Thoughts on How to Build a Succesful Freelance Business

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by Chelsea Becker, Editorial contributor

I remember looking up the stats of small businesses success before I quit my steady job as a writer. The numbers were bleak, not impossible, but with things like San Francisco rent and a wedding approaching, there wasn’t a lot of room for failure in the world of freelance.

I took the next year to prep for success as I worked on both in-house and freelance work, and eventually took the plunge. I can happily say that a few years later, I’m still pursuing my dream gig.

It’s come with a huge amount of stress, long days, and more Googling than I knew possible, but ultimately, fulfillment and success. What do I attribute staying afloat to? These five things (+ good WiFi and even better vino).

Know your dream client

It’s tempting to say yes to any work coming your way when you’re fresh - especially when you see a dollar amount attached. This is something I screwed up the first few months, taking on gigs (and clients) that were truly painful. Not exactly what I left a good job to pursue, even if that meant working in leggings.

Eventually, I created a “dream client” list of qualifications and deal breakers. This included someone flexible, with on-time payments and in the lifestyle, health, fashion or motherhood realm. I now never feel like I’ve forced or settled on a project - and ultimately, it’s lead to a happy workspace for both myself and clients.

Be in a good spot for hustle

One of the main reasons I see people start their own businesses is the flexibility. And while that eventually comes, if you are relying on income of your business, it likely won’t be at first.

I waited until a time when my husband wasn’t in a busy season at work and I didn’t have a calendar full of commitments - when I could make freelance my priority.

While this won’t always be the case, especially with a family, I do suggest waiting for a quieter time in your family’s schedule. Or at least when when you can rely on outsourcing a lot of household responsibilities.

Love your CPA

I should have my CPA on speed dial at this point. Especially throughout my first year, the amount of legal and financal questions I had were endless; I truly don’t think I would have survived without his guidance. Just like a doctor you vibe with is crucial for good health and peace of mind, a CPA is the same level of importance for a freelancer. I’d suggest taking a call or meeting with a few before hiring one.

Personal relationships are key

My dad always told me, “if you want something from someone, scratch their back first.” I’ve taken this quote with me throughout my freelance career and while attracting a clientele I deeply respect.

This came via personal outreach emails (not canned ones), pointing out typos on their website or a link that was broken, or offering to contribute for free for X amount of time. After that relationship is respected on both ends, a working relationship usually develops from there - naturally.

Set expectations early

If you don’t want to work on the weekends, even as a freelancer, don’t say yes to weekend work. If you want a few days in advance for projects, voice that to clients. If you want to stay in a set amount of hours each week, fill in your calendar to project how long things will take. Once your calendar is full, start saying no.

Letting clients know how you work and what you can take on is important from the start. And asking clients for their expectations of communication and turnaround is just as important. I definitely learned this the hard way, but luckily early enough.

Be proud of your work

A freelance job doesn’t entitle you to slack or push back projects just because there isn’t face-to-face communication. And it doesn’t mean that people don’t expect excellent work, just like in traditional job.

I’ve taken pride in working hard and meeting deadlines as a freelancer - something I’m told isn’t always the case. The freelance world is small and positive word-of-mouth is vital, so make sure you’re consistently proud of your deliverables. When life inevitably gets in the way (which hello, it will), clients are more understanding considering your stellar track record.

Fellow freelancers, I’d love to hear what you attribute successful business to. If you have any questions on starting your own business, please let me know - happy to chat more.

Chelsea Becker is a San Francisco based writer, creator of becker editorial, and on the editorial team at MU. She’s expecting her first child this spring.