How you can be a successful freelancer for the charity sector

A freelancer and charity staff sat around a table working together.

In this article we look at how freelancers can secure work in the charity sector and ensure they are covering all of the fundamental aspects required to be a successful freelancer.

Freelancing is big business, despite a drop in the number of registered self-employed professionals in recent years, there are still some 4.18 million self-employed professionals in the UK according to data published by the Office for National Statistics (1).

Freelancing comes with a certain element of freedom, but you must be disciplined, flexible and prepared to work irregular hours.

The way in which you might operate as a freelancer in the private sector may not necessarily be welcomed by charities and the trustees who run those charities.

In the private sector, freelancers are typically engaged on projects whereby, once the project is delivered, they are free to move on without having committed to a long-term attachment.

In the charity sector people can be emotionally and morally connected to the charity they work for. In some cases, this can mean pro bono work and/or working unsociable hours, such as weekends (nothing new to freelancers).

With the fallout from the Coronavirus pandemic now being fully realised, charities are understandably cautious when it comes to expenditure. Revenues into the charity sector took a massive hit throughout 2020 and 2021 as a result of Covid-19 and the lack of fundraising activities taking place. Many of the smaller charities are likely to be struggling financially as a result compared to previous years.

Whilst the way charities operate might complicate matters, it doesn't mean to say you can't carve out a successful freelancing career for the sector.

Getting the fundamentals of freelancing right

The fundamentals of successfully freelancing for charities are no different to those of being a freelance professional for the private and public sectors. Nor are they any different from the running and growing of any business. The following list of 10 key points cover much of what most freelancers need to know to be successful.

1. You must be clear about your area of expertise and what you can offer

Points one and two are key aspects of your business plan. Many people start working for themselves because they have a passion for something, and in many cases they’re good at it too. To be successful you need to find your niche, that key area of expertise that you are outstanding in.

If you try to be all things to all clients, in a bid to win as much work as possible, then you’ll likely struggle and any areas of weakness will be exposed.

2. Work out your costs and know your fees

This is key to making money and maintaining the livelihood you are accustomed to. You need to know your target market inside out, which means looking at what the going rate is for your services and knowing exactly what costs you’ll likely incur on a monthly or daily basis.

Your costs will include materials, tax, energy, national insurance, rent, hardware and software, production costs, delivery and travel… to name but a few.

From this research you’ll be able to work out what you need to charge, whether that be an hourly rate or a rate-per-project.

3. Make sure you are visible

Marketing is a skill that some self-employed professionals excel at (especially those young entrepreneurs who we call ‘digital natives’), but it can be expensive if you don’t know what you’re doing or where to begin. As a result, many freelancers shy away from it in a bid to reduce costs.

You have to ensure your target customers know of your services. If you don’t market yourself they won’t know that you exist, and you’ll find it difficult to win business as a result.

4. Build a trusted support network

Working for yourself can feel quite isolating at times. It’s important to build a network of trusted contacts and suppliers to support you. This will enable you to pass work onto fellow freelancers when you’re busy. It can give you access to business advice and financial advice from people like your accountant and from fellow business owners who are more experienced than yourself.

5. Be flexible and adaptable

Flexibility and adaptability go hand-in-hand when you’re a freelancer. Freelancing can be a feast or famine career, which means there’ll be times when you need to shoehorn work into your already busy diary in order to pay the bills, especially when it comes to paying your taxes.

By developing adaptability and resilience you will be able to cope when unforeseen pressures arise, such as the recent Coronavirus pandemic. No one could foresee that event and the catastrophic effects it had on the world. There were some positive outcomes in the business world, with more businesses now operating flexible working arrangements and pivoting from traditional business activities to more digitally-led business operations.

The point to learn from this is to be able to adapt your business to meet changes in the markets you work in.

6. Maintain regular communication with your clients

The key to success in every aspect of life and business is clear communication. It is vital that you practice your communication skills as a freelancer to ensure you maintain strong connections with your clients, suppliers and your network.

