It’s obvious. You always wanted to be financially independent. The idea of getting rid of that 9 to 5 boring job is exciting. So, you’ve finally decided to start your freelance digital marketing business.
But, how to make your vision a reality?. How do you start your dream digital marketing business or consulting?.
Can the start up process be converted into a step by step guide?.
Yes, it can be. This post is a step by step guide to help you get started with your own digital marketing business or agency.
So, are you ready to work for yourself?. Then, let’s dive right in!.
HOW TO START A FREELANCE DIGITAL MARKETING BUSINESS OR AGENCY
Step #1. Get The Legal Stuff Right
At the outset, you need to decide on the legal structure of your freelance business or consultancy.
Legal structure means the structure of your business as recognized by the eyes of the law. Such legal structures can be different in different countries.
A business in the US can have either of the following legal structures:
- Sole proprietorship (Recommended)
Since freelance is a single-person business, a sole proprietorship legal structure is recommended. Sole proprietorship has a few obvious benefits over other structures like:
- Management flexibility & control
- No formation & compliance fees
- No separate taxation of the business & freelancer (No difference between the freelancers & the freelance business for tax filing / returns)
Undoubtedly, the sole proprietorship is the most popular legal structure across the world. As per a data, there’re close to about 23 million sole proprietors in the US alone.
Nothing beats the simplicity of a sole proprietorship business.
Now, how do you register your sole proprietorship business?. In the US, different states have different laws regarding registration of sole proprietorship. Some states mandate sole proprietors to obtain a business licence.
After obtaining a business license (if required by your state law), you may need to register the name of your business. That again depends on your state law. Some states require you to register a business name under state or local agency.
Remember, even after registering a business name, you’ll still file your tax returns or open a bank account under your own name.
Let’s move on to the finance part. It’s highly recommended you have a separate bank account for business purposes.
Mixing up personal & business transactions under one bank account is never a good idea. You don’t want to receive those tax notices. Do you?.
Current or business checking account is the most common type of bank account preferred by business owners. Open the same & transact all business income & expenses through it. You’ll understand the importance of having a business account when you file your personal income tax returns.
As far as taxes are concerned, you need to get one thing clear. The income from your freelance business will be your personal income. So, all you need to do is report your business income & expenses in your personal income tax returns.
Last but not least, as & when you hire employees, you need to obtain EIN (Employer Identification Number).
If you’re feeling overwhelmed then I recommend you to talk to an online lawyer using Incorporate. They’ll help you with the best & correct advice.
Most freelancers seem to be unaware of the aforesaid rules & start their freelance career in a haste. Doing so, they unintentionally invite legal trouble for themselves.
So, get your legal part tight right from the day one.
Step #2. List On Freelance Marketplaces
Freelance marketplaces are platforms where Freelancers & employers meet up for their respective interests.
The business model is simple. Freelancers list their profiles on these marketplaces that can be discovered by employers. On the other hand, employers can list their projects & interested freelancers may apply.
These freelance marketplaces take a cut or commission from freelancers’ earnings. That’s kind of justified taking in account the customer base, exposure & earnings they help you to generate.
Following are a few popular freelance platforms:
Right now, UpWork is the most popular one. So, let’s study the platform in more details.
To apply on UpWork, click on the sign up button & fill in the necessary details like name, email etc.
Thereafter, select a password & choose ‘Work as a Freelancer’.
Verify your email address by clicking on your verification link sent your email. After verification, you’ll be re-directed to the application form. Fill in the details like your skills, service & expertize level. Then, click on “Save & continue”.
Thereafter, you’ll be asked to update:
- Profile picture
- Professional overview (Top skills, experience & interests)
- Employment history
- English proficiency
- Hourly rates
- Address & phone number
- Availability day & hours
After filling the aforesaid details, click on “Review application” & then “Submit”. Now, allow 24 hours for the UpWork team to review your application.
Once approved, you can start applying for projects.
Note that initially your target should be to get as many projects as possible. Why?. Because you want your profile to showcase a few portfolios, positive reviews & significant earnings. Don’t you?.
In order to get more projects initially, you need to charge generously (because you don’t have important trust factors like reviews, project completion records etc.)
Charging less at the start of your freelance career will help you get more work. More work means more opportunity to showcase your skills.
Therefore, at the start, be flexible with pricing.
As you start to gain experience, you can charge your standard price. Generally, freelancers charge anything between $ 50 to $ 200 per hour.
There’s a in-built concept of ‘tests’ in UpWork. You can take these tests to showcase your talent to your prospective clients.
In freelancing, it’s all about working hard to satisfy your existing clients. If you can do that, everything else will fall in place automatically.
