How to Start a Freelance Business Without Going Broke
Jan 10, 2018
If you’re thinking of leaving your corporate job to start consulting, chances are you’re more than a smidge concerned that you might end up broke or overworked as a freelancer.
As someone who quit a “dream job” without a plan back in 2008 and did just that, I’m glad you’re here so I can give you some business tips for starting a freelance business that isn’t going to crush your spirit and WILL replace your income.
The first and most important thing you need to do is to get it into your head that you are starting a business and NOT going to be hunting for jobs.
There is a subtle mental switch here that you need to make to ensure you’re always focused on growing your business for the long haul, rather than taking easy gigs.
There’s a time and place for easy gigs and Upworking, but if you’re not careful you’ll fall into the trap so many new freelancers make in that you end up spending so much time in your business (upworking) that you fail to work ON your business and really develop a brand and build relationships.
Once you’ve made the leap into the mindset of a business owner, you can start working smarter.
There are some core components of building a profitable freelance business from the ground up:
- Set a clear vision for the company you want to create. Big or small? Solo or team? Where will you work and how many hours? What will you make. You want to really think about what you want for the long term and WHY you’re building this business for you.
- Once you have your long term vision, look at your first year. Pretend you’ve just had the perfect year of business and everything went exactly as planned. What did it look like? Where did you find your first client? What type of projects did you do? Use these as starting points for setting SMART goals for your business, and then draft a “30-minute businesses plan” for making it happen.
- You’ve got a vision, you’ve got a plan, now it’s time to execute. The next thing you need is to get clear on your client and what you can do for them better than anyone else. I highly suggest creating packages and offering solutions - not just selling “graphic design services” or “copywriting.” What can you bundle? What problems does your work solve? Talk in benefits for your clients
- Now you’ve got something to offer, it’s time to start connecting and building relationships. This is where a lot of new consultants struggle - they worry that because they haven’t run a business before what they have to offer isn’t good enough. But if you can solve a problem, you can create value. So you’ve got to learn the art of self-promotion and talking to people. You can get your first client before you have a website or anything fancy just by talking to people and asking for referrals.
- Once you’re ready to really build a business you’ll want to create a marketing system that’s going to generate leads for you. A website is the most obvious component, and some form of social media. I tell my clients to focus on one to two platforms that they enjoy and where they can connect with their clients. Don’t try to stretch yourself by being on every social platform if that’s not your thing. Create value online and offline and share it with people who need your service.
- Finally, continue to build relationships after you’ve done the work. Support you clients after the job is done, help them promote their business and ask them to reciprocate. Be an advocate for your clients and they’ll advocate for you. And if you create raving fans, they’ll refer more business your way
To sum up, if you want to create a profitable freelance business, you’ll need to focus on a few critical areas:
- Creating a vision, business plan and goals to measure against
- Building a business instead of hunting for jobs
- Learning how to sell & market yourself as a freelancer generate leads and get freelance clients
- Practice having conversations, making offers and converting leads into freelance clients
- Doing awesome work that solves problems or serves a client need (and knowing what that's worth to your client)
- Following up and asking for testimonials, referrals and repeat business
Most freelancers who struggle do so because they don’t know how to market themselves as solutions or generate leads - instead, they rely on “marketplace” sites to get client work.
This is a good fix for picking up occasional work on the side, but not a good long term strategy if you want to build a thriving, profitable freelance business.
Focus on creating your own brand and marketing your solutions as a freelancer - NOT selling your skills.
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