As crazy as these numbers sound, they’re also reassuring—especially if you’ve been dreaming about leaving your day job to become a freelancer and start your own business. In short, the dream is real, and many others have done it before you.
How to Become a Freelancer Online
So the good news is that you can start freelancing, like, today. The bad news? Your fears about leaving your day job are very real.
Not only will you be leaving the security of a steady paycheck, but you’ll also be letting go of perks like health insurance (for you and your family, if you have one), paid leave, vacation time, and more. You’ll also be responsible for every single aspect of your business, from marketing and client communications to accounting and admin.
So yeah, scary. Can it be done? Absolutely.
After all, freelancers like Joanna Wiebe, Ryan Robinson, and Melyssa Griffin have all done it—and gone on to build massively successful businesses. But here’s the thing: Leaving your day job to become a freelancer full-time is not easy or fast. And we wouldn’t recommend quitting your day job just yet.
Joanna didn’t leave her job at Intuit without a plan. She knew she was going to start CopyHackers and had laid down the foundation of a launch before she quit.
Ryan kept working his day job until he’d built his content marketing business to six figures!
And as miserable as Melissa was in her teaching job in Japan, she didn’t quit until she was earning enough income as a web designer to know she could make it work.
So as much as you may hate your job or want to jump right into the exciting and exhilarating world of freelancing, there’s a right way to make the switch. So take a deep breath, settle in, take some notes. Or better yet, bookmark this page, because we’re going to walk you through how to become a freelancer online—from transitioning from your day job to freelancing full time.
Ready? Let’s go!
The 3 Things You Need to Do Before You Start Freelancing
Before we get into the nitty-gritty of moving from full-time employee to full-time freelancer, there are three things you need to figure out to make sure freelancing is the right path for you.
1. Lock in Your ‘WHY’
Why do you want to become a freelancer? While there could be many reasons you find freelancing attractive, what’s that one reason that’s compelling you to take the plunge now?
Is it working on projects that excite you so you don’t have to slave away on projects that don’t?
Is it the freedom to set your own hours so you don’t have to miss another recital at your daughter’s school?
Or is it getting away from micromanaging bosses?
Your “why” needs to be your north star. It’s the thing that won’t let you quit when things get tough (and I assure you, they will).
For example, as a freelancer myself, my big “why” is building a life that gives me the freedom to call my own shots, in every aspect of my life.
Every time things get hard or I get a job offer with nice pay and excellent perks, I think of the things I’d be giving up if I took a day job. I think about being unable to take the summer off to travel and spend time with my family. I think about the personal projects I’d no longer have the time for and the big plans I have for my business. Most of all, I think about the freedom I’d be giving up if I accepted a day job.
In my 10 years of freelancing, every time I’ve been tempted to accept a day job, either by a great offer or desperate times, the answer has always come back no.
When you’re struggling to find clients, when a client still hasn’t paid and you have bills to pay, when it feels like everything is falling apart, your “why” will stop you from quitting and going back to your day job. It’ll force you to keep going until things work out.
So lock in your “why” before taking the plunge into becoming a freelancer full time.
2. Give Yourself a Deadline
Like it or not, human beings are natural procrastinators. And as pumped as you feel about freelancing, you aren’t any different.
Right now, you’re reading as much as you can about how to be a freelancer. You’re making notes and figuring things out. But you probably haven’t made any hard decisions yet. Plans only work when you act on them. So give yourself a deadline.
Actually, you need to give yourself a bunch of them. Decide specific timelines for:
Figuring Out Your Niche
What are you good at? What do you do really well in your day job?
If money and responsibility weren’t a consideration, what kind of work would you want to do? Would you write all day long, go on photo walks, or sketch whatever catches your eye?
When it comes to making this decision, it usually comes down to three things:
- What are you good at? Think skills: multi-tasking, organizing, writing, drawing, etc.
- Will someone pay you for it? If there are already successful freelancers in this niche, then you have your answer. If not, this is where market research comes in handy.
- What do you enjoy doing? It could be a hobby or work-related. Something that you will happily do all day long.
The answer usually lies in the middle of these three questions. If you need more help deciding what services you should sell, we have more information in this guide.
For Cherry Thomas, it was photography.
Even though Cherry went to school to learn photography, she ended up getting a job in a financial firm where her career flourished.
But even though her career was going great, she knew photography was still her one true calling. So, while she handled a multibillion-dollar portfolio during the day, she launched By Cherry Photography and freelanced on weekends, vacations, and whenever she could take time off.
