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How to Start a Freelance Business: A Comprehensive Guide to Becoming Your Own Boss

21 Mins read

Are you tired of the continuous 9-5 grind? Do you like having flexibility over when you work? Are you wishing you could work from anywhere? If your answer to any or all of these questions is yes, then you should consider starting a freelance business!

In 2019, there were 57 million Americans doing freelance work, and that number is expected to reach 64.6 million Americans this year and beyond. If you are wanting to join in on the freelance business trend, enjoy flexibility with your work, and create the lifestyle that you have been dreaming of, then it’s time to learn how to start a freelance business.

Freelance work is becoming increasingly more ideal for workers, as well as more attractive for companies and businesses. On the side of companies and businesses, hiring freelancers rather than in-house employees is beneficial because freelance contractors incur minimal overhead expenses – employers don’t have to cover office space, equipment, benefits, and employment taxes for them.

But even with all of the benefits that freelancing has to offer, there are of course some obstacles you have to face while starting your freelancing career. You still have bills to pay and expenses to handle, so you have to make sure that you are following the right steps from the beginning.

Freelancing is a huge responsibility, but can be extremely rewarding when you do it right and work hard to succeed at it. Here is our comprehensive guide on how to start a freelance business, so you can live the life that you have been dreaming of.

How to Start a Freelance Writing Business

What Is Freelance Work?

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Freelance work is work that an individual does for themselves, usually through independent contract work with a handful of clients. Those doing freelance work are not employed by a company, but are considered self-employed as a contractor. Some freelancers do their freelance work full-time, while others are still working 9-5 jobs but do some freelance work on the side.

If you do freelance work full-time, then you pursue your own contract work, set your own hours, do work in your own locations, and determine your own pricing. A freelance worker can pick and choose which jobs they want to do, and on what terms. Freelance work that requires higher level of education and skill will generally pay more than work or contracts that do not require as much education and skill.

Can You Still Work Full Time and Freelance on the Side?

You can absolutely work full time while freelancing on the side. This is not always an easy way to work, but it can be extremely beneficial. The main challenge is balancing a full work schedule with side work, as you don’t want to risk the quality of the work that you produce for your job or your clients.

If you are considering working full time while also freelancing on the side, we’ve got you covered. Here are a few tips to help you balance your full time schedule and your freelance contracts.

Create and Stick to a Schedule

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Creating a proper schedule for yourself while working full time and freelancing on the side is extremely important. You’ll want to excel at all of your jobs and consistently provide high quality work for your employers and clients, while still having time to spend with your friends, family, and for yourself without getting too stressed.

Choose which days you will work on which jobs, and write out what you have to complete each day at the beginning of the week. This allows you to prepare for the whole week at one time, and gives you the ability to make changes throughout the week easily if needed.

Try to wake up around the same time each day, and have a steady morning routine that motivates and excites you so that you start the day out right. You will probably have a lot of work to do each day if you are working full time and freelancing on the side, but if you are prepared and organized with your schedule and with the work you are completing, it will be extremely rewarding!

Always Be Transparent

Before taking on any new job, it is important that you are transparent with your current job about the fact that you are wanting to take on additional work as a freelancer.

Some companies are okay with it, while others are not. By speaking with your employer ahead of time, you can avoid a bad situation down the road. You also have to be sure that you are not in violation of a non-compete with your freelance jobs, so it is important to read the fine print before taking on any new work.

In addition to being transparent taking on new jobs with your current job, always be transparent if things aren’t going as planned during your work as well. If you are going to miss a deadline unexpectedly for some reason, or if something changed and is now affecting one of your other jobs, be sure to communicate all of this as soon as possible with your employer or with your clients.

Keep Your Freelancing Work on Your Own Time

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A crucial aspect of freelancing on the side of your full time job is keeping your freelancing work on your own time! You should NEVER work on your freelancing work when you are at your full time job, or on the clock at all for that matter. Even if work is slow that day, avoid the temptation to work on your freelance work when you are not on your own time, and on your own dime.

The best way to be successful at balancing a full time schedule and freelance work on the side is to keep both as separate entities. Even though they both work for you, they are different types of work, and they can’t be meshed together if you still want to keep your full time job. Keep your boss happy and confident in your work at your full time job, and handle your freelance work at a separate time. This is where the importance of properly scheduling comes in.

How to Become a Freelance Business Owner

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Starting a freelance business isn’t a walk in the park, but it is extremely doable if you work hard and are determined to become successful. Being a freelance business owner can be extremely rewarding for you, and can help you build the dream lifestyle you have always wanted.

