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The first rule of Freelancer Club

  • 8 min read
  • 2 Nov 2020
The first rule of Freelancer Club

We’re back with another snazzy TaxScouts partner, dishing the insights on tax in a plethora of industries.

This time, we met with Matt Dowling, Founder of Freelancer Club and general pioneer for the rights and positive working practices for the self-employed workforce. 

He told us all about what the Freelancer Club does, why it’s definitely worth getting to know and how tax is perceived among the freelancer community in general. Tax can be one of the major dreads of the newly self-employed – and that’s where we come in.

Want to read more? Of course you do. Scroll down to see what he has to say!

OK, let’s talk the club

Freelancer Club is a community platform that promotes, supports and educates creative freelancers. It’s a space for freelancers to share their work, refine their craft and get hired. From a startups perspective, we offer an alternative way for them to access and hire freelancers. 

We’re on a mission to both nurture freelancers to become more sustainable businesses, and to reimagine the entire freelance recruitment space. Specifically in the freelance sector, a ‘task-culture’ seems to be emerging. It’s perpetuated by platforms whereby the freelancer is seen as a robotic figure that comes in, does a task, gets paid, and then leaves without much communication or human contact. 

When I say sustainability, I mean it in the sense that freelancers can build and develop businesses on their own two feet without having to rely on a single platform or piece of tech exclusively.

I’m interested in re-introducing  an element of personalisation; deeper relationships that both benefit the economic side of the business but also help to form meaningful relationships between both parties. Everyone feels respected, mental health is taken into consideration, diversity is taken into account, and we start to look at the bigger picture instead of just the bottom line. 

By the way, when I say sustainability, I mean it in the sense that freelancers can build and develop businesses on their own two feet without having to rely on a single platform or piece of tech exclusively. In a weird, bittersweet way, we want to see our freelancers develop to a level where they don’t necessarily need us. I mean, the way we work is not to just train freelancers to be highly proficient on our platform. We don’t want to focus solely on, for instance, building up their profile so that it’s the ideal profile to get work on our site. We want to give them the tools to be able to stand on their two feet anywhere, so they can pitch themselves in to anyone online or in person.  

Speaking of the freelancers…

There’s as yet to be a collective noun created that describes our community. Typically they would have a portfolio, they’d be content creators, often very visual – we have a large catchment of photographers, videographers, graphic designers, UX, UI, web designers, animators etc. – and on the other side, we have a lot of people working in fashion, beauty and lifestyle. So makeup, hair, modelling, influencers, stylists, fashion designers – who am I forgetting? – a lot of writers too… 

Then from the other side – because there are always two sides for us – we have startups, corporates (although corporates lesser so) and the general public. Basically anyone who requires freelance talent to complete a project.

Money matters

So, if we assume that freelancers fall into this stereotype of the creative individual (as opposed to contractors), then the relationships that a lot of our members have with money is quite tricky. Broadly speaking, creative individuals and money don’t make great bedfellows. But we think that they should. 

We really encourage our members to value themselves both inside and out. That means not necessarily saying yes to underpaid or unpaid work. We want to try to change the culture of fear that someone else is going to take the job if you don’t. That drives a race to the bottom. And it really undervalues and undermines phenomenal work that we see everyday from our members. 

We started a campaign called No Free Work that’s been running for over 5 years. It’s been pushed hard at government level, and we’ve sat in parliament to try to change legislation around the legal protection that freelancers can get. We also use it to educate businesses and freelancers, as well as visiting  universities and colleges to talk about the importance of valuing yourself. We give a peek behind the curtain of the freelance world to ensure that if they go into it, they do it with their eyes wide open. 

We want to try to change the culture of fear that someone else is going to take the job if you don’t. That drives a race to the bottom. And it really undervalues and undermines phenomenal work that we see everyday from our members. 

We don’t want them to fall foul of exploitation that is unfortunately rife in a lot of the industries that we service. 

Expectation vs. reality

I think the perception of freelance work is that you wake up when you want and you drag your laptop into bed, fire out some emails before you grab a latte, and that’s your day. 

The reality is that it’s a huge amount of work. You’ll probably work more hours than you would in a 9-5 job. And there’s no skiving. If you choose to dodge work, you’re not getting paid. So there’s a lot of pressure that gets put on the individual to make it work. It’s difficult to see the difference between your home and your work life, now even more so as we’re not leaving our homes as much. It’s a very strange moment for us to be able to make that distinction. But the positives are that when you get it right, it is by far the most fulfilling job that you’ll ever do. 

If you can get paid for your passion, it’s a pretty phenomenal feeling. I think true flexibility does exist. When you start to get more confidence in your own ability, you realise that clients will come and go. And if you can shake the fear that you’re going to miss out, then you’re able to live an incredibly exciting and flexible life. 

The relationship between tax and freelancers is very much what we’re trying to change. We want freelancers to think about themselves as a business. We don’t want them to be shy when talking about business money, or tax.

A lot of our members travel the world with their freelancing and it facilitates a really amazing lifestyle. As COVID lifts, we’ll start to re-embrace a lot of these benefits but for now we should look to freelancers and digital nomads as they’ve been working remotely for decades.

Another perk is getting to work with some really cool people. A lot of it is to do with collaboration. You’re never bored if you’ve got multiple clients and personal projects simultaneously on the go, as you’re constantly creating. You’re also often working with very diverse and interesting companies or clients. No two days are the same. And I think it brings with it an amazing sense of achievement in that you’ve built your freelance business  on your own. It’s your baby, it’s something to be proud of and that’s something that really permeates when I speak to our members about why they keep going back for more. 

The dreaded T

If you ask freelancers who are just starting out, they’d say not enough is known about tax. They typically meet it when they start learning about invoicing and often a client will ask them whether they’re VAT registered. That might spark a little research. I think there’s probably a rudimentary understanding of having to pay tax, especially when freelancers first look into whether to be a limited company or a sole trader. 

Speaking from my own experience as a freelancer, I didn’t get an accountant for the first two years. I still have nightmares  of paper invoices spread on my carpet, trying to figure out how much I owed. It was the worst day of my year, every year, and I hated it. The day I got an accountant, still to this day, is one of the highlights of my career!  

The relationship between tax and freelancers is very much what we’re trying to change. We want freelancers to think about themselves as a business. We don’t want them to be shy when talking about business money, or tax. The idea of not opening your bank balance for fear of what you might find, well, we’re trying to eradicate that mentality as much as possible. 

As much as HMRC declares that it’s a very simple process, I still think that we could think of a far simpler way to help people pay. 

I think with access to various different apps and sites, such as TaxScouts, freelancers are becoming much more au fait with tax and finding ways in which they’re able to manage their money a little bit better.  

Is tax really that daunting?

Ha, yes. How long do you have? Our community knows that they need to save for tax and pay tax. The process of paying tax – on the HMRC website especially – is something that I know that they really struggle with. And as much as HMRC declares that it’s a very simple process, I still think that we could think of a far simpler way to help people pay. 

I assume that’s what everybody wants. So why the process is still filled with jargon that may not be universally known is beyond me. From a freelancer’s perspective, it’s probably the process of filing their return that they struggle with the most. 

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