Today’s business world is different than it was ten years ago. Many people are leaving the usual 9-to-5 workday, whether by choice or out of frustration with the availability of those jobs. Often, they find themselves freelancing, which is not always easy but frequently rewarding.
When you take this path, whether as a writer, designer, consultant, programmer, or some other kind of service provider, make sure you’re prepared. Let’s talk about everything you need to succeed as a freelancer.
Some people will say they “fell into” freelancing, but you will succeed faster and more easily with a plan. Sit down and think about what you want to gain from your freelancing work. Decide whether you will work full or part-time. Consider whether one or two clients can provide enough work of if you’ll need several clients. Is the nature of your business such that a client will work with you once in a while or on an ongoing basis? Think about whether to focus on a niche or specific industry. How will you brand yourself and set your business apart from others like you? Finally, create a web presence so people can find you.
Once you make your plan, begin to set up a pricing system. You may need to leave ample room to negotiate as you learn what clients are willing to pay and what your costs will be. Unfortunately, there’s no magic formula where you can plug in numbers to figure out what you should be charging. Balance Careers have a list of questions that you need to ask yourself before setting your pricing system, such as the lowest price you’re willing to accept a project and if your rate is hourly or per project. Good accounting software will help you find the sweet spot between over- and under-valuing your services.
Working as a freelancer can actually simplify your tax processes, since you don’t have anything withheld in your monthly paycheck. However, you do need to take careful steps to ensure that you file your tax return correctly and include any 1099s you received from employers. Freelancers are typically considered independent contractors for tax purposes. You are subject to the Self-Employment Tax and may need to make quarterly estimated payments. Additionally, you can deduct business expenses (including travel, space, meals, etc.) using a Schedule C (Form 1040) to minimize personal cost.
When you’re freelancing, you most likely won’t have office space in your client’s building, so you’ll have to find a place to work. That can be anywhere, from an unused spare bedroom in your home (which LifeHacker says is deductible from your taxes if it meets the right criteria), a local coffee shop or a rented office space. Wherever you decide to work, make sure you won’t get too distracted by your surroundings, and you’ll be able to focus. Consider factors like the ability to network with others, commute time, and available equipment.
One of the perks of freelancing is setting your schedule and freeing yourself of the 9 to 5 workplace model. Before you start pitching yourself to companies and organizations, have a basic schedule in place. Choose the right time tracking software to help you allocate your time efficiently. If you notice you’re busier on one day compared to the others, maybe that’s a day where you aren’t working on projects but are instead attending networking events and professional organization meetings to get your name out there. Having a schedule in place can help make sure you’re dedicating yourself to improving your freelancing business get off the ground and flourish, especially if that’s your only source of income.
Your potential clients will want to see the work you’ve done to see if you’re worth their time. Having a professional clipbook or an online portfolio will go a long way in potentially getting you new clients to work with. You can decide what to put in your portfolio, but make sure it showcases items you’re particularly proud of, whether that’s a blog post that got a lot of clicks for one client or a design that got a lot of hits on social media.
When you’re starting your freelance business, you have to get your name out there. That’s where professional organizations and networking events come into play. The Simple Dollar notes that 35 percent of freelancers find work through networking events. You can also join online or in-person organizations to meet new people who may be in the same boat as you are. Getting your name out in the world is what will get you new business. Going to different places to market yourself will help with that. Just remember that you have only a few seconds to make an impression. Practice your elevator pitch regularly so you’ll never be flustered when it comes to meeting new people.
Once you decide that freelancing is for you, you’re going to need to develop your brand and create marketing materials. Your brand can be anything, but make sure it’s still professional, and you incorporate it into anything you create so people will remember you. You will want a business card–whether paper or digital. If you choose to make your portfolio online, include the website on your business card so potential clients can take a look before you meet again.
While starting a freelancing gig may seem overwhelming at first, it’s a learning experience. Just like anything you do, you’ll become more comfortable with freelancing over time. As long as you keep these things in your freelancing toolkit, you’ll have a better time getting started.
Tim is Founder and CEO of ZipBooks. He keeps his desk really nice and neat.