What are the risks?
Most freelancers face the major worry of getting enough work. “Work-wise, it can be feast or famine, especially when you start off,” cautions Harper. “You can almost guarantee that you’ll have twice as much work as you can handle one month and absolutely nothing the next.” Planning ahead is essential. “You’ve always got to be looking forward three months at a time. In the summer, I’m pitching for work to start in October and November.
"I’m also working out what money will be coming in and when, and planning to set aside some of my income from the autumn to cover December and January. Contract work is great – if you know you’ve got a certain amount of work and money coming in at set times, it helps you budget more easily. But remember to keep looking beyond that contract and line up replacement work two to three months before it finishes.”
Getting paid on time is another common problem for freelancers. “Many government-related organisations are still chock-full of red tape. I remember one particular client where any invoice that I submitted at the beginning of a month would never be paid until the 20th day of the following month, which meant I was waiting up to seven weeks for payment.
Some other businesses can be even worse – it has taken me three months to get what’s owed to me on occasions.” You need to agree payment terms in advance, invoice promptly, and then chase politely. Ultimately, you also have to decide whether late-paying clients are worth the hassle involved.
Harper stresses the importance of having more than one or two clients using your services. “If your work comes mainly from, say, two clients, you are very vulnerable. You’ve only got to have one go under, take your work in-house or play silly beggars with your invoices and you’ve suddenly gone from a success to a failure overnight.
"It’s far better to work towards a spread of clients – say, five or six – so that you’ll still have got plenty of work to go round if one client disappears.”