Below we discuss how to start a freelance business, and what tips and tricks you need to know to help you kickstart your freelance business. From building out your freelance website to gaining new clients, we’ve got you covered. Here are the steps to get you started!

Step 1: Decide Which Freelance Services You’ll Offer

The first step to becoming a freelance business owner is to determine which freelance services you are going to offer. Are you going to specialize within an area of work, or are you going to be more general?

Here are some examples of specialized and general work:

  • If you do social media work, you can choose to only work on a platform or two such as Facebook and Instagram, or you might offer services across any platform that your client may need. You could even expand this to include complementary content creation like blogging.
  • If you are doing website design, you may only utilize a specific website such as WordPress or Wix, or you might use any website building platform that your client wants. This kind of service could extend to IT or analytics support.
  • If you are doing editing, you can decide whether you want to focus on written content, photos, or video editing – or you can edit any type of content that your client may need done.

Step 2: Define Your Target Customers

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Based on the services you are going to be providing, you need to define your set of target customers.

Will you be pitching to small businesses, or do you have extensive prior experience and skills that will allow you to market your freelance business to large corporations? Is your focus on private clients or will you choose to partner with third-party agencies that can provide you with work?

Start by making a small list of clients that you would like to work with, and reach out to them first to conduct business with them. By doing this, you will start to learn who wants to work with you and who does not, as well as their reasoning why or why not.

From there, you can create a more accurate list of your target customers for your freelance business, and can decide which customers would actually be the best option for the success of your freelance business.

Step 3: Create your freelance website and LinkedIn profile

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Creating your freelance website is a crucial component of your freelance business. Your website allows potential clients to review your work ahead of time, so that they can better understand the type of work and quality of work that you produce on a consistent basis.

Creating a detailed freelance website helps you avoid working with an external company to help you find work as well. This means you have less of a hassle and more control, as well as no fees or charges for working with others!

Here are the steps to creating a great freelance website.

Decide on a Portfolio Website Builder

Assuming you’re not a computer code wizard, the first step to creating your freelance website is to decide on which portfolio website builder you would like to use.

Some good ones to choose from are WordPress, Squarespace, and Wix. These websites offer great options for showcasing your work with plenty of pre-made templates and formats to choose from.

While creating your freelance website, make sure that you choose a style that goes along with your work and is true to you. This will make your freelance website more authentic, and will link directly with your quality of work that you are offering to your freelance clients.

Choose a Layout for Your Website

Once you have signed up for your favorite website builder, it is time to choose a layout.

You can decide between a wide variety of templates created by others and edit them to your liking, or you can start from scratch and build the layout yourself.

Some website builders have a system that will formulate a layout for you after you answer questions about your work and the type of style that you are going for with your freelance website.

Brand Your Freelance Business on Your Website

Now it is time to use your website to brand your freelance business. Choose a name, and get access to that available domain name.

Think about SEO here, as you choose a name that hopefully can incorporate who you are and what you are doing, so that people can find you from your domain name easily on search engines.

It is also helpful to create a professional logo and to utilize a common color scheme throughout your website for additional branding aspects.

Include Relevant Pages on Your Website

Adding relevant pages on your website is a crucial part of having a visually pleasing and heavily informational website for your potential clients to look at. This allows them to understand exactly who you are and what you do.

Put together Home page, About, Services, Projects (or Work), and Contact pages, and include relevant information about your freelance business in each section. If you have already worked with many clients and have testimonials from them of your work, include a Testimonials page as well!

After you have created your freelance website, it is time to create a LinkedIn profile for your freelance business. LinkedIn is an extremely beneficial way to network with potential, past, and current clients, and a great platform for people and companies to find you on.

Here are some tips for creating a quality freelance LinkedIn profile.

Your Profile Picture

Make sure that your profile picture is a professional and recent headshot. Throw on a business-casual outfit and smile with your teeth for a friendly yet professional look!

Your Headline

In your LinkedIn profile headline, write exactly what you do – and who you do it for – as a freelancer. This is an extremely common way for people to search for potential contractors. Use important keywords in your headline to describe your position, state what you do, and define the services you provide with your freelance business.

Your Summary

Your summary is a great way for you to give a brief overview of what you do with your freelance business, and outline the skills you have to offer to your clients. Make sure that you also include a call to action at the end of your summary, so that potential clients know that you are open for new work opportunities.

