A Checklist for Launching Your Freelance Business

A Checklist for Launching Your Freelance Business

So you’ve decided to launch your freelance business. Congrats! You’re joining millions (yes, millions) of people who’ve chosen to work for themselves.

This tried and true path can offer flexibility, independence, and financial security — but there are some key steps you should take at the beginning to increase your odds of succeeding long-term. We put together this handy freelance business launch checklist to help get you on the right path. 

Freelance Business Launch Checklist:

  1. Form your LLC – Protect yourself from liability and increase your legitimacy by registering your business as a Limited Liability Corporation, or LLC. This helps safeguard your personal assets in the event a client relationship goes wrong, and it shows potential clients that you’re a serious, reputable operation.

2. Get your EIN – After forming your LLC, you can request an Employer Identification Number from the IRS so you don’t have to use your social security number to get paid. Each time you do work for a client, you’ll provide your EIN number.

3. Set up a business bank account – No commingling funds! Having a dedicated business checking account makes taxes so much easier — trust us. You’ll have all your income and expenses logged in one place. Many accountants and tax platforms can also automatically sync to business bank accounts for easy reporting.

4. Outline your elevator pitch – What are you offering? Who do you want to do business with? Answering these basic questions helps you get clear on your strategy, and developing a quick, digestible pitch will serve you whenever you get asked the question, “So, what do you do?” Casual conversations often lead to new clientele, and having a polished pitch at the ready is just good practice.

5. Define your pricing – What are you charging for your services? What does your fee structure look like? The next question after “What do you do?” is often “How much do you charge?” Defining your rates and your rate structure (hourly, project fee, retainer, etc) is another key step in preparing to pitch to potential clients.

6. Put together your proposal template – Grab that elevator pitch and pricing and combine them into your proposal template, which you can use over and over, tweaking based on the project. You can easily get started with one of Harlow’s six professionally designed and easy-to-use proposal templates, created by expert freelancers

6. Outline your contract and terms – What are your payment terms, late fees, and non-negotiables? Developing a solid, legally fit contract template is arguably one of the most important steps for new freelancers. Your contract is your source of truth for all projects. It’s the foundation you can refer back to if clients make unreasonable asks, miss payments, or otherwise take advantage of you. It sets expectations from the get-go. Sounds daunting? It’s okay, if you’re a Harlow user, we have a great contract you can use, put together by a legal expert who knows what you need covered. 

7. Curate your portfolio – Your portfolio will look different based on your industry and niche, but it might contain social posts, visual assets, articles, photographs — whatever it is that captures the quality of the work that you do. Portfolios don’t have to contain freelance work — they can also include work you produced or helped with as a full-time employee or contractor.

8. Put together your promotion strategy – How do you plan to get your first couple clients? Outlining your approach gives you a tangible strategy to commit to. Document the specific channels you’ll leverage (e.g. social media, job boards, word-of-mouth referrals) and the specific tactics you’ll use to maximize your reach (e.g. posting on social twice a week, creating profiles on three gig sites, telling one person about your work every day). Committing to this promotional work can help you build steady momentum and gain visibility quickly.

9. Start networking with other freelancers – There are bound to be ups and downs during your freelance journey. Having people around you who truly understand the challenges makes all the difference. Freelance pals can help keep you motivated and inspired, and empathize when you’re having a tough go of it. Plus, having friends who freelance means you may get some referrals for the gigs they’re not interested in or qualified for — you never know who will send a client your way.

Taking these steps at the start of your freelance journey will save you an immeasurable amount of stress later on and set you up for the kind of freedom and success you’ve been dreaming about. Every freelancer’s path is unique, but if you talk to the most seasoned solopreneurs, they’ll all echo similar advice: Take care of the foundation now. You’ll thank yourself later. Each little step you take is like a vote for creating a more abundant future. Your confidence will increase as you go, and soon you’ll look back with gratitude for how much effort you put into creating the life you want for yourself.

If you need support and resources along the way, Harlow is here to help. Our intuitive freelance tools can help you build a foolproof business foundation, onboard new clients, manage your day-to-day tasks, and get paid. Sign up for a free trial to get started today, and check out the dozens of freelance resources we’ve created for new solopreneurs like you.

Office Hours: Mastering Mindfulness

Office Hours: Mastering Mindfulness

Freelance writer, editor, and business coach Jenni Gritters joined us as our guest for our May Harlow Office Hours Zoom Q&A, Mastering Mindfulness, where we discussed developing a mindfulness routine as a solopreneur, prioritizing personal well-being, setting boundaries, and more.

