How to start an online freelance business

5 min
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Taking your first steps into self-employment can be both exciting and daunting.

In many cases, new freelancers will be starting on a shoestring budget; if that’s you, you’ll invariably need the internet and some careful thought about how you can get the most out of what you’ve already got to start your freelance business online, writes Vicks Rodwell, head of partnerships at IPSE (the Association of Independent Professionals and the Self-Employed).

Never been so easy to get your biz live

The good news is that the range of platforms and apps out there today means it’s never been easier to get your freelance business live, potentially using just a laptop.

Obviously be aware from the outset that, whether your business is going to be entirely online or have a presence offline too, in self-employment, a fluctuating income very much comes with the territory.

So that means that it’s especially important for newcomers to self-employment to set firm foundations for your business, to prepare yourself for those quieter periods. Positively, and thanks to the internet being such a mature infrastructure for start-ups, most of the groundwork can now be done online, so you don’t need to add liabilities to your balance sheet from day one!

Some tech plus four fundamentals

Overall, the foundation of your online business should rest on four main pillars: sales, marketing, finance and wellbeing.

It should go without saying that some tech resources will also be a must for an internet business, including where you’ll go online for IT help, who can you assist your business locally and in-person with hardware and software issues, and which providers of e-services are most suited to your needs.

But the four pillars are the fundamentals.

Pillar one: sales

One of the most important things you need to establish if you’re freelancing via the web is who you are, and how the world is going to know about you. You can do all of this without too much outlay. Start with who you are: what is it about you and your business that are different to what’s already on the market?

Similarly -- what can you bring to the table? Do you have a USP? Don’t worry. Not everyone does to start with. If you’re not sure, start working on your ‘elevator pitch’ and build something that makes it clear what you do and how you can help people.

Another good question to ask -- what problem, exactly, are you solving, or will you help your customers overcome? Once you know this, you need to think about how you’re going to ‘sell’ this solution or offering, including to parties that need your skills or service but won’t necessarily know that they need your skills or service!

Pillar two: marketing

Setting up a basic website with some key information about your freelance skills or service should be one of your first steps in establishing your online business.

We already mentioned picking providers carefully, but it’s not always an overnight decision. Nowadays, there are quite a few brilliant website-builders out there, all boasting small business-friendly templates which you can prepopulate before setting live.

Or, you could even buy your own domain and work email addresses, so you’re presenting yourself in the best, most professional light from day one. You can also pick a free CRM platform, with the effect that all your client data could be in one place.

Lastly, it might sound obvious, but don’t forget to set up your own new social media account to back the business, and engage with others both as yourself and as your business. Online marketing is a quick and free way to get your internet business out there and making money!

Pillar three: financials

Once you’ve got yourself to a position where people know who you are and you’re starting to earn some income, you need to ensure your finances are set up correctly.

Again, getting started with this is much simpler than it used to be. Online, there are many finance-technology platforms that can generate your invoices and keep track of your income and expenditure. They link seamlessly with your online business banking app and the accountant that you choose.

Pillar 4: wellbeing

Finally, one of the most overlooked areas that is essential to your commercial success as an online business is looking after you – the mental health of its owner!

There is a lot of advice out there about this, as well as virtual networking and webinars – all free ways to stay connected with communities and look after your mental health.

We’d urge the self-employed not to ignore this less talked about area. A self-employed business can go downhill quite rapidly if its owner is too stressed and not content in themselves, or if the business ends up running you, rather than you running the business!

Lastly online freelancers, working for yourself needn’t mean going it alone completely

Many online freelance professionals feel that because they are ‘going it alone’ they have to do everything for themselves.

We don’t think this is true. In fact, we’d recommend Markel Law if you're seeking a legal partner, and Tide, as they can help with securing finance and business banking.

But there’s another reason why sole-person business owners needn’t feel totally left to their own devices. As a group which not only represents and support freelancers, but also bring together the community of the self-employed, we have launched an Incubator to try to take some of the stress out of starting your freelance career, online or offline, or both!

The full 12 months of support we offer can particularly aid those individuals who’d like to get through the potentially more testing early stages of self-employment, so that you can give yourself the best possible start while genuinely enjoying working for yourself. Oh, and in keeping with the dream internet-enabled empire you’re soon to be successfully running, the programme is all presented online. It’s also in bitesize chunks so it can be fitted into your schedule and you can tailor the information to suit the kind of web-based business which, hopefully thanks to the guidance herein, you’re now one step closer to making a commercial reality. Good luck with your online freelance business!

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