To celebrate UAL’s Creative Enterprise Week 2013 (18–22 November), the Student Enterprise and Employability service has put together its essential guide to finding your feet as a freelancer or setting up your own creative business.

At the end of each step below, follow the links to find out which Creative Enterprise Week event is relevant for you. All sessions are open to University of the Arts London students, alumni and staff. There is no cost, but booking is essential.

You can also read an interview with Susan Mumford, who will lead a session on Juggling a day job with an art career.


Step 1 – Decide who you’re going to be

Sole trader

Simple and free to set up, and easy to get out of if you decide self-employment isn’t for you. Most artists, designer makers and freelancers are sole traders.


These share the profits and losses on an agreed basis. Partners are personally and jointly liable for any debts but can also join resources, share decision-making and combine skills and knowledge.

Limited company

A separate legal entity set up through Companies House, with registration costs. You will have more legal and financial responsibilities than a sole trader, but also more credibility, and there are often tax advantages too.

Creative co-operatives

These are creative businesses where the members are the owners and have equal say in what the co-operative does.

Creative Enterprise Week events: Start-up 1: Things to consider before starting outSay yes to self-employmentBeyond the collective: creative co-operativesBusiness models to make money from your creative enterpriseBusiness advice: one-to-ones

Step 2 – Lock down the legals

If you are a sole trader you will need to register with HM Revenue & Customs within three months of starting your business, otherwise you might be fined.

If you work in partnership with others, you might want to register as a partnership with HMRC. It is strongly recommended that you get legal advice from a solicitor and draw up a Partnership Agreement or Deed of Partnership. Alternatively, you can become a Limited Liability Partnership and register at Companies House.

Limited Companies are set up through Companies House. It is strongly advisable to use a solicitor to draw up a ‘shareholders’ agreement’ to agree roles and responsibilities.

Seek legal advice to set up creative co-operatives or other legal entities such as charities and Community Interest Groups (CICs).

Insurance and regulations

You are responsible for insuring yourself against any problems that might arise with you, your work, your clients, visitors or people who work for you. Some types of business insurance are a legal requirement, for example employers’ liability insurance.

There may be specific regulations you need to meet to operate legally. For example, if you keep client data on your computer you will need to comply with the Data Protection Act.

Tax, National Insurance and VAT

The HMRC e-learning package gives you the information you need to stay on track with your taxes and National Insurance.


It is advisable to put a contract in writing before you commence any work. If you receive a contract to sign, remember that they are open for negotiation and you don’t have to accept clauses that put you at a big disadvantage. Never sign a contract if you’re not absolutely sure you understand its terms and conditions.

Creative Enterprise Week events: Start-up 1: Things to consider before starting outBusiness advice: one-to-ones

Step 3 – Nail the numbers

Financial planning if done correctly can help you make your creative business run smoothly and profitably:

  • Personal start-up budget is the income you will need to keep yourself going personally.
  • Start-up budget is the money you need to get your creative enterprise off the ground.
  • Expenditure is how much it will cost to run your business each month.
  • Income is your predicted monthly sales.
  • Cash-flow forecast looks at what is going out and what might be coming in throughout the year. Net cash flow is your income minus expenditure. Opening balance is how much is in your bank account at the start of each month. Closing balance is how much money is left in your bank account at the end of each month after subtracting your net cash flow from your opening balance.

It may be useful to:

  • Get a separate bank account to manage your self-employed income.
  • Set up a spread sheet to monitor your money.
  • Keep all your receipts and file them (you can claim back some tax based on the money you spend on your business).
  • Set up a system for invoicing and sales.
  • Hire an accountant to help you.

Funding opportunities include grants, bursaries and loans. To find out more, including the range of funding that SEE offers to UAL students and graduates, see the website.

Creative Enterprise Week events: Start-up 1: Things to consider before starting outBusiness advice: one-to-onesStart-up 2: How to make it happen with SEEAsk the experts: crowdfunding one-to-onesStart-up 3: Know your numbersCrowdfunding – turning your creative idea into a successful campaign

Step 4 – Find a space to create

You can work from home or your local café or library, you can hire a hot desk or studio space, or as a freelancer you can work at your client’s office or studio. Many creative businesses have started out from a kitchen table, small office space or garden shed. Working from homes means you will save money on transport and renting premises, and you may be able to deduct a proportion of your home costs as a business expense from your tax bill.

