How to Start a Freelance Business

There is a considerable shift happening in the workforce across the globe. A rising number of workers are choosing to be self-employed over a traditional 9-to-5. And who can blame them? The post-pandemic job market has been far more receptive to remote workers. As times are changing employers have fewer hesitations about hiring consultants. Plus, finding them has become so much easier with sites like Upwork & Fiverr.

Why not take the leap? From entry-level to executive positions, there are opportunities to be a freelancer at every stage. So take your financial and geographical freedom in hand and build a life centered around living, not working!

Regardless of your background, you can create a successful career on your own terms. First, let’s understand what you need to do and how you need to do it.

Are you ready to start freelancing? 

You might be seeking freedom, flexibility, or pursuing your passions, but are you ready to step into self-employment and choose freelancing as your career? 

It’s a good idea to understand why you are choosing to freelance before you start. From there think about the answers to these questions:

How much time do you have to dedicate to freelancing? Can it replace your regular income (plus benefits)? Are you ready to put in the effort or is this just a side hustle?

Understanding the why helps you justify the how. If you are ready to put in the work, here’s how to start your freelance business. 

freelancing on a laptop

What qualifies as freelance work?

In the simplest terms being a freelancer means you work for yourself, not for a company. You can determine when and how you work without the obligation to work within the company’s organizational framework.

Freelance work can be a one-time, quarterly, or monthly project or service. This covers all types of work from accounting, writing, marketing, web development, or content creation.

The good news is that you have more freedom as a freelancer, but the company is not required to support you. They don’t supply office supplies, training, taxes, or health care benefits. You have to foot the bill for those on your own. Additionally, they can terminate you and your contract much easier than firing a full-time employee.

When you start freelancing, you may be paid on a per-project basis for a short-term or a monthly retainer fee. You can work for a large number of clients or just have one or two depending on your needs. The great news is that you get to decide who and when you work for someone. You can give a toxic client and industries that don’t interest you a hearty: “NO.” This is one of the greatest advantages of freelance work. You can choose work that inspires and interests you. And the odds are that you will create even better work when your passion is behind it.

What experience do you need to be a freelancer?

Freelancing jobs range from all levels. You can start out as a virtual assistant all the way up to C-suite executives.

The post-pandemic job market has seen plenty of people “jumping ship” and changing careers. Many job seekers do so in favor of starting their own freelance business. Nurses and teachers are among the majority of them. Both of these careers have unique skills that make for great freelancers. For example, nurses can work as copywriters, consultants, or virtual healthcare workers. Teachers are great at coaching, managing large quantities of information, and communicating. Whatever industry you are coming from you can pivot those skills into starting your own freelance business.

There’s a large demand for higher-level executives that can come in and make an impact quickly and efficiently. It’s a budget-friendly option for companies to have excess to expert advice. This works well if you have several years of experience in a specific industry. Utilize your past job experience and network to land new projects.

Learn Freelancing on-the-go

There are endless educational opportunities out there for anyone looking how to start a freelance business. From YouTube to podcasts, Facebook groups to online courses, there is no end to what new skills you can learn. As you continue to gain more experience, you can attract higher-paying jobs.

Start by searching your favorite social media platform for the topics you’d like to learn more about. You will find experts or courses that fit the skills you are looking to grow. You can also strengthen your resumé with certification from reputable sources. Some of our favorites are:

You may also find boot camps that can offer you high-quality education over a short period of time. This method of training is particularly popular with computer programming.

One of the best skills you can have as a freelancer is a willingness to keep learning. Growth happens outside your comfort zone! Seek out opportunities that will push you to learn more and grow personally and professionally.

Woman freelancing at a laptop


What types of businesses can you freelance for?

It was the author Benny Bellamacina who said, “You are only limited by your imagination.” And it’s true for your freelancing business as well. One thing you should keep in mind is: market need. Your target audience has to desire whatever skill or service you want to offer. So if you want to provide beach-themed website design services to local businesses in your rural Montana town…you might find a shortage of clients.

However, with the right skillset in hand, you can start freelancing in any type of business. Here are a few examples of successful freelance businesses:

  • Social media marketing
  • Graphic design
  • Website development
  • Email marketing
  • Ad management
  • Podcast management
  • YouTube marketing
  • Pinterest marketing
  • Content creation
  • Product photography
  • Copywriting
  • Video editing
  • Virtual assisting
  • Accounting/Bookkeeping
  • Tax preparation
  • SEO services
  • Business coaching
  • E-commerce support
  • Customer service representative

Should I niche down?

“Niche down” is a common phrase tossed around in marketing that refers to specializing on a target market. This can help you track down your ideal client. For example, if you wanted to offer podcast management services,  you could focus on working within the health and wellness industry. If you have a background or interest in a particular topic, this can increase your job satisfaction as well as your earning potential.

While there are advantages and disadvantages to “niching down,” you ultimately should do what you feel is best for you and your freelance business. You may not want to exclude a client only because they don’t fit into your niche, but you may want to focus on seeking out Facebook and LinkedIn groups in the industry you would most like to work in. Finding your niche can provide you with more focus and expedite your journey to becoming an expert in a particular field.