Your Work Experience

If you have any relevant work experience that relates to your freelance business and the services that you are offering, make sure you include it on your LinkedIn profile so that potential clients can see that you know what you’re doing, and that you are current and active within your industry.

Your Portfolio

Since you just created an incredible portfolio website for your freelance business, include a link to it on your LinkedIn profile for additional visibility!

Your Skills and Endorsements

Always add any skills that you have from your previous experience and current work to your LinkedIn profile. Other LinkedIn users can endorse you for these skills as well, especially past bosses or colleagues who have seen you in action.

Step 4: Find New Clients

Once you have your freelance website and LinkedIn profile set up and ready to go, it’s time to start finding new clients for your business. There are many ways that you can do this, but some options are definitely more effective than others.

Here are our top tips for finding new clients for your freelance business.

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Create a Prospect List

A great way to market your freelance business and get clients is to create a prospect list. Making a prospect list helps you to stay organized while you are trying to build your business, and can help you figure out how you want to market yourself to potential clients.

Here is how to build a prospect list.

Define Your Ideal Client

The first step to creating a prospect list for your freelance business is to decide who your ideal client is. You want to make sure that you are finding the right clients – individuals or organizations that not only need your services, but can afford to pay you what you’re worth!

Identify An Initial List of Prospects

It is best to start with a list of about 10-15 prospects, and then to grow that list to a larger number over time. Starting with a smaller number of prospects in the early stages of your freelance business allows you to build strong relationships with your clients. Your goal is to work with them long-term.

Conduct Research on Each Prospect

After you have a solid list of about 10-15 prospects, conduct research on each one. You want to understand their business and what they do, and to uncover their contact information so that you can reach out to each one.

Know Why Each Prospect is Your Prospect

It is important to have an exact reason why each prospect is on your prospect list. For each prospect, write out the services you have to offer that can benefit them, and why they need you to complete work for them. This will help you once you begin pitching your freelance business to them, so that you can create personal pitches to each client who may need specific services from you.

Conduct Email Outreach

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Emailing prospects on your prospect list is a great way to gain new clients for your freelance business, so it is important to understand how to properly do email outreach.

Once you have established your ideal client and have a prospect list that you are comfortable with, start sending those emails! Here are some tips for email outreach that can convert prospects into new clients.

Find the Ideal Point of Contact

Even if you write the best email in the world, you will not win new business if you are reaching out to the wrong person. For each prospect on your list, do heavy research into who the correct point of contact is, and what their contact information is.

You want to be speaking directly with the person in charge of hiring or taking on new work for the specific part of the business that you would be working with. You can find this point of contact through their company website, or from searching through their company page on LinkedIn and finding the employee with the correct job title for that company.

Locate Their Email Address

Once you have discovered and researched the correct point of contact, it is time to find their email address. Sometimes, their email address will be listed on the company website or their LinkedIn profile, which makes it easy for you.

But if their email is not listed, you will have to do some digging to find it. Search on Google to see if they have a personal blog or their own website that might include their email address, or see if they have a Twitter account that includes their contact information.

If not, you can connect with them on LinkedIn and send them a direct message with the same information that you were going to include in your email to them.

Write an Email Template
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When you are creating your email template to send out to client prospects, you need to provide real value in the email.

It’s beneficial to find an example of something within their work on their website or social media for each prospect you are reaching out to, and to reference it in your email. After referencing something, provide a soft pitch of the services that you offer, and how your services will benefit their company as a whole.

Wrap up your email with a call to action to see if the prospect is interested in chatting more with you about the possibility of working together!

Professionally Follow Up to Your Email

It can be difficult to get noticed when you’re reaching out to prospective clients. This is why it is important that you follow up with them if you do not hear back after a decent amount of time, because you most likely have been overlooked. It is crucial that you stay professional and are not annoying while following up.

Once it’s been about 4-5 days since you emailed them, send them a follow up email saying that you have been thinking more about the needs of their company, how your services can benefit them, and if they are able to chat briefly this week about it. If you still do not hear back from this person after about 4 days, try reaching out to another point of contact at their company.

Connect on Social Media

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A great way to gain new clients is to connect with companies and employees on social media. It is important to create one-on-one relationships with prospective clients, so that you can get to know each other and form a sense of trust for providing high quality work. Connect and follow companies and employees on platforms such as LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, that you are interested in or are on your prospect list.