In a nutshell, I took the unsexy route: I kept my day job until I knew I could make the side hustle work. Also, it was important because the day job paid for my side hustle. Photography equipment is not cheap!
If you still need ideas, think about what help your friends and family come to you for. Do they ask for your help on budgeting, proofreading their documents, or dealing with tough situations?
And if you don’t enjoy doing any of the things people come to you for help with, find the answer to this seemingly simple question: What do you love helping people with?
When Lynne Somerman decided to go freelance, she thought about what she loved and who she loved helping the most. The answer came almost instantly to her because she realized she was already doing it.
I started largely because I love doing what I do (financial coaching) and it started because friends and friends of friends asked me for help when they heard I’d managed to make some big changes in my own life. I realized that I could potentially make a business out of it, especially if I helped business owners understand their finances, so I added bookkeeping to my coaching as well and started marketing.
I was also in a job that I knew wasn’t a great fit for me but wasn’t so poor a fit that I’d leave unless I found something that was a great fit. So, I decided to start my financial coaching business, The Wiser Miser, while I worked full time. Took me 18 months to build my business enough to quit my day job.
Finding Your First Client
Are you really a freelancer until you work with clients? It’s easy to get lost in the research, planning, and setting-up phase of your freelance business. If you’re not careful, another year will have passed and you’ll still be without a single client.
Giving yourself a deadline to land a client makes it real. It will push you to go out there and market yourself. We’ll discuss getting your first client a little later in this article.
Quitting Your Day Job
Quitting your day job is not an easy thing to pull the trigger on. You’ll be throwing away your security blanket, and that is a scary thing to do.
But the ultimate goal of starting a freelance business on the side is to quit your day job and start freelancing full time. If you aren’t deliberate with your planning and timeline, you’ll never be ready to quit your day job.
And no, we don’t suggest you quit your day job and then start freelancing. Seriously, don’t do that. While it’s true that many freelancers started after they were laid off, every single one of them would have preferred not to face that situation.
While there’s no specific timeline to quitting your day job, some freelancers have transitioned in as few as three months. For others, it takes a year. It all depends on how well you plan the transition. We will discuss this transition in more detail from here on, which will give you a better idea of how to set this deadline.
But no matter what happens, don’t quit your job until you…
3. Do the Math
While you don’t have to wait until your freelancing income matches (or surpasses) your day job income, you do need to figure out some money-related stuff.
How much money do you need to survive/live comfortably/thrive?
Those are three different states of freelancing, so you should come up with three sets of numbers.
1. To survive: The amount you need to survive includes money for rent, food, health insurance, utility bills, school, and installments of any debt/loans that you may have to pay. Basically, all the necessities of your life. This is the amount that you absolutely must make before leaving your day job.
2. To live comfortably: This includes everything you need to survive, plus things like entertainment, a car, food other than Ramen noodles, etc.
3. To thrive: What does the top of your game look like? When you think of a lavish lifestyle, how do you envision yourself living? Is it having enough money to take a vacation and travel? To send your kids to summer camp? To buy/renovate a house?
List your expenses for each set of numbers. Not only will doing so tell you how much you need to make, it will also make it immediately clear to you when you’ve moved from surviving as a freelancer to living comfortably, and finally, to thriving.
It’s your decision as to how much you want to earn before you transition over. We recommend covering your basic needs first and also having some money in savings.
How many months of savings should you have before you go full-time freelance?
Once you have crunched the numbers for the first question, it’s time to decide how many months of savings you want before you quit. Ideally, it should be three to six months. This will give you the buffer you need to make decisions that pay off for your freelance business in the long run, without having to scramble for short-term gains. You also won’t have to worry about finding clients or matching your full-time income right from the first month.
How will you replace your full-time benefits like health insurance?
Before you quit, explore your insurance options. One of the biggest benefits of a day job is having health insurance for yourself and your family. Unfortunately for freelancers, the individual costs go up and there aren’t many options to choose from.
In the U.S., depending on the state you live in, there are multiple coverage options under the Affordable Care Act insurance exchanges. Also, there are sites like Freelancers Union that make things easier by handpicking health insurance plans for freelancers. Not sure what kind of insurance you need? They also have a handy quiz to find the benefits and insurance plans you need.
What will your business expenses be?
Every business has some expenses—even those run on nothing but a laptop. Once you start freelancing, your internet connection, laptop, smartphone, and any business services and apps you pay for are counted as your expenses. If you work from a dedicated home office, you can also count a portion of your housing and utilities costs as business expenses.
Pull up a list of expenses you already have and see which ones are necessary for any freelancing you do. They’re now your business expenses and will continue to be after you leave your day job.
