Life after the pandemic? Why now is the best time to freelance (and how to get started)

Science has been at the forefront of public awareness during the pandemic. From discovering Sars-CoV-2 and uncovering its epidemiology to the incredible development of COVID-19 vaccines, I can’t remember a time when science was so mainstream. But with all this attention comes the need for accurate and relatable messaging to gain public support, and effective communication between academia and industry. Enter scientists!

“There’s a lot of public out there that do actually genuinely love science and love being in the science environment with other scientists and absorbing all that… [They think] I back scientists because I find this all fascinating, and furthermore I think scientists have got my back, and furthermore I feel involved and I feel this is opportunities for me and my kids.”

Mike Galsworthy, Co-founder of Scientists for the EU

Should I be a freelancer?

You’re a scientist who’s thinking of freelancing because you’re passionate about your field and confident in your abilities to provide a service. First thing’s first- what sort of things can you freelance in?

Second of all, is freelancing right for you? It doesn’t have to be a full-time job, so you can strike a balance between earning money doing something you love and your personal commitments. But it’s not as straightforward as of doing a project and getting paid. Here are the benefits and drawbacks of being a freelancer:

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Benefits

#1: Flexibility
This is the main benefit of being a freelancer. You get to decide when you work, where you work and who you work with. So, if you need time for the school run, no worries. If you work best at 11pm, absolutely fine! There’s no need for commuting, living near your office or working with people who don’t gel with you. And in the post pandemic era the adoption of video conferencing programs means it’s easier than ever to connect with clients. All you need is a computer and a decent Wi-Fi signal.

#2: Earn your worth
When you’re employed you may see some small salary increases at the end of the year, or the occasional bonus based on the overall performance of the company. But as a freelancer you can charge whatever you like (as long as you stay competitive within your market) and you can choose how much you work. So the higher the number or value of your projects, the higher your income will be.

#3: Build your skills
The freedom freelancing affords stretches beyond your immediate expertise. You have the ability and the incentive to try out new things and build your skills to expand your portfolio. Alternatively, you can stay in your niche and hone your craft to become an expert in your field.

Drawbacks

#1: Instability
Freelancing isn’t for the faint-hearted. You’ll need to be pro-active in setting yourself up, marketing yourself to clients and managing your time. There’s no steady salary so you’ll always have to be thinking ahead. But you can do things to mitigate the uncertainty like delivering regular material for clients or charging a retainer for your services.

#2: Managing a business
Freelancers are self-employed, so you become a business owner when you start selling your services. This can be extremely rewarding but extremely hard work as you’ll need to run the admin side of the business as well as working on projects. Some of these admin tasks include setting up the business, chasing payments, managing finances and providing good customer service. Most of this you can outsource, and it may be a good option if you’re freelancing full time. You also won’t receive the benefits from being employed like paid leave, pension schemes or private healthcare.

#3: Loneliness
One of the great things about working in a company is the interaction with other people. What problems haven’t been tackled up by chatting with a colleague whilst making a cup of tea? But as a freelancer you don’t have that community around you, so you’ll need to work at building a support network of peers around you by using shared working spaces or joining online communities like The Freelance Collective UK (for Life Science freelancers) or Freelance Heroes (all freelancers in the UK).

How do I become a Freelancer?

You’ve weighed up the pros and cons and you’ve decided to take the plunge. What are the main things you need to think about?

Setting up your business

In the UK you can run a business by registering as a limited company or operating as a sole trader. Operating as a sole trader is simpler- you just need to register with HMRC and you don’t need a business bank account- but you will be personally liable for any losses you face. Setting up a limited company is a safer alternative as the company becomes its own legal entity, but you need to register with Companies House, have a business bank account, file your accounts, and pay corporation tax on the profits you make.

Establishing yourself online

In the age of technology, you need to have some presence online to be seen and be credible. This can be as simple as a LinkedIn profile or as extensive as an online portfolio. But your potential clients are going to Google you to find out more information on what you can provide them. So make sure you online presence uses the tone you want to convey and the right content to showcase your services.

Finding clients

One of the things that is overlooked by many people is the power of your network. Make sure you utilise the connections you already have in finding clients. If you don’t know anyone personally who needs your services, maybe someone can recommend you or share your services in their network. You can also look out for freelance positions in different companies (LinkedIn is pretty good for this), join an online marketplace (like Kolabtree), or sign up to agencies like Mowbi who do the hard work of finding clients for you!

Pricing yourself

Pricing yourself can be tough at first and there isn’t a lot of information on standard rates because of the niches that exist in the sector. It’s important to remember that the rate you charge isn’t just the hours you spend on a project. It’s your insurance, consumables (like office space/ electricity/ Wi-Fi etc), tax and all the other things that are usually covered by your salary. You may need to start out at a lower rate to gain experience and build your portfolio, but make sure you charge rates that you can live off and constantly revaluate your rates in line with your experience.

Protect yourself

In the rare event that someone isn’t happy with your work there’s two crucial things you’ll need as your safety net. Insurance and contracts. Professional Indemnity insurance is the main type of insurance you’ll need as a freelancer as it covers you in the event that a client loses money because of your services. Policies vary depending on the type of work you do, but you can be covered annually for less than £150. You’ll also need a signed contract for every project you undertake to set out the rules of play, the client’s expectations and what exactly you’ll be providing. It doesn’t have to be a novel; it just needs enough information so everyone is on the same page.

Managing your finances

For most people managing your finances is an arduous task. But as a freelancer it’s part and parcel of the gig. If you want to do it yourself, you’ll need to be up to speed on what taxes apply to you, when the deadlines for submissions to the HMRC are and what evidence you’ll need. If you’re like me (and can just about format the currency in a spreadsheet) it may be easier to hire an accountant.

Looking after your mental health

Having the freedom to work whenever and however much you want is great but be careful not to overload yourself. Compartmentalising your workspace and personal space, scheduling in down time and working set hours a day can help in reducing stress and avoiding burnout.

Freelancing can be a liberating and extremely lucrative venture (just ask Dave Harland- a freelance copywriter who’s brought in £8.6M of revenue). If you’ve ever thought of giving it a go, now’s as good a time as any. In the words of Shia LaBeouf:

“Don’t let your dreams be dreams…Just do it”


About the Author

Dr Maaria Ginai is the Director of Mowbi a content creation agency specialising in life sciences.

Maaria received her PhD in regenerative medicine from Loughborough University and continued her research into bioartificial organs, whilst creating award winning public engagement videos on her YouTube channel HaveYouEverWondered. She ventured away from academia in 2018, using her passion for content creation and knowledge exchange to develop marketing strategies and content for CROs, MedTech companies and higher education institutions. Maaria loves working with people, whether it’s working on a project, organising public engagement events, climbing a mountain or exchanging baking tips. 

Listen to her podcasts on: SpotifyApple PodcastsGoogle PodcastsAnchorYouTube, Mowbi

Click here, to view her profile.

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