Introduction to freelancing

It's safe to say that if you're interested in the creative industries, it'll help you to be familiar with the way you can work as a freelancer here in the UK. Even if you don't start your career as a freelancer, you can work side-jobs in your spare time, moonlight while holding a day-job, and make the jump when you're established within your sector.

This toolkit is designed to introduce you to the basics of freelancing in the creative industries, but most of the information can just as easily be applied to any industry, and hopefully can offer some new tips to seasoned professionals.


Recent statistics from the Creative Skillset Workforce Survey suggest that on average 30% of those working in the creative industries in the UK are self-employed. When you look deeper, different sectors employ freelancers at very different rates, from just 14% in games, to a whopping 90% in film production.

There are a couple of key differences between the various terms for independent workers, it's best to know these before we start.

  • If you're self-employed, it means that you file your own tax returns, as ordinarily this would be handled by your employer (you may see this referred to as PAYE, or a "permanent position").

  • If you're a freelancer, it means that you work for multiple clients. You can be self-employed without being a freelancer, but you can't be a freelancer without being self-employed.

  • A contractor is just a term for a freelancer that works on long-term projects, sometimes for months or even years at a time, but will usually be self-employed, and will usually be freelance.

A limited company is just another method of self-employment, with more options to grow into a larger business in the future. There are differences between self-employment and working for your own limited company that will be covered later in the guide, but for now just know that it can be a little more complex to register a limited company, and it's not usually worth it until your business is up and running, and stable enough to support you.

It's important to state that freelancing is hard. It's the same amount of work as a day-job, but you'll need to manage your own sales and marketing, finance, tax, facilities and equipment on top. Work-related benefits such as sick pay, maternity pay and holiday pay can also be a bit more complicated to manage, as you don’t have a HR department to cover it for you.

However, don't let that put you off. You can decide your own pay, pick and choose jobs that you want to do, and decide on your own hours and workspace. Working freelance can give you more flexibility than any day-job.


When we interviewed freelancers working in the industry, they all told us that you'll need a handful of key skills. Don't worry if you feel like you haven't got these yet, as there's no faster way to develop them than getting stuck in.


Sometimes you'll be asked to do a job slightly out of your comfort zone. Maybe it's a bit more complex or specialist than you're used to, or maybe it requires outside support. If you can take it on and still deliver your work by using the resources around you, you'll be in high demand.

Whether calling up the friends in your network, reaching out on Twitter, or simply searching for information on public forums, you'd be surprised at all the resources available. Sometimes the place of work may even provide some basic training if the work is highly specialist, or if they have their own systems or workflow.


Being able to clearly explain your ideas goes a long way, whether over a coffee, a video call or a frantically-typed email from a train station in the middle of nowhere. Take the time to do yourself justice, make sure that all the parties are happy with your plans or your work, and keep a record of your communications.

Some freelancers like to log their phone calls online or on paper as well as their emails to avoid any conflict later ("You told me on 2 July that the budget was confirmed..."). This is particularly important when it comes to payment - make sure you agree and confirm the conditions of payment and the amount.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions if a brief or an instruction isn’t clear, it's important that you deliver what the client wants, rather than something that isn’t right. Being a generally articulate person will also help you pitch and tender for bigger jobs at bigger companies, as well as answer whatever difficult questions they have lined up for you.


Although it's a great feeling to be able to set your working hours, many freelancers have been put out of business by the lure of late-night Netflix, going out with friends and family (who are usually on a 9-5 contract) and taking holidays whenever they feel like it (Venice is both lovely and affordable in Spring).

Being dedicated to wake up and start work can be more difficult than most new freelancers think, so having discipline to keep your working hours consistent, and helping your friends at family understand that you're "at work" even if you're at home, will go a long way in keeping your freelance business successful.

Take time to figure out the best routine and structure that works for you to keep you motivated. Many freelancers start their day with an early morning exercise or business meeting to get their brain and body in gear for the rest of the day.


Having an understanding of your practice and sector will go a long way in proving to prospective employers that you're reliable and switched-on. In a traditional job, you may be offered training opportunities, but when you're self-employed you'll need to pay for it yourself as well as take the time out of work to attend! As such, training is in decline, falling from 64% of creative industry employees saying that they'd taken training during the last 12 months in 2005, to just 51% in 2014.

The advent of sites like Lynda and Skillshare can be an affordable solution to training in-person, and maintaining your own presence online will help employers see that you're engaged and interested in the work you do. Anything from a blog,YouTube channel or just keeping up on Twitter and other social media sites will make you much more employable.

Read industry publications relevant to your sector to keep up with the latest projects, technology and issues that will keep you on the pulse and could help you identify new business opportunities. Find out where the people working in your industry congregate, and go there.


Self-employment boils down to selling yourself and your skills. From setting rates to writing ‘about’ website pages and newsletters, to networking at industry events; it can be quite daunting if you're a bit of a wallflower. However, the more events you go to, the more people you get to know and the more familiar it all becomes, you’ll find that it gradually becomes less daunting.

Make sure you're setting your rate in line with your peers in the industry with rate cards from a union, diary service or agency to avoid undercharging for your services. And make sure you keep a roster of clients or a portfolio of work freely available and up-to-date. With any luck, the work will speak for itself.

Self-employment can be daunting, but you don't have to jump in at the deep end. Many people in the current workforce started out with a part-time or full-time job to support themselves while they got established. Moonlighting is loosely defined as working a second job in the evening, or at night. If you're doing a job that isn't too stressful and feel like you can balance it, then it can be a great way to try it out.

It's worth reading your contract of employment to make sure that moonlighting is permitted, and if you're unsure talk to your line manager, or someone equivalent. Most companies will require you to not do freelance work during office hours (obviously) as well as not soliciting your company's clients. If you work for a design studio, and start to offer company client cheaper rates by working outside the company, not only is that dishonest and unsustainable, but a great way to lose the faith of your employer, and maybe your job.


Sign up to our email newsletter for all the latest news and updates from across the screen-based creative industries to help your career, project or company.

Sign up