Every now and then, I will come across someone who wants to know how I started my business. It’s the usual story. They are frustrated with current their jobs. So, they want to make the switch to becoming an independent contractor / freelancer / consultant.
There are two types of people out there. The first kind — people who want to do it as a stop-gap solution until they find another job. The second kind — people who genuinely want the freedom to pursue their own passion.
When I started out, I certainly wasn’t thinking about consulting as an interim solution while I looked for another job. I didn’t quit because I had to, I quit because I wanted. It was a lifelong dream to start my own firm. I didn’t quite know what I wanted to do ten years ago but, I knew that someday, I wanted to be self-employed.
When people ask me for advice on how I started and what I did, I don’t always have a lot of wise words. In the beginning, there’s always quite a bit of trial and error. Sometimes you realize too late that someone has taken advantage of you and you will never end up receiving your payment.
You can read countless books and blogs, listen to sage advice from people who have made and still end up making mistakes. You can learn some good pointers but, nothing beats the first-hand experience.
Nevertheless, here I am trying to impart some wisdom on a few things that are essential when starting out.
A dedicated website and email
I know a lot of people who decide to open a free Gmail account with their “firstname.lastname@example.org”. They go on to create a free website on Wix or Wordpress. This is not a good idea if you want people to take you seriously. I know it may feel like investing money when you haven’t made money is foolish. But, trust me, it’s these little things that make the difference.
The first thing I did when I got my company name approved was to buy a .com domain name. It wasn’t all that expensive because I chose a combination of letters that were not very popular. The second thing I did was sign up for G-suite with my domain name. I designed and created by own website but, it’s not too expensive to get a basic one down if you hire a freelancer.
Once I had my website address and email in place, I wanted to design a brand kit. As a financial consultant, I knew I would need business cards and letterheads. I needed to make sure that whatever I hand out to a client creates an impression. Nothing creates a more professional impression than having a color scheme and good material. I created my own logo and letterhead and then splurged to get it printed on good paper. It cost me a pretty penny but, I’ve seen the look on a potential client’s face when I hand them my business card or proposal.
I use the same logo and color scheme for my invoices, website and corporate profile. It adds a professional touch and creates a lasting impression. I don’t know if my company will even grow to a massive size but, when it does, I will already have a brand image.
Get a Professional Headshot
With the cameras on the market these days, it’s easy enough to take a professional quality photograph. I’m a photographer myself, yet I decided to pay someone to get a professional headshot taken. Done properly, it can get very expensive to take a set of headshots. But again, I was lucky enough to find a freelancer who did mine for a reasonable price. All you really need is one good picture that can be used on your website, corporate profile and social media profiles.
Whether you chose to incorporate your business as a company or prefer to work as a freelancer, you will need to make sure you have the right permits. Once you’re up and running, you will need to send clients proposals or engagement contracts. It is extremely important that these contracts are legally binding. This will insure you against performance risks and non-payment.
Insurance is something to consider. I decided against taking out a huge insurance policy because I wasn’t starting out with work that required it. The premiums can often be exorbitant. However, you can still protect yourself with clauses in your contract.
The Internet has a wealth of resources. I pieced together my contracts from my previous job experience and online formats. But, I still got a lawyer friend to read them over.
Warning: Putting contracts in place doesn’t mean you won’t get swindled. But, it offers some recourse. Most importantly, it puts you in a better position to avoid getting sued.
If you decide to incorporate, you will need a company bank account. If you decide not to, it’s still a good idea to have a separate bank account to account for your earnings.
I use Wave Accounting to issue invoices and record payments. It’s free to use online and you can customize your invoices with your color scheme and logo. I’ve been using it for a year now and so far, I’m quite happy with it.
It’s tough to think about spending money when you’re starting out. You keep wondering if it’s worth the investment. Trust me, it is.
Moreover, none of the above needs to be a huge investment. You can add on as you grow. But, in order to that, you need to get the basics right to begin with.
So, to recap:
- Get a dedicated domain address for your website. Link this to your email. Don’t use free Gmail.
- Pick a color scheme and logo. Create a brand and print some high quality stationery
- Get a professional headshot
- Make sure you protect yourself with sound legal advice and contracts
- Get a bank account and an accounting software