How To Start Your Freelance Business
Since I started freelancing a few years ago I've had many friends ask how they can do the same. They often ask what were some of the essential starting points and what skills are needed. While I don't believe in a set of rules for going out on your own (other than actually making the jump), this is typically my response:
1. Decide what your skillset is and dive in
What is it that you are going to be offering? Is it graphic design, copywriting, project management, accounting? If you're not sure yet think of your skill sets you show at your day job and in your free time.
Some great questions to ask yourself are:
What would someone pay you to do?
What do you like doing?
What sets you apart?
What do your friends, colleagues, family members say you are good at?
Another great way to determine this is to listen to people around you. What are they struggling with on a day-to-day basis? Maybe you have a friend that mentioned she doesn't have time to post on Instagram for her business. Can you help her do that? Do you want to help her and other people like her do that? Start saying yes to small tasks to get your feet wet. Practice offering your services and CHARGING for them, which brings me to my next point.
2. Know your worth
A lot of times I hear people saying "I have no experience so I can't charge that much." Fine, I understand wanting to offer discounts for initial clients as you get your feet wet. Ask them to keep your rate private and don't forget to calculate what you NEED to earn. The point of working for yourself is to sustain your lifestyle and income, maybe even increase it. Make sure you know how much you need to bring in to accomplish that goal.
Then you need to think about how you will charge for projects. Will it be hourly or a flat rate? Will it depend per project? Talk to friends who are in a similar industry and ask for advice on how they handle it. Don't be afraid to try a few things to determine what works, but be upfront with your clients. Communicate appropriately what you are asking for and what happens if conditions change (if hours go over, etc).
3. Set up your new business infrastructure
Unfortunately, there's also a lot of boring paper work associated with owning your own business. You'll need to a bit of research to determine what certifications or legal structure you'll need to have for your business. Do you need to establish yourself as an LLC or will you function as a Sole Proprietor? Talk to a small business expert to help you determine what classifications you need and when they need to be set up. When I have questions I like to start by researching on the Small Business Administration site to learn more about my state's requirements.
Some other tools that help me maintain my sanity and day-to-day operations are:
FreshBooks - A very affordable invoicing platform that helps you track income and expenses (key for tax time).
Toggl - A time tracker that helps me accurately bill clients for projects I track by the hour.
4. Say YES to new opportunities
Venturing out on your own whether full time or part time is scary and being your own boss is a serious challenge. It can be a strange feeling to have the responsibility all on you and no one to tell you how to execute a project. But this can also be a good thing and an amazing opportunity to grow in ways you may not have thought possible.
If you set out to be an interior design consultant, you may think you will only be designing residential homes. What if someone asks you to do the following:
- Design an office interior
- Style a photo shoot
- Style a baby's 1st birthday party
- Design a custom rug
- Design a trade show table/booth
Never write these opportunities off! Who knows what could come of them. Maybe it's a whole new niche and skillset that ends up being your money making machine. Always be open to new projects, it's a freedom that makes working for yourself the most exciting.
5. Join a support group
I talk about this all the time but one of the best things I did for myself was to join a community of like-minded women. In Boston I had our Who's That Gal column and Ladies Lounge and in Los Angeles I joined the Bossladies Work Sesh meet up. Working by yourself is lonely, scary, and confusing. It's so helpful to have a community that can relate to, bounce ideas (pitches) off of, share experiences and ask for advice. It's a group that can not only lead to new friendships but also new clients or collaborators. For example, I met a lawyer, photographer, and copywriter at Bossladies.
The last thing I'll leave you with is this: If you are considering working for yourself, DO IT. Please try working for yourself in some way. Full time, part time or here and there. It's so valuable to know what your skills are, how to offer them and how to charge for them. Who knows what doors will open up!