It is beneficial to occasionally reach out on the platforms that you connect with them on as well. If they have completed some work that you admire, send them a message and tell them that. If you have completed some work that relates to their company, send them a message and include the work in it. If there is anything non-work related that you can connect on, message them about it (professionally, of course).

This will help you to get noticed by the company or by employees, and will help you to build relationships with them in a way that is not fully focused on business.

Join Groups and Network

Joining groups related to the type of work you do and the kind of services you provide, and networking with people within those groups, is a wonderful way to get you and your freelance business noticed by other professionals within your industry. Being an active part of like-minded groups gives you a chance to open your eyes to a variety of work and people, that you could eventually benefit with your freelance services.

Some great groups to join are Facebook groups, Twitter chats, LinkedIn groups, and Slack communities. Groups that are highly engaging and responsive are important, so that there is constant communication going on within them. This leads to a lot of opportunity for you to meet people within the groups as you get involved with conversations and share your thoughts and opinions with others.

Even though these are work-related groups that you are joining, you shouldn’t actually post too much about work at first. Focus on providing genuine value to the group, and fostering personal communications that are supportive and knowledgeable. You don’t want to jump into these groups and network with a selling mindset, as this can be viewed as annoying and pushy for people already in the groups.

Step 5: Set Up Business Systems

After you have begun reaching out to prospective clients and networking with companies and people within your industry, it is time to set up business systems for your freelance business.

As a freelancer, you will need to keep up with your own expenses and earnings, handle your own legal needs, and be your own administrator. While doing all of these on your own may seem intimidating and overwhelming, there are ways to make it easier on yourself as a freelancer.

Accounting System

To set up your accounting system for your freelance business, you can either do it yourself on a spreadsheet, or you can purchase software such as QuickBooks, Wave, or Taxbot if you have too much to keep track of yourself. Wave and Taxbot are free while QuickBooks is pretty expensive, so it depends on what you are willing to spend, and what your true accounting needs are.

Things that you need to track regularly are your freelance income, freelance expenses, and the taxes that you pay as a freelancer. You can track your income and expenses on spreadsheets on your own, without needing a separate software solution to do it.

For income, you can list how much you were paid, what day you were paid, who paid you, and for what services on a spreadsheet. For expenses, you can list the amount you spent, what you purchased, the vendor you purchased from, and the date that you purchased it.

When it comes to taxes as a freelancer, you will most likely have to pay quarterly tax payments to the IRS. To do this on a quarterly basis, you will look at your income from the past three months, and then apply the correct tax rate to it.

You will add that tax payment each quarter as an expense. When you file your tax returns, you will include your 1099-MISC income on a Schedule C attachment to your tax return. You will have to pay state income taxes and local taxes as a freelancer.

Legal System

There are a few legal actions that you should take when you are first setting up your freelance business. Since you will not be employed by a company and working for them, you will have to set up your own business entity and create contracts to make sure that everything runs smoothly. If you don’t, you may be caught up in some legal trouble with clients or competitors if something goes wrong.

For your freelance website, it is important to include a terms and conditions statement, which lets the visitors of your website know what they can and cannot do while on your website. If you are collecting any sort of personal information from the visitors on your website, such as using cookies for Google Analytics or requiring their email address for some function on the website, you must include a privacy statement as well. The privacy statement must contain what information you are collecting, how you are collecting it, and what you will be doing with the information.

When you begin work with new clients, it is absolutely crucial that you both sign a contract that states every aspect of the work you will be doing for them, on agreed upon terms. Some common things to include in your work contracts will be the work that will be completed, the timeframe of the job, any specific deadlines that must be met, the terms of payment, any changes or edits made and how they will work, the type of ownership of the work, termination rules of the contract, and any legal disclaimers and terms that either of you require for the type of work you will be providing.

Another important legal element to your freelance business is the copyright for your work, whether it’s writing, software code, illustrations, or other intellectual property. Your work is technically copyright protected when you create it.

In your contracts, make sure you specify with clients whether they have the exclusive rights to work you create, or whether they’re only buying non-exclusive rights so you can use your own work or sell it again to others.

People may also try to steal your work. To legally protect yourself from this, you should include a copyright statement on each page of your website. This copyright statement can either include the word “copyright” or the © symbol, your name, and the years of publication for that specific piece of work.

Administrative System

When you have your own freelance business, you have to handle administrative tasks on your own as well. It is important to keep a steady flow of the work that you are doing and how you are doing it, so that you stay on track with all of your freelance contracts, and provide the highest quality work possible to each and every one of your clients.