Step #3. Build Your Own Portfolio Website
A portfolio website is a website that showcases your work to the outside world & also acts as a:
- Contact channel
- Marketing channel
You can mould your website & show your work in the way you want. Want to add many details in various formats?. Do it as you wish.
There isn’t any control on how you can design your website. (Freelance platforms restrict the way you can show your portfolio).
Example: Apart from the portfolio, you can add the following to your website:
- Customer reviews with photos, names & ratings
- Social media feeds & links
- Webinar etc.
Your portfolio website is also an effective way to help your website visitors contact you. Add a contact form on the contact page & you’re good to go. Additionally, you would also like to give a few additional contact nodes like email, live chat, phone number & physical address.
I encourage you to add some of your personal photos on your website (preferably on the about page). That will add the much needed authenticity element to your website.
In short, your portfolio website is a way to draw the attention of your prospects & build trust/authority in the digital marketing space.
Before, you start to panic, let me assure you that building a portfolio website is as easy as creating a Facebook page. Yes, literally!.
Technology has blessed us with drag-and-drop website builders that can help a non-coder to built an awesome website within a matter of minutes.
Yes, you heard it right. Wix can help you to create your portfolio website simply by dragging & dropping various web elements. And, the best part is that you can customize elements like fonts, color, background etc. as per your needs.
And, if you need to add a specific feature to your website (like live chat), the same can be done via Wix Apps.
Here’s a video that can guide you to build your own freelance portfolio website:
Following are the best practices that you need to follow while building your first website:
- Choose a responsive theme (looks good on all devices)
- Provide as many details as possible in the About & Contact pages
- Publish a few digital marketing case studies
- Test the contact form thoroughly
- Allow visitors to subscribe to your newsletter
- Keep your portfolio updated
Step #4. Get The Digital Marketing Tools Ready
Freelancing is a tough job. You’ve to handle many clients simultaneously like a Ninja!.
To become a Ninja at digital marketing, you got to take help of weapons. Or, let me call them ‘tools’.
These tools can help you to execute multiple digital marketing projects in a productive way.
Here’re a list of recommended digital marketing tools to start with:
- OnlyWire (Can help in social media marketing automation)
- Canva (Helps in creating graphic designs easily)
- GetResponse (For email marketing)
- LeadPages (For creating quick landing pages)
- Feedly (For content curation)
- SEMrush (For search engine optimization)
- WordStream (For Google PPC ads)
- Qwaya (For Facebook PPC ads)
Remember, it’s less about these tools & more about how you bring the best out of them.
Step #5. Prepare To Track The Numbers
Accounting is important not just in Freelancing but any kind of business.
That’s because numbers can make or break a business. If you aren’t breaking even (generating profit), you won’t be able to scale up.
Proper accounting is like a mirror of your business finances. It shows you your true financial position & shortcomings.
The idea is simple. Use the numbers to analyze your business performances & take corrective decisions.
You’ve to track a few crucial numbers like:
- Gross revenue
- Freelance platforms’ commissions
- Operating expenses (like broadband expenses, subscription fees etc.)
- Outstanding revenue & expenses
- Marketing expenses etc.
Cash flow statement should also be prepared preferably on monthly basis. Remember, profit & cash flow are two different metrics. Both should be strong enough or else your business will suffer. Example: What’s the point of generating huge margin if you’re not able to collect payment from clients on time? (Good profit but poor cash flow).
To track these numbers, you can either use a spreadsheet or an application like QuickBooks SE (Self-Employed).
QuickBooks SE can also help you prepare tax returns seamlessly.
Step #6. Market & Acquire Clients
Now comes the most significant part. How do you acquire clients?. Or to be more specific, how do you acquire your FIRST CLIENT?.
Everything else goes in vain, if you don’t have anyone to sell your freelance services to.
And, freelancing is a competitive space with thousands of skilled freelancers fighting for those lucrative projects.
But, it’s possible it you hustle & know how to market yourself.
At the outset, you need to network & do it at a large scale.
Ideally, you should be there at places where your prospects regularly hang out. Following are a few such places:
- Facebook & LinkedIn groups related to digital marketing (Answer questions & participate in discussions)
- Digital marketing seminars & conferences
- Local digital marketing meetups
- Freelance platforms (For networking with other freelancers)
At the aforesaid events (offline), it’s handy to keep your visiting card ready. Networking can be great place to generate high-quality leads.
An online forum is a digital platform where discussions happen. Generally, a user asks a question or puts across his points & other users reply to it or post their opinion.
Following are the most popular forums on the internet:
- Yahoo Answers
The idea is simple. Participate in digital marketing related discussions & gain authority.