As your business grows, you’ll likely start investing in more software and services. You’ll find a lot more info on business tools and services that your freelance business might need later in this guide. For now, while you are transitioning and still at your day job, keep it lean, and keep a running tab of any purchases you make or expenses you incur for your freelance business.
Knowing how much you need to make, save, and invest is crucial to starting your freelance business. If you don’t have the answers to the above questions, you could end up making costly miscalculations and missteps.
Doing the math allowed Ryan Robinson to become a freelancer and hit the six-figure mark in just a year, working with clients like LinkedIn, Zendesk, Intuit Quickbooks, and more.
It took me almost a year to get to the six-figure mark with my freelance side business, and it wasn’t ever easy. I remember charging $250 for my first paid blog post with a client and doing the math—it looked like I’d never get to the point where I could freelance full time for myself.
So I took the fact that my freelance work was a side project as a luxury that gave me the room to experiment… I didn’t NEED the income from my freelance clients to survive, so I began doubling my prices per article, working on my selling skills and seeing how I could tweak my offering to offer more value that’d be of interest to my dream clients.
Your 3-Step Guide to Becoming a Freelancer While Working a Day Job
Once you’ve locked in your “why,” given yourself deadlines, and done the math, it’s time to finally dive deep into the nitty-gritty of starting a freelance business while working a day job.
Just a word of caution before we start…
Don’t try to do everything at the same time or you’ll end up overwhelming yourself. So many freelancing dreams die because aspiring freelancers make the mistake of taking on too much.
In the beginning, it’ll be slow going. Keep reminding yourself that you have limited time to work on your business while you still have your job. So instead of doing a whole bunch of things at the same time and getting overwhelmed and exhausted, follow the plan below and take it step by step.
Step 1: Research
If there’s one thing we emphasize at Foundr, it’s the importance of research. Imagine freelancing with a day job—sacrificing family time, working nights and weekends, and investing money in your new business—only to find out a few months later that your idea isn’t profitable.
We get it. Research isn’t sexy. You want to start working on your freelance business right now!
But if you don’t do the research first, you won’t be able to make the right decisions.
When it comes to research, freelancers often make the mistake of focusing too much on figuring out whether freelancing is a good option in the first place. At this stage, you’ve already decided that it is. What you need to find out now is whether your specific freelance business idea is profitable or not.
Justin Blackman realized the importance of research the first time he tried – and failed – to freelance full time.
The first time I tried, I failed hard. I only made $600 over three months, because offers were a mess, my goals were unclear, and I didn’t know how to acquire customers. I didn’t understand what it meant to run a business.
It wasn’t long before Justin went back to working 9-to-5. But he still thought about becoming a freelancer and was determined to try again. He researched, planned, and gradually built his copywriting business, Pretty Fly Copy, before he handed in his resignation.
Build that knowledge first. Join groups. Get training. Know what licenses, software, and level of income you need to make it work—and be specific with your business. It’s a lot easier to succeed when you have a plan.
The research phase is the hypothetical phase. This is where you dream big and research the heck out of every aspect of your freelance business.
Here’s a list of questions you need to research to figure out whether your business idea is any good.
Is there a market?
If you can’t find clients, your freelance business will never succeed. It’s why becoming a freelancer while you’re working a day job is so ideal. There’s minimal risk and you don’t have to worry about paying the bills while you feel out your target market.
One of the easiest ways to conduct market research is by talking to the people and businesses in your target market.
When contacting businesses you’d like to work with, ask them if they work with freelancers or whether they outsource your services to freelancers. Why or why not? To stand out, ask them about their problems and frustrations in the past when working with freelancers, or dealing with the type of work that you do.
Here is a great resource for figuring out if there is a market for your services.
Who are the notable freelancers in your field?
This one’s easy. It’s time to stalk the competition.
Look up freelancers who are already working in your niche. Research them and their businesses. How did they get started? What advantages did they have? What kinds of clients are they working with? Find out as much about their businesses as you can.
You don’t have to be adversarial with your competitors. The freelancing community is extremely supportive. Take the time to build relationships with your peers and reach out to ask for advice or help. If you’re in the same city, offer to take them out to lunch or coffee.
When I first started out as a freelance writer in 2009, my go-to resource for advice was a blog called Men with Pens. The copywriter behind the blog, James Chartrand, seemed genuine and approachable. So when I needed freelancing advice, I reached out to her via email. Not only did she respond every time, but her advice also got me results.
