How to start freelancing in 11 steps (free checklist included!)

If you’ve been thinking of going freelance, you’re probably wondering how on earth do I go about getting started?

It sounds so complicated, but the truth is you can do it, and you can do it quickly and without too much effort.

Getting started is almost always the most difficult part, and it’s where we tend to procrastinate. When it comes to freelancing, just the idea of getting started sounds so big and vague, that it’s easy to understand why so many people keep pushing it back and finding excuses. 

The most important thing is to get started and gain momentum – the easiest way to do that is to break the process down into small, achievable steps.

So in today’s article, we will do exactly that!

Here is how to get started freelancing in 11 achievable steps!


Step 1: Decide how you want to be set up

There are a few different ways to become self-employed. For most people based in the UK, I suggest becoming a sole-trader. This is quick, easy and free. For most freelancers providing services online, there are few benefits to setting up a physical company at this stage. You will still be a business, and you can use a business name, without needing to create a company.

→ Here’s a quick tutorial on how to register as a freelancer in the UK.

Another option that might be good for you is registering an EU-based company with the help of Estonian e-residency. This option involves more time and has some admin costs involved, but it can be a great solution for many freelancers who want to run their business location independently and have free access to the EU market.

→ We have written a complete guide about Estonian e-residency, so check it out to learn more about it and see if you can benefit from it.

Step 2: Choose your name

Think about the name you want to use, and how you will present yourself to the world. Many freelancers use their own name, which gives a personal touch. If you want to sound larger than you really are, you may want to use a more corporate businessy-sounding name – but beware of misleading people.

You don’t want people to be expecting you to have agency capacity if you’re a one man band.

Step 3: Tell HRMC (for setting up as a freelancer in the UK)

Next, you need to register with the taxman, letting them know that you’ll be filling in a self-assessment form at the end of the financial year.

They will give you an identifying number. Don’t be afraid of this – they are actually very helpful if you have any queries and problems. You can quickly register here.

If you want to set up a company using the Estonian e-Residency program, we have an article about that coming up soon!

→ This varies from country to country, so unfortunately we can help you here only to some extent, so we recommend doing your own research here as well.

Step 4: Decide if you want to use an accountant

If you find the idea of taxes daunting, you’ll most likely want to find an accountant to help you out. If you are offering simple services, however, you don’t actually need one – but it may make your life more simple in the long run.

Many accountants also offer limited services – such as simply checking over your tax return for you before you submit it.

This is enough help for many people – especially because online accounting software is now so easy to use and update with invoices and receipts. There are incredibly apps available which can really help here too.

→ It’s important that you decide this right at the start, and set up accounting system how it works for you the best to avoid a lot of headaches later when the time for tax return comes.

Step 5: Create a dedicated workspace

It’s time to decide where you’ll get down to business! Unless you physically need to be in a certain location – such as to use specialist equipment – I usually recommend finding somewhere quiet to work at home. An office can be an unnecessary expense – especially at this early stage of your journey. 

If you want a change of scenery, you can always get a coworking membership, or head to a coffee shop. Flexibility is a key benefit of freelancing – so don’t tie yourself into an office too soon.

→ Having a dedicated workspace will help you get into a work mode, lower distractions and help you stay focussed.

Step 6: Create branding

This isn’t an essential step, but if you do have some money available, I would consider getting some branding work done. This will help you to look – and feel – the part, and you can ensure that your online presence, website and social media all feel consistent and professional.

→ You don’t have to hire a professional graphic designer, if you are not one. You can find an inspiration for the basic branding elements on Pinterest or Dribble, and then use free online tools like Canva or Figma to bring your brand to life.

Step 7: Get insurance

In most cases, you will also want to arrange some insurance – namely professional indemnity and public liability insurance.

You may never need to use them, but it will help you in case of problems in the future, should things go wrong for any reason.

In all my years as a freelancer I’ve only ever claimed once – and that was to repair my laptop. It gives great peace of mind, however, and many clients – especially larger ones – actually require that you have some kind of insurance.

You can find a year’s cover starting from around £100.

Step 8: Set up a pension

Many new freelancers ignore this step – in fact, data suggests just 30% of freelancers have a pension – but getting a personal pension early can be one of the best investments you make.

The reason is simple – at the basic tax rate, the government effectively adds an extra 25% to your contributions.

Starting early has a massive impact on the amount in the pot when you retire, so don’t leave it too long. If you just want to test the waters of freelancing before you sign up for a pension that’s okay – just make sure you check back in a few months and get it done.

→ I use Pensionbee and I explain why I’ve used it in the Freelancers we need to talk about pensions… article – give it a read!

Step 9: Get a business bank account

This also used to be a costly, complicated process. Not any more!

There is a new breed of innovative, banks popping up which make managing your finances a breeze.

I personally use Coconut for my work but I am considering switching to Monzo Business. It helps to organise your business transactions easily, and can break down your tax return for you. This is a great way to keep track of the taxes you’ll need to pay at the end of the year.

→ There are other great options, like Mettle, Starling, Wise, and we will publish an overview of the best banking options for freelancers in the UK soon!

Step 10: List all of the tools and equipment you need

What do you need to get the job done?

Don’t go overboard, but if something is likely to save you time and effort then it may be worth it. Make a list of all equipment, tools and active subscription you currently have and then a list of what you need to actually perform and deliver your services and run all other aspects of your business.

This refers to both physical equipment, like a laptop, phone, and online software and tools you need.

For all active subscriptions, write down if you’re paying monthly or yearly, how much and when is the next subscription renewal.

Assess which one of those you need for work, and which one you can cancel and redirect that money to something else.

→ This will help you control your fixed costs and know how much of your rate is going on covering them, and keep you on top of all active subscriptions you have so you don’t spend money on something that you don’t need.

Step 11: Get yourself out there!

Now you can start to promote your business and begin living your flexible freelance lifestyle! Get yourself out there and give it all you got!

For more help with getting started as a freelancer, you can also take a look at our complete, comprehensive course – Freelance Bootcamp – which will save you from weeks if not years of stress and mistakes!

→ On our blog we have lot of articles on how to build a thriving, sustainable freelance business, and you can find a list of articles on marketing and self-promotion here.