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, being an entrepreneur 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 running 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 it going to be clear to a potential client who stumbles across your freelance website or social media?
It helps if you already have some experience working in this field.
Why? Well, it will give you a leg up over a freelancer with no experience. And you can start attracting high-paying clients sooner.
2. Define Your Niche
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 IT freelance jobs 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 biz designed for a particular niche 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. (Wink-wink.)
Makes sense, right?
4. Devise a Name and Logo
How to start a freelance business now that you’ve got some of the foundation brainwork out of the way: create a personal brand.
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.” Right?
Once you have this nailed, create a logo from this name that you can use on your invoices and marketing materials. If you’re struggling, try a logo maker like Graphic Springs.
Why? Well, it helps build brand recognition with your target audience and positions you as a serious and credible business.
5. Decide How You’re Going to Market Yourself
Obviously, having a freelance 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.
You should also know that social media is an effective way of gaining clients for a freelance business. Make sure your channels are up to scratch by:
- Using your business name as the handle
- Having a brief description of who you are and what you do in your bio
- Creating and publishing content that aligns with your industry and niche
- Using relevant hashtags in every post 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 secured your first client.
If this sounds like you, don’t sweat it. Just 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 worked with my first client but I’d helped a top UK fashion retailer to create a PR event in a past job, I’d naturally need to include that information in my portfolio.
Whether this is listing your previous achievements on your LinkedIn profile or showcasing a visuals on your website, samples that demonstrate authority in your niche are a key requirement in a client’s hiring process.
Your online portfolio needs 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.
When your income reaches over £1,000 in a tax year, you’re legally required to register as self-employed with HMRC and fill in an annual self-assessment form.
However, until your income is over £12,500 in a tax year, you’ll qualify for personal allowance like everybody else. Then, once you exceed this threshold, you’ll be taxed 20% of your total profits.
Oh, and full disclosure: if your total profits are more than £6,365 in a tax year. you’ll also be required to pay National Insurance.
It sounds complex at first, but you’ll soon get used to what you need to pay and when. (Promise!)
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 UK-based businesses, a direct bank transfer makes the most sense.
How come? Well, it means you can to skip any international conversion fees and pocket more profit. (Victory dance.)
However, if you’re thinking of working with companies around the globe, you might want to set up a PayPal account.
Already have one? Switch to a Business account and update your settings to correspond with your freelance biz in terms of name, logo and email address. This literally shows that you mean business.
9. Create a Marketing Strategy
Once you’ve got the logistics down, it’s time to put yourself out there and find some clients.
New freelancers usually do this via:
- 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 my first freelance writing gigs. I then started cold pitching once my confidence levels were higher.
That said, 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). However, you can’t let fear hold you back.
Success doesn’t just come to small business owners. It’s earned through hard work, commitment and consistency.
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 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!