5 Ways to Treat Your Freelance Gig Like a Small Business

Freelancing has become the norm—and many people start with a side hustle while maintaining their full-time job. However, a recent study showed that 81% of people with a side hustle want to turn it into a full time career.

If you’re looking to take your freelance gig full time and ditch the 9-to-5, you have to treat your side hustle like a business. This means focusing on building a sustainable client base, getting your finances in order, using contracts, and much more.

Turn your side hustle into a full time business faster with these ideas.

Develop a Sustainable Client Base

Get into the small business mindset by focusing on client generation. One of the most challenging aspects of running your own business is not falling victim to the “feast and famine” struggle of having too many clients rather than not enough. This puts you in a constant state of stress, which is bad for you and your business.

Instead, focus on creating a sustainable client base by attracting the attention of potential clients. Don’t put this off—here five ways to attract customer attention today:

  1. Start a referral program and reward clients for the new leads they contribute to.
  2. Ask clients to write positive reviews on your website and other digital channels.
  3. Find relevant online influencers who can help you establish or increase social proof.
  4. Offer giveaways, discounts, and promotions for clients to share with their contacts.
  5. Motivate clients to post original, authentic content about your business on their social media platforms.

Confirm the Terms of New Projects in Writing

More than 70 percent of freelancers have experienced issues with payment at least once in their careers, which is often due to a “fundamental power imbalance” between large companies and the independent contractors they outsource to, explains Caitlin Pearce, director of advocacy at Freelancer’s Union.

To protect yourself and ensure you receive the full amount on time, it’s imperative that a written contract is signed before a project is started. According to Matt Brown, founder of Bonsai, here are the main clauses to agree on and include in your contract:

  • Names and contact information of both parties
  • Your deliverables and responsibilities on the project
  • All payment information—amount, method, and timeline
  • The deadlines for each milestone of the project
  • Agreement of who owns the rights and credit for the work
  • Non-disclosure of private client or business data
  • Terms of the independent contractor expectations
  • Limitation of liability if a breach occurs that is neither party’s fault
  • Termination clause for once the work has been completed
  • Indemnity in the event a third-party lawsuit is filed

Optimize Your Online Presence for Local Searches

Don’t ignore Google. Based on data from Go Gulf, 46% of all Google searches are for local businesses. Use this opportunity to attract more clients by optimizing your business with local SEO and marketing tactics, including:

  • On-site technical updates, i.e. localized meta tags and keywords.
  • Local content creation, i.e. blog posts related to your location.
  • Active social media presence, i.e. tagging your location on Instagram and adding local hashtags.

Dive in further with the Big SEO Checklist but don’t stop there. It’s critical that you create a Google My Business profile. This ensures that Google not only features your business when potential customers are searching for it, but that there is quick and easy access to your website, reviews, and contact information.

Finally, make sure that your name, address, and phone number are all the same across your Google profile, website, and social media accounts so there is no confusion with Google or your customers.

If all of this sounds like gibberish, consider hiring help for marketing so you have one less thing on your already full plate. In 5 Business Tasks You Could be Outsourcing, Founder and CEO of Biz Epic and Previsio Media, Ivan Widjaya explains:

“Outsourcing marketing services ensures professional promotion for your products at an affordable rate.” What’s more, Widjaya suggests that bringing in someone else ensures that your marketing stays fresh, and you won’t have to worry about gaps in promotion or scheduling if you take time off.

Network with Business Owners in the Community

We may live in an online world, but face-to-face interaction gives you a chance to pitch your business and develop relationships that can turn into clients or referrals down the line. What’s more, as I explained in a recent post, you also find opportunities to learn and more often than not, walk away with a renewed excitement for your work.

This can be a challenge if you are working full time but if you want to turn your side hustle into a full-time career then you have to get intentional about networking.

Setting a weekly or monthly goal will make it easier to become involved in networking. For example, I set a goal to attend one networking event each week for a month. This led to meeting dozens of other business owners, new connections, and events that I would later attend regularly. Set a realistic goal that works for you and commit to it for at least a month to see the best results.

Save a Percentage of Income for Taxes Each Month

Like all freelancers, you will be taxed as a 1099 independent contractor, which means none of your income is deducted automatically for taxes, like it is for W-2 employees. Therefore, you are responsible for making those deductions yourself.

The percentage you owe depends on your tax bracket, but Rebecca Healy, founder of the personal finance website Kontrary, recommends saving 30 percent for quarterly estimated tax payments which “include federal and state income tax, as well as self-employment tax.”

While 30% sounds like a large chunk of money, Brie Weiler Reynolds, senior career specialist at FlexJobs, offers these tips on how to plan ahead for taxes and reduce the amount owed:

  • Make sure you receive 1099 tax documents from all clients who paid you $600 or more that year and keep these forms organized in your records.
  • Know which deductions you are entitled to write-off. For instance, you can deduct portions of your home office, work supplies and equipment, health insurance premiums, retirement savings and other expenses related to the business.
  • Create a bank account for the business that is separate from your personal account in order to show the IRS that you are, in fact, earning money.
  • Track all receipts and business expenses for the year, so when it’s time to report these as write-offs, you will know the percentages to deduct which saves time and hassle. This also leaves a paper trail to minimize your risk of an audit.
  • Make estimated payments online during the year based on the IRS’s quarterly tax schedule If you choose this option, the four payment deadlines are April 15, June 15, September 15 and January 15 the following year.

Treat Your Freelance Like a Small Business

If you want to grow your side hustle into a full-time job, now is the time to treat your work like a small business. Use these tips to create a sustainable client base, connect with other business owners, get contracts in place, and set yourself up for taxes—when the time comes to take your business full-time, you’ll be more than ready!

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