A guide to working for yourself

Learn all you need to know about becoming your own boss and being self-employed.

moneyDoes being your own boss excite you? Of course it does!

Or perhaps you’re struggling to get a foot on the career ladder? Many graduates are in the same boat, but that doesn’t mean you have to twiddle your thumbs for the foreseeable future, or take a job that you may not want.

Working for yourself is an option that isn’t for everyone, but for some of you it could be the answer to your prayers – that is, for doing what the heck you want.

If you’re considering ‘going it alone’, this guide will make sure it’s a path you really want to take before setting you off on the right track. We’ve got nothing to hide here, so expect to hear the good, the bad, and what you should be doing to improve your chances of success.

Is self-employment for you?

Before blindly heading off into the sunset on your entrepreneurial quest, you need to work out whether it’s for you. According to a recent survey we conducted, 45% of graduates are excited by the idea of working for themselves, with 1-in-4 actually planning on starting a business!

BenefitsThe benefits

  • It allows you to do meaningful work that you’re interested in, even if you can’t do it for an employer
  • You could end up earning a lot more than you would if you were working for an employer (in the long run)
  • You’ll pick up an amazing amount of new skills, from marketing yourself to managing finances (even especially if it all goes Pete Tong)
  • You can choose when and where you work. Many self employed people love the freedom it gives them
  • It can look great on your CV, as it shows you have initiative and motivation

negativesThe negatives

  • You won’t have a reliable income source. If you’ve got bills to pay, this could be an issue
  • Serious self-motivation required. If you think that making yourself get up every morning, when you could be lying in bed all day could be tricky, it probably isn’t for you
  • You’ll have to put in some long hours in the early days
  • It can be hard to get started if you have no or little experience
  • It’s not just doing the work you love. You’ll have to do everything yourself, such as managing finances and sorting out your tax affairs

Example business ideas

When it comes to your options, the only real limit is your imagination. Here are a few ideas, many of which are skill dependent:

  • working on laptopWeb or graphic design
  • Secretarial and administrative work
  • Copywriting
  • Social media management
  • Journalism
  • Selling on eBay
  • Personal tutoring or coaching
  • Translation
  • Selling cupcakes

These really are just the tip of the iceberg. If there’s a career that you’re interested in, there’s a likelihood that you’ll be able to a certain aspect of it on a freelance basis.

The obvious choice would be something related to your degree, or linked to the field that you want to go into as this is where your skills and experience should come from.

But if you fancy taking a total change of direction, freelancing could be your foot onto the ladder.

Top tips for becoming self-employed

So, if you think that it’s the right path for you and you are keen to improve your CV, earn some extra money and gain important experience then you should follow these tips in order to make the process as smooth as possible.

Consider how you’ll find work

Of course, the most important part of being self-employed is finding the work and building a customer base. In the beginning, you’ll probably find that it’s hard to pick up work if you don’t have much experience.

Don’t let this put you off though, because there’s plenty of work out there if you’re willing to look for it!


You could try approaching businesses who may need help from someone with your particular skills, or attend networking events in your local area where you’ll meet business owners.

Alternatively, you could try one of the many freelancing websites that match up self-employed workers with businesses who are looking to have projects completed. Some of the better ones are (due to their huge global reach) and (who tend to have freelance-type opportunities suited to students and graduates).

The best way to find work is to experiment with a few of these methods and see which yields the best results for you.

Think about how much you’ll charge

This is a tricky one, even for those who have been freelancing for years. You need to make a decent amount of money, but you need to be competitive so you’ll get the work. And unfortunately, there are no hard and fast rules around the rates you should be charging!

Do your research and find out what other self-employed people are charging for services similar to yours. You may have to start out low, but once you’ve built up your reputation, there really are no limits. If you’re offering quality services, you’ll find clients who are willing to pay you good amounts.

Create a portfolio of your work

You need a portfolio to show potential clients, but until you have some clients, how can you build a portfolio? It’s a fair point, but it needn’t be an issue. You might already have some examples of your work if you studied a similar subject at university.

If you didn’t, you’ll just have to get a bit more creative. You could offer your services to a charity for free, or complete a small project of your own that shows off your skills. Once you can show what you do, you’ll get much more work.

Get your tax affairs in order

HMRC If you’re working on a self-employed basis, you’ll need to register with HMRC for self-assessment.

It’s a quick and easy process, and getting this sorted could save you from a lot of potential issues further down the line.

*Something to consider is that when you are self-employed you will have to pay tax at the end of the financial year (around 20% of anything that you earn over £8,105). Make sure you don’t spend this money.

Build a web presence

Even if you’re just starting out, it’s a good idea to have a simple website that explains a little bit more about what you do.

You may not have much knowledge in the area of website development, but you’ll find that you can set up a simple WordPress site and buy a cheap domain name (use, and have everything up and running within a day or two.

Seek out a network of similar people

NetworkingIf you decide to do freelance work for a while, your mates will think that you’re just sitting at home all day in your pants, watching daytime TV.

For those who work in the ‘real world’, being self employed can seem a bit like a skive. But in reality, it’s not.

For a bit of support from people who understand what you do, as well as those who are willing to let you bounce ideas off them, you’ll probably have to look further than your usual circle of friends.

Look out for co-working days in your local area, where freelancers meet up and work from a shared office environment for the day. Also, keep your eyes open for networking events where you could pick up some useful contacts.

Be persistent!

If you’re going to be successful, you’re going to experience more than your fair share of knocks along the way. From suppliers letting you down to clients who disappear off the face of the earth when you send on your invoice, you need to expect the worst and hope for the best!

When you experience a setback (which you will), just dust yourself off and get back in the saddle. Remember, you’ll only get out of your venture what you put in! And with a sprinkling of luck, you’ll soon reap the rewards…


The world of self employment isn’t an easy one, but it’s definitely an option for graduates who are struggling to find work elsewhere.

Have you ever done any work on a freelance basis? What tips would you offer to others considering taking this route?