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Starting a Freelance Business from Scratch: A How-to Guide

Dec 27, 2020
(updated: Dec 2, 2022)
Max 5 min read

Congrats! You’ve decided you want to start a freelance business. I can feel the excitement. And I can feel the nerves, too. But don’t worry – you’ve come to the right place.

Starting a freelance business is thrilling. It’s like a race. It can start quickly – you find a client here, another there. Boom! You’ve got your business off the ground.

But ultimately, it’s more like a marathon than a sprint, where working toward long-term success pays off much more than a few quick wins. This means that aside from improving your craft, you’ve also got to build your client base. You have to create a marketing strategy and network. You have to operate a full-fledged business.

And operating a business can be tricky. That’s why we put together this how-to guide. We’ve gone through the eight most important items to consider and think through when starting a freelance business from scratch.

Define What You Want Out of Your Business

Building a sustainable long-term business shouldn’t be a spur of the moment decision. A business that resonates with your target market necessitates thought. And that thought should come with actionable steps you can take to turn your ideas into reality. This requires questioning:

  • Why do you want to start a freelance business?
  • How much time and effort do you plan to put into it?
  • What do you want to be known for?
  • How can your business help people?

Answering these questions will give you some insight into where your business might be able to find its footing. Most of the world’s great businesses have a powerful why. What’s yours?

Take a Deep Dive into Your Financial Situation

It’s glamorous, the idea of impulsively telling your boss you quit in favor of pursuing a passion. And although it’s less cinematic, I vote for a more practical, risk-averse approach than dropping the 9-5 on a whim.

Familiarize yourself with your expenses and understand how much money you need to take home each month to live comfortably. Ensure your savings sum is sufficient before making the decision to career swap.  

I recommend freelancing as a side hustle prior to jumping ship completely. Getting your feet wet will give you a taste of what it’s like, and it’ll also give you a baseline for pricing your services in the future when you go full-time.

Confirm Your Commitment  

Are you truly motivated? Can you see yourself as a business owner? Will you fight for it, particularly on the tough days?

Ensure that you’re really in it. Simply, you won’t be able to build a successful business if you aren’t.

Define Your Skills

Are you a graphic designer? Or a programmer? Or a writer? If you write, what kind of content do you write? How can that content bring value to potential clients?

If you have a wide range of skills, that’s awesome! But think about narrowing it down to one or two in order to effectively enter what will be a competitive market. Branding yourself as a jack of all trades makes you interesting, but it doesn’t establish yourself as an expert in any of the areas you work in (even if you are one). That’s why it’s critical to define what skill will be the centerpiece of your business.

Set SMART Goals

Goal setting is critical for running any business. But there are good ways and bad ways to set goals. Here are two examples of “bad” goals:

  • “I want to make a lot of money”
  • “I want to become well-known for my craft”

These goals are vague and lack of true achievement criteria. Different people would have completely different definitions of what reaching these goals means. This is why it’s important to set SMART goals. SMART stands for:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Relevant
  • Time Sensitive

Making goals SMART allows you to remove ambiguity and quantitatively track progress. Here are those same two goals re-written to follow the SMART criteria:

  • “I want to make $5,000 per month within my first three years of freelancing”
  • “I want to be recognized as an up-and-coming writer by my local newspaper by December 2021”

As you can see, we’ve now got a clearer path forward for pursuing our goals. The SMART method is key for giving goal-setters an objective and tangible sense of direction.

Build and Maintain an Online Presence

Unless you’ve gotten famous in your field for your craft, clients aren’t going to be knocking on your door. You have to knock on theirs. Marketing is a constant job for freelancers.

This is where your online presence comes in. Utilize your LinkedIn account and other social media. Ensure that the people who know you, know that you’re open for business. If people don’t know that you’re offering your services, you won’t land any clients.

Some people might say that they can build a business solely through cold outreach. And that might be possible, but guess what – often, as soon as prospective clients see your name pop up in their inboxes, they’ll Google you. Make that Google search work for you instead of against. An empty LinkedIn account or weird Instagram page might be a turn-off. Polish them, and even consider creating a personal website.

Network and Build Relationships

Networking is your best friend as a freelancer. There are a bunch of different networking resources out there for freelancers, including:

Take advantage of them!

Persevere When It Gets Tough

And here’s my final tip: Don’t give up. You’ll have amazing days – a new contract with an amazing client, getting an awesome referral, breaking your record for monthly take-home pay. Soak those in. Celebrate.

But sometimes things don’t go perfectly. And those bad days require perseverance and remembering that the good ones will come again. Keep your head high and go for it – you’ve got this!

Get started today!

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