How to be a Freelance Recruiter: Case Study and Tips

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EDITOR’S INTRO: Do you like the idea of being a freelance recruiter? I hear from plenty of recruitment and HR professionals, so I thought it would be interesting to publish a case study about this kind of work. I shall hand you over to Michael, who’s been doing this for decades, latterly on a freelance basis. 

(Even if recruitment isn’t your thing, there are some valuable lessons here about moving into freelancing in general. If you’re interested in making the transition yourself, this Work From Home guide will help).


I’m sure everyone, at some stage, thinks about working for themselves. Attractions include having the freedom to make your own choices, being the master of your own destiny, and running a business based on your own values.

But it can seem like a daunting task. Where do you start? What do you need to do? How long will it be until you make some money?

Having made the break from the corporate world, I set up my own business as a freelance recruiter in late 2017. In this article, I talk through some of the things I’ve learned along the way.

CAVEAT: I’m talking here about working as a professional freelance recruiter. This means knowing your client, taking a brief, identifying and engaging with strong candidates, and then introducing them to the client. I DON’T mean gathering CV’s, throwing them into the wind hoping one lands, charging a fee and moving on. That’s not recruitment…

Working as a Freelance Recruiter is NOT for Rookies

You need to be established already. This means being an experienced recruiter with:

  • A (good) reputation
  • In-depth knowledge of a specialist sector
  • Well-developed networks

If you can’t tick these boxes, then don’t do it! Without this, what have you got? Where would you even start?

The crux here is winning business. If you don’t have a personal brand and track record to trade in, then you have no proposition.

If you have been working for several years in a sector, have a solid and stable client base, and have billed consistently then, maybe – just maybe – this is something you can start to think about.

Make Sure you have a Compelling Proposition

There are plenty of people out there calling themselves “recruitment consultants.” So what will get you heard above the cacophony that potential clients have to endure?

Are you a specialist? How do you charge your clients? Can you offer something innovative to demonstrate the value you bring?

Narrow down your offer to something very specific. That way you can target clients and candidates and be the recognised expert in that space. You might think that sounds limiting, but it allows you to really focus your energies. You will know all the main players in your market, and also be known by them.

Remember that Big Firms Open Doors

Clients that chose to work with you when you were employed by the big firms wont naturally follow you. I worked for some of the biggest national and international recruitment firms, yet many clients I won and worked with don’t work with me now.

This is not because they don’t like me. They just have an institutional need for the reassurance and perceived risk management of working with recognised and established recruitment firms.

Imagine the scene:

The Director of Operations is in a board meeting getting berated by the CEO due to reduced productivity:

“Well we are running with three management vacancies which we’ve yet to fill,” says the Director.

“And what are you doing about it?” asks the CEO.

“Well, we have briefed John Doe Inc, relative newcomer and one-man-band, to recruit for us.”

How do you think that goes down?!

Some firms will always want to work with recognised and established brands. Work out where your market is and what types of potential clients you are likely to win. Focus your energies on them.

Do Something Different

I cannot reiterate this enough: The world of recruitment is saturated with the same old types of firms, saying the same old things. The elusive search for a “USP” has left many thousands of recruiters scratching their heads – before reverting to type.

What can you do differently? How are you going to present yourself in a way that sounds unique? A way that’s authentic?

One of my top tips involves authenticity. Speak from the heart. Be yourself. Use your own voice in everything you do, say and write, and don’t be afraid to speak the truth. Avoid recruitment clichés, endless superlatives, and overuse of the word “strategic!”

Remember Ethics: It’s NOT All About the Money

A freelance recruiter who is only in it for the money is probably not the best recruiter.

Why? Well, if it’s all about the “Benjamins,” where is your ethical line when it comes to revenue, and doing what’s right for your clients and candidates? How far would you go for a fee?

Approach it differently; Take an ethical approach and put quality first. What is in the best interests of your client and candidate? Are you giving them the right advice? Are you pushing someone to take a role because its right for them, or because you’ll earn a fee? Have you gained permission to send that resumé to that client?

Doing things the right way, with an ethical approach, will gain you loyalty and respect from your clients and candidates. They will come back to you again and again, and they will recommend you to others.

Not only is this the right way to do business, but it’s much more rewarding and enjoyable too. As a freelance recruiter your reputation is everything. You have to work doubly hard to win and keep clients. Do it the right way, and they will stick with you.

But it IS all About the Money!

Whatever anyone says (me included) it also IS all about the money! Be ethical, certainly. Work hard on winning and retaining good clients by delivering great work. But remember that you have to charge for your work, and you have to get paid on time.

Think about your fee structure and how you are going to charge. You will also need to invoice for your work and establish payment terms. I know this is obvious, but many people don’t give enough thought to these things.

Let’s say you are working on a role on a contingency basis (i.e. you get a fee if and only if a candidate you introduce gets hired):

When do you charge? On offer? Accepted offer? Signed contract? When they start? Your invoice will also probably state 30-day payment terms. So, let’s say the recruitment search takes two weeks, and the interviews and negotiations take three weeks. Your candidate then gets an offer, but is on three months’ notice, and you charge on commencement of employment. That’s means it’s nearly five months before you would see the revenue in your business bank account.

Think about it, plan for it, save for it, and make sure you have a buffer of cash to see you through the early days.

And also plan for the occasional late payer. It happens to all of us…

Find a Good Accountant

Accounts and tax are complex, even for a one-man-band. A good accountant will take the sting out of some of the difficulties, guide you through the minefield of taxes and payroll, and save you a lot of time.

The most important thing to remember is that a good accountant will probably save you more than they cost you. The tax guidance and payroll advice they give is likely to see you keeping more money in your business account and sending less to the tax man. I’m not advocating tax avoidance for a moment. I am merely suggesting you only pay the tax that you need to by law. A good accountant will make sure that’s the case.

If you have your own experience as a freelance recruiter, feel free to add to the comments section below. 

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