Getting Started as a Freelancer

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As the economy continues to present challenges to business owners and employees alike, more people are turning to freelancing as a way to pay the bills and more companies are turning to freelance workers to fill the holes left by layoffs. Everyone from small businesses to large corporations hires freelancers for a variety of projects, ranging from copywriting and web development to catalog design and consulting.

Working as a freelance employee means working your own hours on your own terms. But it also means finding your own work and managing all parts of the business yourself. To be successful, you need to be able to juggle day-to-day business operations while still finding time to do the freelance work you're being paid to do—and do it well.

If you're ready to start freelancing, these tips can help you get a head start.

  • Set up a website
    Establishing an online presence for yourself is essential. Clients need to be able to look at your work and find you quickly. Maintaining a basic website is fairly simple. You don't need anything fancy to start with; just a place to showcase your best work and provide contact information. If you're not sure where to start, services like Web.com offer low-cost website set-up and maintenance

  • Order business cards
    A big part of working as a freelancer involves generating your own business (see below). Online companies like LogoWorks and PrintRunner offer affordable ways to order business cards for your new profession so you have an additional way of connecting with prospective clients.
  • Get a DBA or sole proprietorship
    For most business entities other than LLCs and incorporations, the legal name of the business is the personal name of the business owner(s). If you plan to do business under a name other than your own or if you want to set up a bank account under your business's name, you'll need to file a DBA or sole proprietorship.

    In addition to a DBA, your state may have specific laws for individuals doing business. Research and obtain any state and local permits or licenses you'll need for your business. Or use a service like Business Licenses that does the research and prepares the applications for you for a small fee.

  • Protect your future
    Once you're self-employed, you'll have to figure out your own path for retirement savings, medical insurance, etc. Consult your financial advisor and set up a plan to make sure your retirement goals will be met and check websites like NetQuote to see and compare health insurance quotes from a variety of insurers.
  • Focus on productivity
    Freelancers will often tell you that while working at your leisure sounds glamorous, there are a few drawbacks. For some, the solitude can get lonely. Freelancers working remotely can't talk to a co-worker between projects the way employees in an office can. On the other hand, freelancers don't have to deal with office politics.

    For maximum productivity, set up an in-home office, or find another place where you can focus and get work done. The absence of a boss down the hall may be a highlight; however, that just means you have to be the one to manage deadlines and productivity.

  • Promote and network
    Working for yourself means promoting yourself, and getting started as a freelancer can be very time-consuming. Join online networks such as LinkedIn and industry-specific communities like Mediabistro.com to communicate your goals, ask questions, and network with other professionals.

    Spread the word to friends and family that you're venturing into freelancing and ask for referrals where appropriate.

    Set up a blog. A blog can help you connect with other freelancers and bloggers as well as potential clients.

  • Know what's out there
    Get to know resources, jobs, clients, etc. in your freelancing field. This is your business now—become an expert!

    Being active on message boards and forums can help you stay abreast of news and trends in your field and in freelancing in general. Sites like FreelanceSwitch can help inform and improve your work.

    Some popular sites for freelance job listings are Guru.com and Elance. There are lots of others out there depending on your industry; just be sure to do the research to avoid scams and fake freelancer postings.

    It's unfortunate, but there are some companies with shady business practices. Do some research on a company before pitching your work or taking assignments.

Working for yourself can be incredibly rewarding, but doing business as a freelancer has its own challenges. The tips above can help you get the details out of the way so you can focus on doing great work and enjoying your newfound freedom.