With the world becoming more and more digitized, working from home is quickly becoming the norm for a lot of people. Even the more traditional employers are realizing that many of their administrative and creative tasks can be accomplished without needing that traditional office space. You may be thinking that you’d love to work from home, that you’d enjoy the freedom from being unshackled from the traditional workday grind. But how do you get started? What do you need to do? Where do you need to look? Can I really support myself and my family by being home all day? These are questions that every online freelancer or telecommuter has asked themselves. In this article, we will discuss these questions and more as well as give you my tried and true method for success in working from home.
First things first, do your homework
One mistake that many freelancers make when starting out is not understanding that they are essentially starting a business of their own. Just like any startup company, it’s important to lay a good foundation of understanding and to get your ducks in a row before stepping out into this strange and exciting world. As with all journeys, the most important step is the first one. With the right research and planning, this first step can be made ever more painless. The first thing you will want to do is to look into federal, state, and local laws regarding independent contractors. There are a lot of stipulations when it comes to tax law and working hours. Knowing these will help shield you with clients and customers in the future.
It’s important to know your rights and responsibilities as a freelancer or independent contractor. Read carefully through the Fair Labor Standards Act. Among other things, this law lays out implicit guidelines for employers to follow when hiring employees and independent contractors. Knowing these guidelines can protect you and your clients from any unforeseen backlash. If you do start to cross the line between contractor and employee with a client, it will be important to have that conversation early as there may be consequences to not doing so.
Let’s talk about everyone’s favorite subject, Taxes. Don’t let your eyes glaze over just yet, this is important. The biggest difference in working for an employer and working as a freelancer is that, as an employee, taxes are the first thing you pay. As a freelancer, it’s the last thing you pay. This is a very important distinction and can land you in hot water if you aren’t careful. For this reason, it may be advantageous of starting a Limited Liability Company (LLC) and obtaining a Federal Employer Identification Number (FEIN). This is a very simple and inexpensive process. For instance, in Kentucky, you can register an LLC with the State Treasurer’s Office completely online for only $10, a fee that is waived if the owner is a veteran. After you complete a quick online form, it’s just a quick jump over to the IRS’s website to apply for a free FEIN. There you go, 2 hours and you set up your own company.
Along with taxes comes everyone’s other favorite subject: Accounting. This is one of the biggest hurdles to freelancing. You want to be able to just do what you’re good at and make money doing so, right? Well, there’s more to it than that, and the “more” requires some math. There is a myriad of accounting software suites that can help you do this, each with their own advantages and disadvantages. Programs like Quickbooks are really powerful but can also be expensive to the point of being impractical for most startup freelancers. One awesome tool that many freelancers and small businesses use is Wave. You will need your FEIN to sign up for this free service, but it is an amazing free alternative to other more expensive products. It ties to your bank account, you can send custom invoices (even reoccurring invoices), allows customers to pay with a credit card, and automatically sends payments to your bank account in as little as two days. And when you grow to the point that you need someone to manage your finances for you, they have an option for paid Bookkeeping Services.
Doing these things in the beginning may seem tedious but can make all the difference in your pocketbook and your sanity in the long run. The benefits of laying this foundation early far outweigh the risks and work involved associated with not doing it. Ultimately, you’re building a business, whether you go through the LLC route or not. As such, you want to make sure you have a solid footing on which to build your empire.
Starting your Journey
So, you’ve done your homework, you have an idea of how to structure your self and your brand, and you’re ready to start making money, right? Not quite yet. There are still some aspects from working from home that you need to consider. Some of these may seem obvious, but that doesn’t make them any less vital to your success as a work-from-home-er. If you’ve ever had a 9-5, you understand that you have to dress a certain way, act a certain way, take breaks and lunch at a certain time, and adhere to many other rules and regulations, even if you don’t agree with them. Now that you’re going to be working from home, you’re free to do what you please. The thing is that this couldn’t be further from the truth. Think about this: If you had employees that performed the same type of work as you plan to, what rules, regulations, and guidelines would you lay down for them? Write those things down and that’s your new Employee Handbook for yourself. Many new freelancers start off strong then they get into a rut where they find it hard to stay motivated. It’s true that self-motivation is one of the hardest things to do. It’s easy to stay motivated when you know that you have a boss that will be on you if you don’t act right, if you’re constantly late, or if your productivity suffers. Creating this Handbook for yourself will give you something to which to hold yourself accountable and help keep you motivated.
Think about your workspace, too. Try to find a work environment that fits you and allows you to stay focused on your job. Try to keep external stimuli to a minimum and keep your work area defined from the rest of your home. Very few freelancers can set up the “perfect” environment at the onset, and that’s okay. Work with what you have and start setting goals to where you want to be. Little things like the type of keyboard and mouse you use to the type of chair you’re spending most of your time in can make a huge impact, not only on your productivity but your overall quality of life. It will pay off in the long run to do some research on setting up a functional and ergonomic workspace. Really consider how you can work best with the resources you have and prioritize how you want to invest into your work space in the future.
