Starting a freelance business can put you on a path that leads to autonomy, creative freedom, and the opportunity to shape your professional destiny. Freelancing is not much different than building a small business, however, as a freelancer you work for yourself and you are considered self-employed.
While your primary role is to work part-time for clients via projects or ongoing retainers, just like any other business, building a brand as a freelancer is also important. Of course, building a freelance business has additional challenges. It requires meticulous planning, strategic decision-making, and a deep understanding of both your craft and the business side of freelancing. This journey involves more than just doing what you love; it entails managing clients, finances, marketing, and, most importantly, yourself.
Let’s explore the path to becoming a successful freelancer.
1. Perform Market Research and Choose Your Niche
What are you good at? What do you enjoy doing? Choose a niche you are passionate about and have some expertise in.
Performing market research will help you understand the demand for your skills, who your competitors are, who your competitors sell to, and what they charge for services. This process will also help you define your target market, understand who are you going to sell your services to, and better understand their needs and wants. Once you understand your target market, you can tailor your marketing and sales efforts accordingly.
Many people think of freelance jobs as being in the “creative sphere.” While many are, the term “freelance” covers a broad array of jobs. Some of the most popular and in-demand freelance jobs include:
- Business consultants
- Content writers
- Editors and proofreaders
- Graphic designers
- Website developers
- Software developers and programmers
- Public relations specialists
- Search engine optimization consultants
- Search engine marketing consultants
- Social media managers
- Virtual assistants
Before you select your area of focus, carefully consider your skill set to match what you’re passionate about to what services you can offer that clients are willing to pay for. And before you finalize your niche, make sure there is solid demand for this type of service.
2. Create a Business Plan
While you may not need to create a formal business plan, it’s always a good idea to outline your services, pricing strategy, marketing plan, and financial projections. We cover business plans in another article called The Startup Business Plan: Why It’s Important and How You Can Create One. This article will help you consider some key elements in planning your new business. You can pick and choose which elements apply to your future scope of work.
3. Legally Form Your New Business
Many freelancers start out as Sole Proprietorships since it’s easy and inexpensive. But being a Sole Proprietor doesn’t provide any legal separation between you and your business. This means your personal assets are at risk if your company faces legal issues or debt. For instance, if you are sued, your business, personal savings, home, and other assets could be on the line. Being a Sole Proprietor may also cost you more at tax time since you’re responsible for paying both the employer and employee portions of Social Security and Medicare taxes.
A better option is to register a Limited Liability Company (LLC) because it offers that legal separation, keeping your personal assets free from business lawsuits and debts. As an LLC, you can choose to file your taxes as an S Corporation, paying yourself through payroll. To form an LLC, you need to file Articles of Organization documents with your state. There may be other licensing requirements. Check with your accountant or your state government to be sure. CorpNet can make the process easier and help you form your LLC.
4. Obtain an EIN and Open a Business Bank Account
Before you receive your first payment, it’s crucial to set up a separate bank account exclusively for your freelance business. No matter what form of business you choose, you must keep your business and personal expenses and spending separate.
Even if you don’t have employees, you should get an Employer Identification Number (EIN) from the Internal Revenue Service (or CorpNet can get one for you). Most banks won’t allow you to open a business bank account if you don’t have an EIN.
5. Purchase Business Insurance
The insurance coverage you need depends on the type of work you do and the risks associated with your business. However, there are a few basic types of business and health insurance that most freelancers should consider:
- Professional liability insurance – Professional liability insurance, also known as errors and omissions (E&O) insurance, protects you from financial losses if you are sued for making a mistake or failing to perform your services as agreed upon. This is important for freelancers who provide professional services, such as writers, editors, designers, and developers.
- General liability insurance – General liability insurance protects you from financial losses if you are sued for causing bodily injury or property damage to someone else. This is important for freelancers who meet with clients in person or work with physical products.
- Health insurance – Health insurance is essential for everyone but is especially important for freelancers who do not have access to health insurance through an employer.
- Disability insurance – Disability insurance provides financial support if you cannot work due to an illness or injury. This is important for freelancers who rely on their income to survive.
If you are unsure what type of insurance you need, talk to an insurance agent or broker. They can help you to assess your risks and choose the right insurance policies for your needs.
Also, do not assume your homeowner’s policy covers your freelance business. Ask your insurance agent if you need additional coverage.
6. Set Your Freelance Rates
How much will you charge for your services? Consider the value of your services, experience, and the rates other freelancers charge in your niche. Next, compare this to what you want or need to make as income. If you are charging by the hour, calculate out how many hours you would need to work at the various rates to obtain your desired income. Don’t forget to factor in critical costs like income taxes, software, and services for web hosting and accounting.
7. Obtain the Right Equipment and Software
The equipment you need to run a freelance business will vary depending on the type of freelance work you do. All freelancers need a reliable and fast computer, a strong internet connection, and a cell phone.
Depending on the nature of your business, you may also need:
- Software that’s relevant to your field
- Printer, copier, and scanner
- External hard drive to back up your data (a good idea, even if you back up to the cloud)
- Business software that, depending on what you do, lets you invoice clients, keep track of your time (vital if you charge by the hour), manage projects, pay your bills, manage customer relationships (CRM), and more.
- Ergonomic equipment helps you to stay comfortable and productive while you work. This includes a comfortable chair, keyboard, mouse or trackpad, and desk.