Back in the day, Men with Pens was the copywriting business I wanted my own to grow up to be like. Over the years, I continued to learn from her and when she launched her copywriting course Damn Fine Words, I was one of the first to sign up.
Important: Don’t get discouraged by another freelancer’s success. Remember, you’re just starting out, and they’ve probably been at it for years. Even seemingly overnight successes have years of hard work behind them. Chances are, they had someone help them out once, and will be more than happy to pay it forward.
But here’s the thing: Talking to prospective clients and other freelancers is just one way to conduct market research. You can also use tools like Google Keywords and Google Trends. Read more here on how to use these tools to validate your freelance business idea.
Step 2: Planning Your Freelance Business
Now that you’ve validated your idea, it’s time to take all of that research and turn it into your business plan. And while you can go crazy making all kinds of elaborate plans, I recommend focusing on these five things.
Pick a Specialty
At this point, you’ve probably developed a pretty good idea of what you want to do. Writer, photographer, designer, financial coach—the possibilities are endless, and depend entirely on the market, plus your skills and interests.
Now all you need to do is pick a specialty, either by type of service or by industry. This is not as hard as you might think, but it’s something a lot of freelancers overlook or avoid.
This is important, because choosing a speciality helps you stand out. Let’s say a client is looking for a nutritionist for their 12-year-old. They run a search, ask for a few recommendations, and narrow it down to four nutritionists that look promising. But they still only need to pick one.
Who do you think they’ll choose? A nutritionist who works with anyone or one who specializes in working with pre-teens? As a parent, the client would want someone who understands what their child needs, knows how to deal with children, and has experience helping other children of the same age.
Generalist freelancers are a dime a dozen, and will always have a harder time getting work. As a freelancer with a speciality, you might not be the right freelancer for 99% of the potential clients out there, but that 1% that you’re a perfect fit for will make 100% of your clientele. When they need to hire someone with your speciality, they’ll hire you because you’re exactly who they need. They’ll pay premium rates and trust your expertise.
Picking a specialty is a two-step process.
Step 1: Choose the kind of work you want to do as a freelancer.
You’re probably seeing a theme here. Because you’re crafting your very own, one-person business, you’ve got to let your preferences shape your decisions, at least to some extent. After all, you’re the one who has to do the work!
When I first started out as a freelance writer, I took on any and all work that came my way. Product descriptions, website copy, bios, social media posts, about pages, articles…
But I disliked writing almost all of them. It wasn’t until I focused on the kind of writing I enjoyed that the answer came to me. I loved blogging. I was happiest working with clients who needed regular blog posts and even writing them for my own blog.
So I became a freelance blogger.
Think about the different types of specialities that fall under the general blanket of your chosen niche, and move on to the next step. Note that you may need to take on a few jobs in a few disciplines first to find out what you like best. So don’t freak out if you don’t have this nailed down from the very start, or if you decide to change it at some point.
Step 2: Decide the kind of clients you want to work with.
Think about the kind of businesses you want to work with. Is there a specific industry you know a lot about?
Maybe there’s a certain type of entrepreneur that you work well with (startup founders, online business owners, female entrepreneurs). Or maybe you’re partial to a specific industry (health, financial, ecommerce, B2B).
If you aren’t sure, make a list of the ones you find interesting and go from there.
The good news is, your choice isn’t set in stone. If you choose one type of clients and realize they aren’t your ideal, you can always pick another. That’s the beauty of running your freelance business. You have the freedom, not just to make your own decisions, but also to change your mind.
But do you really need to pick a specialty?
In my experience, it’s the way to go.
Generalists have a harder time growing their businesses, even though most of them will argue that there’s more work this way. There will be a broader audience, but the clients who want generalist writers are also more interested in cheaper services. Specialists earn more money and attract higher-quality clients.
For the longest time I was just a freelance blogger. The only criteria I had for clients was that they paid. I always had plenty of work so I never gave specializing much thought. But then I hit a wall where I couldn’t get more than $350 for a 1200-word post.
It wasn’t until I met Josh Garofalo of Sway Copy that a light turned on for me. Josh is a SaaS copywriter whose clients include HubSpot, AWeber, Snappa, and InsightSquared, to name a few.
My origin story is different than that of most freelancers. I’ve never struggled—no slow times, no low-paying work for abusive clients, no hours wasted creating content no one cares about, no slimy cold emails—none of this.
Because I chose a niche that I had experience, education, contacts, and an interest in. From day one, I positioned myself as a SaaS copywriter and consultant. While most freelancers drown in a sea of sameness trying to be all things to all clients, I look like the perfect choice for less than 1% of businesses.