Tune into the recording here:


Jenni works with fellow solopreneurs and small business owners on writing projects and strategic business planning. In addition to her coaching and freelance practice, Jenni has a monthly newsletter called Mindset Mastery that’s full of real-life stories and exercises for solopreneurs who want to prioritize their well-being and incorporate mindfulness into their day-to-day.

Follow along with Jenni on Twitter and LinkedIn!

Freelance Interview Series – Being Your Own Best Boss

Freelance Interview Series – Being Your Own Best Boss

Corrie is a solopreneur with over 22 years of digital marketing experience and 17 years of experience developing social media campaigns. She also has a newsletter, Chaos Freelancer, where she discusses the ups and downs that come along with the freelance career path and being your own boss.

How to Be Your Own Best Boss

Talk to us about what being your own best boss means to you. 

Being your own best boss means being a good steward of the only resource I have as a solo marketing person – me. That means making sure that I’m:

  • Taking on projects that interest me & meet my financial needs,
  • Working a reasonable amount of time on those projects and not letting work overtake everything else,
  • Giving myself growth opportunities by investing in learning & training opportunities – sometimes in my field, sometimes outside of it,
  • Actively prevent burnout by hanging out with family & friends, doing things I like, resting – basically having a life,  
  • Not saying yes to something in my work life (meetings, networking events, tasks, marketing activities, etc.) that take away from what I really need to do,
  • Make sure I get enough sleep, enough to eat, and enough movement in my day. 

How has your definition of being your own best boss shifted throughout your years of being a business owner?

When I started freelancing, I had spent almost 8 years in a marketing agency lifestyle, which left me burned out and overworked. So you’d probably think that would mean I’d actively avoid making the same mistakes, right? 

Wrong. I repeated my agency experience but in my own business. I thought more hours = better. More clients meant more success, no matter what it did to my personal life. 

I thought I was my Best Boss by making myself do all these ridiculous things, but I was my own Worst Boss. It took me about 5 years of work on myself & my business to realize that to make my business sustainable; I had to start prioritizing myself. 

How have your values shifted as you’ve progressed in your freelance career?

I used to value what other people thought of me SO MUCH. So to get more work (or to keep the work I had), I thought I couldn’t “rock the boat,” and said yes to meetings or networking events I didn’t have time for, agreed to deadlines that didn’t work for me, allowing way too much scope creep in projects, or even working through vacations. I let myself be pulled in 1000 different directions not to make waves or disappoint people.

About five years ago, I realized that clients who valued me, my work, and my time would understand if I had to say no, move a deadline, or take time off. By putting myself first – yes, even over client requests – I’ve been much happier (and get so much more done). 

It’s so important to celebrate wins! What are some ways that you celebrate your own wins at work?

Celebrations are one of the things I’m still working on. More than celebrating, I’ll often make sure that I take time off after a big deadline (even if I’ve got other competing deadlines). I also usually celebrate by napping, because in addition to working for myself, I’m also a parent, and naps are gold.

What are some of your best practices for preventing burnout?

  • Take on only what you can handle. Period. This may mean turning away work, but you do yourself more harm than good if you accept more work than you have time or capacity for. 
  • GET YOURSELF A HOBBY & engage in interests outside of work. Have you ever been stuck at a party talking to the one person who only wants to talk about their job? It was super boring, right?  Find something you can engage with that isn’t your job. 
  • Prioritize rest. Rest can mean sleep, sure, but also vacations, time off, WEEKENDS, no-phone days, etc. 

What advice do you have for those just stepping into being their own boss?

It isn’t easy, and it is OK. I’ve been freelancing for almost 15 years, and I didn’t realize until 5 years ago that I was a terrible boss. Whatever point you are at in the journey, if you are taking steps to be a better steward of You, then that’s a better place than you were yesterday. 

What advice do you have for those at the beginning of their freelance journey on becoming their very own best boss?

If you are just starting, remember that even though you are working for yourself, on your own, that culture matters and that your freelance business HAS a culture. Think about the kind of workplace you want and then take active steps to make that type of workplace happen. 

Freelance Interview Series – Building Relationships Methodically

Freelance Interview Series – Building Relationships Methodically

Tim Noetzel is a freelance web developer and designer, business coach, and founder of Freelance GPS. Follow along with Tim on Twitter and subscribe to his newsletter to get his top tips for growing a successful freelance business, access to his courses, and more.

A Recipe for Relationship Building

Why should freelancers prioritize building relationships?

The most successful freelancers are the ones who work with top-tier clients, the types of companies that both understand and value the work.

Because these clients understand the work, they don’t require as much hand-holding. They ask smart questions and give good feedback. They don’t change the scope last minute and they treat you like a partner.

Because they value the work, they pay premium rates. They understand the care and time it takes to produce a good result and they believe that result is worth the effort.

