away! That’s the beauty of working for yourself.
Finding freelance work may require a different approach compared to job seekers looking for more traditional positions. As a first step, start with your own network. Consider your family, friends, employers, peers, etc. Begin by asking for advice from those you already know and trust, to provide feedback on your business concept so that you can fine-tune your ideas. In the early stages, you can consider bartering your services with other professionals who offer services that you need – in other words, trading services of equal or similar value. If you do great work, eventually, word of mouth referrals will be aplenty.
In addition, volunteering can be a fantastic way to build your portfolio and make new contacts, all while setting yourself up for paid jobs down the line. Check out websites like Volunteer Canada and Charity Village for vacant positions.
You may also choose to explore online freelance platforms. These platforms intend to easily connect clients and freelancers to each other, for a fee. The best freelance sites offer a simple interface, quick payment, transparent pricing, and security for both the buyer and seller. If you’re a graphic designer, check out 99designs, and writers might be interested in Freelance Writing Gigs. There are also many popular sites, hosting a variety of freelancers such as Fivver, UpWork and Freelancer. Make sure to do your research and choose the platform that is best for you.
Lastly, consider joining social media networking groups. Online groups are a great way to meet a community of freelancers, find jobs and market your offerings. Some popular groups include, I need a producer/fixer/crew, Freelance Professionals and Women Who Freelance – Toronto.
As a freelancer you are in control of your budget and expenses; invoicing and chasing payment; and paying taxes.
As an initial step, draw up a personal budget to track how much money you need to make from freelancing to cover your outgoing costs. Both McGill’s Personal Finance Essentials course and Government of Canada Money Management pages offer free comprehensive resources to track your income, expenses (which, as a freelancer, may include covering your own sick days, vacation days and benefits) and savings goals. Factor in estimated expenses you will need to start freelancing e.g., software licenses, website hosting, liability insurance, etc.
Many freelancers will be asked by clients for their rates. It is key that you spend time researching the market rate for your industry, specific to the services you offer, your skill level and location so that you ensure you are being paid fairly. Take time to talk to other professionals in your field, who either are, or hire freelancers, about who tends to set rates, typical fee ranges, project vs. hourly rates, and what services are generally included in these fees.
Track your time spent per project (apps such as Toggl, Hubstaff, Harvest and others offer tech solutions for this). If you are spending too long completing your work and not making enough profit, it may be time to increase your rates, add a buffer into your time estimates, or set stronger boundaries around your time with clients.
Likewise, you will need to start tracking: invoicing and payments (check out software such as Wave, Quickbooks, Freshbooks, etc.), your total income (over a certain threshold you will need to register for a GST or HST number) and the money you set aside for tax season (30% of your total income is recommended) and copies of your records and expenses for Revenue Canada.
Your Rights and Responsibilities
As a freelancer, you handle running every aspect of your business. You’ll need to understand your rights and responsibilities to protect yourself against worst-case scenarios.
Firstly, freelancers are not entitled to the same rights as ‘employees’ under the Employment Standards Act. While this Act varies by province or territory, it typically covers employee rights such as minimum wage, overtime pay, vacation, leaves of absence, public holidays and more. As a freelancer, you will need to create a plan for these conditions. Need help? The Canadian Bar Association has a list of free/low-cost legal assistance.
Writing a freelance contract may seem tricky at first, but they are necessary. After all, a contract protects both you and your client. It is recommended that all work arrangements begin with a contract signed by both parties. Don’t know where to start? Begin by learning which clauses are necessary and reviewing templates. You may also choose to seek aid from a professional contract writer or a lawyer.
While freelance work can be incredibly empowering, it can also come at a cost if you’re not careful. Many freelancers fall prey to scams intended to lure them into easy earnings, only to have these earnings ripped away. The first step to being scam-proof, is to be aware of common freelancer scams. However, if you do come across a scam, make sure to report it to the platform it’s occurred on, your bank, and/or the police and Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre, depending on its severity.
Freelancing continues to be an attractive opportunity for Creatives, offering flexibility, greater control, and variety of work. Doing your due diligence before you make the leap, can make for a softer landing.
For more detailed tips and advice, watch our webinar ‘Creative Freelancing: What You Need to Know Before You Begin’. Current students and those who graduated within the past 6 months, can reach out to a Career Advisor for a 1:1 appointment to discuss strategizing your next steps.