I replaced my full-time income within a few months of launching my site. My ideal client seeks me out and jumps at the opportunity to pay a premium to work with me. They know they’re getting someone who understands their product, market, and customer better than any generalist freelancer ever will. They know I’ve helped dozens of companies like theirs get more leads and sales.
This is why I always tell struggling freelancers to choose and own a niche. It makes every bit of this business so much easier.
Of all the freelancers I’ve talked to over the years, Josh is one of the very few who planned his transition from day job to freelance down to the last detail, and his success proves that being deliberate and following a plan works.
His website is a case study in niching done right:
The headline and sub-headline on his website are nothing to write home about. They’re not clever or catchy, or particularly unique. They are, however, clear and concise. In just a glance, you know exactly what he does and who he does it for.
Scroll down his site and you’ll find that he narrows his target market even further. He makes it clear that he doesn’t work with just any SaaS company. It needs to be profitable, self-funded, or VC backed for him to work with them.
Josh’s success and advice convinced me to turn my own freelance blogging into a premium service for a very specific type of client. Granted, I don’t find many clients at my rate, but the ones I do? They understand the importance of a conversion-focused blog post and have measurable metrics in place to track results. To them, a blog post isn’t a commodity, it’s part of a sales strategy.
Create Your Core Offering
Since you’re still working a day job, starting a full-service freelance business may not be feasible. Instead, create one core offering and package it into a replicable product.
Your core offering is what you’ll be most known for. It’s your most prominent service that you’ll go on to build your business around.
Having a core offering makes it easier to create off-the-shelf packages of your services. For example, if your specialty as a freelance writer is blogging, then you can create blogging packages that your clients can buy. Doing so will save you time and get money in your hands faster. You won’t have to email back and forth, ironing out the details, and clients will know exactly how much the work costs and be able to buy it instantly.
Val Geisler is an email copywriter whose core service is writing onboarding emails for subscription-based businesses.
She’s the onboarding email gal.
Neil Patel is the online marketing guy who gets his clients more website traffic.
These freelancers and entrepreneurs have other services available.
In addition to writing onboarding email copy, Val also offers email marketing strategy and email sequence audits, but email copywriting is what she’s best known for.
Neil has other businesses (Quick Sprout, Crazy Egg, Kissmetrics) but growing website traffic is the one thing he’s best known for.
Creating a core offering takes the pressure off of you to pitch and perform a bunch of different services while you’re still working your day job. So once you decide what your freelance business is, choose the one service that you will pitch to clients or that clients will come to you for.
Set Your Freelance Pricing—How to Know What to Charge
It might not feel like it, but when it comes to setting your freelance rates, you’re in an advantageous position early on. You don’t need to charge rock-bottom rates just to start earning. Your day job gives you the security you need to find clients who aren’t bottom feeders.
That said, pricing is subjective. A high rate for you could be a low rate for another freelancer. In fact, this is one area of freelancing that tortures a lot of newcomers. Here are some basic tips to make sure you’re on the right track:
- Make sure you’re charging per project (instead of per hour)
- Quote rates that motivate you to give your best
- Raise your rates every 3-5 clients
To find out what the market rates are, scout other freelancers’ websites to see if they list theirs. Ask about them in Facebook groups and other forums. Create an informal, anonymous pricing survey and ask other freelancers to take it.
Whatever rates you set, start with an income goal and calculate what your minimum hourly rate works out to (even though you won’t be charging your client by the hour). If you don’t crunch these numbers, you might find yourself accepting a project that looks like it pays well, but works out to a dismal hourly rate once you put in the time.
Creative Live created a handy infographic for calculating your freelance rates. Follow it and you’ll be in a much better position to price your freelance services.
That being said, even after figuring out your hourly rate, setting your flat rates for each project can be very confusing. When in doubt, follow these pricing principles:
- If you think your rates are low, then they 100% are. Trust your gut and don’t ignore that twinge in your stomach or bad taste in your mouth.
- The number isn’t as important as your motivation to work for that number. If you’re excited getting paid $40 for a project, then that could the right price for you. But if it makes you resentful, then you know what to do.
- Learn to pitch your rates. If you don’t, you won’t know what to say when clients tell you they can find someone for a lot cheaper. Don’t just say “My rates are $$$ for this project.” Explain what those rates entail. What makes your work stand out? Highlight the research you’ll do, the people you’ll talk to and most importantly, the result your client will get. Pro tip: Don’t wait for a client to question your rates. Build up your value in your quote. And if they still come back saying the price is high? Just ask them, “Really? Expensive compared to what?” (I learned this business boosting trick from Bushra Azhar of The Persuasion Revolution and the first time I tried it, I ended up getting my first $10k project approved.)
