Full disclosure: starting your own freelance business is hard work.
From the endless hours you have to put in to get it up and running to the constant marketing you have to do to sustain it, needless to say, this occupation isn’t for everybody.
That said, there are many benefits to being your own boss, such as setting your own hours, making your own rules and being able to work on your own from anywhere that has a WiFi connection.
(Shoutout to my fellow digital nomads!)
If you’re completely sold on the idea of managing a small business for a living like the millions of other UK-based freelancers but don’t know how on God’s green earth to get going, don’t sweat it.
This short but sweet guide will explain how to start a freelance business in just 10 simple steps.
1. Decide What Type of Freelance Business You Want
Firstly, be 100% clear about what type of freelance business you’re going to set up and the kinds of services you’ll offer.
Saying to me: “Katie, I just want to be a freelancer” isn’t good enough. I mean, if you don’t know what exactly you’re doing or selling then how is a potential client ever going to know?
Having said that, if you’re marketing yourself as a freelance writer (for instance) and you’re already working in this industry or you have prior relevant experience, you’re naturally going to attract the right clients.
Confidence + expertise + professionalism = the freelance recipe to success.
2. Define Your Niche
Speaking of making important initial decisions, you may want to consider narrowing down your niche.
For example, say you want to be a freelance marketing consultant. What are the one or two aspects of marketing that you excel in? Do you have a specialism? Is there an industry that you have the most experience in?
If you hone in on a niche and/or a special area of interest, i.e. marketing consultant in the IT industry, social media marketing consultant or even social media marketing consultant in the IT industry, you’re going to be a better match for certain clients compared to the rest of the competition.
Specialist freelancers are also highly sought-after and can charge more for projects than generalists.
Therefore, setting up a freelance business that capitalises on your strengths really is a no-brainer.
3. Define Your Target Audience
Once you have your niche all figured out, your target client starts to take shape simultaneously.
Going back to the previous example, now that you’re promoting yourself as a social media marketing consultant in the IT industry, you can begin to target more specific IT businesses.
You know, like the ones who don’t post regularly on their social media channels and may need your assistance.
Makes sense, huh?
4. Devise a Name and Logo
How to start a freelance business now that you’ve got some of the difficult brainwork out of the way: brand yourself effectively.
Every small business has a name, even if you’re just a one-woman or one-man show as a freelancer.
Sure, you could just use your first name and surname like many others do.
However, I’m a firm believer in coming up with more of a creative name that will make you and your business stand out from the crowd.
For instance, if a potential client stumbles across my website, blog or social media channels, they’re much more likely to remember “Dream Scribe” than my common-sounding name “Katie Davies.” Am I right?
Once you have your name nailed, create a logo that you can use on your invoices and marketing materials.
Why? Well, it builds business associations and shows your sincerity.
5. Decide How You’re Going to Market Yourself
Next up, decide how you’re going to promote yourself and your biz.
Obviously, having a freelancer website where you can showcase your background, list your services and host an online portfolio is ideal. It serves as a “one-stop-shop” where prospective clients can find all the information they need in one place.
That said, an optimised LinkedIn profile can suffice if you’re just starting out and you can’t afford to create your own self-hosted website with a customised domain name.
In addition, make sure that your social media channels are up to scratch with your business name as the handle and a brief description of what you do in your bio. You should also create and publish content that aligns with your industry and niche as well as use relevant hashtags that will attract potential clients.
(See what I mean about having your own business being hard work?)
6. Build a Portfolio
Building a portfolio can be one of the most challenging steps when it comes to how to start a freelance business, especially if you haven’t on-boarded a client yet.
In this case, draw upon your past work experience and the companies you’ve been employed by previously.
For instance, say I wanted to become a freelance fashion events manager. If I’d not yet managed to gain my first client but I’d helped a top UK fashion retailer create a PR event in a past job, I’d naturally need to include that information in my portfolio.
Whether this is emphasising your previous achievements on your LinkedIn profile or listing appropriate links or uploading images on your freelancer website, samples of your credibility are a key factor in a client’s hiring process. They need to be crafted carefully so you can put your best foot forward online so-to-speak – and ultimately win the job.
7. Register as Self-Employed
Once you start earning money from your freelance business, you have to track your income so you can declare it to HMRC for tax purposes.
Keep in mind that you’re legally required to register as self-employed with HMRC when your income reaches over £1,000 in a tax year and fill in an annual self-assessment form.
Then you qualify for personal allowance like everybody else until your income is over £12,500 in a tax year, at which point you will be taxed 20% of your total profits.
Oh, and full disclosure: you’ll also be required to pay National Insurance if your profits are more than £6,365 in a tax year.
8. Set Up Your Methods of Payment
Deciding how you want to be paid by clients is a large part of working out how to start a freelance business.
If you’re focusing on collaborating with UK-based businesses, a direct bank transfer makes the most sense.
However, if you’re thinking of working with international companies, you might want to set up a PayPal account.
If you already have one, you can always amend it to correspond with your freelance biz in terms of name, logo and email address.
9. Create a Marketing Strategy
Once all your logistics are sorted and you’re ready to propel yourself into the freelancing world, it’s time to put yourself out there and find yourself some clients.
New freelancers usually do this in three ways:
- Freelance marketplaces like Upwork or Freelancer
- Freelance job boards and forums like Reddit and Craigslist
- Cold pitching to companies by emailing them directly or messaging them on LinkedIn
Personally, I started using Upwork and freelance job boards to find freelance writing gigs until I developed a strong portfolio. I then proceeded with cold pitching once my confidence levels were higher.
But it’s completely up to you whether you want to use one or all of these methods.
10. Believe You Can Do It
Finally, you’re going to struggle to flourish as a freelancer (in more ways than one) if you don’t believe in yourself.
Sure, you’re going to find the whole process daunting to begin with (I’ve yet to meet a freelancer who wasn’t pooping their pants when they launched their biz), but you can’t let your fear hold you back.
Success doesn’t just come to small business owners. It’s earned through hard work, ambition and determination.
And if you refuse to give up, there’s no reason why you can’t achieve all your freelance dreams eventually.
I mean, just look at the likes of Steve Jobs and J.K. Rowling.
How to Start a Freelance Business 101: Just Start!
The day that your freelance biz begins is the day that you can start calling yourself a freelancer.
So what are you waiting for? A new month? Another new year? A new decade?
Make that day today.
And just know that I’m cheering you on every step of the way.
Are you more clued up now in terms of how to start a freelance business? Which steps have you already completed? Let me know in the comments!
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