My decision to set up as an independent digital media consultant late last year followed a lengthy period of toying with the idea. And by lengthy, I don't mean weeks. Or even months. I mean years.
The idea of working for myself, choosing who I work with and making my own decisions had appealed to me on a number of levels for a long time. But for several reasons, mainly family, the timing never seemed right.
Maybe you're in the same boat? Maybe you're thinking about leaving the security of full-time employment in order to take back control over your career by going it alone? If so, there's a lot to consider way beyond the money you might or might not make as a freelancer. These are some of the things you're going to need to put serious thought into.
What do you want to achieve?
This is the biggest thing you need to decide upon as it affects all of the other decisions you need to make. Is your heart really set on working as an independent consultant, or do you perhaps dream of running an agency? The differences are significant. Independent means just that; alone. No business partner, no colleagues to bounce off. Agency means dealing with HR and salaries and premises. Think about your long-term goals carefully.
To brand or not to brand
Even if you do decide that independent is the way forward, you still have a choice to make when it comes to how you position yourself. I threw this one around for a few weeks: do I use my own name or do I ‘brand' myself as a company would? I settled on personal branding, gambling on existing profile and reputation. But the marketing purists would say that a proper brand identity is stronger.
Company or sole trader?
Assuming you do come down on the side of independence and regardless of how you position yourself, you still have to decide which legal entity is best for you. It's not the case that because your business is just you that you should be a sole trader. There are many reasons why setting yourself up as a limited company may be better for you, not least for tax reasons. And then there's whether or not to register for VAT to consider. Speak to an accountant to sort this out in the early days.
This one's a practical consideration, but it's a really important one. The way you're going to work as an independent consultant is going to be mobile. And you need your IT ecosystem to be as flexible as your other working arrangements. For me, working from the Cloud is a must. I want to be able to log in from any computer anywhere and access every single file I'd be able to at home. With this in mind, I chose to ditch both Microsoft AND Apple in favour of Google. I bought a Chromebook specifically for this purpose and, though it's a bit of an experiment, if it works as I think it will, it's the ideal freelance IT set up.
When you go out on your own, you're going to need business cards and a website. Or are you? In my previous job, I gave out maybe a dozen business cards in the last year, so why would I bother shelling out on getting some designed and printed now? In my case, I see a website and my blog as critical in marketing myself. But these were things I could build myself. For you it may be different. Maybe you're going to attend loads of networking events, in which case business cards are important and a website probably isn't. The lesson here is to think about how you're going to get business and spend money on what you need to achieve that and not the other niceties. Your bank balance will thank you for it.
Independent digital media consultant, Paul Sutton