Legally setting up your freelance business

Just because you are a one-person show does not mean that you shouldn’t run your business like a “real” business. Depending on your state or country, there are legal requirements for you to follow. These are just some of the best practices for correctly setting yourself up for success. If you start freelancing before following these steps, make sure you are carefully tracking your income. From there consult with a professional.

An LLC (Limited Liability Company) vs. Sole Proprietorship

A sole proprietorship is the simplest form of business. It is run and operated by one person. This is a good option if you want to keep your business to yourself. Sole proprietors generally operate under their personal name as their business, but can file a DBA (“doing business as”) if they wish to have a company name. Otherwise, there is no formal paperwork required to start your sole proprietorship.

An LLC is its own entity. It exists separately from the owner, which means your personal belongings and property are protected if your business is ever in trouble. An LLC can be owned by one or more people and is the best option if you plan to expand your business.

An LLC is easy to set up but the process may vary depending on your location. Check with your local or state government for more information.

When it comes to tax time, an LLC can be taxed as a corporation, sole proprietorship, or partnership. A sole proprietorship is only taxed on the profits of their business. For the best results and proper tax filing, consult a CPA or tax advisor.

Once you decide on the legal structure of your freelance business, you are ready to get started. There are no requirements to have a website. It is completely optional.

The Freelancer’s Toolbox

As we said, you do not have to have a five-page website to start your freelance business. You can be a successful freelancer with no website at all. *GASP* Nor do you have to be on every social media platform. Just because something works for someone else’s business does not mean that it is the only way. The beauty of your freelance journey is that you get to add/subtract whatever functions you need to make it successful.

Essential Tools to Have

G-Suite: The Google suite (or collection) of applications includes Gmail & Drive. They might be contenders for the most useful apps for freelancers. Once you have a business email address, you will be able to create and share documents, build your calendar, accept and host virtual meetings, etc.

Bank Account: We know a thing or two about money. And some of the best business advice we can give you is: keep your personal and business accounts separate. You can create a free bank account online that tracks all your income and expenses. From there, you can transfer your money to your personal account. Check out banks like Bluevine or Novo that have zero monthly fees.

Accounting Software: Even the smallest business should regularly be balancing the books. This helps you and your accountant understand where your money is coming from and where it is going. Without good accounting software, you won’t be able to track if your business is growing or if things are stagnant. LessAccounting gives you all the professional reporting you need, in the simplest format possible. Plus, it includes the ability to send invoices and proposals.

Canva: Canva isn’t only for creatives. Canva is a great place to get help choosing brand colors and design. Take it a step further and you can also draft contracts or create a portfolio that has your signature style. You can do many of these things with the free version of Canva or upgrade for more features.

Running your Freelance Business

You may not want to work 9-5 (who does?!), but having systems in place can help you run a more successful freelance business. Over time you will learn what works best for you. Take some time to practice a few regular habits to maximize time and efficiency, and get the most out of each day.

  1. Check your email/Slack/Upwork/etc. 1-2 times per day. Clear communication is a huge part of being a freelancer, but distractions love to sneak up on you. You’ll be more productive if you don’t catch a glimpse of a new project or request in the middle of another task.
  2. Balance your books weekly. Even if you have only one or two transactions per week, it is a great habit to start early. Leaving your bookkeeping undone can result in fear paralysis and an overwhelming backlog of tasks. Get in there, check a few boxes, and move on.
  3. Ask for payment before you do a job. Collecting payment before work is done protects you from being scammed out of money. If the client is unwilling to pay upfront then agree upon a partial payment to start. If they continue to disagree, find a new client.
  4. Speaking of scams… If it sounds fishy, it’s probably a scam. There are hundreds of scams out there trying to collect your money and information, even in the freelancing world. One of the best ways to cut off scams is to request a video call before any work starts. Scammers will usually skirt around getting on video.
  5. Always be networking. Unless you are really settled in with a long-term client relationship, always know where your next job is coming from. That could be picking up work on Upwork or through some connections made online. Build yourself a solid network for support and share jobs when your clients need something different.
  6. Save money for lean times. While your earning potential is high as a freelancer, you may come across certain months where you may earn less. Protect your personal finances by saving a portion of your monthly income to disperse when you need it most.
  7. Prepare for tax season. As a freelancer, you are responsible for paying your taxes. A good rule of thumb is to save 30% of your income for tax purposes. For more information on how to best pay taxes for your business, meet with your tax professional.

The Good & the Bad of Starting Your Own Freelance Business

Starting a freelance business isn’t all cafés and picturesque workspaces. Freelancing comes with a large dose of imposter syndrome. It can also take a lot of effort.

You might enjoy the flexibility and higher job satisfaction. While your struggles may include time management, productivity, or inconsistent income.

advantages of freelancing

As you learn how to manage your freelance business, you will be successful when you find what works best for you. You’ll land your first freelance client before you know it.

Becoming a freelancer is a great opportunity to expand your skills, build your network, and strengthen your resume. 

Get more help here

Ready to start on your freelance journey? Check out these other valuable resources for freelancers at any level.


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