Hey, friend! I’m so excited that you’re reading this blog post because that means you’re considering starting a career like mine. If we don’t know each other yet, hey! I’m Jill, a copywriter, brand strategist, and educator for new service-based business owners and freelancers. It’s my goal to help you feel confident selling your services online.
I wrote all about my freelance journey on this blog post, but the gist of it is that I’ve been doing this for a LONG time. And one of the top questions I get from my audience is: How did you start? So it’s about time that I give you a step-by-step look at how to start your own online business like mine.
Full transparency: Some of these details will vary based on your location. For example, in Canada we need to start charging sales tax a lot sooner than in other countries. Consider this list an overview to get started on your own, not a perfect one-size-fits all. With a bit of hard work, your online business will be up and running in no time.
This phase in the process is what differs across countries. Here’s the step-by-step of what I would do if I started a new business today in my current location:
Choose a business name. I’m biased and like to keep these relatively simple because we pivot so much over the years that you don’t want to have to change your name every time you offer a new service. I chose “Words by Jill” knowing that I would always focus on the words within my marketing offers. If you have no idea what you want to offer yet, stick to your actual name, or something generic like “X Studio” so it can grow with you.
Get registered. In Ontario, Canada, you need to purchase at least a Master Business License to begin operating. You can do this online, and it’s relatively simple. There’s no need to incorporate in the beginning and many people remain sole proprietors for their entire self-employed careers.
Open a business bank account. To make things easier for you, open a business account right away. I didn’t do this immediately and it was a headache to try to balance my books manually, noting which purchases and income was from my business versus my part-time serving job in the early days.
Look into insurance. Again, in Canada this is important, especially if you want to grow your brand online. Ask for general liability, and errors and omissions at least, but you may need more than that coverage. Having a good insurance policy will protect you from those worst-case situations. If you ever plan to work with larger companies, they may actually require that you have insurance. I know this isn’t mandatory for all countries though, so be sure to check with the rules of business locally for you.
Choose bookkeeping/accounting software. I like QuickBooks Online because as I grew I could bring my accountant on easily just by adding her as user. The smallest plan is good to start and you can always upgrade as needed. Check out my other favourite business tools here.
Know the threshold you need to pass to register for sales tax. In Canada, the number is $30k in 4 consecutive quarters. Here’s more information on GST/HST in Canada. You likely won’t have to worry about this right away, but it’s good to know what you’re aiming for.
Claim your business’ name: website domain and social handles. Even if you aren’t ready to work on these yet, claim that name ASAP!
I actually wrote a blog post all about how to choose your niche as a freelancer. Essentially, we grow faster when we choose a niche. In the beginning, your niche may change as you learn what you like to do most, but try to focus on just one area for a little while so you can truly know if it’s for you or not. A lot of business growth comes from choosing a direction and staying the course with intense tunnel vision so you can figure out if it will work or if you need to pivot.
However, choosing a niche doesn’t mean you have to choose a specific industry. For example, I’m a copywriter for creative businesses, which can include a variety of industries: graphic designers, virtual assistants, photographers, influencers, speakers, etc. I also teach other creative businesses how to write copy that sells the value of their services without feeling salesy or gross. Much of my work is around developing a brand strategy that aligns with their business goals and my copy draws from my creative background.
What do people need? Listen closely and begin to develop a single offer that you can start to sell first. Be careful when setting your rates though! You want to price yourself according to your own experience, skills, and the market. Often when we’re new to freelancing, we feel like we need to price our services really low, but undercharging is actually bad for everyone. A quick Google search can tell you the going rate for a specific service. You can also ask in lots of Facebook online business groups what others charge for their packages, which will help you identify a good starting point.
If you want to learn more about how to find your first few clients online, I wrote a blog post about how to find clients for your creative business.
Alright, so if you’re ready to start selling your first offer and find your first client, you need to consider the channels that you will reach those dream clients through.
Most importantly, you need a website. I actually have a course that teaches you how to sell your services on autopilot: Client Attraction Academy, which includes an entire module all about writing website copy that converts while you sleep. If you want to start slow though, I have a free 4-day mini course: 4 Steps to Profit.
Otherwise, choose which social media channels you think will promise the highest return on your invested time. Where do your dream clients hang out? Start there.
Also, don’t forget the importance of in person networking and overall hustling to get those first clients. Don’t be afraid to cold pitch people and businesses that you’d absolutely love to work with. With the right pitch, you just might get the job!
Be prepared to feel rejected in these early stages. You’ll get better at sales over time and the rejections will become fewer between.
After you have a few clients under you belt, you will want to start growing and scaling your freelance business. The best way to do this is by focusing on the results that you provide clients. Gather testimonials, develop case studies, and use these to build your authority online.
Other ways to build authority are by focusing on growing your online presence. I chose Instagram first because I knew my dream clients were hanging out on the app. Once I had a good understanding of that platform, I added my blog, email list, and Pinterest into the mix. Sometimes I dabble on LinkedIn too.
Other ways to build authority are to do guest posts and guest spots on podcasts and webinars.
I was lucky and never had a real 9 to 5, so I’ve never felt that struggle… I don’t think I’m very employable because I’ve always done my own thing! However, I did serve for a long time while in school and growing my business. When I knew I was mentally ready to quit, I created an exit strategy that would ensure I could comfortably quit this job to go full-time freelance. Your plan will look different for you, but here’s a few aspects to consider:
How many clients do you need to have to replace your full-time job income? Remember things like expenses and saving for income tax!
How many packages or current offers do you need to sell to meet that goal?
How many hours do you want to work?
How much have you saved for a rainy day?
The saving bit is really important to most. I had saved enough that I knew if I couldn’t find ANY clients and all my existing ones quit on me, I could still survive for 6 months with no problems. Some people are happy with just a month or two, but I liked to play it safe back then.
Continuous learning is so important for us business owners, especially in the online space. We always need to be aware of the latest trends and one step ahead in order to stand out. If you’ve made it this far, I’d love to invite you to enroll in my free 4-day 4 Steps to Profit course so you can learn how to start selling your services online through compelling writing. It’s truly amazing what you can do in the online world!
Leave your info below to join.