How To Build Your Freelance Biz In 5 Steps

Cofounder of Harlow—an all-in-one tool to help freelancers get organized, save time and look professional.

You’ve heard people gush about the freedom freelancing can offer. Flexible hours, choosing your clients, escaping the confines of 9 to 5 corporate hustle culture—the list goes on. But few people share the challenges that come with actually building a freelance business from scratch.

It’s hard work. As a freelancer, you’re constantly learning new skills and rolling up your sleeves to manage the ins and outs of your business. It takes a healthy amount of belief and courage too. Putting yourself out there is scary. But it’s also incredibly rewarding.

If you’ve heard the call and you want to launch your own freelance business, congratulations. Today, I’m going to walk through the basic steps to get started, plus share some tips on charting a path that offers the security and freedom you want.

Spoiler alert: It’s not easy, but it is worth it.

Step 1: Define your offerings and your audience.

Take some time to reflect on your skills and the types of clients you’re best suited for, then begin packaging that into an offering for your target audience. For example, maybe you’re a writer who enjoys creating short-form web content, and you have experience writing for software startups. Great—that’s super clear-cut.

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Or maybe it’s less obvious. Say your last role was as a project manager for a mid-sized company, and you wore many hats. Defining your offerings may take a bit more creativity. You could start by offering Asana or Basecamp clean-ups, helping medium and large corporations reorganize and boost efficiency.

Step 2: Take care of the logistics.

It’s tempting to dive into freelancing without doing the logistical legwork upfront. But protecting yourself from liability and keeping your business clean should be a top priority from day one. A few must-haves before you start to bring on new clients.

1. Form an LLC.

2. Open a business bank account.

3. Set up a method for tracking your expenses.

All of this will protect you from liability, keep your records clean for tax season and allow you to keep more of those hard-earned dollars.

Step 3: Build your brand.

Next, it’s time to make your business marketable. A strong first impression can set the tone for your projects. You don’t have to go overboard here, but setting up a simple website and social profiles will help you get seen and be taken more seriously from the get-go. Plus, having a website that outlines your services and audience makes it easy for potential clients to identify if you’re a good fit early on.

Step 4: Set your pricing.

First off, pricing is not static—it will absolutely evolve as your business grows. But you need to start somewhere. A great way to determine your pricing up-front is to dig into what other freelancers are charging for similar offerings. There are plenty of resources online to help you too, like Peak Freelance’s Writing Salary report, Credo’s digital marketing consultant report and Freelancing Females’ Freelance Rate Sheet.

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When we first built our freelance business, we actually set up a number of meetings with freelance pals to get their insight on our pricing and offers. If you have anyone in your network that you can consult, don’t be afraid to reach out. Once you get feedback from your community or online, layer in your years of experience and find a rate that can support the lifestyle you want.

Step 5: Start self-promoting.

Ick, I know. But as a freelancer and a solo business owner, it’s up to you to market yourself. You have to get comfortable with that. Once you start your business, it’s time to tell everyone you know about it. Share what you’re offering and why you’re the best person for the job. You never know where your first freelance client will come from.

Here are four effective ways to begin self-promoting.

1. Reach out to your friends, family, previous colleagues, old bosses, etc., and make them aware of your offering—make your list, and don’t be shy. People like helping people.

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2. Join freelance communities and start building your network. These connections are invaluable. If another freelancer comes across a great gig that isn’t right for them but is perfect for you, they could refer you instead, and vice versa. Building this camaraderie goes a long way.

3. Sign up for newsletters and follow other freelancers who frequently post gigs. The Writer’s Job Newsletter is a great one for finding freelance writing gigs, as is Kaitlyn Arford’s weekly curated list of freelance opportunities.

4. Join freelance marketplaces to find your first couple of clients and build up your reputation and portfolio. Harlow has compiled a pretty robust list of freelance gig sites.

Building a business isn’t easy, but it’s a proven path to independence and autonomy—and you’re in great company once you join the ranks. The freelance community is vast, diverse, and incredibly supportive. So if these steps feel doable to you, get out there. Start building the career of your dreams and connecting with like-minded people who are doing the same. In the words of Steve Jobs, “Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life.”

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