Are you thinking of leaving your permanent job? Is your portfolio ready to go?
If you’re reading this I’m going to guess the answer is yes, but you’re not 100% sure. It seems scary, not having a permanent job and the comfort of knowing that every month wages will drop into your bank account… then straight out again to pay your rent (if you live in London).
Before I went freelance and set up We Are Nomads, I worked permanently for seven years in retail interior design. During this time I learnt pretty much everything I know now. I do think it’s necessary to have a permanent job for a good chunk of time but I did start to get itchy feet after 7 years. I wanted to have more control over my time and the type of projects I worked on. I worked with many freelancers over the years and did the usual thing of asking ‘so how long have you been freelancing’? ‘how did you start doing it’? Questions I now get asked all the time. I think in the past few years a change has occurred and people do want more flexibility and have started to change the way they think about their career.
I have outlined below a list of 6 practical steps you should take in order to start working as a freelance interior designer. Download my contact sheet at the end of this post.
1. Set up a limited company.
2. Open a business account.
3. Find somebody to help you with your accounts.
4. Work out how much your day rate will be.
5. Connecting with agencies.
6. Be flexible
1. SET UP A LIMITED COMPANY
Is this your long-term plan? When I started freelancing I knew that I wanted to work towards having my own company. If you want to become a freelance designer to work towards your own company, I would advise on setting up a limited company. It might sound daunting and setting up a limited company means certain responsibilities such as filing company accounts every year to Companies House and HMRC. There are also the options of registering as a Sole Trader or working with an umbrella company. When I started freelancing I was with the umbrella company Giant, the advantage of an umbrella company is that they sort out all of the tax responsibilities for a percentage, the disadvantage is that they take quite a large chunk of your pay for this service. After two weeks I decided the umbrella route was not for me and set up a limited company. The first thing I needed to do was think of a name, the first name of my company was After Nine Design which I have now changed to We Are Nomads to reflect my change in direction.
Think about your companies name, it should reflect who you are and what you do and where you want to go in the future. I would advise sitting down for a couple of hours just scribbling on some paper thoughts and ideas about your brand. Remember your name will be seen across your website and social media and should reflect who you are and what you want to say.
Once you have a name you can start to the process of registering this with Companies House, there are services that can help you do this and my accountants did help me to register the name, but you can go to Companies House and do this yourself. The process is a little daunting but there are guides on YouTube if you struggle doing it on your own. You have to pay £12 to register your name online. You will need to check if the name is available on the Companies House database (there can’t be two companies with the exact same name).
Also check online to see if anybody else has the name, it if they do think of something more unique that will set you apart.
Registering your name is a great first step and will make you feel like things are really moving forward, the next step is setting up a bank account.
2. OPEN A BUSINESS BANK ACCOUNT
So now you have set up your own limited company you are a registered business and with this, you can open a business account. As a registered business you will have to have a business account and you can apply for an account online with your bank of choice. You will have to spend about 15-30 minutes filling out the form but it is relatively simple and should take no more than a week for them to approve you. When you do get approved and your account is open, receiving bank cards and other bits with your business name on is quite exciting.
I have used HSBC and NatWest for my company accounts at one time and both of which have been fine. This bank account is the account you should give to everybody you will invoice. Use this account to buy things you need for the business such as a laptop, stationery, sketchbooks etc. all of these things can be put through the business.
Note, some business accounts charge per transaction on the account debit card. If they do the best thing to do is to apply for a business credit card. Use this for all of your business expenses and then pay the card off from your main account in one chunk.
3. FIND AN ACCOUNTANT
As I mentioned earlier my accountants help me to register the business name. I started with Crunch, they are online accountants and mostly work with freelancers. They have their own portal from which you can invoice and see all of your company financials.
Since my business has now become an online shop as well as a design studio I needed to find a new accountant and so I went on the hunt, which is quite a lengthy process. It’s a bit like dating, and I had a few bad first dates with accountants. When I eventually found an accountant they used Xero a platform which you have to join for £22 a month. With Xero you can send invoices, add expenses and manage your financials.
I ended up paying around £120 per month, almost double what I was paying previously, so now I will probably do the bookkeeping myself as they are relatively simple and hire a freelance accountant to help me with the legal stuff when it needs submitting. Us freelancers have to help each other out right?.
4. WORK OUT HOW MUCH TO CHARGE
Now that the basic foundations are set up and your portfolio (which you have been slyly working on at work) is ready you can start to look for roles and connect with agencies.
When you contact an agency, they will ask you what your day rate is? This question can stump a lot of people, how do you know what your day rate is?
We all know what we love to get paid but most companies will not pay that. I would advise looking on agencies websites to see what freelance roles they currently have and make a note of the rates they are paying. There are a few resources online, which I will add to my contact sheet, that can help you to work out how your day rate will be compared to your payment wage.
Another way is to work back from how much you need to make in order to sustain your current lifestyle and then divide that up into a workable day rate. Also, bear in mind that tax will be paid at the end of the year, so unlike like a permanent job you won’t pay tax every month, you will pay it in one lump sum. It will feel like a lot of money but actually works out less than rates of tax for a perm job.
Before I start to freelancing I thought freelancers get paid so much but there will be times when you don’t have work, your money needs to support you during that time so don’t go crazy with all of that extra cash.
5. CONNECT WITH AGENCIES
As I am a retail designer I mostly work with branding agencies and I find most of my work through recruitment agencies, and sometimes direct. Agencies can help you get your foot in the door with many of the largest design companies in London, they have contacts and are able to recommend you and help negotiate contracts and rates.
There are many agencies out there but there are only a few which I would definitely recommend, download my contact guide to see who they are. Please be careful of agency overload. Joining too many will mean that you will be contacted by them for the same roles which can get awkward. There are some which specialise in design and some who don’t really know the industry that well. Stick to the ones which know design, they will understand your skills and the skills needed for roles.
As you move through the industry you will make contacts and work with people again and again which gives you the feel of a permanent job without the office politics.
6. BE FLEXIBLE
As I mentioned I have mainly worked permanently in retail design and some hospitality projects, however, since freelancing I have worked on projects I would have never had access to in permanent jobs such as windows at Selfridges, a music festival in Barcelona, PR events for beauty brands.
When you work for an agency the work they get in is the work you will work on. If you work for an agency who only works with department stores but would love to work with boutiques, I’m afraid you will have to move jobs to realise that dream. Freelancing will allow you to move fluidly between sectors and agencies.
It’s so refreshing to arrive on a Monday morning in a new environment with new ways of working and new people. It can seem daunting, almost like you’re starting a new job every time you start with a new agency, but we only grow when we’re out of our comfort zone.
Are you still interested in going freelance? let me know in the comments below. Have a long think about it whether you think this is right for you and if you do it and it’s not right, you can easily step back into the permanent world again. In saying that, I don’t know anybody that regrets taking that leap so what are you waiting for?