I often hear this question. Where do I start to learn about starting my own business? Where do I start a freelancing business? And there’s not necessarily one answer. It depends. It depends on your business. It depends on your past experience. It depends on your time. It depends on your mindset. But I think there are some broad areas that will be the same for all.
Where to Start a Business
When you are ready to start your business, here are some things to keep in mind:
1. Skills Inventory
If you’re uncertain what business you’d like to do, it would be best to list all of your skills. Perhaps you could do a job that you had done previously, but do it as a freelancer or small business. (Accounting? Administrative services?). Then take this list and try to do a little research. Will you work with local clients? Do you have any contacts? If you’ve worked previously in that area, it might be good to talk with someone in the field – they could give you some important insights. Cross out items that you don’t like to do. Narrow it down to things you have experience with and that you like. (Note: you don’t have to LOVE it. Just liking it and being good at it should be enough.)
At first, you can do some competitor analysis. Basically, you can see what other similar type businesses are charging, whether they work by the hour or do packages, etc. (Remember, just because others are doing the same business – does not mean that you can’t.) From this research, you might find a niche of people that aren’t being served (balloon animal makers?). Then make sure that this niche would be willing to pay for your services.
For any business, it’s important to have a professional email address. Some people start with their business name at a free email services, such as, “email@example.com” which can get you up and running quickly. Eventually you will want to have your own domain email, such a “firstname.lastname@example.org” Purchasing domain names isn’t very expensive ($10.00/year or slightly more if you do a private registration – which I recommend). Make sure you use an email program that has a mobile app so that you can stay on top of things.
4. Contract/Letter of Agreement
At a bare minimum, you need to have a contract that outlines what’s expected from each party, the hours, expected pay, etc. Everything needs to be detailed – so that there’s no questions later. There are various contract-type templates online. Find one that’s in your field and work on tailoring it to your needs. Do you want to only work 10-2 Monday -Friday? Incorporate it in your contract. List your payment requirements, whether you work via email or phone calls, prefer checks, etc. If you can, have a lawyer review it. Use this contract with EVERY client. No exceptions. Even if they’re friends. Even if you think you’re not ready. Even if you’re doing some free work. Get in the habit and use it every time.
For any service business, it’s important to set up an invoicing payment system. Many people start with Paypal. There are pros and cons (easy to set up, well-known; but takes a percentage, can hold your money.) There are some free online invoicing program that are easy to use. I mostly try to receive payment via check. That way I receive the whole amount. However, sometimes it can take a lot longer to get paid (and some might not pay). At a minimum, you will need to create an invoice (with your logo, address, etc.) and a system to track your invoices and payments. It can be simple – just make sure you create a system from the beginning.
Most people should have a website of some kind. It could be a free “About.me” page to start with. Others try free online website builders or other types of services. While that may work at the beginning, eventually you will want to create your own website – so that you “own” the domain and all its contents. Eventually you will want to purchase your own domain name (see “email” above). For a WordPress website you will also need to purchase hosting (where the files for your website are housed). There are many companies that provide this service – make sure it’s reputable and has been in business awhile. Most important though is to have an online presence – whether a LinkedIn profile, or about.me page – something where people can find you.
This list is obviously just the beginning. That most important thing is to take some action! Take one specific, measurable action each day.