Making the decision to freelance is a big one. Whether its a side hustle or your full-time gig, freelancing requires some serious determination, entrepreneurial spirit and a whole lot more that you might not have initially considered. Things like tax forms, software and a workflow are essential to being a freelancer, yet secondary to your primary duty. Whether it’s writing, editing, animating or designing, we want to help you focus more on what you’re passionate about and less on all the other (less pleasant) details that go into freelancing.

Read on to find the 10 things you need in order to kick your freelancing operation into high gear.

A portfolio

A well-built portfolio is necessary for any freelancer looking to score new business. Not only does it help you showcase your work and earn credibility with potential clients, but your portfolio can also provide time-saving inspiration and direction for a client (no freelancer wants to spend hours going back and forth with a client before the project has even started).

Many freelancers use Google Drive or Dropbox to manage and share their portfolios, but there are plenty of additional platforms, such as Portfoliobox, that help freelancers set up an online portfolio in no time. If you don’t have many pieces of work to showcase yet, that’s okay; there are a couple of easy ways in which you can expand your portfolio. Reach out to nonprofits and offer your services for free, use social media to see if anyone in your network needs work done, or even invent fake projects for real brands as samples.

Along with creating a beautiful and functional portfolio, you want to identify some former or current clients who are willing to serve as references when necessary. This is crucial, as many potential clients will want to know not only about what kind of work you produce but how you work.

The legal stuff

Assuming you want to make money as a freelancer without getting into trouble with the law, there are essentially two routes you can take. You can remain a sole proprietor and operate using 1099 forms with each of your clients, or you can choose to register your business as a Limited Liability Company (LLC). Registering as an LLC can help give your company a bit more legitimacy, which can be attractive to prospective clients, while also giving your personal assets a bit more protection.

A good workspace

Finding a workspace that works for you can do wonders for your productivity. Exactly what this space looks like depends on what type of work you do, as well as your working style. At the very least, make sure that your space has an appropriate balance of lighting, comfort and room for your work. While many freelancers opt to work at home to avoid additional costs, if you work best with other people around, the cost spent on a coworking space may well be worth it.

Suitable coworking spaces depend on where you are based, but organizations such as WeWork, Spacious and The Wing are often recognized for their overall high quality and access to resources.

Clear and fair rates

The more transparent you are when discussing rates with your clients, the more clients will feel comfortable with your pricing and, thus, more likely to purchase your services. Thankfully, freelancing is now so commonplace that there’s plenty of data out there on the average rates freelancers charge, which can be helpful in setting your own. Here are some great resources on average rates for video editors, writers and developers/designers.

You can also leverage tools such as this Freelance Hourly Rate calculator to ensure that you are being fair to both yourself and your clients.

Marketplaces for listing your services

When you are ready to start looking for paying clients, you’ll want to get yourself listed on various freelance marketplaces. These websites may charge a small fee or percentage based on your work, but they can be crucial in getting exposure to potential clients that otherwise may never find you.

Some of the most popular freelance listing marketplaces include Freelancer, Upwork and Toptotal. Try a few different sites to see which ones work best for you over time.

A project management software and CRM

It’s always a good idea to track your projects internally, but some clients may also request access to a public tracking document, as well. In that case, it’s usually worth it to have a project management software that your clients can monitor. The two most popular tools for this purpose are Trello and Asana.

Another key tool for tracking your work is a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software. With a CRM, you can track your interactions with clients over time, which will ensure that you don’t miss out on any great opportunities or waste time with decentralized communications.

A time-tracking software

Equally as important to having fair and transparent rates is tracking your time in a way that is both accurate and visible to your client. Many freelancers choose to track their time simply with a Google Sheet, but there are some great (and often free) tools out there that can help by doing most of the work for you, such as Toggl.

Time-tracking tools are great because they also help you track your time and income across projects. This way, you can see which clients and types of projects are proving to be the most fruitful.

A financial management software

While part of your motivation for going into freelancing might be the money, it’s unlikely that you freelance because you have a passion for accounting (unless you are a freelance accountant, then more power to you).

As such, it probably makes sense to invest in a financial management tool that will help you create invoices, handle any taxes and fees and process payments. At HubSpot for Startups, we have found that the tools that freelancers prefer most include Wave, Quickbooks and Bonsai.

A workflow for interacting with clients

From proposal to payment, a solid workflow for how you work with clients can save you a great deal of headache. If you are careful to check off all of the items below, you’ll help prevent many potential bumps in the road:

Make your kickoff call productive:

  • Have your portfolio and cost structure ready to share in case it is requested
  • Ensure the client has an approved budget to work with. You don’t want to work with a client who doesn’t actually have a budget or one that is far too small
  • Request a defined timeline with any milestones that need to be met

Communication:

  • Keep all communication within one email thread
  • Send a meeting recap via email, or keep a running Google Doc, and make sure it’s updated and sent after every call regarding the project
  • Clearly communicate goals and overall need of the project
  • It doesn’t hurt to over communicate. What you might presume to be prerequisite knowledge might not be the case for your client
  • There should be a point person on your client’s side for communicating with you. Nothing is worse than hearing from more than one person on the client side. It slows things down, and it’s not your job to manage your client’s internal feedback

Agreements and deliverables:

  • Make sure to have a signed contract before starting any work, or at the very least, have the agreed-upon deliverables in writing
  • Understand the payment cycle and timing you and the client both expect

Feedback and organization:

  • Discuss with the client what is suitable turnaround time for feedback, both for them to give the feedback, and for you to address/deliver any changes against the feedback
  • Define a set number of revisions. This will help keep everyone accountable to timeline and scope
  • Set up an organized central folder or drive where all revisions, links to designs, functionality notes, etc. are stored that both you and the client can access and review the entire history of the project

Find a mentor

As great as freelancing can be, it can also be very tough. A mentor who has been in the biz for a while can prove to be tremendously helpful when you run into a rough patch or just have quick questions you need advice on.

A mentor who works in your field is particularly helpful because he or she can help you with field-specific issues, but it’s most important to find a mentor who is ready and willing to help you succeed. Leveraging former connections or social media is one of the best ways to source a mentor. Another great way is to join a freelance community, so check out various freelancer groups across Facebook and Slack.

Ultimately, freelancing can be a terrific opportunity to pursue a passion while exerting a significant degree of control over your life. If you have the grit and determination to pursue that passion as a freelancer, this checklist should help you spend the most amount of time possible working on what you love.

Kim Walsh – startupnation / Photo by Austin Distel on Unsplash

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