Whether youre a student needing to strike a balance between work and study, or a graduate looking to start working for yourself, freelancing can be a good option to consider.

What is freelancing?

Freelancing is a type of self-employment, which means you work for yourself using your skills to provide a service or product to clients. Unlike a 9am-5pm job, a freelancer has the flexibility to set their own schedule, agreeing deadlines with a client and then planning their work time to ensure that they can deliver on time.

Freelancers often work from home or they might rent shared office space like The Skiff or PLATF9RM

Important: If you are an international student you cannot engage in business activity while on a student visa. You can still talk to us for advice about your ideas and options. Find out more about what you can do after graduation in the UK.


  • Flexibility – as a freelancer you choose the projects that you take on or turn down.
  • Creativity – you are permanently exercising creativity, in terms of how you find and keep clients and in terms of the work that you deliver.
  • Work/life balance – you set the hours you work and choose when you’ll take holiday.
  • Variety – as a freelancer you can be working for multiple clients at any one time. Projects often vary, which keeps things interesting.
  • Personal development – as a freelancer you have control over the skills you choose to develop and what you specialise in.
  • Be your own boss – as a freelancer you set the direction for the business and make decisions about marketing, strategy and delivery of work. You ultimately hold responsibility for everything from making sure your tax is paid to delivering to your clients on time (and everything in between).


  • Finding work – alongside delivering work for your current client, you need to continue to market yourself and put time and resources into securing your next client. Your income can be irregular, especially when you’re starting out and building a client base.
  • No holiday or sick pay – as a freelancer you won’t earn money unless you’re working. This means that you’ll need to plan and budget for periods of holiday and sickness.
  • Administrative responsibilities – Unlike an employee, a freelancer is responsible for paying tax and keeping records of their income and business expenses. A proportion of each week will need to be set aside for this as well as marketing and business development activities.
  • Professional development – An employer will often budget for and pay for their employees to attend training and conferences to ensure that their staff member’s skills and knowledge are always growing. As a freelancer you need to budget for your own training and build in time for it.

How to get into freelancing

Freelance roles may include (but are not limited to): 

  • bloggers or vloggers
  • personal trainers
  • sign language interpreters
  • translators
  • trainers
  • therapists
  • web designers
  • dog walkers.

To get started as a freelancer it might help to:

Spend time planning

If you’re looking to start a freelance business, you’re going to want to spend some time planning. You might find using a tool like Business Model Canvas useful. This will help you think about who your clients are, the tasks you need to do to run your business and the costs of operating as a freelancer. 

Aim to start lean 

Starting lean involves developing what’s known as an MVP (minimum viable product), which means the most basic version of your service or product. Once you have your MVP, you can then begin a period of gathering client feedback. With every piece of feedback gathered you can tweak and change your product/service to make it more in line with something the client needs. Once you have built up a client base and have money coming into the business, you can then use those profits to invest back into the business. At this point purchase software, revamp your website or buy equipment that you might need to deliver your service or product to customers.

Find clients

Some freelancers like to find work through sites like PeoplePerHour or Upwork.

Important: Do your research before taking a piece of work, these sites are not associated with the University of Sussex. 

Draw up contracts

This is a document signed by you and the client. It protects both parties and typically it would include details such as:

  • outlining who the agreement is between
  • setting expectations, such as what work will be completed and by when
  • payment terms – what and when will be paid, plus late payment or late delivery clauses.

Create invoices

You’ll need to do some research into whether or not you’ll need to invoice, not all freelancers do. In some freelance roles, if you don’t invoice the client, you won’t get paid for the work that you’ve completed. If you do need to invoice for your work, the invoice should be one-page. See a sample invoice.

Paying tax

Important: If you start working for yourself, you are classed as a sole trader. You will need to register as self-employed to pay tax. Find out who qualifies as self-employed. If you qualify you can register and fill in your self-assessment tax return online.

You will need to name your business before you register. You can trade under your own name or choose another name. You must include your name (and business name, if you have one) on official paperwork (for example, invoices and letters). Sole trader names must not include ‘Limited,’ ‘Ltd,’ ‘Limited Liability Partnership,’ ‘LLP,’ ‘Public Limited Company’ or ‘plc’. Your business name must not be offensive or be the same as an existing trademark.

Take out insurance

Do your research and make sure you know what you need, before you get going. Speak to insurance companies and compare quotes. Not all types of insurance will be relevant for your chosen field.

Some types of insurance include:

  • Public Liability Insurance: if you cause injury to someone or damage property
  • Professional Liability Indemnity Insurance: if you make mistakes that cost a client money
  • Tools insurance: if your tools are lost, stolen or damaged.

There’s also critical illness and life insurance cover available for freelancers.

Find more information on insurance for freelancers from Freelance UK.

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