It helps to have a dedicated workspace where you can work in private, which enables you to focus and be more productive. If that kind of space is unavailable, check out shared workspaces. That said, many a freelancer has launched their company on their kitchen table.
8. Establish Strong Marketing and Branding
Develop a brand identity, create business cards, and leverage the internet to attract clients. Market your services through social media, networking, and online advertising. It may help to join local business organizations like your Chamber of Commerce to meet potential clients.
9. Build a Website
Today, every business needs an online presence. So, having a professional website where clients can discover you and learn more about your services is critical. A well-designed website adds credibility to your freelance business and is a great way to showcase your work.
Here are some key elements to include in your website:
- Your website should feature your branding, including your logo, brand colors, and messaging, and reflect your style and personality.
- To be found, your website needs to be optimized for search engines (SEO). This makes it easier for potential clients to find you when they search for your type of services.
- You’ll need to make sure your site features examples of your work. A portfolio is a great way to organize work samples online.
- You’ll need to position yourself as an industry expert so you can gain authority with your prospects. This can be done by adding blog posts discussing industry trends or by providing information on how to perform tasks related to your freelance work.
- Your site should also include client testimonials, which offer social proof of your skills and reliability. Positive reviews from satisfied clients will help instill trust and confidence in potential clients checking out your work. In addition, include links to your social media channels (work ones only).
- Provide all your contact information (if you work at home, get a P.O. Box) and a way for potential clients to book and schedule a meeting with you.
You can create a website yourself using one of the numerous DIY tools like WordPress, Squarespace, or Wix. Or, if you’re worried about your skills or the cost of hiring a web designer, consider bartering your services with other freelancers. Bartering is alive and well within the freelance community.
10. Network With Other Freelancers
Networking is a great way to learn from other freelancers, find new clients, and collaborate on projects. While your future niche will determine your networking options, you’ll quickly find some industries have far better networking options than others.
The WordPress community offers local and national WordCamps all designed to help freelancers and agencies connect, share information, and build connections for lead generation and outsourcing. WordCamps are a great example of how valuable networking can be for freelancers. They also illustrate how an industry known for web development is closely tied to graphic design, search engine optimization, content writing, and social media marketing. Think outside of the box when you consider where to spend your time networking.
11. List Yourself on Popular Freelance Websites
There are numerous platforms and websites where you can find freelance work. Here are some to check out:
- Upwork is one of the largest and most popular platforms for freelancers. It features various job categories, including web development, content writing, graphic design, and more.
- Fiverr is known for its gig-based system, where freelancers create specific service listings, or “gigs,” that clients can browse and purchase. It is structured more like a marketplace for freelancers. It covers an array of creative and professional services.
- com is a global platform that connects freelancers with clients seeking various services, including web development, design, writing, and more. It operates on a bidding system where freelancers compete for projects.
- Toptal is a premium platform that connects the top 3% of freelancers with high-quality clients. It focuses on freelancers in software development, designers, finance experts, product managers, and project managers.
- Guru caters to a wide range of freelance skills. It offers tools to manage projects, invoices, and payments, making it easy for both freelancers and clients. It may be a bit pricey to join.
- 99designs is dedicated to design work. Freelancers, particularly graphic designers, can participate in contests or work directly with clients on design projects.
- FlexJobs is a subscription-based platform that curates remote and flexible job opportunities, including freelance positions.
- Bark connects freelancers with local clients seeking personal training, home improvement, or event planning services. It’s particularly useful for service providers.
- Freelanced is a job board and social network for freelancers. It allows you to create a portfolio, network with other professionals, and browse freelance job listings.
- We Work Remotely is not exclusively for freelancers but is an excellent resource for those seeking freelance or remote opportunities.
- SolidGigs is a subscription service that sends handpicked freelance job opportunities to your inbox, saving you time on job searching.
- Working Not Working caters to creative professionals, connecting them with companies looking for design, advertising, and marketing talent.
- Behance is a social media platform owned by Adobe where designers and creatives can showcase their work and connect with potential clients.
- LinkedIn is often overlooked as a freelance platform, but networking here can yield high-paying freelance gigs.
12. Reach Out to Prospects
To have clients, you’ll need to get comfortable with lead generation techniques. This includes sending emails, pitches, or proposals to prospective clients. Creating standardized templates for introductory emails, proposals, and contracts will help keep you organized, make sure you don’t miss important details, and keep your freelance business looking professional.
If this isn’t an area you’re skilled at, consider the many SaaS options available on the market to help make everything from emails to proposals and contracts quick and easy. A predesigned template from a solid SaaS provider will be money well spent.
13. Meet or Beat Your Deadlines
Delivering high-quality work and exceeding expectations is the most important thing you can do to build a successful freelance business. This will not only create a strong client base, it will help create a referral funnel that will keep new clients coming in the door. If you start your new business with the idea of exceeding customer expectations, you’ll never have to worry about missing deadlines or skipping deliverables.
Starting a freelance business can seem overwhelming, but breaking it down into manageable steps can make the process much easier. Once you’ve set up your freelance business, you can experience the flexibility and autonomy that traditional jobs often can’t match.
Are You Ready to Form Your LLC?
We're Here to Help!
Registering your new Limited Liability Company with CorpNet is quick and your satisfaction is guaranteed. Whether you’re forming a new LLC or converting an existing business to an LLC, we can handle all the paperwork for you.