How FreeAgent helps IPSE’s Freelancer of the Year to run a better business

Rebecca Shipham is a self-employed designer and the owner of Ships and Pigs, where she specialises in exhibition design. She is also the co-founder of Creative Briefs, an initiative that delivers educational sessions to introduce young people to design, creativity and entrepreneurship. Rebecca is IPSE’s Freelancer of the Year for 2015 and she won a year-long subscription to FreeAgent as part of her prize.

Taking the plunge

I decided to go freelance six years ago, after being made redundant. I was at a career crossroads and decided the time was right to go for it. At first I was terrified; I realised that although I knew a lot about design, I didn’t know very much about running a business! It was do or die in the first few months, so I put my best foot forward and learned as I went along.

And the winner is...

Winning IPSE’s Freelancer of the Year award was a brilliant moment, but it’s been a long journey with lots of twists and turns and I’ve learned many valuable lessons along the way. Some of the biggest challenges I faced in the early days were knowing how much to charge in relation to my competitors and, once I was up and running, learning when - and how - to say no to certain projects. Another challenge that I’m still learning how to handle - I think most freelancers are! - is chasing late paying customers. Yes, it can be awkward, but I’ve learned over the years that it simply has to be done!

After being named IPSE’s Freelancer of the Year for 2015, I was on cloud nine for a few months! In addition to being invited to an event at Number 10 Downing Street the next day, I was also awarded £5,000 cash and a year-long subscription to FreeAgent, as well as a host of other prizes that were designed to make my life as a freelancer that bit easier. Winning was such an honour; I was really pleased to have made it to the final 15 but when they announced that I was the winner I simply couldn’t believe it! I’ve watched the recording of the ceremony and my face was an absolute picture when I went up to collect the award - I was in total shock!

I would definitely encourage other freelancers to put themselves forward for IPSE’s next Freelancer of the Year award (the deadline for this year's applications is Tuesday 1st September). Regardless of whether you win, entering competitions can really help to boost your confidence and they’re a good (and usually free!) way to promote yourself. IPSE’s Freelancer of the Year competition recognises that freelancers are a growing force; there’s more of us now than ever before and we need a pat on the back like this from time to time!

A new way of ‘doing the books’

I had heard of FreeAgent before winning the prize. One of my friends is a very loyal customer who had been encouraging me to give it a try for ages, so I knew it was going to be fun to use! Until then, I’d been managing my accounts the old school way: with pen, paper and a giant ringbinder! It was a way of working that I felt comfortable with but it took up a great deal of time - usually one or two whole working days a month. Now I use FreeAgent, ‘doing the books’ has become part and parcel of my daily workflow. Instead of sitting down to two whole days’ gruelling admin each month, I log in each day, make sure everything is as it should be and then I sleep soundly at night!

I was really impressed with how easy it was to get started with FreeAgent and how quickly I was able to get my head around everything it could do for me. One of my favourite features is FreeAgent’s bank feeds, which import my bank transactions every day so I can see exactly how much money I have in the bank. I also love the invoice timeline, which gives me an at-a-glance view of how many unpaid and overdue invoices I have at any time.

FreeAgent has even taken the awkwardness out of the dreaded payment chaser email; I can set it up to send an automated reminder to my client as soon as an invoice becomes overdue. It makes the whole process of chasing payment feel a lot more official and less personal. FreeAgent’s invoice templates also give a really professional impression to clients - and they’ve made me take myself a bit more seriously too!

Saving time - and stress!

Since I started using FreeAgent, I’ve saved a huge amount of time. Not only does my bookkeeping feel less cumbersome and disruptive, but I feel like I spend a lot less time chasing - and worrying about - overdue invoices! I plan to continue using FreeAgent once my year’s subscription is up and I’ve been recommending it to all of my freelancer friends since I started using it. Designing is an all-consuming job with long hours and the last thing you’ve got time to do at the end of the day is get the pen and paper out to do your accounts! FreeAgent makes it really easy for me to fit my bookkeeping around a busy schedule of design work.

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