In August 2009 I decided to take what I’d been doing for people for free, as a kind of slightly odd hobby (in my case proofreading and editing) and turn it into a business. I didn’t think I could sustain myself on a couple of one-off clients and a dream, so I “soft-launched”, which means starting a business while having another income stream, in my case a day job I was doing already. I have learned a lot and I’ve been sharing this experience with other people starting small businesses at Social Media Cafes and Entrepreneur Meet-ups, so I thought I’d share it here, too. This is going to be a two-part series, with next week’s post telling you what to do once you’ve set yourself up. But let’s see whether this is the career choice for you, first!
Before you start
There are quite a few things it’s worth thinking about before you launch yourself into a freelance career. Here are some of the main ones:
• Do I have useful skills that people are prepared to pay for? If you’re already doing something in your daily work life that you would like to do on your own, then yes, you may well have (but see below warnings about doing the same thing for an employer and yourself). If you’ve just got a general idea about going into business for yourself, think about skills you have developed as part of your job or a hobby. I had done a fair bit of editing and writing in various jobs, but it didn’t strike me how many different things I could offer until I was running the business. I could have offered more from the very beginning.
• Is there a market for my particular skills, and will I be able to access it? If you’re experienced in a particular area, do you have contacts who will help you find freelance work? Contacts are the key. Are there companies who might take a sample, for example shops which might stock your knitted widgets or people who might share a stand at a craft fair. Think about specialist skills you might have – for example, I have experience working for the UK office of an American company, so I’m able to offer localisation services changing US into UK English.
• Can I work from home on my own? Most freelance jobs do involve a fair bit of working alone. Even a photographer or someone who sells through a market stall will need to spend a fair amount of marketing and admin time alone. Are you good at motivating yourself? If you need people around you – well, co-working spaces can be very useful, but there is still a fair bit of sitting in your house pondering, doing admin, and getting on with work.
• How will this affect the rest of my life? This is ever so important if you’re thinking of starting your own business while still working. As I said at the beginning, that’s how I’ve done it, and there have been times when I’ve had so much of my own work that I’ve had to put off friends, tell my partner he can only spend time with me if he sits in the chair in my study … silently! and I’ve pretty much given up reading for pleasure. Can your social and family life take this? Make sure you have your partner and/or family’s support.
Once you’ve answered these questions and decided to set up on your own, I advise doing the following:
• Getting yourself online: it’s wise to get hold of a domain name right away (the URL of your website will be http://www.libroediting.com and not http://www.libroediting.wordpress.com for example), and set up a web page and email addresses using it. It is generally agreed that you look more professional if you do this. And the more professional you appear to be, the more business you will attract.
• If you’re in the UK, go on the HMRC course “Becoming self-employed” (find information in your local library or on the HMRC website). This is my number one recommendation to people starting a business. The course leader will tell you what records to keep so you can do important things like your tax return, and they tell you all about what to do, what funding and special tax breaks you can get, etc.
• Again, in the UK, register your business with HMRC – you have to do this within a certain period after you start working and being paid for it. Have a look on their website or give them a ring. Their staff have always been very friendly and helpful when I’ve called them. Also go through the additional process to register to submit your tax return online.
• UK again – register for a Certificate of Small Earnings Exception – this allows you to earn a certain amount before paying National Insurance and tax.
• Get business cards – at first you can use somewhere inexpensive like Vistaprint but it’s important to have something to give out to potential clients and people who might recommend you. Don’t go for gimmicks, just business cards will do at the start.
• Be careful if you want to do as your own business something that you are already doing in your day job. You might be about to be made redundant. If so – use those skills. If you’re going to do it part-time while still working in that area, make sure your employer is OK with that and check your contract – ditto if you leave to set up on your own. Better safe than sorry – and you will get found out.
In part 2 of this article, learn the top tips I use to make sure I keep on top of everything and run a successful and flourishing business …
You might also find my Freelance/Business people Saturday interview series useful to find out what people who are already in business wish they’d done differently, and their top tips, as well as my resource guide to articles on careers on this website. Also, do take a look at my e-books, which cover this topic in detail.
This article is based, with permission from the blog owner, on a guest post I wrote for the Subs Standards blog. That was for editors; this one’s for everyone!