Working for yourself is the dream — following your passions, finding your own answers, and answering to no one but yourself. It’s true that freelancing is a fulfilling path, but it’s not as simple as quitting your job and pulling up your bootstraps. If you want to make the gig economy work for you, these are four things you need to do first.
Create a Business Plan
Freelancers and side giggers are a diverse group. But regardless of whether you’re seeking a full-time freelance job or just want side gigs for extra cash, you need to have a plan.
Crafting a business plan doesn’t have to be complicated. The purpose of your business plan is to write out your path to success. What are your goals? Identify the product or service you offer and your income goals for the business. How will you achieve it? Consider start-up expenses, overhead costs, and marketing, and how you’ll balance them with cash flow and your own time.
Don’t forget to assess your market. Is there a demand for your product or service? Are you the first one offering it, or will you have competition? In competitive markets, it’s important to carve out a niche. Branding is one tool for doing just that.
Define Your Brand and Create a Logo
Before you start marketing yourself, you need to brand yourself. Your brand is the way you present your business to the world. It’s how you set yourself apart from the competition and draw in customers.
Think about your personality as a business. Are you fun, energetic, and innovative, or nurturing, compassionate, and dedicated? Are you high-cost, high-quality, or low-cost, high value? Your company’s voice will determine what kind of customer you attract, so think of what you want from your ideal customer. If you’re a dog walker, maybe you’re targeting pet parents looking for a dog walker who dotes on their pup just as much as they do, or perhaps you’re seeking new dog owners who are willing to spend extra for your training expertise. Whoever your ideal client is, your branding should speak to them.
Once you’ve identified your brand, it’s time to create marketing materials. Every business should have a logo, a tagline, and a brand theme to create a consistent look and feel. Unfortunately, some freelancers are scared away from marketing due to cost. While it’s true that hiring marketing professionals can be costly, you can create branding on a budget with free online tools. There are some great online logo generators to help you design a logo, no design experience required. Pair a logo maker with one of the drag-and-drop website builders recommended by Tech Radar, and you can create a strong web presence in an afternoon.
Get Your Paperwork in Order
Freelance gigs and side hustles are both forms of self-employment. As a self-employed person, you have responsibilities that typical employees don’t.
First, decide if you’ll operate as a sole proprietor or an incorporated business. If your business exposes you to liability, it’s smart to form an LLC to protect personal assets from business problems. If you’re selling a consumable product, working with children or pets, driving clients, or handling expensive items, insurance is another smart tool for protecting yourself.
You’ll also need a system for tracking business income and expenses. While companies you contract with should issue you a Form 1099-MISC, it’s ultimately your responsibility to report freelance income to the IRS. That means thorough record keeping is essential. You can learn about bookkeeping for freelancers at Envato Tuts+.
Don’t forget about taxes! You owe taxes on any income earned through self-employment. In the US, tax payments are due on a quarterly basis with penalties for late payments. Make sure you don’t get hit with a surprise tax bill and pay your quarterly taxes.
Create a Self-Care Plan
Perhaps the most oft-forgotten aspect of going into business for yourself is creating a plan that will help you keep the inevitable stress of entrepreneurship at bay. Try to establish – and maintain – routines for healthy eating, exercise, and sleep. Many people starting a new business feel the urge to constantly burn the midnight oil, but this can be detrimental. After all, running on too little sleep is on par with being intoxicated! Although a healthy diet and exercise are crucial parts of self-care, it’s OK to miss a workout or indulge in a cheat meal from time to time, but don’t skimp on the sleep. If you find yourself tossing and turning night after night, you wake up feeling unrested or in pain, and it’s been at least seven years since you replaced your mattress, you’ll reap huge benefits from getting a new one.
Finally, make a plan for de-stressing in healthy ways. Yoga and meditation are excellent methods for releasing emotional and physical tension and can be done just about anywhere, thanks to smartphone apps and YouTube channels dedicated to the practices. Also, don’t underestimate the power of taking a few hours off to enjoy a cup of coffee or a movie with a loved one – even just an hour away from your new venture can restore your energy and perspective.
This sounds like a lot of work, but you shouldn’t let it scare you. While it’s true that getting a freelance business up and running takes some legwork, the rewards are worth it for the right person. If you think you have what it takes to make it in the gig economy, it’s time to buckle down and start planning.
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