If you decide you want to work from premises, think about the specific needs of your business, and also consider sharing a working space with others. Find premises by asking other creatives, or check in local papers, council websites or specialist magazines. Organisations like Meanwhile Space connect empty spaces with individuals looking to launch a business or project.

Creative Enterprise Week events: Ask the experts: Empty space one-to-onesStepping out as a new artist – everything you need to know

Step 5 – Build your first clients as a freelancer …

  • Identify and research your 20 ideal clients.
  • Think about the specific skills you have that clients are looking for and contact them directly or through specialist recruitment agencies.
  • Link up with other freelancers to offer a combination of skills.
  • Attend networking events where there might be potential clients.
  • Create your own website with your portfolio, CV, short profile, client list and testimonials.
  • Promote yourself creatively. Make the most of social media, blogs, videos and posters to present yourself as a brand.
  • Know the going rate for your skills and experience and in the early days offer good deals, for example, a free, one-hour consultancy.
  • Build up a contact list or database to stay in touch with previous clients and other creatives. Use social media such as Twitter to keep people up-to-date about your projects.

… and start selling your art and design work

  • Directly at specific events, including exhibitions, open studios, pop-up shops, markets and catwalk shows.
  • Wholesale via galleries, shops or at trade shows.
  • Online via your own website or online shop, or through online store-creators such as
  • Directly to private collectors or through commission.
  • Globally, and start exporting online or go to overseas trade shows.

Creative Enterprise Week events: Finding your first clients as a freelancer Say yes to self-employmentAsk the experts: Free website reviewsPromoting yourself on the webBuilding your networks through social media/Selling to galleries, shops and retailersAsk the experts: Online art sales advisory sessionsReaching new art markets onlineSelling your work at UAL, with Made in Arts London

Step 6 – Protect your intellectual property

  • Any creative output is protected by various intellectual (IP) property rights.
  • Copyright is automatic on any of your creations as long as you haven’t copied somebody else’s work or taken a substantial part of it.
  • Design right protects the appearance of a product resulting from its shape, colour or material, but not its function.
  • Creative Commons provides an easy-to-use licensing system which enables users to share copyright-protected work online without asking the owner of copyright work for permission first.
  • Trade mark is any sign capable of distinguishing your goods or services from other goods and services.
  • Patents – if your idea or innovation has an industrial application, you may wish to consider applying for a patent.
  • Own-it provides a range of factsheets on all of the above.

Creative Enterprise Week events: Creative collaborations – who owns the copyright?/Start-up 5: From copyright to confidentiality – the basics of intellectual property/Plagiarism, copyright and copyleft

Step 7 – Become a successful collaborator

  • Working with people who think differently and have complementary skills can contribute alternative perspectives to a project and make it more effective. Follow these collaboration tips.
  • Be honest about what you want to achieve from the collaboration.
  • Get comfortable with being uncomfortable, particularly at the start when you are getting to know one another.
  • Practice makes perfect and the more you collaborate, the easier it gets.
  • Communication is key.
  • Consider how you’re going to work together as much as what you’re going to do.

Creative Enterprise Week events: Creative collaborations – who owns the copyright?/Beyond the collective: creative co-operatives

Step 8 – Get used to the juggling

Most creative professionals, especially at the beginning of their career, will combine a variety of income streams. A so-called portfolio career enables you to earn enough money but also gives you the chance to experiment with different ways of working. You can work part-time as a designer at the same time as being employed as a tutor, or work full-time in another job while selling your products online and at fairs. Find the right business model for you – with work that satisfies you creatively and financially, and clients that stimulate you to do your best work.

Creative Enterprise Week events: Juggling a day job and an art career/Fai da te – doing it yourself as an artist

Step 9 – Be inspired by fellow creatives

Especially the speakers at this year’s Creative Enterprise Week, and last year’s Creative Enterprise Award winners. They all have stories to tell and experiences to share. Going it alone is not solely about freelancing, or finding a market for your work. There are a huge range of imaginative creative businesses out there, and you can gain your own start-up ideas by hearing how others did it.

Step 10 – Just go for it!

Embrace your inner entrepreneur and book now for Creative Enterprise Week!