If you’re anything like me, you probably started out freelancing under your own name. It’s pretty easy when you’re first starting out to get wrapped up in completing projects and looking for new clients without stopping to consider the other important aspects of running a business—generating invoices, developing a marketing strategy, and so on. And many of these tasks can be less than intuitive for someone with an English or journalism degree.
I recently formed my own freelance company, Fostered Creativity, and wanted to share some of the challenges I faced when I decided to formalize my freelance business.
It’s okay to learn as you go! I’m still learning, and much of what I know now came from hours of research and bugging family members who actually work in marketing.
Probably the most important decision you will need to make is choosing your business name. Your business name will be your first introduction to clients and can tell them a lot about you. The name you choose will also permeate every aspect of your business, from your website to your social media accounts.
This could just be your name, or it could be a play on words related to your name or initials. You could also include a word such as “editing” or “creative” to reflect the services you offer. If you’re stuck, there are plenty of business name generators online that may spark some creativity—and laughs!
Another aspect of your business to consider is how you want to visually portray your brand. Will you use a logo? What colors do you want to use? Are there certain images or broad concepts that communicate the services you offer?
You can create a simple logo yourself if you want, but I highly recommend hiring a graphic designer to help you transform your concept into reality. This way, you will end up with a high-quality, high-resolution image that professionally communicates what your business is all about.
Your website will be one of your most important (if not THE most important) marketing tools. If you have a name in mind for your business, you will most likely want to register this name (otherwise known as the domain name) if it is available. You can go to instantdomainsearch.com to see if the name you want to use is available; if not, you can select another variant to use. I got lucky with www.fosteredcreativity.com!
If you know HTML and CSS, you can try building your site yourself from scratch or by using a template. Or you may want to hire a website designer or developer to help. It will be helpful if you have a general idea of what colors you want to use, if you want a blog, what sections you want to include, if you plan to use a logo, and so on.
You will also need to consider which hosting service you want to use. This depends on your budget, your audience, and the type of business you have. Some well-known companies are HostGator, DreamHost, GoDaddy, 1&1, and Hostwinds.
Type of Business Entity
What type of business entity do you want to form? This can be confusing at first, so it’s important to do some research. The most common structures are a sole proprietorship, a limited liability corporation (LLC), and an S corporation (S corp). The type of business entity you choose depends on various factors, including the size of your business and the specific tax advantages that the structure offers. I decided to form a single-member LLC because this way I can keep my personal and business accounts separate and because this seemed like the simplest option.
For more information, see CPA Jonathan Medows’s excellent article on this topic for Freelancers Union.
Any business comes with its fair share of paperwork. As a freelancer, though, it’s important to keep in mind that you are responsible for all aspects of your business, including marketing and advertising, legal, and accounting. Even if you hire a professional to help you with some of the more daunting tasks, you should create templates for forms that you are likely to use with clients again and again. Below I’ve listed the most common pieces of paperwork you’ll need to maintain for yourself, your clients, and Uncle Sam.
Chances are, you’re regularly sending out invoices to repeat clients. Why not create a template in Word or Excel so you don’t have to reinvent the wheel each time? Make sure to include your logo (if you have one) and your contact information. You should also indicate your payment policies, the form(s) of payment you accept, and when payment is due. If you have trouble getting clients to pay on time, you could also assess a service charge for late payments. For example, I include the following line on all of my invoices:
Overdue accounts are subject to a service charge of 1.5% per month.
Be sure to thank your clients for their business as well.
If you’ve been freelancing for a while and haven’t used a contract or a letter of agreement with clients, now may be a great time to create a template (or several) and start using it. Some clients may want you to use their own forms and may not be comfortable signing something from you, and that’s okay. But it is important to have something in writing so that you and the client are on the same page when it comes to the agreed-upon fee, the payment terms, and the expectations for the work. The last thing you want is to complete a huge project only to never receive payment or get negative feedback from the client because the finished product wasn’t what they expected.
To me, business cards are optional, not a necessity. But if you plan to attend a lot of conferences or network often, it’s important to have some business cards printed up. Again, you can design these yourself or hire a graphic designer to help, but you should research some printing vendors to determine the best cost and value.
Social media will be a vital part of your freelance business and should definitely be part of your marketing strategy. Below I’ve listed some of the most common social media platforms and a few notes about each, including the image dimensions for your profile photo and header.
Unlike other social media platforms such as Twitter, for example, it’s important to remember that LinkedIn should be used for professional purposes only. It was designed as a social networking site focused on business. Your profile should reflect this—don’t include photos of pets or family, and don’t post personal content.
Profile photo: 400 x 400 pixels
Header photo: 1536 x 768 pixels
You can view my LinkedIn profile here.
Unlike other social media platforms, it’s completely fine to combine your personal and professional personas on Twitter (using good judgment, of course). Make sure to update your bio to explain who you are and what you do to attract followers.
Regular Twitter chats can also be a great way to connect with colleagues around the world and help freelancers working from home feel less alone.
Profile photo: 400 x 400 pixels
Header photo: 1500 x 500 pixels
You can view my Twitter profile here.
Creating a Facebook account for your new business can get tricky. Some freelancers choose to mix personal and professional content on Facebook, whereas others choose to create a new account strictly for their business. This decision is totally up to you.
I ended up creating a new account under my business name and then created a separate business page. That means I have a personal profile, a business profile, and a business page, which gets pretty cumbersome.
Publishing guru Jane Friedman has more advice on this subject on her site.
Profile photo: 170 x 170 pixels
Header photo: 820 x 312 pixels
You can view my Facebook page here.
You should also make sure to update your social media accounts for any professional organizations you belong to, such as the Editorial Freelancers Association (EFA) or the Council of Science Editors. Make sure your branding is consistent across all platforms.
You can view my EFA profile here.
I’d love to hear from other freelancers! Did I miss anything? What are some challenges you faced when you decided to formalize your business?