Freelancing is becoming a popular way of making a living. From being your own boss to setting your own working hours, it really is a dream. If you are wondering how to start a freelance business, you’re in the right place.
I started freelancing a few years ago but officially started my business in summer 2020. Since then, I’ve worked with over forty different businesses in various projects and services, including branding, graphic design, videography, blogging, and social media management.
However, when I first started, I was consistently looking online for how to set up a freelance business.
Starting a freelance business can seem overwhelming, but all of the hard work is totally worth it. Having your own business is one of the most rewarding things you can do in life.
Here are my top tips for how you too can start a freelance business from scratch!
What Is A Freelance Business?
First, you need to know exactly what a freelance business is!
Essentially, a freelance business is started by someone who wants to work for themselves, and they build their business from the ground up.
Often, they only offer services that have to do with their strengths, and they may work just in certain niches or industries to set themselves apart.
Some people run a freelance business as a side hustle in addition to their full-time corporate job, while others run their freelance business as their full-time job.
These small business owners work as contractors and provide business-to-business services, including writing, graphic design, video creation, editing, translation, social media management, and much more.
Typically, the owner is the face of the business, and they may also manage invoicing, project management, customer service, sales, and marketing. It can be a lot if you’re not someone who loves to work hard.
10 Tips For Starting a Successful Freelance Company
Here are my top 10 tips for creating a freelance business.
1. Focus as Much on Your Business as Your Clients
A big mistake that many freelancers make is that they solely focus on the parts of their business that make money, meaning that they only do client work.
But, it’s equally as important to put energy into your own business’s content marketing.
Content marketing includes writing blog posts, posting on social media, podcasting, video creation, and even commenting in Facebook groups.
It’s pretty much everything you can do to show your knowledge, situate yourself as a leader in your industry, and showcase your services and offerings.
If you focus all of your energy on your clients, but they all leave you because they don’t need your services anymore, then you won’t have any more money coming in.
However, if you consistently focus on your own business, even if it’s only for thirty minutes every day, then you may already have some warm leads that you can reach out to whenever you have a lull in business.
2. Create a Referral Program
If you’re wondering how to start a freelance business that’s successful, then you need to start a referral program for your clients.
This means that whenever you finish up working with a client, send them a quick email or card asking for referrals. The worst-case scenario is that they say no.
Another way to go about a referral program is to create a reward incentive.
For example, many freelancers may offer their past clients 10% of all referrals sent their way. However, you have to consider if you want to give away a portion of your income or not.
3. Raise Your Prices When Demand Increases
As your services get more and more popular and you begin to get fully booked out, raise your rates. Whether it’s something small like a 10% increase or a larger 50% increase, charge what your time is worth.
Pay close attention to supply and demand and understand that your prices may fluctuate.
For instance, if you have a slower period, then maybe you lower the current prices you have so that you can at least get one more client. At the end of the day, do whatever you’re comfortable with.
It’s also smart to raise your rates with the more experience that you get. Maybe six months into your business, you had the chance to work with around thirty different clients. So, raise your prices to account for the experience you bring to the table.
One piece of advice that I received from a fellow freelancer is that there is a big difference between a client who pays you $150 for a project versus someone who pays you $1500.
Often, people who pay you a lower price expect a lot more and will be a lot more nitpicky and may even try to micromanage you compared to someone who pays you a higher ticket price.
This is of course, not always the case, but more often than not, I’ve unfortunately found this to be true. So, charge your worth.
4. Set a Schedule For Yourself
Creating a schedule for yourself is the secret sauce to set up a successful freelance business. Work-life balance is pertinent to being a freelancer and can be even harder to have when you work for yourself, and you’re your own boss.
Time block your schedule using a planner or an online calendar like iCal or Google Calendar so that you can plan your time wisely. Then, stick to it.
Don’t forget to give yourself at least one hour for a lunch break as well as at least two 15-minute time block breaks throughout the day, or you’re going to drive yourself crazy.
5. Be Prepared To Hustle
A lot of people go into freelancing thinking that it’s going to be a walk in the park because they work for themselves, live by their own rules, and get to set their own schedule. However, that’s not the case at all.