- If a client offers a low rate and you can’t afford to say no, respond with, “Okay, here’s what we can do.” Then remove the bells and whistles until the work involved matches the price.
Build Your Freelance Business Assets
As a freelancer, your portfolio, client testimonials, case studies, and blog are your assets. These are the things that create your image, build trust, and establish your authority. They convince clients to hire you when they’ve never heard of you.
Make sure you have built these up before you quit your day job. It’ll make landing clients a lot easier.
Building a freelance portfolio
Most freelancers don’t have any samples when they start out. If that’s the case for you too, look into creating mock samples. My favorite example of creating a mock sample is the potato landing page by Eldin Heric:
While Eldin created it as a joke about product marketing, it actually became a case study in how to do it right. You can apply the same principle to your freelance business. Create samples of projects that you want to perform for your clients.
Are you freelancing as a writer? Write a blog post. You can even start your own blog or guest post on blogs your target clients read.
Web designer? Why not create a website and a logo for your own business?
The idea of working for free or at bargain basement rates is a hotly debated one in the freelancing community, but this is another potential option for building up your portfolio. A classic example of this is the photographer who shoots a friend’s wedding or headshots for peanuts to build up some samples.
Testimonials legitimize your business and establish trust. Unfortunately, you can’t get them until you work with clients. This is where your day job comes in handy. If you’ve received LinkedIn recommendations based on work done at your day job, use them until you get some from your clients. If you haven’t, now’s the time to ask for them.
In case you aren’t freelancing in the same field as your day job, ask your colleagues and managers to give you testimonials that highlight traits your freelance client will find attractive. Consider traits like never missing a deadline, always having great ideas, going above and beyond the call of duty, and more.
Step 3: Become a Freelancer! Executing Your Grand Freelance Plan
Now that you’re done with Step 1 (research) and Step 2 (planning), it’s time to make things official and take the actions that are going to make your business run like a well-oiled machine.
Below is a list of things your freelance business needs in order to open its virtual doors and start doing business:
Business Name – While having a cool business name is great, don’t let your quest for the perfect name slow you down. To be perfectly honest, it’s not that important for us freelancers. If you can’t decide on a name, just adapt your own name. You could be “Your Name Copywriting” or “Your Name Photography” or “Your Name Media.” Or you could work as a sole proprietor and simply use your name.
Domain and Hosting – Once you have a business name, it’s time to open up a virtual office, a.k.a domain and hosting. Briefly, your domain is your website’s address, and hosting is the service that stores your website’s data. Domains usually cost around $10 a year, while website hosting costs anywhere from $6 to $35 per month, depending on your needs.
If you’re going the business name route, make sure the domain is available. When I was starting out, none of the business names I came up with had their domains available. It got to the point where I liked my own name better than the business names I was left with. Hence, samarowais.com was born and I haven’t looked back since.
If you’re comfortable with CSS, HTML, and installing plugins for additional features, then WordPress is the way to go. But if tinkering with your website is not your idea of fun, and you’d rather go the simpler route where you only have to look at the front end of things, then Squarespace is your best bet.
Squarespace lets you DIY your website without the hassle of figuring things out on your own like WordPress. Not only can you a buy both a domain and hosting from them, but you can choose any theme from their limited (compared to WordPress) but beautiful library, customize it to match your branding, and change its layout however you like. It also offers a bunch of advanced features like an SSL certificate, mobile-friendly layout, advanced analytics, and more.
There is a catch. While WordPress is free (at its most basic, that is), Squarespace is not. It costs between $12 and $26 per month depending on what plan and payment schedule you choose. That said, if you’re opting for WordPress because of the cost, you’ll still need to pay for a domain and hosting, which is included in Squarespace’s pricing. You’ll have to price it out based on your needs, but in some cases, Squarespace actually works out to be the same cost or cheaper.
Logo – You don’t really need a logo to run a successful freelancing business. But if you want one, you can add it to your website, email signatures, invoices and upload them to all business apps you use.
Before you start worrying about where to get a logo designed and how much it’ll cost you, let me take your stress away.
Open up Canva and write your name in any of the cursive or fancy fonts and save it as a PNG. I used Playlist Script and Montserrat fonts for mine. Easy peasy.
Register Your Business – If you’re working as a sole proprietor, you don’t need to register if you are in the US. You can use your SSN or get an EIN if you don’t want to use your social security number. I lived in a tax-free country for the longest time and only recently moved to a country that levies taxes on its residents. For the first time in my adult life, I’ve had to look these things up.
