I’m still working on getting comfortable with my freelance business, and have compiled some tips that have helped me immensely in getting started. Personally, I do graphic and web design, but these general tips can apply to anyone who is working on their own in any field.

1. Pick the right business structure.

For me, this was a Sole Proprietorship. For some it may be an LLC or partnership or something crazy. If you’re just starting out, I’d recommend the SP. Easy to set up and taxes aren’t too complex. Here’s a good article on determining your business structure: http://www.nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/article-29618.html

2. Separate your business and personal finances.

This has made it so much easier for me to manage my money. I have separate checking accounts and use them accordingly. waveaccounting.com is a great (free) online tool for managing both business and personal finances.

3. Be clear about what you do and why you’re good at it.

This applies to your own approach to work as well as your clients’. Sometimes your reputation can be damaged if you take on projects that you’re not qualified for and don’t execute very well. Make sure you have the necessary skills for the task at hand, and don’t be afraid to recommend a fellow freelancer. You may lose the client (for now), but you build credibility by being honest, and they may need your expertise further down the road.

4. Make sure your equipment works for you.

I’m not saying you always have to buy the latest and greatest, just make sure your tools aren’t slowing you down. If you can’t work efficiently with what you’ve got, maybe it’s time for an upgrade.

5. Manage your time.

Use a desktop calendar to keep track of projects, due dates, and tasks. I use Mozilla Thunderbird with Lighting for my email and calendar.

Try to break your big projects down into smaller, more manageable tasks, too. It helps you feel like you’re actually getting something done.

6. Set an hourly rate.

You don’t always have to charge by the hour, but it’s helpful in determining project costs and estimates. There is a good rate calculator here: http://freelanceswitch.com/rates/

7. Market yourself constantly.

The only way you’re going to find clients that you don’t already know is by getting your name out there. Keep your brand consistent across all your channels, and never stop making new contacts. Hand out business cards, contribute to blogs, interact on Twitter… Do whatever you can think of to let people know what you can do.

8. Write a business plan.

Even if you’re not applying for loans, this is very important for helping you get your thoughts organized and sort out your strategy. I filled out a business plan template from www.score.org and it really forced me to think about why I’m running my freelance business the way I am, and what areas I need to improve.

9. Have an awesome portfolio.

Your portfolio is the first thing that a potential client will see, and the website (or book) itself needs to be a portfolio-worthy piece that reflects who you are as a designer or whatever you are. I advocate creating one (or having one built) that is unique to you and your style. In need of a portfolio site? Contact me and we can make it happen.

10. Don’t forfeit your personal life.

Always do your best to keep “work” time and “home” time separate. Set aside certain hours of the day when you need to be working, and actually keep to that schedule. It’s just as important to relax and spend time with your family or friends, so make sure you set aside time for that too, or else you might just go crazy.

Well, I hope this was helpful to you freelancers out there. Obviously I don’t have all the answers, so I’d love to hear what you have to say about getting started as a freelancer.

Comment away with your suggestions or arguments. Maybe we can all learn something new.

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