Yes, being a freelancer comes with lots of freedoms. Still, it also means working some really late nights, occasionally working on weekends, and doing everything possible to make your clients happy because all of the work is connected to your name.
I’ve heard from many other new freelancers that it’s a lot more difficult than their full-time jobs.
Freelancing is not for everyone, but if you like the grind and the hard work, it will pay you back tenfold in the future. At times, it can be tough, especially in the beginning. As you grow your client base and your waitlist, you’ll find it to be gratifying.
6. Recognize That It’s Okay To Say No
When you work for yourself, you get to pick and choose the clients you want to work with.
If you spot some red flags the second that you start a consultation call with someone, then you can let them know either during the call or by email after the call that you don’t think you’re the best fit.
Just starting as a freelancer, it can be difficult to say no because you want to work with everyone and get more experience under your belt. You also want to make sure you’re making enough money to cover your monthly expenses like groceries, car payments, student loan payments, and rent.
However, I’m telling you from personal experience: if you can tell it’s not a good fit, don’t force yourself to work with someone.
I recently had to let one of my own clients go because we didn’t work well together and the client was never happy with what I was producing, so it was better for her business and mine to end the contract early.
7. Network, Network, Network
Never stop networking. Try to show up on social media a few times a week to showcase your services, and even post on your personal accounts about your business every once in a while.
Reach out to past employers, family members, and friends who might potentially have a referral for you. Join Facebook groups and connect with other small business owners too.
Facebook groups can be a goldmine for finding potential clients; I currently have about five clients that all came from them.
8. Get a Testimonial From Every Happy Client
The key to having a successful freelance business is to have social proof to back up your projects. People visiting your website like to see that you have worked with clients before and made them happy.
Whenever you wrap up a project with someone, immediately send over a request for a referral.
The best way to do this is to set up a form of some sort, through a platform like Typeform, Paperform, or Google Forms. Ask specific questions about the experience to your client to pick and choose the parts you want to include on your website.
If your projects often include numbers or something measurable, such as social media analytics, then be sure to include those on your website along with the testimonials.
Case studies are incredibly important to show potential clients — as they show what you’re capable of.
9. Never Work For Free (Yes, Even For Family)
Listen, I’ve been there. I’ve done free projects for people in Facebook groups for testimonials, and it’s not worth your time.
It can grow your portfolio, sure, but people who get something for free often expect a lot more than what you had initially proposed to do for them.
No matter who you are doing a project for, even if it’s a family member, you want to charge at least something.
You can offer a discount, but I don’t recommend that because then they might start to expect that price any time they need any work done.
Going back to point #3, know your worth, and charge it.
10. Have a Contract For Everything
Even if you’re just in the very beginning stages and you’re wondering how to start a freelance business from scratch, you need to have contracts made.
No matter the size of a contract, you need to have one between you and the client that outlines everything.
Some important parts of a contract, at least for my business, include a project start and end date, project deliverables, project dependencies (things you need from the client for the project to happen), payment due dates, and termination clauses.
There are many contract systems out there that will give you the bare bones of what to include, like HoneyBook and Dubsado, but you can also purchase one professionally drafted by an attorney too.
Even though I said not to offer your services for free, if you do a free project for someone, you still need to set up a contract.
Whenever a client tries to go out of the contract’s scope, reach out to them and let them know what the contract outlined and remind them of what they agreed to.
How To Start a Freelance Business
It can be difficult and time-consuming to start a freelance business for the first time, but it’s worth it. Plus, many of these tasks you only have to do once.
If you’re wondering how to start a freelance business, follow these steps.
1. Decide What You Want Your Business To Be
If you’re wondering how to start a freelance business, then you might have done this step already. If you haven’t, take the time to define your business.
Here are some great questions to ask yourself to get started:
- Why do I want to start a freelance business?
- What do I want to get out of my freelance business?
- Will the business be a side hustle or my main job?
- What do I want my business to be known for?
- What type of clients do I want to work with?
