Your ready-made list to get aspiring freelancers successfully started without spending too much of your own precious time writing all this down. You are welcome.
You might have a little sister. Or brother. Or a best friend. Or that annoying yet endearing kid from your neighbourhood who comes to you for tips when you are in the middle of something. Like that elusive spark of an idea you have been working on for hours for one of your clients. Fear no more. I have your back.
My sister came to me a few days ago asking for help setting up her business.
She has a clear idea of what she is going to do, she did the research on viability, she knows her stuff, she has a good network of contacts already, she loves what she is going to do. In terms of what, it's a no-brainer.
Her problem is the how. How does she get things started? Where to begin? It's an overwhelming question for many starting freelancers. It can even put some off starting altogether. She has no background in business or marketing, she does not have a University degree, she is a mum with 2 kids and a gigantic talent in her area.
Luckily, she also has a big sister who did it already. 3 times. Failed twice. And is now running her own successful freelance business.
So I put together a list in order of priorities of my 14 best practical bits of advice for her, for you and for anyone you think might need it. Plus one, from a big sister's heart.
1 Register the legal form of your company and decide on a name
Register wherever is necessary (tax office, chamber of commerce, etc…) in your country of residency, some require that you register to get a VAT number, some not. It's fundamental you are up to date with all the legal requirements before starting to take on work and issuing invoices to avoid any kind of bad surprises, aka tax audit asking you a lot more money than you are prepared to pay. In any case, it means you need to decide on a name.
2 Get an accountant specialized in working with freelancers
Unless you are a wizard of accounting, of course! In any case, it should be someone who understands the ins and outs of your profession, or at least who deals a lot with freelancers. Someone you will rely on heavily to keep you on the legal line regarding all financial aspects of your business. With luck, they will be knowledgeable enough to advise you on good or bad business choices.
3 Find a work (jobs, clients, invoicing) management system good for you
It's about a work management system that will work for you, whether it’s online or offline, whether it only manages tasks or also manages invoices, you decide what suits you best. A good old excel or a cloud-based system (like LSP Expert.com, Google Calendar and notes Trello, etc…), a notebook, a combination of several tools, the most important is that you keep an easy track of your tasks, job orders, clients, hours worked, invoices, logins and passwords for all the sites you’ll be accessing, and so on.
4 Create an email account for your company and register your own domain
A free one with Gmail and similar will do, but if you can, register your own domain: it’s usually not expensive and gives a much more polished impression. Of course, usernames like “pusscat69” or “HankTheHunk” are perfectly fine if your freelance business is of a more sexual nature, otherwise, avoid it. As for “jane123” or “translator567”, it might say that if you cannot be bothered to be professional on such detail for yourself, why would you be better at working for your clients?
5 Create your own website or ask a professional to do it for you
There are several good free websites builder options to start, all of which can be upgraded to paying options for more services (SquareSpace, Weebly, Wix, Wordpress, to quote the most known). If you have the budget, though, invest in having a professional creating it for you. Think of it as your virtual office. If your freelance activity does not entail having an actual office to receive visitors, then your website will be your only point of entry to your "office". It has to reflect who you are, what you do and how you do it.
6 Create/update your LinkedIn profile and grow your network
Add information about your new company. It’s the perfect occasion to rework your profile description, maybe even to connect with professionals or companies you are interested in getting in touch with. Think not only in connecting with colleagues, people of your own professional sector, but also with potential clients.
7 Create your company's profile(s) on social media platforms suited to it
Create a Facebook page or Instagram profile dedicated to your company. Depending on the sector of activity, one or the other works best, or both. Think about other social media platforms that would suit your business better or as well (podcasts, YouTube, TikTok...). Maybe a podcast will suit you better than Facebook, maybe your potential clients are TikTokers, you know what is the best fit for you, just subscribe in your company's name.
8 Open a bank account dedicated for your business
Unless in your country it’s really easy to keep things separate, it’s usually better for accounting purposes to have separate accounts. It will avoid at least wasting your accountant's time. And knowing how much you pay them, it's always worth the investment.
9 Get professional liability insurance
Depending on your country, it might be mandatory. It’s always a good idea in any case. You are not planning on making any mistake on that big order or that your visitor break a leg coming in your office, but s**** happen. Be covered.
10 Get professional photos that will showcase your business
Get professional photos of yourself taken. Good photos of yourself to use on social media profiles, on your website, etc… are always a good way to showcase your business and cause a greater impression on your target audience.
You put your face where your work and their money is.
11 Get some writing for social media or SEO or Marketing training
No need to go too in-depth, if you are not working in that sector of activity, but if you have a social media presence, you must understand the basics of how to make it work in your favour.
12 Create posts with the right aesthetics
Create posts with good pictures, and aesthetics that work for your business. There are a number of resources available for free (that you can always upgrade to paying) like Canva.com to create posts, banners, flyers, and much more, or Unsplash.com for good quality photos, among dozens of equally good sites.
13 Create a logo for your brand and define your brand voice
If your brand is clear to you, it might be good to have a professional working with you on a logo.
This might also be a good moment to reflect on your brand as a whole, to think about your brand voice. Yes, you'll have to Google that one. Go.
14 Network, network, network
Network. To build up your business, you need a solid network of colleagues and clients. There is nothing like a good reputation and being part of a community, of several groups of interest. Go to Social Networking opportunities, Conventions, Symposiums, Conferences, Associations dinners, Meetups. Subscribe to discussion groups on Facebook, interact on LinkedIn, Instagram and so on. Don’t think of it as time wasted on social media, think of it as getting to know your business world, sharing who you are, who your brand is, and help whenever you can more than you ask for help. The return you’ll get will amaze you: you’ll be part of a community you’ll be able to rely on every day.
Being freelance does not mean that you’ll be alone all the time. It just means you’ll be free to be alone when you want.
Take care of yourself, your mental and physical health.
And the last, my plus 1 on those 14, probably the most forgotten and nonetheless the most important I gave to my little sister, so I'm offering it to you as well: take care of your health.
Sleep, get fresh air, eat well, take time off regularly, don’t forget about your social life.
You’ll get so obsessed with your business, your baby, that you’ll forget about your other basic needs. Don’t. It’s what’ll give you the strength to face failures (guaranteed to happen) and pick yourself up to go on and get the wins (also guaranteed to happen).
The beginning of a freelance activity is both exhilarating and terrifying. I know, I've been there at least 3 times. The first 2 times, I failed, for several reasons, but mostly because I had no clue about a few points on this list I've now put together. I'll come back to my reasons for failure in another article.
Although this is just very basic advice many will find obvious, it's not so for absolute beginners with no business or marketing background and for those who just have an idea, lots of energy and big dreams.
Now, you can go back to work knowing you can always pull off your sleeve my little list of 14 +1 basic tips for beginners freelance.
Stay tuned for more. I'm thinking of 10 +1 tips to be less socially awkward in networking events when we are all allowed to socialize again. It may or may not involve drinks.
What do you think?