Some types of business require more communications than others. If you’re receiving a lot of client emails and phone calls it could be a good idea to set aside time each day to catch up.

Communication isn’t just about talking, it’s also important to be a good listener and concentrate on exactly what is being said so you fully understand what your clients actually want and need. If your listening skills aren’t up to scratch you could find yourself wasting time on work that doesn’t meet your client’s brief which could cost you time and money. In the worst case scenario it could even lead to a negligence claim against you.

7. Open up as many different income channels as you can

The freedom and flexibility that comes with freelancing is counter-balanced by the lack of stability, especially when it comes to finances.

To ensure you’re not left stuck for money it’s important to open-up many income streams. This can be as simple as having many different client projects on the go. Or it can be from selling goods online as a side income that complements your freelance activities. A good example of this is many graphic designers offer printing services. They get a preferential rate (trades rate) to purchase the printing and add a mark-up when quoting the printing to their client.

Other savvy business-people sell online courses or paid membership portals to downloads and other helpful materials for people to access.

There are many options, the key message here is not to put all your eggs in one basket.

8. Have a back-up plan

What happens if the reality of your freelancing enterprise doesn’t match your freelancing dreams?

You could be an expert designer, but not receive much work. If you are good at writing, could you remarket yourself as a content marketer to your clients and manage their social media accounts for a set monthly fee?

Is there any other offering you could add to your portfolio? Or do you need to try and offer your services to a different niche altogether?

As mentioned in point 5, what’s important is to be flexible and adaptable. Look at market trends. What’s popular that your skills set could lend itself to? What’s new that you could be offering to your clients?

When Plan A isn’t working, you need a Plan B… and sometimes a Plan C & D.

9. Go the extra mile for your clients and your suppliers

Going the extra mile is how you can enhance your reputation in the market and earn more business through word-of-mouth referrals as a trusted provider of your type of services.

What many people don’t understand is that you can gain referrals and enhance your reputation by ensuring you look after your suppliers. They too know businesses that may need your services from time to time, so it’s important to ensure your suppliers invoices are settled on time to ensure they continue to give you the service you need, whilst also passing you referred business every now and then.

10. Make sure you're covered!

If you're self-employed you will be required to hold certain types of business insurance. Initially you may view insurance as an onerous cost, but the reality is that insurance will protect you should something go wrong.

This could be due to human error, or it could be through an occurrence that is out of your control. Either way, you'll have the peace of mind that your business, your reputation, and your livelihood is protected.

There is more to running a successful business than the ten points listed. Fundamentally it’s about having a written business plan and sticking to it, but these points will give you a great foundation to build upon to be a successful freelancer.

Online platforms that could help freelancers find work in the charity sector and help charities find freelancers to help them

CharityComms* is a website designed to help both charities and freelancers to come together while also offering mentoring services, resources and a community of like-minded professionals and organisations that you can connect with. As a freelancer, you can register to join the freelance directory at

If you are a charity or non-profit looking to hire a freelancer to help you, then you can find a list of websites where you can find freelance services at*

Another website that has been created to offer help to charities is the Charity Excellence Framework*, which can be found at

*Please note, Markel does not work with any of these organisations nor do we actively promote them. We have highlighted them as options to be considered. If you decide to work with these organisations, you do so at your own risk.

What are the benefits to charities of working with freelancers?

There are a number of benefits charities and not-for-profit organisations can experience from engaging the services of freelancers.

Reduced costs

Freelancers by nature work for many different clients. As such, charities do not have to pay certain costs including insurance, as freelancers and contractors are required to carry their own business insurance. Working with freelancers also means less office space is required, which can significantly reduce costs in regards to the size of premises and energy bills.

Training isn't usually required

It can take time to train new full-time staff in the way an organisation works. Freelancers don't typically need such training as they are engaged for a specific task for which they are usually already at expert level.

Assistance maintaining a consistent brand

How many times have you seen online posts, direct mail and posters for organisations that didn't carry a consistent message? Or worse, that displayed pixelated logos and brand colours that didn't match?

This is common for organisations that look to save money by doing their own design and marketing, but in doing so they actually damage their company image.