Finally, we’ve reached the point of getting out there and getting paid. The question was posed earlier “Can I really support myself and my family by being home all day?” The answer to this is a definite YES, but probably not right away. Just like any business, it will take time to grow. The great thing about working as a freelancer is the amount of payout you receive is directly proportional to the amount of work you put in.
There are several ways to go about finding work. By this point, you already have an idea of what you want to do and what you’re capable of doing. Now you have to find people that are willing to pay you to do those things. There are several places and the largest freelancing websites by far in the US is Upwork. They have literally hundreds of thousands of jobs ranging from writing to engineering, administrative and customer service to web design. There’s literally no freelancing niche that isn’t served on Upwork. Plus, you can find single paying gigs and even long-term hourly contracts on Upwork. They work on a simple platform: They provide a place for people needing work to post their jobs and people who want to work bid on them. When a contract is signed, the paying party pays Upwork and then when the job is completed, Upwork pays the freelancer (minus a 20% fee). Essentially, Upwork is acting as a liaison between those who need something done and those who can do it.
Another website favored by freelancers and clients alike is Fiverr. This is a platform but more suited towards the creative arts, though they do serve as many different industries as Upwork. One great thing about Fiverr is that it allows you to create packages to offer prospective clients. Think about this as kind of a “Service as a Product” format. Here’s an example: Let’s say that you want to offer copywriting services for websites. You could build out three different packages. Let’s say the first is your “Basic” package. For this package, you agree to write a certain number of pages or words worth of content for a set price in a certain amount of time. For your “Intermediate” package, you will do the same thing, but you’re going to spent time doing basic Search Engine Optimization (SEO) research to help with their marketing. Finally, you have your “Advanced” copywriting service. In this package, not only will you do all the things previously mentioned, but you will provide them with an SEO Report that will detail for them their largest competitors, what keywords they are striving for, how long they’ve been striving for them, and how you can help them overcome them. This approach allows freelancers to set firm pricing and lowers the amount of negotiation done before the start of a project.
Competing for Jobs
One of the first thing you’ll see is that freelancing is truly a free-for-all. There are so many people from all over the world that are all vying for the jobs you want. Competition is one of the best, and worst, parts of freelancing. You can let this competition scare you out of jobs or you can get in the thick of it and fight with the rest of us. As with all things, your strategy in that fight will help you stand out. Here are a few pointers:
Building your Reputation
Starting out, you have to understand you are an unknown. It doesn’t matter how good you are at what you do if no one knows it. Be prepared to bid on jobs that may be below your paygrade or experience level just to build your reputation, but don’t give those jobs any less attention than you would a higher paying job. Starting out, the value of a great review or a recommendation to build your reputation is literally invaluable. Having a good reputation gives you a leg to stand on when you bid on those higher-paying jobs in the future.
Managing your Time
Along with all your other duties, consider the fact that you have to keep working, which means that you have to keep looking for the next project. Time management skills are essential to succeeding as a freelancer. In the beginning, you may spend 90% of your work day writing proposals, scrolling through job boards, looking for work. That’s okay. When you get your first few projects, remember that you still need to spend time every day looking for the next ones. Eventually, as you build your reputation, you will find that people will seek you out without you having to bid on jobs. You’ll build repeat clients and lasting business relationships. For now, though, keep your nose down and grind out those bids.
Writing a Compelling Quote or Proposal
These can come in different formats depending on the platform you use, but the principles are the same. It’s important to be concise but to show that bit of yourself that makes you special. When writing a proposal, remember that this is the first, and possibly only interaction that you will have with that potential client. Make sure you tell them everything you understand about their project, ask them questions about the things of which you are unsure, and make the proposal about them, not you. Lastly, give them a Call to Action. Compel them to reach out to you and discuss their project first hand with you.
Don’t be afraid of not being the lowest, either. Most clients want who is best, not who is the cheapest. For example, if you were getting quotes to have the roof on your house replaced and you had one contractor quote come in WAY under the rest, you’d ask yourself one question: “Why?”. The answer is invariably one of three things. Either they highly undervalue themselves, they are grossly under experienced, or they aren’t worried about the quality. Your potential clients are people like you and will are beholden to the same perceptions as you are. Remember that.
Welcome to the strange and unforgiving world that is working from home. There’s a lot to be gained from the journey you’re considering or have already started. Keep in mind that by doing so, you are taking a much more proactive role in your future, and the future is what you make it. Lay a strong foundation, do your homework, and stay vigilant. Most importantly, be patient and don’t get discouraged. Finally, we will end on an ever-true proverb: Fortune Favors the Bold. Good luck and happy lancing!