Setting yourself up as a freelancer or consultant can be a daunting task. There’s finances to consider, records to keep, and you also have to market yourself and maintain relationships with clients. It can seem overwhelming, so it’s important to compartmentalize the different elements of your business so that you manage them.
First, it’s critical that you keep good records. The two most important things to track are your business income and your business expenses. Your income is your responsibility, and the IRS does not take kindly to freelancers who “estimate” their income. Keeping a separate bank account for your business will save you time and stress when you need to document your business profits and losses come tax time. According to Entrepreneur, not keeping finances separate is one of the biggest mistakes entrepreneurs can make.
When tracking your business expenses, it’s important to keep careful track of what you spend, when you spend it, and who you paid. You don’t want to miss out on deductions for things such as business cards, insurance, repairs for your businesses equipment, and travel expenses. Keeping careful records will save you from headaches down the line. Learvest.com suggests that you get a professional tax preparer, as taxes are complicated for freelancers.
Finally, you should get a business credit card to keep your business expenses and personal expenses strictly separated. An AMEX business credit card, for example, will not only keep your purchases separate but earn you rewards such as airfare or points towards purchases that could ultimately save you hundreds of dollars.
When self promoting, you need to think outside of the traditional, advertisement based marketing mindset. Creating an online portfolio of your work is a critical way to get yourself continued work, and thus, income. A website is your resume to send out to potential clients who are interested in hiring you. This is always preferable to sending an attachment in an email, which can be simply deleted by some system administrators or wary employers. If you want to learn more about effective email marketing, check out our post, “Is Email Marketing Still Effective?” If you don’t know anything about web design, there are several online agencies that can help you set up an easy to use content management system for you to get started that way.
In addition to websites, you should not overlook business cards and mailers. Business cards are the most important of publicity items. According to CreativePublic, business cards can be unique, but shouldn’t be so clever in design that they are indecipherable, and should always contain all the relevant information to reach you. Mailers are a great way to market yourself, especially if you are a graphic designer, as you can put your best visual work on a postcard and send it to hundred of potential clients very cheaply.
Finally, once you’ve done all the hard work of reaching out and forming relationships with new clients, don’t treat them as one-time opportunities. Building a strong rapport with your clients will allow you to evolve your relationship beyond just a paycheck. Maintain a record of your clients in a spreadsheet, and include their name, contact information, and anything you might note. Maybe they were hard to work with, or maybe they love classic cars. This information will greatly help should you ever have to call them up and ask for a recommendation.
Cover photo from Flickr user Micheal Foley / foleymo.
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