Getting started

Now that you’ve decided what your freelance work or business is going to be, you have the confidence to ‘make the leap’ and you’ve done your financial planning – what’s next? In this module, I’ll walk you through the necessary steps for setting up as a freelancer, including: registering as self-employed, building a website, branding, social media, making contacts, spreading the word, childcare.

Choosing a name
Will you operate under your own name or choose a brand new name for your business? For my personal freelance work, I use my name – Annie Ridout – and my website is annieridout.com. For The Early Hour – my business – I chose a name that felt right for a digital platform aimed at parents. Once you’ve come up with your name, check if the domain is available, as you’ll need a website with the same name.

If you’re launching as a freelancer but have dreams of growing it into a bigger business down the line – employing people, outsourcing – you might like to consider this when deciding on the name. You can include the type of work you offer – for instance, Carrie Jones Designs. Or go for something completely unrelated that you just like the sound of, like Blackberry (the phone; they just thought it sounded nice).

Sometimes, the idea of going really niche with your name might feel like there then won’t be space to grow but as long as you build a strong brand, this won’t matter. For instance, Alex Hoffler decided to turn meringue-making into a business. She started the meringue trend. The name Meringue Girls made sense at the time, as it’s what they were doing, but as they grew the business to include all different types of food and styling, it still worked. They get the branding spot on; they know their audience.

Website
You will definitely need a website – it’s the first thing people look for when deciding who to hire. Also, once you’re up and running and creating content (more on the importance of blogging later) – your website will help you to get work (also more on SEO below, which is one way people will discover you). So you’ve discovered that your domain name is available, bought it – now you need to actually launch your website…

You can build one cheaply or for free on WordPress, Wix, Shopify, Squarespace. WordPress is the most widely used and so it’s really easy to get help setting one up as all web developers know how to work on WordPress. But if you’re launching a shop selling products, it’s worth looking into Spotify. And for designers, Wix is meant to be good as it’s easier to incorporate imagery.

If you like learning new skills, it’s relatively simple setting up your own site – you don’t need to know coding; it’s all made easy through these website – but equally, it’s sometimes nice to pay someone else to do it for you. Price varies massively depending on how complex your needs are but I’d say it should start from around £200 for a basic WordPress site.

You’ll need to think about what you want on your homepage – eg. a large image, your face, testimonials, ‘about you’, the services you offer – and what pages you’ll have on the website. An ‘about’ page is pretty standard, as is ‘services’/’shop’ – depending on what you’re selling. Always have a ‘contact’ page to make it easy for people to get in touch.

This is a brief overview but the best thing to do is to research; look at what others are doing in your field. And pinch ideas, depending on what you think looks, reads and works well.

Branding
Even if you’re setting up as a sole trader (more on this below), which basically means registering yourself to offer a service/your time, you’ll do well to have a professional logo designed. As a freelancer, you are your brand. So start thinking about how you’d like to be perceived. Are you colourful, fun, creative? Or minimalist, tidy, smart? And if you’re launching a business, the same applies. Except the brand goes beyond you.

Exercise 1.
Look up three brands you love. If none spring to mind, get on social media – Instagram and Pinterest are good for visual identity – and search around. Put your line of work in as the search term (eg. kids’ fashion, decluttering, copywriter, filmmaker, florist etc). See which businesses pop up and if you like the look. But check out other industries too. You don’t want to rip off someone else’s branding, you want your own. But research gives you ideas for the tone you might like to go for. Find three you like, write down what you like about them – just a line will do.

Get a designer – unless you are one – to mock up a logo for you. It doesn’t need to be complicated or hugely fancy, but it should say something about you and your brand, as it’s part of how people will come to recognise you across your website and social media channels. And the tone you’re going for – the colour palette, feel; the whole aesthetic – should be consistent in everything that you do. But beyond the visual, there’s also the way you speak, the copy you use. Are you friendly, informative, funny?