Scheduling is an important administrative aspect of any successful freelance business. Create a planner or a calendar, either physically or electronically, where you can write out all of your due dates for all of your clients in one dedicated place.

This is beneficial because you can effectively plan your days and weeks ahead of time to ensure that all of your work is completed on time. Try to stick to a steady work routine, so that you get used to working at certain times to get everything done each day and each week.

Correspondence is another important administrative task for freelancers. Responding to emails and scheduling phone calls and meetings can be tedious, but it is crucial that you do all of these things in a timely manner.

Having constant communication with current, past, and future clients is a huge deal, and will help your freelance business to run smoothly and successfully. It will also build trust and reliability in your brand. Create email templates that you can edit per email to get through your inbox quicker, and categorize your email inbox based on types of emails and types of clients.

Keeping up with backups and updates for your computer and various software is a common oversight with people who own their own freelance business. Making sure that all of the work you complete is backed up and saved properly is crucial, so you don’t lose any of your work in case something crashes.

Updating your computer each time there is a new update helps to make sure that everything is running properly, and will decrease the likelihood of technical issues down the road. You do not have an IT department to help you out if something goes wrong, so it is important to stay up-to-date and knowledgeable with your computer and software.

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Step 6: Do Incredible Work

Once you have completed every step for how to start a freelance business, and after you have signed contracts with a few clients, then it’s time to get to work!

Owning your own freelance business is different than working for a company, and it will take some time to get used to. Even though freelancing is challenging, it can also be extremely beneficial if done properly, and can help you live the dream lifestyle that you have always wanted.

Here are some tips for doing incredible work while you own your freelance business!

Build Rapport with Your Clients

Now that you own your own freelance business, your clients are the sole drivers of your success. It is important to form a strong relationship with them, and to create trust. Communication is key here, so that you always keep them updated with what you are doing and what is going on with the work you are providing.

It is important to be transparent if something does not go according to plan, and to take responsibility if something happened that was your fault. If your clients trust you and can always rely on you, then they will refer you to other clients, and you will get more work without having to hunting for it.

Be Realistic About Deadlines

Even though it may be tempting to set quick deadlines for your projects to impress your clients, this can actually backfire if the project takes longer than expected.

When you first start working for clients with your freelance business, it is hard to set accurate deadlines because you have no idea how long something will take at this point. In the beginning, set time for some wiggle room until you get used to it down the road, and can set proper deadlines.

Just remember: whatever deadlines you set for a project, make sure that you meet them, no matter what!

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Market Yourself and Your Freelance Business

Marketing yourself and your freelance business is a great way to get your name out there. Regularly post about your work on your own social media platforms, have your friends and family post about your work on their social media accounts, and connect with people in your industry on social media.

If you are able to attend conferences, networking events, or meetings, make business cards to pass out to prospective clients. Get yourself out there!

Always Be Proactive

When it comes to running a successful freelance business, you have to hustle! Constantly pitch your services and your business to prospective clients, speak with your current clients about additional work or projects, and ask current and past clients that you have a strong relationship with for referrals for people they know who could benefit from your services.

Word of mouth is the most beneficial way to gain new clients, because they will already know who you and the quality of work you produce. Network with people online from social media and groups, and in-person through conferences and networking events.

There are endless opportunities out there – it’s time for you to get out there and explore them!

Enjoy Doing What You Love

Now that you are a freelance business owner, it is time to enjoy doing what you love! Even though freelancing can be hard work, it can also be so rewarding. You can finally work on your own time, set your own schedule, and work in whatever location you desire.

You will have your own set of clients, and will not have to go through a separate company to receive work and to form professional relationships. Everything is up to you, so now is the time for you to shine and to produce the highest quality work possible for your clients.

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How to Start a Freelance Business Wrap-up

Within this comprehensive guide, we have covered what it means to own your own freelance business, as well as the steps you need to take to get your freelance business running smoothly and successfully.

First, start by identifying what services you will offer and who your target customers are. Then, create a freelance website and LinkedIn profile. After that, look for new clients while you set up your business systems. Lastly, it’s time to get busy working for your new clients – and get paid!

Owning your own freelance business has many challenges and difficulties along the way, but if you put in the hard work, and follow the proper process, then you will experience the many benefits that freelancing has to offer.

By following our step-by-step guide on how to start a freelance business, you are sure find success in the world of freelancing. Now that you know what to do to succeed as a freelancer, what are you waiting for?

Get to work and enjoy your freelance business!

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