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How to start a freelance business – StartupSmart


For many people, the idea of freelancing for a living sounds far too difficult. But for those who dream about being their own boss and dictating their own hours, freelancing is a very attractive option.


Before you take any drastic measures, you need to assess the viability of freelancing, which means being realistic about your own finances and your prospects for getting work.


StartupSmart takes a look at the world of freelancing to find out what’s required.


What is it and who is it suited to?

A freelancer is someone who is self-employed and is not committed to a particular employer long-term.


Fields where freelancing is common include copywriting, journalism, filmmaking, cosmetics, event management, computer programming, website development, graphic design and consulting.


Freelancers generally enjoy a greater variety of assignments than in regular employment and usually have more freedom to determine their work schedule.


To make it as a freelancer, you need to be an all-rounder, so being business savvy is just as important as the services you provide. You have to be able to market your services effectively, do the books, chase payments successfully, etc.


Self-discipline is a very important attribute for freelancers. You have to be able to schedule effectively, setting aside sufficient time for both your work and all the other relevant business tasks as well.


In some circumstances, successful scheduling means having the ability to say no to a client if you’re already snowed under with work.


While it can be tempting to take on everything that comes your way, it could compromise your existing assignments; you only have to miss one deadline or deliver sub-standard work once and you risk losing a client forever.


Rules and regulations


There are no rules or regulations that apply to the freelance industry in general, although there are industry-specific rules for some freelancers.


For example, the Media, Entertainment & Arts Alliance recently launched a new set of freelance commissioning terms, which include a standard contract for freelancers.


Research and competition

Online support network Work From Home offers some tips on how to start a freelance writing business, although the tips can be applied to any freelancing business:

  • Choose to freelance about topics of interest. Anyone with an interest in a particular topic or subject is sure to find plenty of assignments to suit their level of expertise.

    Choosing to write about a topic of interest or knowledge ensures the content is meaningful and accurate, and completed in a shorter time period.

  • Do research. Online freelance forums, online job forums and boards, and classified advertisements can be great resources for gathering information on potential clients.  

  • Be prepared to submit work samples. Some clients will ask to see a work sample before taking you on, and may take up to several weeks to make a decision.

    Submitting a follow-up email after several weeks can be helpful in demonstrating interest and securing an assignment.

  • Don’t be afraid to offer services to local businesses. Some of the most lucrative projects can come from local merchants and businesses, so don’t look past them in favour of bigger companies.  

  • Maximise earning potential by promoting yourself across multiple channels. Most freelancers go through dry spells, so ramping up your marketing efforts means more companies will be aware of your services, helping you to build up a solid client base.  

Costs and earnings

Most freelancers work from home, so start-up costs are minimal. You’ll need a home office with a desk, computer and internet access, a phone and answering machine, and – depending on the nature of your work – a fax machine.


You’ll also need stationery and business cards to promote yourself to prospective clients, and you may even wish to produce brochures about your services.


You may require tools of your particular trade as well. For example, a freelance music teacher will need instruments while a freelance children’s entertainer requires costumes and props.


For many freelancers, such as consultants and writers, there are few other expenses. Sometimes, freelancers are asked to work on the client’s premises so that they are close to where the action is.


Payment for freelance work varies greatly. Freelancers may charge by the day, hour, page or word, or on a per-project basis.


Your earnings will also depend on what you charge, how fast you work, and how many hours you put into the business. A freelance writer typically earns between $20 and $60 an hour.


Instead of a flat rate or fee, some freelancers have adopted a value-based pricing method based on the perceived value of the results to the client.


Payment arrangements may be upfront, percentage upfront or upon completion. For more complex projects, a contract may set a payment schedule based on milestones or outcomes.


An average day

Work wise, it can be feast or famine, particularly when you’re starting out. Be prepared for the irregularity – one month you could be inundated with work and the next month you might have nothing.


To avoid this, try to juggle more than one client at once. Also, try to plan beyond each week by mapping out a rough schedule for the months ahead. This will give you and your clients a better indication of your availability.


Useful contacts

Work From Home 

Australian Government Small Business Support Line

1800 777 275


Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry

02 6273 2311

03 9668 9950

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