Chances are there that prospects may like your answers & contact you with work.
Update your profile with necessary details like photo, website address, description, skill & experience.
YouTube is big nowadays. With over 1.8 billion users a month, you got to be on YouTube.
How’re you going to go about?. Simple. Take a camera, shoot a really valuable & informational video on digital marketing & hit publish. Repeat this process with at least a few more videos.
If your video is helpful, then prospects may visit your profile or contact you.
Remember to add proper descriptions with links to your website & social profiles (for each video).
Don’t wanna hustle?. Have got money?.
Then, try out the Google & Facebook PPC ads. These’re straight & simple ways to get clients.
Google sponsored ads(also called ‘Adwords’) works with keywords. With Adwords, if a client searches on Google with the keyword “digital marketing freelancer” then your website will show up as a sponsored result on the top of the search results.
Facebook ads works differently. Its an ad displayed on a Facebook users’ feeds.
Sign up for a Facebook business account & start creating ads directed towards your website.
Guest posts are blog posts written on an authority website (owned by someone else).
The strategy works this way: You write on an authoritative digital marketing blog. The blog gets a post & you in return get authority or traction (since the blog already has a strong reader base).
Following are a few popular digital marketing blogs:
- The Moz
- Content Marketing Institute
- Marketing Land etc.
Remember, these sites have strict guest post approval process. So, make sure you pitch in a convincing tone & prepare yourself well.
Step #7. Manage Projects Effectively
Do you want your clients to become your ambassadors?. Then, you need to satisfy them via your service. There isn’t any rocket science formula behind a successful freelancer. All you need to do is deliver top-notch service consistently.
Managing multiple projects or clients isn’t as easy as it seems. And, if you fail on your promise, you may start getting negative reviews.
Therefore, it’s needed that you remain focused on the quality of your work & delivery. Never miss a deadline & accept only a handful number of projects at a time.
To stay productive & manage projects effectively, you may use a productivity app. There’re many available on app stores. My favorite is Wrike & I would recommend the same to you.
Apart from an app, make sure you follow these best practices:
- Never make false promises
- Communicate with the clients as frequently as possible
- Don’t underestimate scheduled delivery time. Keep a buffer.
- Discuss the project expectations in details beforehand to avoid surprises
- Don’t shy away from asking questions to your clients. (This shows that you’re serious about your project)
It isn’t easy. But most of the aforesaid steps are one-time activities.
So, start up with the first step. Call a lawyer. Yes, you’re just a call away.
And, you’re also just a client away. That FIRST client who will set the stage for your freelance digital marketing career.
You always wanted to work for yourself. Here’s the chance. Go & get it done.
It’s isn’t as tough as it seems. Just take the first step & the rest will follow.
More questions in your mind?. Are they the following?:
How much does a freelance digital marketer make?
I’ve seen digital marketers charging anywhere between $ 50 to $ 200 per hour.
But, I’ve found that most clients are more comfortable with a fixed project fee instead of hourly pricing. May be because that helps them to budget in a better way.
Overall earnings depend on various factors like experience, client base, number of projects, skill set etc.
More experience, client base or number of projects can give you the luxury to charge more. Hence, more income.
And, there’re certain skill sets like SEO that requires you to charge more than normal.
Overall, let’s get the maths straight. If you successfully execute 3 projects a month & charge on an average $ 200 per project, then the total revenue comes to $ 600 per month. Not a bad start!.
Of course, as you start building your authority, the SKY IS THE LIMIT.
Can I start freelance with no experience?
Of course you can. Many do the same.
BUT, since you don’t have any experience, it’ll be difficult to gain attention of the employers.
If that’s the case, you need to pro-active on online forums & network as much as you can.
Once you’ve built a decent authority, getting clients won’t be difficult.
Remember, every successful freelance today had once started as an amateur.
Is internet marketing a good business?
This is the future. Everything is going digital. Next 5 to 10 years will witness huge disruptions in the internet space. So, stay bullish as far as internet marketing goes.
Should I work from home or lease a co-working space?
Initially, I would recommend you to start from home. Once you’ve a few clients under your belt, switch to a co-working space.
Co-working space is a great place to network with like-minded professionals. Also, it helps you to become more productive & focused. But, it comes at a cost.
Should I build an agency if I become a successful freelancer?
Why not?. An agency is nothing but a team of domain experts.
If you start getting a good number of projects, you should hire digital marketing resources to help you out.
2 or more than 2 people means a team has been formed.
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What do you think of the aforesaid steps to start a freelance digital marketing business?. Please share your doubts, concerns & feedback below.