Co-founder of Harlow—an all-in-one tool to help freelancers get organized, save time and look professional.
You’ve heard people gushing about the freedom freelancing can offer. Flexible hours, choosing your clients, escaping the confines of the 9 to 5 corporate culture – the list goes on. But few people share the challenges of building a freelance business from scratch.
It’s hard work. As a freelancer, you are constantly learning new skills and rolling up your sleeves to manage the ins and outs of your business. It also takes a healthy amount of faith and courage. Putting yourself out there is scary. But it’s also incredibly rewarding.
If you heard the call and want to start your own freelance business, congratulations. Today I’m going to walk you through the basic steps to get started, plus some tips for charting a path that provides the security and freedom you want.
Spoiler alert: it’s not easy, but it’s worth it.
Step 1: Define your offer and your audience.
Take the time to think about your skills and the types of customers you’re best suited for, then start to package that into an offer for your target audience. For example, maybe you are a writer who likes to create short web content, and you have experience writing for startup software. Great – that’s super obvious.
Or maybe it’s less clear. Let’s say your last role was as a project manager for a medium-sized company and you wore a lot of hats. Defining your offering may take a little more creativity. You can start by offering Asana or Basecamp cleanups, which help medium and large businesses reorganize and increase efficiency.
Step 2: Arrange the logistics.
It’s tempting to go freelancing without doing the logistical work beforehand. But protecting yourself from liability and keeping your business clean should be a top priority from day one. A few must-haves before you land new clients.
1. Form an LLC.
2. Open a business bank account.
3. Set up a method to track your expenses.
All of this protects you from liability, keeps your records clean for tax season, and allows you to keep more of those hard-earned dollars.
Step 3: Build your brand.
Next, it’s time to make your business marketable. A strong first impression can set the tone for your projects. You don’t have to go overboard here, but by setting up a simple website and social profiles, you can be seen and taken more seriously from the get-go. Plus, having a website that outlines your services and target audience makes it easy for potential clients to identify early on if you’re a good fit.
Step 4: Set your prices.
First, pricing isn’t static – it will absolutely evolve as your business grows. But you have to start somewhere. A good way to pre-determine your price is to dig into what other freelancers charge for similar offers. There are plenty of resources online to help you too, such as Peak Freelance’s Writing Salary Report, Digital Marketing Consultant Creed Report and Freelance Rate Sheet for Women.
When we first built our freelance business, we organized a number of freelance friend meetings to understand our pricing and offerings. If you have someone in your network that you can consult, don’t be afraid to reach out. Once you get feedback from your community or online, you can add your years of experience and find a rate that can support the lifestyle you want.
Step 5: Start self-promotion.
I know. But as a freelancer and solo business owner, it’s up to you to market yourself. You should feel comfortable with that. Once you start your business, it’s time to tell everyone you know about it. Share what you offer and why you are the best person for the job. You never know where your first freelance client will come from.
Here are four effective ways to start self-promotion.
1. Reach out to your friends, family, previous co-workers, old bosses, etc., and make them aware of your offer – make your list and don’t be shy. People like to help people.
2. Join freelance communities and start building your network. These connections are invaluable. If another freelancer comes across a great gig that isn’t right for them, but is perfect for you, they may refer you instead, and vice versa. Building this camaraderie goes a long way.
3. Sign up for newsletters and follow other freelancers who regularly post gigs. The Writer’s Job Newsletter is great for finding freelance writing gigs, as is Kaitlyn Arfordis weekly curated list of freelance opportunities.
4. Join freelance marketplaces to find your first few clients and build your reputation and portfolio. Harlow has put together a pretty robust list of: freelance gig sites.
Building a business isn’t easy, but it’s a proven path to independence and autonomy – and you’ll be in good company once you join the ranks. The freelance community is huge, diverse and incredibly supportive. So if these steps seem feasible to you, get out there. Start building the career of your dreams and connect with like-minded people who are doing the same. In the words of Steve Jobs, “Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life.”