Are you dreaming of being your boss? Starting a new adventure or creating a side hustle has always gotten my juices flowing. Taking your skills or knowledge to make life better for others while earning extra money is, well, sweet.
Meeting with customers doing all the fun stuff, sharing with them is like rainbows and fluffy bunnies. You imagine all the good things about your adventure without looking at what could go wrong.
At least that was how I roll.
I see comments from people in different forums asking about which niche is best. Which niche makes the most money? How do I pick the best niche?
All are important questions.
Recently I read a good question about starting a copywriting business. He asked, looking back as a copywriter, what advice would you give about getting started. My answer covers not just being a copywriter but service businesses in general. Freelancers.
These are some business lessons I learned on the fly. Some were easy to master, while others are more challenging.
First of all, it’s a business.
Writing is the fun part and takes the least amount of your time. Running your business takes 50% — 60% of your time. All the following are parts of your business that you need to handle to be a happy freelancer.
I didn’t realize all of this was part of being a freelancer. Most of us, ok me, jump into a business thinking we’ll iron out these issues along the way. The problem with that is you’ll pay the price in dollars and lost time trying to figure it out, so think it through. Plan ahead.
Setting up your business
Should it be a sole proprietor, LLC, or nothing at all? What are the tax considerations for each are, areas that you need to consider? How to set up a bank account? Do you need a local business license? Do you need to carry insurance?
It all depends… is this a real business or a hobby.
Businesses need bank accounts — a place to put your money besides under your mattress.
What about your niche?
How do you pick your niche? When, why, or why not are considerations. Defining your niche will help you figure out who you are talking to when creating your website, emails, and other marketing materials.
Sometimes it is as simple as figuring out if they are techie, everyday folk, who they watch on TV, and how many kids they have.
If you’re taking this seriously look around, to see how your local retail stores are selling. Take Target, for instance; they recently reimagined all their stores. They have been the alternate choice of Walmart; however, now they appear to be going for younger women. It seems they are leaving the average man behind, along with women over 45.
That’s niching for you.
How are you going to market your business?
Like the example of Target, where do you want to be in the market? What does your brand stand for or against? We know what Telsa cars stand for sustainable energy. While other brands like OXO have reimagined kitchen tools, making them easy to hold. Do you want to be a high-priced brand, or are you going to fight your way to the bottom?
As a freelancer, you have many choices. As a service provider, I would strongly recommend against hourly or piece work. Consider working by the project, fixed pricing, or a retainer model.
How are people going to find you? Field of Dreams build it and hope they come isn’t a good model. Word of mouth is always a good starting place but not sustainable if scaling your business is your goal.
Have a budget for advertising, somewhere.
Where, when, and how you do it is the question. This is where you need to think through what you’re doing and how you say it. There are many resources to figure this one out.
The most important consideration is where you will host your site, along with how to protect it. I was foolish to think that spammers would not care about my little ole website. Behind the scenes, spammers are trying to hack every single site they can. It is their mission. They take it very seriously.
It would be best if you take protecting it seriously too.
It only takes getting hit one time before you realize you’re toast. So, don’t even get hit one time. Look for web hosts who offer protection, monitoring, or assistance to get your site back.
Many solutions are low cost but expect to pay something. Please don’t go looking for the cheapest host out there, thinking it doesn’t matter. Believe me, it does.
If you’re a freelancer, time is all you’ve got. You have to block off time to do client work 40% and the other 60% to back-office, like all of this stuff. That was shocking to me.
You only get to work 40% of the time on the fun client work. Bummer.
The rest, 60%, is keeping your business running so you can have a life outside of work. Yep, it’s true.
Using a tool like Acuity or Calendly will automate client calls, taking one more thing off your plate.
Believe it or not, you don’t want everyone who knocks on your door. They may be interviewing you to see if you’re a good fit, but you should be doing the same.
After you’ve agreed to work with every tire-kicker who calls, you’ll be pulling your hair out trying to satisfy them, then you’ll change your mind.
Pick good clients.
You’re the boss. You get to pick your clients. When you have great clients, your life is fun. You love coming to work each day. They can become your friends.
Set expectations. When can they email, text, or call you every day? When will you respond? Set boundaries.
When onboarding a new client, do you do something special like send a gift to set the tone. If you did, it certainly would. Who doesn’t like an unexpected and thoughtful gift?
If you need proposals to close the sale, when do you write to them? If you answer each time, you’ll never make it. Consider boilerplate templates that you can change or modify.
How do you deliver them? If your answer is to send them in the mail or email them, you’re going to die waiting for them to respond. You’ll be worrying, anxious, nervous, and downright miserable, wondering should you just check-in under the guise of following up. Will you look needy — yes, you will.
The solution is to go through the proposal together over zoom, skype, in-person, or phone. Never hand it over for them to go through without you.
I’m assuming you’re selling something that costs more than $100. This is your shot; make it good. If that doesn’t work for them, well, maybe they aren’t a good fit.
WOW, freelancers are wringing their hands trying to decide how do you ask for the money. You ask. If the gig is less than $1,000, you want it all upfront. If more, offer a short timeframe payment plan. At least one-third upfront and all paid before delivery.
Back to the right clients. They pay, they respect you, and honor their word. Bad clients bully, want unlimited rounds of changes that never make them happy, and want some form of refund for their inability to decide.
Again, pick good clients.
Have a payment system. Preferably one that sends the money straight to your bank account. Be prepared to send out reminders for payments or even collections. It happens even to the best clients; something falls through the crack — your payment.
Tools & Education
There will be tools that cost money. Let’s face it; we need to automate as much as possible to do our work — tools to make it possible.
Education is ongoing. Budget for it, because you’ll pay for it one way or another.
It is all this and more to manage your business. Working for someone else is sometimes the best answer because your job is over at the end of the day. As a business owner, there are still ‘jobs to be done’ at the end of the day.
These are the things that no one told me before I started my business. I wish I had known that they were part of copywriting. I was lucky that I worked through the mistakes, blunders, and errors, but it took an emotional toll on me (and the surrounding people who had to listen to me ranting).
On my journey. This is day 7 on the road to 365 days of publishing — only 358 to go.