When it comes to filing taxes, registering as a sole proprietor is the most hassle-free way to go.
But just because I’ve gone the sole proprietor route, that doesn’t mean it’s the right solution for every freelancer. Depending on which state or country you live in, it might make more sense for you to incorporate your business, for financial, tax, or liability reasons. You never know. Since we aren’t legal experts, we recommend you talk to a tax specialist and share your business plans with them to figure out which setup is right for you.
Prepare to Accept Payment – While having a good-old-fashioned business bank account is great, it isn’t the most efficient way to get paid, and there many options these days.
Oh, and did you know that TransferWise has a soft spot for international businesses? They offer a borderless account that gives you banking access to USD, AUD, GBP, and Euro so you can accept payments from any of these countries.
If you’ve never heard of TransferWise, it’s by the folks behind Skype and has Richard Branson as one of its investors.
Bookkeeping and Accounting – Because most businesses tend to worry about their books around tax time, it often feels like that’s the only time they matter. But bookkeeping is your gateway to freelance success. It gives you a bird’s eye view of your finances, shows how much you earn month-to-month, and keeps track of your expenses.
I know, I know, you want to live that footloose freelancer lifestyle. But there’s actually a bunch of paperwork you need, not only to look professional, but also to protect your business.
I can’t stress this enough: DO NOT FREELANCE WITHOUT A CONTRACT.
Yes, that’s me shouting. Even if your client is your best friend or your neighbor or your mom, you need a contract to keep the relationship professional and avoid getting stiffed.
Ideally, you should get a lawyer to draft your contract, but that’s not always possible. Luckily, there are a few resources that will cover your bases.
And.Co Freelance Contract (Free) – This is an excellent resource to use in a pinch.
Paul Jarvis’ Creative Class Contract ($274) – Paul is a freelancing veteran. His Creative Class course has made hundreds of freelancers profitable, and this contract has kept their businesses safe.
Save yourself multiple client calls and email back and forth asking for information by creating questionnaires that ask them for you.
What are the questions you find yourself asking each new client? If you haven’t worked with any clients yet, figure out what information you’ll need from clients and save yourself time and hassle.
Not sure what to ask? Here’s what my client intake questionnaire looks like. This form is on the Contact page of my website. It’s simple, it’s concise enough for a prospective client to fill out in less than two minutes, and it gets the conversation started.
Remember that logo you designed in Canva? An invoice is one of the first places you’ll use it. Wondering how to send an invoice? You have a bunch of options.
You can send invoices through PayPal and Stripe or you could use the invoicing option in your client relationship management (CRM) tool if you have one.
We talk about CRMs in a later section, but if you don’t use one yet, here’s a list of some of the best invoicing solutions for freelancers.
A lot of freelance projects require you to put together a proposal to send to clients. If you want to work with big clients, proposals are a must-learn skill. Don’t wait until you need to submit one. Create a project proposal template that you can edit whenever you need to.
Here’s what you need to include in a simple-yet-effective freelance proposal:
Basic info: Your details, your client’s details, contact info, date, and project title.
The problem: Refer to the initial client emails and intake questionnaire your client filled. Recap everything they told you to show that you understand their problem/what they need help with.
Your solution: How do you plan on solving their problem or helping them achieve their goals? What steps will you take? What work will you deliver? Include all the details so the client knows everything you’ll be doing for them.
Benefits (of working with you): While most proposals don’t include this section, it’s a great way to highlight why you’re the right freelancer for them. Why should the client hire you? How will working with you make their life easier?
Pricing: Put a price on every deliverable you mentioned in your solution so the client knows exactly what work you will do and how much it’ll cost. Here’s a tip: Don’t refer to this section as pricing or cost or rates. Instead, call it an investment. The client isn’t just paying you money, they’re making an investment in their business which will give them returns for years to come.
Call-to-Action: This is the part where you talk about what next steps they need to take. What do they need to do next if they accept your proposal? How should they proceed if they want to make some changes?
Including a call-to-action in your proposal prompts the client to do something instead of just closing the document.
Never put a proposal together before? I’ve got you covered. Here are a few proposal templates you can download:
- BidSketch has over 20 free proposal templates you can download.
- PandaDoc has a collection of 100+ proposal templates for all kinds of businesses (for the very affordable price of a tweet).
- Canva has some of the most beautifully designed proposal templates in their library.
Confession: I didn’t use a client relationship management tool until late last year. I know, right? Ten years in the business and I was manually handling everything through email like a digital dinosaur!
