I've been doing freelance video game “journalism” for a year and a half now, with two years coming up in next January. During my experience, I've come across hurdles that put me under stress and countless late nights.
Being a UK citizen who (technically) works in the US can have its pros and cons, and I would like to pass on what I've learned throughout my experiences to others who wish to become a freelance video game journalist themselves, or to those who already have and are looking for further insight.
As a UK citizen, my experience of being a freelancer has been entirely with US-based gaming websites. While it does have its advantages, living in a different timezone--as well as region--from those websites outwidth your home country does have its drawbacks, like currency conversion and up to several hours of unproductivity.
If you’re fortunate enough to land yourself a paying job, you may find that you'll most likely be paid in US Dollars, or in the native currency of the site you’re working for. This can be stressful for any would-be UK freelance journalist, or freelancers in general, as it means you'll effectively have to work double the amount of your workload so you end up with a paycheck that's more favorable to survive on in the UK. It's even more stressful when you have no other means of income; all your earnings will most likely go straight towards survival more so than leisure, at least to start off with.
What do I mean by “survival”? Grown-up stuff really, like rent, food, tax, National Insurance, savings, business investment (more on that in a minute) and so on.
Managing your time can be a bit tricky, too, as you may fall into the complacency of having all morning to lie-in before everyone else wakes up on the other side of the world, which is more accurate if you work for US websites. That's the trap I fell in, and over time it made me feel lost and unstructured in terms of managing my daily routine. It's best to pick what works best for you, but try not to roll around in the fact that you have a few hours to spend before actually working - make the most of your time effectively and be productive!
If you're planning on dedicating yourself to being a full-time freelance video game journalist, you'll have to register yourself as self-employed with HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC), which harkens back to what I said earlier about business investment.
Registering with HMRC will let them know that you are an individual who's looking to perform your own self assessment, which will enable you to keep track of your taxes and National Insurance and contribute your earnings accordingly. Furthermore, it’ll effectively name you as your own business, and so setting money aside for your business will ensure that it’ll have profit, which can be invested into further improving your business in general as well as covering business expenses (such as business-related purchases and travel, etc.).
It's also a good idea to look up The Prince's Trust. The Prince's Trust is an organization dedicated to helping people achieve certain skills for life and work, and they also do a program that's aimed at those who wish to start up their own business or become self-employed. I attended such a course myself, and it was very helpful on putting my goals into perspective, as well as teaching me how to accurately keep track of my earnings and how to budget said earnings for both myself and my business.
Another thing to keep in mind is to be able to differentiate what money from your earnings will be distributed to your business and personal leisure. From what I’ve learned so far, it’s best to make your business investments/expenses and survival contributions first, and then take the money what’s left from your earnings to use on yourself.
One thing that particularly caught me out at the start of my second year was tax forms, and it took a few panicked days for me to wrap my head around it. After receiving help and doing some investigating, I discovered that filling out a tax form for a freelance job was a lot simpler than I first thought.
If you're presented with a tax form during a certain gig, it's best to do a lot of research on what kind of tax form it is. In my experience, you'll need to fill out a W-8BEN as a UK citizen working in the US. This'll let the Internal Revenue Service (IRS)--the American equivalent to HMRC, I believe--know that you are being paid for your work, even though you're not a US citizen/resident. Luckily, there's an IRS embassy in London; a quick call will help you a long way, as it did for me. Please bare in mind that not all gigs will require you to fill out a tax form though.
It's a scary thing, yes, but it can all be done online. If it's your first time starting, and your earnings are going to be small, you won't have to worry about paying tax--you'll only have to pay tax if your annual earnings go above £10,000. If you earn below that threshold, you don't have to pay tax (but that doesn't mean you shouldn't set something aside anyway). As for National Insurance, you'll only have to set a little aside a month (less than £15). However, if you need peace of mind, phone up HRMC after registering for further information.
I struggled in confusion for a short while because I didn’t know the information I now know today, and so I hope these tips will help other UK would-be freelance video game journalists when venturing out on their own. If you’re still looking for information, I’d suggest you head on over to the official HMRC website, which holds countless hints and tips on self-employment and freelance help.