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Freelance engineering

Freelance engineeringWorking as an engineer doesn't mean joining a firm: freelance work lets you work for yourself on a variety of interesting projects.

How freelancing works

A freelancer is someone who isn't directly employed by anyone: instead, they agree to do a specific piece of work for a certain price. For example, you might be hired to reduce the size of a circuit design, or to help out a team of permanent employees on a project.

There is also other engineering-related work you could do as a freelancer, such as specialist journalism.

Getting started

It's important to think carefully before starting out on a freelance career. You won't have a guaranteed income, so you need to have a solid plan for finding work and covering your costs before you start out. Many freelancers start out in full-time employment, which allows them to gain experience and credibility and to save some money to use as a safety net when they go freelance.

There are some things that anyone thinking of going freelance needs to do before they can get started, such as registering as self-employed and working out how much you need to earn to cover your costs. As an engineer, you'll also need to put together a convincing account of your skills and experience so that you can convince potential clients, so think about what your particular strengths are and how you can prove them. This is a lot like writing a CV, and like a CV you'll tweak what you emphasize depending on the client.

Finding work

One of the most difficult things about freelancing is that you have to find your own work. This can be a real challenge, especially when you are just starting out and haven't built up a reputation.

There are many websites where you can find people looking for freelancers, and post up your profile. Examples include Freelancer.co.uk, Elance and PeoplePerHour. To use these effectively, you'll need to learn to pick out the jobs that are worth your time. You'll also have to bid against other freelancers, which means offering a good price and convincing the client that you're the best person for the job.

Once you start getting your first jobs, reputation and word of mouth could be your most important tools. This means not only doing the best work you can to build up an impressive portfolio, but also dealing with clients professionally and building up good relationships. Clients who like you and are impressed by your work are likely to hire you again or recommend you to their contacts.

Things to think about

Tax

As a freelancer, you'll need to take care of your own taxes. That means filling in a tax return at the end of the year and paying your bill, rather than having tax taken out of your paycheck. You'll need to set some of your earnings aside to cover the cost.

Find out more about paying your tax.

Cashflow and invoicing

For a freelancer, getting paid isn't as simple as cashing your paycheck every month. You'll need to chase up your clients for the money they owe you, and you might not always get it on time. There might also be times when you struggle to find work. You'll have to prepare for this by saving money when you make it so it can carry you through the harder times.

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