The 9 Steps to Starting a Successful Freelance Business
Being a freelancer is wonderful. Having control over your time, money, and who you choose to work with is amazing. Being able to pick your projects feels so good because it ensures that what you’re working on is nearly always something you find engaging or challenging in a positive way (sometimes you choose incorrectly.)
But that’s what a successful freelance business is and while it sounds amazing, the process of getting there isn’t always easy. In fact, the process of getting started can be really hard. There is so much uncertainty and guesswork involved. So many of us (myself included) sort of fell into freelancing and had to figure things out along the way, instead of having a clear plan we could follow.
Let’s make it easier for you. If I were starting over again, these steps are how I would do it, to save myself so much trial-and-error, so many stressful nights because I really didn’t have a clear process I could follow.
Here are your nine clear steps to starting and growing a freelance business:
1. Define Your Goals
In order to get somewhere, you have to know where you’re going. Your goals will guide every decision about your business — what to charge, who to work with, how much to work, etc. – so take the time now to sit down and make sure you have clarity on your goals.
Make sure your goals are achievable. Earning $100,000/year with your freelance business sounds amazing, and yes, it’s possible, but is it likely? Probably not in your first year, unless you are already highly-skilled, have a strong reputation, and are comfortable pitching relentlessly.
If you aren’t sure how to map out your goals, check out our article about Setting Your Goals, which will guide you through the process. Do not skip this step. You must set your goals in order to achieve them.
2. Decide on Your Services
One of the hardest things about starting your freelance business can be figuring out what you want your freelance business to be. In order to market your services and get clients, you need to know what your services are. You have to decide what you’re selling and how much you’re selling it for.
While it’s tempting to be a jack of all trades, it’s confusing to both you and your potential clients. Pick a service or two and stick with it/them for at least a few months, ideally a year or two, in order to give yourself time to build momentum. Don’t add random things in you can’t deliver on just because someone seems interested in that service.
3. Identify Your Ideal Clients
In order to market your freelance business to your ideal clients, you need to know who they are. Before you launch your business, you must figure out who you want to sell your newly established services to.
- Do they have a need for these services?
- How do you know that they do?
- What is the best way for you to reach them?
- Why are they your ideal clients?
- Why are you the best person to help them? (don’t be modest!)
Once you know the answers to these questions, you’ll be able to market your freelance business to them in a way that is appealing to them and cost-effective for you.
4. Set Prices for Your Services
One of the most inefficient ways to run your business is to make up prices and packages for every new person and business that seems interested in working with you. It’s a lot of energy and not worth your time, which could be better spent on actual client work or finding additional clients.
Have clearly defined services and price points. You don’t have to publicly share your prices unless you’re in the process of signing up a new client, but you need to know what they are and why they are what they are. This will give you the confidence to quote your rates without flinching and both you and your clients will appreciate the clarity.
Remember that you should be raising your rates regularly so don’t worry if your rates starting out don’t match the prices that your more experienced friends and colleagues are charging. You’ll get there but you need a little experience first.
5. Create a High-Quality Website
As a freelancer, you need a website and it needs to be a good one. As for every other business, your website will serve as your digital storefront and it needs to make a good impression on visitors. You want potential clients to be impressed by your website, not wondering if your kid cousin helped you with it for a school project.
It’s worth spending a bit of time and/or money on your website because it will work for you in so many ways. Your website will provide you with:
- additional visibility online so you can reach strangers who are looking for someone just like you
- an easy way to ask your friends, colleagues, and clients to share your work and boost your reach
- a low-risk way for people to browse what your work is like and what you offer
Some people have prices on their websites and others don’t. It’s 100% your call but if you do include your prices, be sure to update them every time you raise your rate. You never want to be ready to take a deposit from a client, only to find out that they’re expecting to pay your old rates.
6. Generate Examples of What You Can Deliver
Put your samples on your portfolio website. You must have examples, even if you’re completely new. Do some pro-bono work for a charity if you need examples. You can also just create them for fun by helping a friend with a website for very little/free if you’re a designer or writing a few medium articles about something you find interesting, etc.
Potential clients will need to see your work before they agree to pay you, especially if you’re asking to be paid upfront for the work or even part of the work. Ideally, your samples will match your ideal client’s industry as closely as possible. For example, if you want to be a travel writer, it’s not the best idea to write home decor articles as your samples.
7. Choose Your First Clients Wisely
You have a limited amount of time to serve your clients (because you also need to be marketing and managing your business) so make sure you choose your clients wisely. This is always true but it’s especially important when you’re choosing your first clients. The type of projects you choose and the rates you charge will have an impact on how your business grows, but the clients you choose will have an even bigger impact.
If you choose to work with difficult clients, you are setting your business up for failure. You’ll hate the work and associate your freelance business with struggling and pain. You won’t deliver your best work and your referrals and freelance reputation could suffer as a result.
On the other hand, if you choose projects you’re excited about and clients who are communicative and understanding, you’re setting yourself up for success. This will be because you’ll love your work, get glowing testimonials, and your portfolio will reflect the type of work you want to do going forward.
8. Learn How to Pitch Yourself
Unless you somehow, magically, already have someone who is referring more work to you than you can handle, you’re going to need to learn how to pitch yourself. It’s easiest to do right now, while you’re figuring things out because you’re in a learning mindset.
Pitching can feel scary and hard but it really isn’t. That’s just the fear of something new. Yes, there will be rejections and people who never respond but that’s ok, it’s their loss, not yours. If you’re pitching consistently, you don’t want to worry about the ones who don’t respond because you’ll have more than enough interested clients who do.
Our Complete Guide to Pitching for Freelancers is a great resource if you’re just getting started and need a little guidance. Everything will feel a little scary the first time so don’t let the resistance to any of it, especially pitching, hold you back from your freelance goals.
9. Prepare to Scale
If you want to grow your freelance business, you need to have a plan for what that looks like. Some of it is going to be having a marketing plan, some of it is going to be having a financial plan, and some of it is going to be having a work-life balance plan.
Yes, you can easily grow your freelance business but if all you do is work, you may as well have stuck with your job, which you at least got to take time away from. There is also no shame in choosing to grow your freelance business to a certain point and deciding that is enough for you. You get to decide how big you want your freelance business to be, whether that’s making enough to live on and only working 20 hours each week or growing to 7 figures. The beautiful thing is it’s your decision because it’s your business.
If you’re ready to scale your freelance business and need help figuring out the plan to get there, check out our Freelance Marketing Plan & Goal Setting Workbook. It will help you figure out exactly how to market your freelance business to grow to whatever you want it to be.