Once you have these questions answered and understand what you want your business to be, move on to step two.
2. Set Goals So You Can Hold Yourself Accountable
After you’ve defined your business, set clear and measurable goals. It’s best to make sure that you include a number of some sort because then in a month, you can more easily tell if you reached your goal or not.
For example, having a goal such as “Get lots of clients in my first month” is a lot less measurable than “Sign three new clients to a contract within my first thirty days in business.”
These goals will help you hold yourself accountable, and you’ll be able to start measuring your business’s growth as time goes on.
To start, consider creating just three goals, even if they are simple.
3. Name Your Business
Next, name your business, which is a lot harder than it sounds. Please don’t choose the first thing that pops into your head; instead, let it sit with you for a few days or even weeks until you find a name that is perfect for you.
One mistake that I see many small business owners make is that they think that their main business name has to include exactly what they do — this is not the case. You can also have a tagline that explains what you do in a little more detail.
4. Claim Your Social Media Handles, Website Domain, and File for An LLC
After you decide on your business name, go to every social media platform and claim your handle even if you won’t be using it. You never know if you’ll want to start using Twitter for your business in a year or two.
Be sure also to claim your website domain, which you can purchase directly through your hosting.
If you’re in the USA, you’ll also want to file for an LLC at this time with your state. Many freelancers say that you don’t have to do this the second you start your business, but it’s always best to cover yourself in every way possible just in case.
5. Create Your Packages or Services
Have you started thinking about the services you will offer with your freelance company? From my own personal experience, the best way to put your services together is to offer packages, which makes it really easy for your clients to choose the one that is perfect for them.
For example, when I first started my business, I offered three different social media management packages.
The monthly prices were $350, $500, and $650, and each one included more services than the list. Having a tiered system made it easy for someone with a smaller budget to work with me, but just in a more limited capacity.
While creating these packages and services, one thing to remember is to consider what you’re ideal customer would want.
Don’t copy other service offerings out there, and don’t include anything you don’t actually want to do.
I offered engagement with my initial social media packages because everyone else was, and I soon found it was my least favourite thing to do and took six to eight hours of my time every day.
6. Define Your Branding Strategy and Identity
Before you begin step seven, you need to define and develop your brand strategy and identity.
While this is something that you can do on your own when you’re just starting, it’s best to work with a brand strategist or brand designer who can elevate your company so you can start your business off strong.
Most brand designers offer a mini branding package for around $450 and a more comprehensive package that can cost anywhere from $1000 to $3000, depending on the designer’s skillset.
Keep in mind that this is one investment worth making, but you can also design your own logo using a free tool like Canva.
When defining your brand, pay close attention to every detail.
One of the most overlooked pieces of a brand is colour psychology. Every colour of the rainbow has a certain emotion attached to it, and you want to make sure that these colours match your brand values and goals.
If you choose to make your own logo, also be sure to check and see if the logo can be shrunk down, such as on a piece of paper, and still be legible. If it can’t be read, then your logo is way too over the top.
With logos, the simpler they are, the better.
7. Make a Website
Having a website to showcase your services as a freelancer is incredibly important. Yes, you can be on social media, but you don’t own social media and therefore don’t have as much control over it.
Your website doesn’t have to be anything fancy and could even have a simple few pages using a template.
Some of the best website design platforms are WordPress, Squarespace, and Wix. If you want more freedom, try Showit, a great website platform for creatives of all types.
8. Start Finding Clients
Congratulations, it’s time to start finding clients! When you’re just starting, consider using freelance websites like Upwork or Fiverr.
I still use Upwork whenever business gets a little slow for me, and I know many other well-established freelancers do too.
Be sure to network in your current circle, reach out to family members and old employers, and let everyone possible know about your services. You never know who may be looking for help with something related to what you offer.
I hope this post helped you understand what to expect when starting a freelance business from scratch. While there will be ups and downs, good clients and difficult ones, being your own boss and having something to call your own makes it all worthwhile.
So, what are you waiting for? Get started on creating your very own freelance business today. You won’t regret it!