It’s not like I didn’t know there were tools out there. But I kept giving myself the same excuses. Don’t have the time to migrate all my contacts into it. My Dropbox folder works fine. I can search for whatever I need, and the reminder/snooze email feature in Gmail works fine for my business.
It wasn’t until I realized that a client invoice was three months overdue that I accepted I couldn’t go on doing business this way. Because guess what? The problem wasn’t that the client hadn’t paid—the problem was that I’d forgotten to invoice the client.
That did it. I signed up for Dubsado, a CRM and accounting software. I now send proposals with pricing, contract, and invoice in one go. As soon as the client signs and pays the invoice, a questionnaire is emailed to them requesting all the information I need from them. Once I have that, they get access to a client portal where we upload all the files needed for the project. Sounds awesome, right? Here is one of the proposals sent from my CRM:
With a day job taking most of your time, you need to automate as much of your freelance business as you can. So take the time to invest in a client and project management tool from the beginning.
Landing Your First Client
Now that you’ve got your bases covered and are ready to start freelancing, it’s time to get your first client. You’re probably tempted to research ways to market your freelance business, and there’s no denying the importance of marketing.
But when looking for your first clients, focus on tactics that give you more control. Take actions that will pay off in the short term, like:
Telling your personal network – A lot of freelancers avoid telling their friends and family what they’re up to until their freelance business is doing well. That’s a mistake. These are the people who are rooting for you. And no, I’m not saying you ask them for work. Instead ask them to refer you to anyone in their circles who might need your services.
A simple email telling them about your new business, the services you offer, and the people you can help (your prospective clients) is enough. Include your details in the email and simply ask them to forward them to anyone they think would be a good fit.
Cold outreach – If this phrase gives you cold shivers, you aren’t alone. Cold emailing intimidates most freelancers. You’re emailing a business pitching them your services—that feels icky, right? But as a freelancer, selling your services is a must-have skill.
Sending cold emails implies that you send an email out of the blue offering your freelance services. But that’s not going to convert well.
Instead, take the time to research the companies you’re reaching out to. Read their blogs, sign up for their newsletters, and follow their social media accounts. Want to take it a step further? Look up their employees on LinkedIn and connect with them. Interact with them and get on their radars.
This way, when you do reach out to them and talk about how you can help solve their problems, you won’t be a stranger. And even if the person you’re contacting isn’t the decision maker, the chances of their referring you to them grow exponentially.
What’s the worst that can happen? They might say no. But what if they say yes and hire you?
Offering to pick up overflow work from other freelancers – Most freelancers build their networks to outsource work to other freelancers and refer projects and clients they either outgrow, don’t have the bandwidth to take on, or aren’t interested in taking.
Reach out to freelancers in your niche and ask them if they have any overflow work they’re looking to subcontract or pass on. Ideally, the freelancers you reach out to would be familiar with you, but it’s not a hard and fast rule.
Include samples of your work if you have them. If you don’t, ask them to take a chance on you.
When I decided to start writing email sequences for clients, I reached out an email copywriter and asked her if she’d be willing to take a chance on me. I outlined the kind of writing I did have experience with, linked to a few samples, and told her that I worked hard and never made the same mistake twice.
I went on to write several email sequences for her. She gave me a chance when I needed it, and now she knows she can depend on me. I make sure I always have her back, even if it means moving a big project to accommodate her tight deadline.
For a more in-depth guide on landing clients, check out this guide. It focuses on consulting businesses, but the strategies apply to anyone who wants to run a service-based business.
The Truth About Going From a Day Job to Freelancing
Learning to become a freelancer while working a day job isn’t easy or fun or fast. To be honest, it requires a lot of sacrifice, hard work, and long hours.
There will be times when you want to give up, and that’s when your big “why,” the reason you freelance, will come to your rescue.
There will be times when you feel like you’re not moving forward, but a quick look at the deadlines you set for your business will assure you that you’re on track.
There will be times when you want to hand in your resignation and just focus on your business full-time. But you won’t, because the math you did will tell you this isn’t the right time.
All that research and planning will make running a freelance business easy, efficient, and hassle-free. You may be working evenings and weekends, but you’ll know that it’s not in vain. That soon, you’ll be able to hand in your notice and work on your freelance business full time.
And every time you feel like maybe this path isn’t for you, that maybe a day job is the right job, come back to this post and look up all the freelancers featured in this post.
They did it. So will you.
Have you been dreaming about breaking out on your own? Of living life on your terms doing work you love? Comment below and tell us what’s holding you back.