I was six months into my freelance career before I realised I had to register as a company. I had discovered this revelation when a client noticed my invoice was void of any business details. Having never set up a business before, I made a beeline to Google to find out more.
It turns out that registering a business is a simple process when you know what you're doing. After a few clicks on the Companies House website, it became apparent that I was way out of my depth. Do they purposely use language that requires a Master's degree to comprehend? The choice between a limited company or sole trader was the one that finally broke me and it was back to Google.
Up popped a company formation service who did all the work. For approximately £20 I received a certificate in the post with my official business registration number on it. Lesson one; there are almost always people more qualified than you who you can pay to do anything.
The next task was my website and business cards. Somehow I had survived the first six months without them, instead using a PDF with examples of my work and writing my number on scraps of paper to give to potential clients. They thought it was a quirky hipster marketing technique when in truth I just didn’t bother investing in business cards.
Major investment number one was my website. After a lot of online searching I contacted a few agencies who quoted between £2000 and £10,000. Not quite in my budget. Next was Gumtree and a chap based in Poland who was willing to build my site for £500. Result. I sent him examples of other sites I liked and paid him up front. He built the first couple of pages then started to ask for more money as he went. Totally out of my depth and with no idea if what he was saying was true, he stopped replying to my emails and I said goodbye to £500. Lesson number two; there’s always someone you can pay who’ll rip you off, and next lesson; never pay a contractor up front.
Disenchanted with my efforts, I confided in a friend who mentioned her husband built sites on the side. The value of a mutual friend is immeasurable when it comes to this sort of thing. The site was built exactly to my specifications for £700. The trouble was that my work was very random. I had galleries for property work, editorial fashion, weddings and events. Although the site looked good visitors didn't know what services I was offering or whether they were in the right place. The homepage was a full screenshot of my proudest fashion shot which looked great but scared off anyone looking for a property, wedding or events photographer which was where all my money was coming from. This would have to wait. I was low on cash and still had business cards to print.
This was an easy one. I had designed a logo in Photoshop for my invoices so that was in. A quick design and boom, business cards at zero cost. A few days later 5000 business cards arrived designed by me and printed for around £200. What a bargain. Opening the first box was a special moment. My business, my name, my design, fashion image on one side, contact details on the other and an incorrect phone number I had missed when saving the work.
With no brand identity, useless business cards and now officially paying the government tax, things were not exactly rosy. Still, I was staying positive. I was officially a freelancer working in London. My euphoria didn’t last long however when slap in the face number two made my acquaintance.
Matt Dowling is Director of The Freelancer Club, a members club aimed at supporting creative talent.