To many, owning a business feels like a pipe dream. But if you’re hoping to become a freelancer (or start your own LLC), you do have plenty of examples to look to for inspiration. According to a study performed by Upwork just last year, 56.7 million freelancers reside in the United States alone. For clarification's sake, freelance work is generally defined as “working on a contract basis for a variety of companies, as opposed to working as an employee for a single company.”
Such workers enjoy far more freedom than traditional employees in regards to the work they do, where they work from and the hours they keep. Since freelancers are essentially self-employed, this lifestyle has become aspirational for many looking to break in. If you are wondering how to start freelancing, read on for an easy step-by-step guide on getting this new stage of your career off to a solid start.
How to Start Freelancing: Our Simple Guide
1. Choose Your Focus
The first and most obvious step in getting your freelance path started is to decide what kind of work you’ll be doing. Perhaps the most popular freelance option is writing, but the possibilities are endless.
You can specialize in marketing or public relations work, become an online tutor or virtual assistant or get paid to do data entry, just to name a few. Your best bet is to build on an area where you already have some experience and make this service the center of your freelance business. That way, you already have a natural starting point that you can expand on.
2. Structure Your Business
You’ll also want to consider how your business will be structured. If you’re just a one-person operation, you can easily work as a sole proprietorship for the time being and incorporate when the time is right.
However, it’s best to do your due diligence as soon as possible. Look into the benefits of becoming an LLC and consider how these might serve your business either now or in the future. Even if you decide not to incorporate now, you might change your mind as your business continues to grow.
3. Jumpstart Your Marketing
We’re not talking about spending tons of money on advertising, hiring a marketing guru or anything quite so dramatic as all that. Nowadays, you can do a lot either for minimal cost (or completely free).
If you want to really get the word out about your freelance services, be sure to set up some social media accounts, create a website for your freelance business or even get some business cards. These tools will put you in a position to connect with your peers and potential clients alike. Plus, they will project an air of professionalism and credibility from the very start.
4. Assemble Your Existing Work
Remember how we mentioned your freelance business should stem from your existing work experience? Well, it’s key for your burgeoning business that you have some concrete real-world experience in whatever service you’re looking to sell. With these work samples, you can assemble a portfolio, which you should include on your website and present to potential clients.
If you don’t yet have any examples of your work to share, then make it a point to get some fast — even if you have to create some of your own or do a bit of unpaid work to gain the experience you need to help your freelancing efforts pay off.
5. Prepare Your Finances
As a freelancer, you won’t have an accounting team at your beck and call. To ensure that invoices are billed, paid and managed effectively, you should design your entire financial business cycle before you get too deep into it.
Begin by creating an accounting plan and make an invoice template you can use for each project. You might even want to open up a business checking account or business credit card if you anticipate racking up some expenses in the course of your freelance business. The goal here is to be ready for the income to start rolling in well before it actually does.
6. Keep Your Day Job
We recommend not quitting your current job to pursue your freelancing career — at least not at first. As we’ve said above, you want to make sure you have enough experience to secure paid freelance work. Even if you do, it can often take time to land clients lucrative enough to replace the income you’re currently making from your full-time gig.
Just start small, squeezing in a bit of freelance work at nights or on weekends. Then you’ll gradually get a better feel for whether you can go full-time. Doing so before you're ready is a financial risk that many people can't swing — and there's no rush.
7. Start Your Client Search
You have your website set up, your portfolio is built and now it’s time to start reining in some freelance work. Once you officially enter the freelance job search, you’ll discover just how many jobs are out there — and how few of those may actually meet your needs.
When you’re first starting out, you may be willing to take on some jobs that pay less than you’d prefer. But stay vigilant. You can find many job boards that focus specifically on freelance work. Set up some email alerts and follow key professionals on social media. Lastly, don’t be afraid to reach out if you see a potential opportunity that might suit you.
8. Establish Connections
When you’re a new freelancer, you will definitely not feel comfortable at the start, no matter how ideal the freelance lifestyle may be for you. You’re the new kid in school — and the only way to overcome this awkward stage is to push through it.
Peruse social media, find some blogs and job sites where like-minded freelancers congregate and network your butt off. You never know where your next job may come from or where a new relationship may lead. A simple online search will uncover a wealth of resources. Take advantage of them!
9. Keep Pushing Yourself
Despite what you may have heard, no business is an overnight success. It takes time, persistence and resilience to make it as a business owner — perhaps even moreso for freelancers who are going it alone.
Even once you think your freelance life is booming, you may soon find yourself struggling to keep moving forward. When that happens, remember why you decided to pursue freelancing and push that negativity aside. If you have friends, family or colleagues who support you, it’s even easier to stave off the frustration and self-doubt.
10. Never Stop Growing
Because you are self-employed, your opportunity for advancement is two-pronged. On one hand, the choice is entirely yours what rate you set for yourself and the projects you take on. But on the other hand, you have to value yourself enough to actually raise your rates and aim higher in your ambitions.
No business exists for very long if it's afraid to grow and evolve, and you have to treat your freelance work the same way. Keep pushing yourself to take on bigger, higher-paying roles. Likewise, continue to learn more about your craft and find ways to make your operation more efficient every year.
Freelancing Isn’t Free
Still interested in starting a freelance business? We hope the above discussion has given you some direction — but it’s critical that you not underestimate the amount of work involved in building a steady, reliable income from a freelance career. Like any rewarding path, becoming a successful freelancer takes patience and more than a little personal sacrifice. We hope this list has helped demystify what freelancing is all about and pointed you down a path toward making your long-term career goals an exciting reality.
If you still have questions about how to get your own business up and running, be sure to keep Incfile in mind. Our business is about prepare entrepreneurs like you for the challenges ahead, and supporting you along the way. Our extensive resources can equip you with the knowledge you need to kickstart your business growth strategy — and we have plenty of services to help you manage your company too. To learn more, check out our website and get started today!
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Robert Yaniz Jr.
Robert Yaniz Jr. has been a professional writer since 2004, including print and online publications. Much of his experience centers on the business world, including work for a major regional business newspaper and a global law firm