Hiring a freelance designer can save on the hassle and the time required to produce fundraising marketing materials and online marketing, while also maintaining a professional and consistent image and message, for a relatively low expense.

This is just one example of how a freelance professional can assist a charity to be more successful.

Why business insurance is a great investment in your freelance career

Traditionally, insurance is viewed as a cost. This is true for car insurance, house insurance, travel insurance, and cover for your own business. But for freelancers, insurance should be viewed as a sound investment as it can have benefits that go far beyond the terms of the insurance policy.

Professional Indemnity insurance covers you for claims of negligence in your work including mistakes… which we all make from time to time.

Public Liability insurance provides cover should it be alleged that you caused and accident that harmed a member of the public or damage to another person’s property. While Employers’ Liability insurance will cover your employees should they suffer an accident or illness while performing their work duties for you.

Legal expenses insurance will cover you for legal fee incurred for events such as having to attend jury service resulting in you needing to claim back your expenses etc.

Cyber insurance will provide cover for a business against a cyber-attack, which could result in a data breach and a potentially expensive legal claim as a result and damage to your reputation.

These are the basic benefits of the cover options we offer, but what is not always obvious is the secondary benefits of carrying these types of cover.

1. Insurance helps you win business

Professional indemnity insurance is typically a mandatory requirement for many contracts. Because of this, you could say that carrying professional indemnity insurance helps you win business!

2. Insurance helps to build client trust

Following on from insurance being a stipulation of many contracts, it can help to build client trust. When you make your clients aware that you are insured they immediately see you as a professional who takes business seriously, while also proving your client with a sense of relief that, should they invest time and money with you, their investment will be protected should something go wrong.

3. Insurance gives you peace of mind

When you are insured to the correct levels for your business you gain peace of mind. This enables you to carry on with your work without the worry of potentially expensive repercussions should you make a mistake or cause an accident or accidentally damage to property.

4. Insurance can be claimed as a legitimate business expense against tax

For those with Professional Indemnity insurance, Public Liability insurance or any other type of business insurance policy, you can claim expenses for the cost of your insurance premiums (2).

5. Insurance helps protect your reputation

Should something go wrong, it will not only be your finances that could be at risk, but also your reputation. Your diligence and duty of care is key to ensuring you and your clients are protected. As a freelancer you can find yourself on the receiving end of an insurance claim for events that are out of your control, or for simple misinterpretation of a client brief due potentially unclear communication. Many policies, such as cyber insurance, will provide cover for the necessary client communications and PR required to allay your client’s worries.

In short, business insurance can help to protect your finances and your reputation. Check your policy carefully to ensure you are covered. If you are unsure, contact your insurer.

6. Markel insurance can provide valuable business resources and advice

Insure with Markel and you'll get access to a wide range of services (included as standard with certain covers) designed to make your life easier, including:

24 hour legal advice helpline - When you insure with Markel, you'll benefit from 24/7 telephone access to a qualified solicitor at no additional cost.

Markel Law Hub access - In addition to our 24 hour legal helpline, you'll have access to the Markel Law Hub - an award winning online resource of legal and business guides, templates and content written and created by our team of expert solicitors.

Fee dispute service - As every contractor, consultant or self-employed professional knows, customers don't always pay on time and chasing invoices costs time and money. We offer our policyholders access to a fee dispute helpline operated by one of the UK's leading law firms, who will provide legal guidance and support on fee disputes.

Discounted IR35 contract reviews - Our policyholders receive an exclusive discount on IR35 contract reviews from Markel Tax (a Markel company), who have over 20 years’ experience advising individuals and businesses on their tax status.

Public relations crisis management service - When there is a risk to your business as a result of negative press attention, our specialist public relations crisis management firm will work with you to help manage allegations of fraud, injury caused to employees or the public, and official investigations into your company's affairs. The public relations crisis management service is included as standard with professional indemnity insurance, directors and officers insurance, cyber and data risks insurance and legal representation and employment disputes insurance.



2.  Freelancer expenses: A simple guide

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