13 Steps to a Successful Freelance Business

Want to become a freelancer but not sure how?

You’ve decided to become a freelancer. Something brought you to this point. Perhaps you have an entrepreneurial spirit. Or you’re incompatible with your boss, corporate culture, the business cycle. You’re ready to stop toiling by someone else’s rules and you want to seek greater fulfillment in your work. In short, you want to become a successful freelancer.

80% of non-freelancers say they would be willing to do work outside their primary job to bring home more cash.

Whatever brought you here, the path ahead is both fascinating and intimidating.  Becoming a successful full-time freelancer isn’t easy, but it is completely doable. You don’t have to be a wizard. You don’t have to live without sleep. But you do need to commit to this new lifestyle.

Are you ready?

freelancing business

1. Ease your way into freelancing

Don’t quit your day job just yet. Sites like Upwork, ProBlogger, and Freelancer are excellent resources for landing small jobs in your field. Supplement your nine-to-five job with short assignments. You can then use these assignments to build your portfolio and get client referrals. Your chances of success are much higher if you lay the groundwork before committing to freelancing full-time.

2. Don’t sell yourself short

Don’t worry if you only have a handful of samples in your portfolio when you first start out. Your work is still valuable. While it is OK to work for a lower compensation at first, you hurt yourself and your industry when you charge below market rate for your work. Spend some time getting the references and experience you need. And then adjust your rates. Be confident—your work is worth paying for!

3. Find your place in your industry

Can you succinctly explain to clients what you do? Are you a writer, an editor, a marketer? Which clients are your services geared toward? Who should buy your services and what makes your work special? When you specialize in your industry, you ensure that you can focus your energy on work that is most important to you. And, you can be a true expert at what you do.

The most successful freelancers don’t try to be all things to all people. They focus on a niche. When you have focus you can develop expert level skills.

4. Research your job

Know what you need to do to become an expert at your job. Suppose you want to be a social media consultant. Research the services other experts in your field offer. It might be Facebook or Instagram. Are you planning on marketing your services to small businesses? Find out which services your clientele is looking for. Perhaps they like their marketing services to come in a package and you’ll need to find a partner who can offer the additional services. Or learn you could learn the new skills. Make yourself the expert your clients are looking for. Which brings us to:

5. Create a professional online presence

When you are a freelancer you are an entrepreneur. From day one present yourself as a business.

Build your website. This is how you will attract, meet new clients and establish credibility. You can create your own website or you can showcase your work on your freelance website profile at first. But make no mistake, a professional online presence is key to becoming a successful freelancer.

6. Devise a client system

Devise a system for building relationships with your new clients. Show that you are capable and experienced. This is how you increase your jobs and pay. Find out what other successful freelancers do in your industry. Do they write up professional contracts and store them in Google Docs? Do they use Freshbooks for invoicing and estimates? How do other web designers get a sense of their clients’ style? Maybe they create client intake questionnaires.

Having a process in place makes you look established and professional.

7. Meet new people

Not good with people in person? Fortunately, you can expand your online presence by joining groups for like-minded professionals. You can connect with other professionals online without ever leaving your living room. Take a look at Facebook or LinkedIn for communities that share your passions. Network on Twitter.

You don’t need to engage in shameless self-promotion. Participate in discussions on blogs you follow or leave a thoughtful reply on Quora. If you can be useful, your professional online presence will grow.

8. Don’t fear taxes

Some aspiring freelancers fear the complicated tax situation. There is no single right way to handle your taxes as a freelancer. As a general rule, reserve 30% of your wages for federal income and self-employment taxes. You can send your payments quarterly, or not. But make sure you have a system in place. You can still file your taxes annually with TurboTax. If in doubt, consult the IRS website or your accountant. The taxes are not as scary as they seem, so don’t let them keep you from your dreams.

It is always recommended to consult with a tax professional about your taxes.

9. Have a backup plan

If you’re concerned about trying and failing as a freelancer, have a backup plan in place. It takes a significant amount of time to grow your business. Even when you’re on solid footing, there is always risk of losing work. Confront any concerns head-on. What would you do instead if freelancing doesn’t work out? Do you have other experience you could fall back on?

Identifying a fear of failure and preparing a backup plan isn’t just financially savvy. You need to let go of this worry before jumping in, or you might take on the wrong clients and the wrong projects out of desperation.

10. Learn how to avoid the wrong clients

There is a fair number of obnoxious clients in the freelancing world. Some disappear after you begin a contract only to re-emerge last-minute. Or they want to change your work terms. They might be plain jerks. These clients are not worth your time. Fortunately, they are easy to spot.

Have a strategy in place for dealing with these problem clients. A simple “I’m sorry, but I cannot help you at this time” should do. Remember, tedious work and difficult clients stand in your way of becoming a successful freelancer.

11. Decline offers you don’t want

Remember why you decided to become a freelancer. Perhaps you couldn’t refuse boring projects in your office job. Maybe you got assignments that brought you no job satisfaction. Or you were doing work that wasn’t advancing you as a professional.

It can be hard to decline offers when you first start out but remember why you’re freelancing and be assertive. You deserve to do exciting work with polite clients.

12. Ask for referrals

Don’t be shy! Contact your clients and remind them that you appreciated working with them. Mention that you could use some more work and ask for referrals. Asking your clients if they know of anyone who might need your services is a great way to find new clients.

The best times to ask for referrals:

  • When you complete a project.
  • Just as you receive a compliment.
  • After you have received a testimonial.

13. Dive in

Taking your freelancing to the next level and finally leaving your day job is a bold move. It is natural to feel nervous, but there probably isn’t a “right” time to take the plunge. There will always be unforeseen expenses and financial pressures that will give you pause. Let go of your fears, decide on a date, and dive in!

There is no best time to leave your job for a freelancing business, but consider the following:

  • Don’t even think about leaving your job until your freelance business earns at least as much as your job.
  • Make sure you have money saved to last you for the first year of your freelancing business. Business could slow down, but if you plan ahead, you can get through rough patches more easily.
  • Think about health insurance before you leave your job and calculate the cost of buying your own.
  • Just because you are having one great revenue month, it’s not yet time to quit your job. You want to establish a steady income month-to-month before you strike out on your own.
  • It’s OK to keep your job. You don’t have to become a full-time entrepreneur. You could continue to earn a nice supplemental income with your part-time business.

 

 

 

 

photo credit: Drive Slowly

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George Meszaros is the editor and co-founder of Success Harbor where entrepreneurs learn about building successful companies. Success Harbor is dedicated to document the entrepreneurial journey through interviews, original research, and unique content. George Meszaros is also co-founder of Webene, a web design and digital marketing agency.