A quick start guide for the UX Contractor

Nathan Drew

Nathan Drew

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At Futureheads, every consultant operates a dual desk. This means that we cover both permanent and freelance vacancies and are therefore exposed to both sides of the market. Thus, we’re often there when practitioners are considering making the switch from one to the other. As I alluded to in an earlier article, we’re beginning to see a few people make the switch from contract to perm. These are in the minority though, as most are looking to switch from perm to freelancing.

We thought it would be useful to provide a bit of a guide on initial considerations and tangible assets that you need to put together to start your freelancing career.

CV & Portfolio

You need a CV. Short of reaching out to your existing network, you probably won’t be able to do much without one. I recommend following the advice in this article that offers 10 useful CV tips.

When it comes to hiring a freelancer, an HR Manager will be looking to ensure that applicants documentation contains evidence of the key criteria that they require. Without this, they probably won’t be taking your application any further. It is, therefore, necessary for the potential freelancer to have a broad skillset to ensure they’re ticking all these boxes to maximise their chances of being called for an interview.

You also need a portfolio. We’ve spoken at length about portfolios here. I find myself sending this article out to people on a weekly basis as I do believe the advice within is the best approach to a portfolio.

Get used to updating these (particularly your CV) frequently as your new experience will serve to maximise your chances of securing further interviews.

Ltd v. Umbrella

Freelancers we work with choose to either operate under an umbrella company or to set up their own limited companies.

The more popular option is to set up your limited company. This is more time consuming, both to set up and operate, but often proves more profitable than utilising an umbrella. Registering a new limited company can be quite a fast process. However, you’ll also need a business bank account, which can take anywhere between 2-5 weeks to have open. You will also want to think about VAT certification and professional indemnity and public liability insurance.

In contrast, setting up with an umbrella is very quick, therefore ideal for those that find themselves contracting at short notice (or for anyone considering a short interim contract). No need for VAT or a business bank account as the umbrella will manage your tax and pa directly into your personal account (minus a fee for their services). A good umbrella will also cover the aforementioned insurance documentation.


Further legal points of reference include opting out / in of Conduct Regulations, so here’s a guide to explain more. Additional regulations you should be aware of are IR35 and AWR. Some reading this will be aware of changes to IR35 – which is a topic for another day.

Begin looking for work

As a freelancer, you’ll need to leverage those in your network to secure new positions. Reach out to old colleagues and friends to let them know you’re now available for new freelance positions. Personal recommendations from someone already in the business are the single best way to secure a position and can sometimes forego the need for a formal interview process.

You’ll also rely on recruitment partners who will be able to connect you with companies you’d otherwise be unable to reach out to using just your personal network. I recommend working with a couple of recruiters, but also maintaining a limit on the amount you speak to. Pick a few reputable agencies who you enjoy working with and use them (funnily enough, clients will be doing the same).


If you’re considering making the switch, the best bet is to talk to someone who can provide an overview of what the current market conditions are. At Futureheads, we’ve something of a helicopter view of the contract market of any given time and are always happy to give an honest appraisal of how busy the market feels. Feel free to drop us a line.