IT may still be a relatively young industry, but it’s also one that’s growing rapidly. One reason is that it intersects with so many other sectors; there are very few areas of the modern business world that won’t at some time require the services of an IT specialist.
Because of the demand for IT skills in other lines of business, many IT jobs are in fact freelance, self-employed roles. The IT freelancer takes on specific projects for a limited amount of time for a range of clients, from major companies to small local businesses and individuals. However, getting started in this field can be a daunting task. There is no specific career path for freelance IT professionals to follow.
Taking the first step
Before you quit your day job (or university course), contact everyone that you know and tell them that you’re setting up as an IT freelancer in a month’s time. Make it clear however that you’re ready to take on projects straight away. You need to make contacts, build a network and gain as much experience as you can before your IT freelancing is your sole means of support.
At first, you may find yourself taking on a lot of unpaid projects. This is fine if it gives you relevant experience and good references, and adds to your network of useful contacts. You need to build up a portfolio and sell yourself, using social media to the full but also getting out and meeting people face to face as well.
When you’re working for yourself, you need to have business skills as well as IT skills. This means knowing how much to charge, how to pitch for work, being able to communicate with clients and so on. You also have to do your own accounting and keep on top of invoices, taxes and budgeting.
Many IT freelancers choose to work for an umbrella company because they can take care of this side of the business for them. An umbrella company will make sure you’re legally compliant, invoice and take payment from clients on your behalf, and pay all appropriate taxes before sending the remainder on to you.
Finding your niche
Some of the most popular IT freelancing roles include graphic designer, web developer, system support administrator and software developer. Which route you choose to go down obviously depends on which direction your talent and interests lie in, but it’s also worth doing your research to see which roles are most in demand in your immediate network. Developing a variety of IT skills will help you find more work than if you solely market yourself as a website designer, for example.
Pros and Cons
Freelancers generally charge higher hourly rates than their equivalents on the company payroll. You’ll have a flexible work schedule and will be working on a variety of projects. You’re your own boss and will hopefully have a better work-life balance than if you were going to the same office for someone else each day.
The downside is a lack of security, the possibility of periods with on work coming in and no in-work benefits like holiday or sickness pay. Using an umbrella company can reduce these risks, but the rest is up to you.