Are you beginning to break out on your own, and finally starting your own small freelance or “solopreneur” business?
If so, congratulations—it’s a big leap.
But, don’t get caught up in the thrill of entrepreneurship just yet; there are still plenty of i’s to dot and t’s to cross.
The reality is, starting your own business (even when it’s just you) can be pretty overwhelming, and it’s easy to worry that you’re doing something wrong.
So, I’ve reached out to the experts—entrepreneurs who have successfully started their own small businesses, many of them as freelancers first (or exclusively).
Want to learn what advice they have to offer new freelance entrepreneurs? Keep reading.
1. Ignore everyone
When you’re exiting the corporate world to freelance and start your own business, it can feel like advice is coming at you from all sides.
While much of this is well-intentioned (this article included), it can sometimes be beneficial to simply go with your gut.
“The most important thing is to ignore everyone,” says Melodie Cohn, owner of social media agency Melodie Cohn. “Ignore everyone, and do what you think is best. It is easier said than done. But the second I started to trust myself, and ignore everyone, my life took off.”
So, the next time a well-meaning relative has input into your logo design, for example, it might be a good idea to kindly tell them that you’ve got it covered. It’s your logo, after all.
2. Don’t neglect setting up your business properly
Perhaps you’re guilty of starting by taking on freelance work on the side, and eventually transitioning to entrepreneurship. That’s fine, but don’t neglect the nuts and bolts of starting a business—they still apply to you.
“Just because you’re a one-person operation, doesn’t mean you will have any fewer obligations as a business owner,” says Leo Welder, CEO of ChooseWhat. “Therefore, it is important to create a foundation for your freelance operation just like you would any other small business.”
Welder suggests taking time to consider what business structure works best for your situation. “You need to protect yourself from personal liability and keep good records of your business finances—both income and expenses,” he says. “For most freelancers, creating a single-member LLC is going to be the simplest and cheapest way to protect yourself from personal liability. Because the business will have one owner, the paperwork for a single-member LLC is relatively simple.”
Not only that, Welder recommends setting up a separate bank account and credit card for business purposes, as well as choosing dedicated invoicing and accounting software that is linked to your business account.
3. Know every part of your business
“My advice would be to own up to every part of the business,” says Eleni Cotsis, co-founder and CEO of LinkedStartups. “Freelancing is a business in itself and you need to know how to do every part—sales, marketing, accounting, customer service, legal, etc.—in addition to actually producing your product or service.”
Cotsis recommends reaching out and learning about these areas, if any of them feel unfamiliar to you. “If you don’t know how to perform in one of those areas, seek out mentors or other forms of learning to improve on them,” she says.
Not only that, but Cotsis says it’s important not to undervalue your skills, and price yourself and your services at an appropriate rate. “You have to take into consideration taxes, health insurance, a workspace, and any other costs that would be covered by a full-time employer,” she says. “It’s important to not sell yourself short.”
4. Clearly define your brand
Don’t start off with a fuzzy, poorly-defined brand identity.
“The #1 piece of advice I would give to new freelancers would be to define your branding from the outset,” says branding expert Clare Drake of Clare Drake. “This shows your ideal clients who you are as a brand (and as a person), and increases brand recognition.”
What does this mean for you? First of all, having a visually cohesive brand is important. “Having a coherent brand message through your visual identity (brand colors, typography, design elements) is so important to build trust and likeability,” says Drake.
To read more about branding for freelancers, small business owners, and solopreneurs (and why it’s so important), check out my recent article here on the Bidsketch blog completely devoted to the subject.
5. Prioritize attracting (and keeping) clients
According to Ben Friedman, head of operations at All Set, your primary concern should be your clients.
“If you are going to be a freelancer, you need to only worry about two things: 1. getting clients, 2. keeping those clients happy,” he says.
When it comes to getting clients, Friedman recommends cultivating a strong web presence. “Having robust, professional, and clean website and profiles are an absolute must,” he says. “Having multiple recommendations on your LinkedIn Page, having completed over 25 hours of work on Upwork.com or Freelancer.com, etc., all lend you credibility when a client is looking to render your services.”
To keep clients happy, Friedman suggests being “overly available.”
“Make it seem like you are online at all hours, working hard to deliver for your client,” says Friedman. “Schedule emails to go out at certain times, be available via phone, Skype, Slack—any and all forms of communication. The easier you are to get a hold of, the more trust the client will have in you.”
For more tips, my article on client happiness here on the Bidsketch blog contains tons of expert advice on the subject.
6. Have a plan for scaling your business
The idea of scaling might feel a little far-reaching for the average newer entrepreneur. After all, you might be happy to simply be starting your own business, let alone worried about how you’ll handle having too many clients or customers.
However, Amanda Goldman-Petri, founder of Market Like a Nerd, recommends that new entrepreneurs create a plan of how they’ll scale their business early on.
“As someone who has grown various multi-6 figure virtual assistant businesses and now coaches graphic and website designers around the globe, my biggest piece of advice to new freelancers is to enter the business with a plan for how to scale with a sustainable business model,” she advises. “Most done-for-you service providers have business models that set them up for exhaustion and cap them at an income ceiling; a sustainable model typically involves specializing in set skills rather than attempting to be everything to everyone, set-scope packages rather than custom quotes or hourly rates, and pricing your services at a level where you can easily outsource to team members as you grow.”
7. Price your services right
While other entrepreneurs have alluded to this, Ben Taylor, founder of HomeWorking Club, hits the nail on the head:
“My number one piece of advice for aspiring freelancers is to find out the going rate for your services and ensure you charge appropriately,” he says.
