12 – How to agree work

Last Updated on 3 November 2023

This help sheet is the first of two that look at agreeing work and getting paid on time.

It’s not always easy to secure freelance work when you want it. But when someone wants your skills it’s important to make sure there are no misunderstandings.

You also want to make sure that promises are lived up to, and that you’re paid on time when it’s done.

Do your research


You can’t agree work in a vacuum. Every job role fits into an existing context. In short, you need to know what the usual arrangements are for the role you’re taking on. And you need to know what people are normally paid for that job.

Unions like BECTU or the WGGB are really useful for this. They often have ‘rate cards’ or suggested fee rates.

The best source of information is people who have already done what you want to do. This is why networking is as much about keeping in the loop as it is about getting work.

two people chatting

If you’re new to freelancing don’t be afraid to ask people who are a few years ahead of you. You don’t want to ask ‘what do you earn then’, as that’s a bit too direct for UK tastes. But it’s OK to ask ‘what do people normally get paid for this kind of work’.

The more people you talk to, the more expert you become. This will bolster your self-confidence too.

It’s OK to ask questions of freelancers who are more experienced than you. Experienced freelancers were beginners once. They won’t mind, especially if you offer to buy them a drink while you pick their brains.

Confirm in writing (even if it’s a text message)

A lot of work starts with a verbal agreement – a chat over the phone, or over a coffee.

If you understand this to be a formal job offer it’s important to get something in writing as soon as possible.

There are at least three things you’d want to be sure of:

  1. What the scope of the job is – the job role
  2. The dates/times you’re expected to work, or the deadline for delivery
  3. The fee

Remember that you can’t work out if the fee is fair until you know what the job is and how long it will take.

In production the paperwork from their side can sometimes take a while, particularly if a large organisation is involved.

We also need to admit that for small jobs the person offering the work might not want to do any paperwork.

So as a freelancer it’s important for you to take the initiative and put a confirmation in writing yourself.

This is how I do it:

  • Agree ANY work in writing, including the agreed fee and the hours/days to be worked. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a big contract. Just make sure that you confirm by email what you’ve agreed verbally. This goes for dailies just as much as longer fixed-term work.
  • If you’re being paid PAYE make sure you’re clear whether extra holiday pay is included in the rate. It’s usually a good idea to use the phrase ‘just to be clear this rate does not include rolled up holiday pay’. They might say ‘oh yes it does’ but at least you’re clear what to expect. (See the note about holiday pay below)
  • If it’s a text conversation for a short piece of work, screenshot the conversation. That’s your agreement in writing.
  • Ask the person who’s giving you the work to confirm your email is correct. If they’re not prepared to reply to your written message with a written ‘yes’ you should be suspicious.

Once everything is confirmed push to get set up on their payment system as soon as possible. Ask them what information they need from you. That usually prompts them to start the process.

Done all the above? Well done! Enjoy the job. Now look at our help sheet on how to get paid on time:

Help sheet 13 – Late payments, and how to avoid them >

A note about ‘pencilling’

If someone says they’ll ‘pencil you in’ that simply means that you might get the job if it goes ahead. Then again you might not.

A ‘pencil’ is not a job offer, and it is definitely not a confirmation. If you’re ‘pencilled in’ feel free to continue looking for other work.

What is holiday pay for freelancers?

Any worker is supposed to be eligible for time off to ensure good physical and mental health and to avoid exploitation.

This is easy to understand for full-time permanent employees, but what about freelancers who might be doing a job for a week or a month? They may not be able to take time off for ‘holidays’.

To recognise this, employers are supposed to compensate the worker with money instead of time off. You’re effectively being paid in lieu of taking holiday. It’s usually a percentage of your agreed fee – around 12%.

PAYE freelancer

For someone working as a PAYE freelancer (paid and taxed as if employed) it’s important to know whether the fee you’ve agreed includes holiday pay or not. 

It’s not supposed to, but some unscrupulous employers might leave this unspoken and then pay you less than you were expecting.

sole trader

A sole trader usually negotiates a ‘buy out’ rate. This includes everything and is effectively a ‘rate for the job’. 

This is the amount that will go on the invoice and this is what you’re paid. Everything is pretty obvious. 

This is also true of limited company freelancers.

Not sure what kind of freelancer you are? Check here:

What is a freelancer? >

Holiday pay and Brexit

UK EU flag

Sorry to bring up the ‘B’-word, but you might recall that holiday pay was originally an EU initiative, part of attempts to ensure that people aren’t made to work too hard.

During the run up to the EU referendum in 2016 some feared that holiday pay might be abolished if the UK left the EU. Of course some employers see holiday pay as ‘red tape from Brussels’.

Either way nothing has changed at time of writing. But this is one to keep an eye on.

Image credit: Peggy und Marco Lachmann-Anke from Pixabay

Posted on 11 January 2020