How to set up a freelance writing businessYesterday, I talked about the initial steps you should take to set up your freelance writing business. Today, I’ll cover the remaining must-dos, along with a few optional items.

Business bank accounts

I cannot over-emphasize the need for a separate business bank account. I’m not going to go into all the important reasons why you must not co-mingle your business income with your personal money. The SBA has done a great job of explaining this.

To open a business bank account, take your EIN paperwork, your business entity paperwork (such as the LLC operating agreement) and head to the bank of your choice. I advise shopping around by phone to determine which banks charge fees for business banking and which do not. You also should ask if all the LLC members or account signers must be present to open a business bank account. For business banking, some banks will not send home a signature card to be returned later the way they might on personal accounts.

You may notice the heading of this section says “accounts,” plural. That’s because you really should open two business accounts. I learned this trick from successful freelancer Debra Gordon.

Because you will need to pay self-employment taxes periodically, you should self-withhold a portion of every client payment you receive. The easiest way to do this is to split each check: 35% goes into one bank account to cover taxes, and the balance goes into the other account to cover business expenses and to pay yourself.

Here’s an example: I receive a $1,000 from Joe Client for a web content job I did. I put $350 into Business Account A to cover future tax obligations. I put $650 into Business Account B for operating expenses and payroll. When payday rolls around, I pay myself $500 from Account B, and I never, ever touch the amounts in Account A except when it’s time to pay the IRS. This method ensures you never inadvertently spend money that should be paid against your tax liability.

If it later turns out you’ve over-withheld on yourself, put the extra money into your retirement account. Brilliant, no?

Website, logo and branding collateral

At a minimum, you need a logo, a decent website and business cards. Let’s take these in order.

A logo is going to run you $200 to $500. Get over it. A great logo will serve your business for years to come, even if you wind up tweaking it from time to time. If you don’t want to spend that much, check out the graphic design programs at a local university or community college. You’ll probably be able to find a student who’d love to work with you to create a logo in exchange for showing it off in his or her portfolio.

Your online presence represents the most important element of your nascent branding efforts. You absolutely must have some sort of website up and running before you go into business. And while it’s possible to go cheap with a hosted site like About.me or Squarespace.com, I want you to think long and hard about the image such a ‘website’ presents. Would you do business with a tax accountant whose only web presence was an About.me profile?

Don’t get me wrong. These destinations have their place. Setting up an About.me page can augment your online brand identity. But it should not serve as the centerpiece of it.

For as little as $600, you can procure a beautiful, responsive (meaning it looks good on a mobile device) website like the one I have. My designer, Bellano Web Studio, specializes in self-hosted WordPress sites, which is what I recommend. Thauna does beautiful work (as you can see) and delivers top-notch customer service. Also note you’ll have to purchase web hosting for your site. I use and recommend Lunarpages. Writer friends of mine express satisfaction with both BlueHost and HostGator. Pick the one that’s right for you.

Bottom line: Don’t skimp on your website. You’ll regret it later.

Business cards. No serious professional lacks them. Get some. Use your shiny new logo. You can obtain inexpensive yet professional-looking biz cards at Vistaprint. Pay extra to eliminate the Vistaprint branding. When you use Vistaprint, you can save your business card design to your account and get matching items, such as postcards (for promotion) and thank-you notes.

Optional start-up add-ons

You could go crazy and spend thousands of dollars setting up your freelance writing shop, if you wanted to. But the beauty of this business is you can start it on a shoestring.

That said, here are some things I recommend you invest in if you can afford to:

  1. A legal consultation. If nothing else, have a lawyer vet your business entity paperwork and advise you regarding any prudent changes before you file it with the state.
  2. An accountant. I recommend you engage a competent business accountant. I mean, unless you really want to learn accounting. Because, let me tell you, tax accounting involves all kinds of minutiae that can negatively impact your bottom line if you screw them up. My accountant is Jason Deshayes at Butler and Company in Albuquerque. Great guy, affordable, and works with people all over the country (as far as I know). I love giving Jason a shout-out whenever I can. (No kickbacks involved, for the record!)
  3. Online invoicing and accounting software. Jason has me using Xero, and it’s great. Many people use QuickBooks or Freshbooks. Those also are great options.
  4. New computer and monitor specifically for business use.
  5. Dedicated phone line for the business.

Adding it all up

Remember how I said at the beginning you’ll have to make an investment in your freelance writing start-up? Perhaps by now you feel overwhelmed and discouraged about all the “stuff” you have to do and pay for before you can start making any money. But let’s keep this in perspective.

If you wanted to open a 7-11, the minimum start-up cost would be about $40,000. Think you’d love to open a Subway sandwich shop? I hope you have at least $90k of salami in your wallet. Dunkin’ Donuts more up your alley? You’d need to brew up nearly $300,000 in start-up fees and expenses.

Let’s do the math on a barebones freelance writing start-up:

  • Business name: Free
  • Federal EIN: Free
  • LLC paperwork and filing fees: $1,000 (estimated)
  • County or local business license or tax ID: $100 (estimated)
  • Business bank accounts: Free (in many places)
  • Domain name registration $10
  • Logo design: $300
  • Web hosting: $120 (for 12 months, based on the Lunarpages Basic Hosting plan)
  • Website design: $600
  • Business cards: $40

GRAND TOTAL: $2,170

Seriously, what other business can you start up for so little money?

Don’t let all these tasks overwhelm you. The informal name of this blog-based course is “From Nurse to Writer in 30 Days.” You can easily accomplish everything on this list in less than a month. And once this stuff is done, it’s done! Then you can confidently move forward into the next phase of freelancing: marketing yourself.

Don’t forget to leave comments and questions in the comments section! And please show RN2Writer a little love by sharing these blog posts on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

Wishing you well!

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Image courtesy Philip Taylor