Why is the idea of pricing your services high enough so important? Because, in addition to bringing in more money yourself, you’ll be avoiding clients who are only looking for work at an unreasonably low rate.
“It can be all too tempting to pitch at ‘bargain basement’ prices in order to get some business in, but this isn’t a good long-term approach,” says Taylor. “Cheap rates attract cheap clients, so it’s better to bide your time and earn what you deserve to.”
8. Say yes
While being able to say no is a good skill to cultivate, when you’re starting out as an entrepreneur, you might want to work “yes” into your vocabulary as frequently as possible.
“Always say yes,” says Elijah Masek-Kelly, freelance writer and managing director of Powerful Outreach. “When you are just starting out as a freelancer, you can’t afford to pass on opportunities.”
Masek-Kelly highlights the push-pull relationship between autonomy and stability that freelancers often face as the reason for his advice. “Part of the beauty of freelancing is the freedom that comes with it, but it’s a double-edged sword,” he says. “You never know where a gig will take you, so say yes, work fast, and follow the flow to the top. Once you have established yourself, then you can start to be more picky with the projects you accept.”
9. Consider reframing your business identity
Throughout this article, I’ve used the concepts of freelancer, entrepreneur, very small business owner, and solopreneur interchangeably. After all, there are likely to be people who are in similar situations, but who conceptualize their business offerings differently.
However, Gayle Lynn Falkenthal, owner and president of Falcon Valley Group, advocates for a shift in the way you define your business if you’ve been referring to yourself as a freelancer.
“Stop using the ‘F’ word,” says Falkenthal. “You are a business. Calling yourself a ‘freelancer’ signifies the wrong mindset.”
Why does she believe this shift in mindset is important? Because, when entrepreneurs frame themselves as “freelancers” instead of “business owners,” they risk being taken less seriously—and are therefore undervalued.
“Freelancers aren’t considered serious or strategic professionals,” explains Falkenthal. “When you have a firm vision of yourself as a business owner, people will have far more respect for your expertise—and pay you more. You’re in it for the long haul.”
10. Keep yourself top of mind
Any interaction you have might lead to a potential new client; so, Kelley Buttrick, owner of KB Voiceovers, recommends that you draw attention to your service offering as frequently as possible.
“Make sure everyone you know knows what you do—but not in a cheesy way,” she says. “Being a freelancer or starting a small business is unique and memorable in itself, especially if you are in a creative field, so you don’t need to serve it up with crackers and shove it into everyone’s faces.”
How do you let everyone know what you do, on a regular basis, without coming off as pushy or obnoxious? Buttrick has the following advice: “Via social media, at family reunions, formal networking events, at the neighborhood pool, with your airplane seat mate, etc., casually mention what you do as it comes up naturally in conversation, or subtly within your tweets and posts. Trust me, people will remember. Change up how you mention it each time—just keep doing it, since repetition is vital.”
Positioning her business offering as a topic of conversation throughout her day-to-day interactions has proved a great strategy for Buttrick. “This tactic has garnered some great clients and projects for my voiceover business, including a long-time client who heard about me while out fishing with my dad, the old high school date I’m connected with on Facebook who needed VO on a video his company was producing, and one of my biggest clients that I met sitting next to on a plane ride out to LA,” she says.
11. Clearly demonstrate your value
I’m guessing that you have a crystal-clear understanding of why the services you offer are valuable—but can you convey this to potential clients? Can you make them understand why your services are absolutely vital?
“My #1 tip for freelancers starting out is to learn to frame your skills in a way that makes the benefits to working with you clear to a business owner,” says Ryan O’Connor, owner of One Tribe Apparel.
While O’Conner used to work as a freelance SEO consultant, he now hires freelancers on a regular basis for design, writing, and web development work for his business.
“So many freelancers reply to my job postings with something along the lines of ‘Your business is really cool, I’d love to work with you,'” says O’Conner. “OK, that’s great that you’re showing a bit of enthusiasm, but it doesn’t demonstrate anything to me.”
If you’re guilty of this mistake, O’Conner lists the following examples of how to provide businesses with a pitch that they actually want to hear:
- “I’ve previously done graphic design for three other fashion companies, and here’s a link to my most successful campaign. I think I can help improve your brands image by doing X, Y, & Z.”
- “After rewriting the product descriptions for my client X, we increase the conversion rate by 20 percent.”
- “In X hours, I was able to reduce the loading page time of my clients store by 50 percent, which has a great long term impact on keeping visitors on site.”
Ultimately, it comes down to showing clients that you can provide value, and how you’ll go about doing it. What makes your offering indispensable? Why should your client choose to hire you, instead of the dozens of others out there? Getting a clear understanding of how to articulate the value you bring to prospects will help you immensely.
12. Understand that there is no blueprint for success
At the end of the day, your own trajectory to success in entrepreneurship will be just that—your own.
“When starting out, I wish someone would have told me that you will have to figure it out on your own,” says Tennile Cooper, digital strategy copywriter behind She Is Epic. “There is no blueprint.”
Cooper wishes she’d figured this out sooner, as she wasted time and money on phony solutions. “It would have saved me time and all the money I threw at online courses,” she says. “It’s a trap! What worked for someone else won’t necessarily work for you.”
For Cooper, the key is having faith in your own idea and your abilities, and putting in the hard work. “Trust your gut, and use your talent to write, design, speak, etc. your way into the position you really want to be in,” she says. “Don’t wait to be saved.”
If you’re just now starting your entrepreneurship journey, which tip do you find the most valuable?
If you’ve been in business for a while, what advice did you receive that you found the most helpful—or what would you tell someone else in your position?
I’d love to know. Leave a comment and share your thoughts!