Real talk on starting a freelance business.
There is so much glam and hype — especially for women — when it comes to starting a freelance business.
The internet has provided an embarrassment of riches when it comes to people spouting how easy it is to make the leap from becoming an employee to working on your own.
It seems like everybody wants to showboat about how much income they’re earning. Whether it be some secret sauce to Pinterest passive income or e-courses that earn money for you while you sleep.
There’s a lot of pics on Instagram of people sitting on the beach holding gold pineapples. But don’t fall for the hype.
While freelancing and/or being a lifestyle entrepreneur does have its upticks, there is an aspect of it that is not spoken about enough.
There is a learning curve to it. You do have to learn to live and work in a new way and I don’t think we share enough real talk on this spectrum of starting a freelance business.
Learn with Your Safety Net
I would never advise anyone to quit their day job or school to start their freelance business without them knowing everything about their business goals.
A question that Emilia Farrace asked me when we first met is, “what do you want your life to be?”
At the time, the life I described didn’t leave much room for work. In fact, my response didn’t mention anything about the kind of business I wanted to create for myself. It was all about going to yoga during the day if I can recall correctly.
It’s so important to know the kind of business you want to have, the kind of clients you want to work with, your niche in the marketplace and what is going to separate your business and talents from the competition.
It’s not only a part of your brand positioning but you need to figure this stuff out for the life changes you’re about to embark on as a freelancer.
You don’t have to have an elevator pitch right away, but certainly, you should know your business, your offering, what your rates will be, how you’ll manage and charge for your time, what kind of expenses to expect. You should know about your industry, your competitors, who does a good job and who does a poor job.
You should start learning all these things preferably while you’re still working at your day job. While you still have a safety net.
You should learn about processes, business productivity, how to batch manage your time, how to communicate with clients and the tools and resources you’ll need to create a legit freelance business that you can earn a living from.
Which brings me to my next point.
Working as a freelancer is a lifestyle change. It’s not the same as working a 9-5pm.
Getting up and being productive is only the half of it. Getting dressed and eating three to five healthy meals a day doesn’t even scratch the surface.
Living a freelance life can be incredibly lonely. The isolation can drive you crazy. Everyone in your life is probably at their office job so there’s no one to call or check in with.
When you work within an office community, there are ongoing discussions, meetings, conversations, brainstorms and collaborations that happen on the fly.
When you’re working from home, it’s just you and your computer. If I didn’t have my cat, I’d probably go a little nuts. It’s really a push to keep active, get groceries, eat healthy meals and maintain a regular sleeping pattern.
Early on I got a membership to a co-share space, but then in an effort to save money, I cancelled it. Now I opt to occasionally work from the library or a nice coffee shop. But if you can afford a co-share space, I’d say go for it.
While working a full-time job, I used to hate meetings — but I’d love a meeting right now to be completely honest. As human beings, we’re not naturally solitaire. People like other people. It’s in our nature.
Learning Business Acumen
When you start a freelance business — your work will come naturally to you. After all, you’re an expert. You know how to do whatever it is that you do.
For me — that’s marketing management, blogging and brand positioning. Those are my three areas of expertise.
Marketing my business is easy. Publishing a thriving blog is easy. Positioning myself to attract freelance work is easy. In fact, I’m really good at doing all these things for myself.
Business management is not my area of expertise. I’m still learning how to value my time and charge clients who want me to do the same for them.
There are still things that I struggle with. Like figuring in expenses and fees for the online tools that I use in order to manage the work that I’m doing for them.
For example, here I am paying an expensive subscription fee for a social media management tool in order to manage my client’s social media accounts, but I am not charging the client a portion of said subscription.
Not knowing little things like that will screw you over when it comes to charging appropriately, being able to communicate with your clients about your fees and standing by it.
The reason is because there’s a cost of living and there’s a cost of running your business. You have to be able to charge enough so you can earn a living plus have money to cover your business expenses plus have enough money to save. Remember saving?
Your life expenses include rent or mortgage, utilities, cable, phone, internet, gas, taxis, food, going to the movies, etc.
When starting a freelance business, expenses will include things like website hosting, email service, accounting software, social media management, Photoshop, Canva, Leadpages, photocopying, printing, etc.
Perhaps you’ll need a new computer, tablet or phone. What about purchasing a printer for your home office. Do you even have a home office?
Plus you might want to invest in hiring a graphic designer to help you with your branding, a web developer to get your website up or a photographer to get your head shot pictures done.
These are all included in the cost of doing business. Don’t believe the hype when people tell you working from home means little overhead costs. It’s complete BS.
Processes and Productivity
When starting a freelance business, getting into a rhythm of working with clients on projects and organizing your day is crucial if you want to make money as a freelancer. The old adage, “time is money” rings true for freelance living.
If you don’t know how to maximize your time for each client, you won’t be able to bill them back a decent invoice at the end of the month. Or even worse, you’ll send a ton of billable hours but with very little productivity and results to show for it.
Using online tools like FreshBooks and Evernote really helps me out a lot.
Beyond being just a cloud accounting software, using the FreshBooks’ time tracking feature has taught me a lot about how long it actually takes to get things done.
You might want to charge your client an hour for writing a blog post. But what about the time it takes to research your source material, research the references that you need to link back to, or what about the time it takes to optimize the post for search engines?
Are you also sourcing images or creating graphics? How long does that take?
If you’re also doing social media, it takes time to craft captions for each social media channel. You’ll want to research hashtags for the post on Instagram and you’ll also have to crop the images for each channel.
How long did you really spend on publishing that one post for your client?
It takes me about four hours — from end to end — to perfectly publish one blog post that includes research and social media. I needed FreshBooks to help me figure that out.
If it was up to me, I’d get lost in the time and just work until it was perfectly how I wanted, but when you start tracking your time and then charging for that time — your client might think differently.
It’s important to figure out processes, time batching and how you can most be productive for yourself and your client.
You’ll need to figure out how and when to invoice them, how to conduct status meetings or follow-ups, how to demonstrate results and prove your effectiveness as an expert in whatever it is that you were hired to do.
The Take Away
Yes — I really like freelance living. I really do. Starting a freelance business has its perks and I’m getting used to the business aspect of working freelance.
But the learning curve was all too real. In fact, I’m still in it. I am definitely better off today than I was a year ago in terms of my knowledge and business acumen. But I have a ways to go.
If I could start all over again, I would have saved more money! I would have consulted with a legit business coach beforehand and planned out my exit more strategically.
If you do nothing else with this post and remember nothing else about it after you’ve read it — just remember this one takeaway — save as much money as you can while you’re still working.
I would also recommend taking on side-gig jobs while you’re working. But either way, save as much as you can. You’ll love having a freelance business, but just be prepared.
Brought to you by FreshBooks: Image via Javier Calvo