Every freelancer wants these types of clients, but they’re hard to find because most of them aren’t on freelance sites and job boards.

Top-tier clients are well-informed and well-connected, so they typically find freelancers through their networks. So to land these types of clients, you have to build relationships, both with the clients themselves and with other freelancers who serve them.

How do you recommend those new to freelancing get started building their community?

I cover this in way more detail in my free course, but the short version is this:

  • Find your local hubs – Look for places where your clients, and freelancers serving your clients, are hanging out. These could be coworking spaces, industry meetups, Slack groups, startup accelerators, etc.
  • Go and participate – Ask for advice from other freelancers. Provide value by teaching about your area of expertise. Ask questions of others and show an interest.

How do you determine the level of energy you put into developing a relationship with a new client or other freelancers?

In his book Give and Take, psychologist and Wharton professor Adam Grant divides people into three groups: givers, takers, and matchers.

It’s a great book and well worth a read, but the headline is that the most successful professionals are people who focus on giving wisely.

Unlike takers who are in it for themselves and matchers who view relationships transactionally, givers are devoted to giving back. But the successful ones don’t do so indiscriminately. Instead, they focus, on giving in ways where they can actually make an impact efficiently and to those who have shared goals or interests.

Essentially, they think about expanding the pie for everyone.

In a freelancing context, this means thinking strategically about your expertise, your target clients, and other freelancers who offer complimentary services.  Prioritize your efforts based on how relevant you are to them and how much of an impact you could make.

If you’re a freelance UX designer, for example, doing an elaborate favor for the owner of a solely brick-and-mortar business probably isn’t a great use of your time.

But running a free workshop for web developers on the importance of UX and how to spot common UX problems could be a fantastic way to give back. The attendees would get tons of value, and you’d demonstrate your expertise to potential clients and other freelancers.

How has prioritizing professional relationship-building impacted your career?

In terms of raw metrics, last year I earned nearly 3x what I ever did at a full time job, and 92% of that revenue was from clients who I met through referrals and other forms of relationship building.

But I think the non-financial impact has been even higher.

I have enough opportunities that I can turn down projects that don’t interest me. The clients I work with treat me like a partner, and I genuinely enjoy working with them. And most importantly, I’ve met some genuinely interesting people I never would have otherwise!

What advice do you have for freelancers who struggle to find the time to build meaningful relationships?

The nice thing about building relationships is that it actually takes substantially less time than many other approaches to marketing your freelancing.

Blogging and content creation are extremely time intensive. The so-called expert advice for freelancers on sites like UpWork is to submit 25-50 proposals per week.

But you can build relationships in just an hour or two per week.

So start small and reconnect with the people you already know and ask for introductions, or attend an industry meetup in your area. You never know who you’ll meet!

7 Conferences for Freelancers to Attend

7 Conferences for Freelancers to Attend

Attending conferences can be a great way to stay up-to-date on industry trends and connect with potential clients and other solopreneurs in your industry. No matter what type of freelancer you are, there’s a conference out there for you. 

Here’s a list of 7 in-person and virtual conferences that should be on your radar if further developing your skillset and growing your network is a focus for you.

Best Conferences for Freelancers

General Conferences

Creator Economy Expo: This in-person conference is the go-to event for content creators of every type – including coaches and freelancers. Creator Economy Expo was organized for those interested in building and growing their content businesses without relying on social platforms. During this conference, you’ll learn from 40+ creators on how to build and grow your content business.

ConvertKit Conference: Created for creators, by creators, this 3-day conference is chock full of keynote speakers, workshops, creator meet-ups, and more. If growing your business and building relationships with other creators is on your to-do list, this conference is a must-attend. From leveling up financially, using AI to assist in content creation, niching down, and more – this conference covers all the basics and then some. 

Marketing and Social Media Conferences

State of Social: Crafted for those who work in social media, this annual conference dives into the current and future trends in both social media and digital marketing. If you’re looking to connect with other social media strategists, find inspiration, and learn from thought leaders in the space, this conference is for you. From keynote speakers to workshops covering everything from organic social to audio branding – this is a must-attend conference for all who touch the ever-changing world of social media. 

Digital Summit: Digital Summit is the nation’s largest conference series for digital marketers and has multiple yearly events taking place in cities across the United States. These events feature industry leaders discussing all aspects of digital marketing – from SEO to branding and everything in between. With former keynote speakers including Gary Vaynerchuk, Mark Cubin, and other thought leaders from leading global brands like Google and Microsoft, you’ll not only walk away from this conference with a deeper understanding of all things digital marketing, but with a cup full of inspiration.

DigiMarCon: DigiMarCon (Digital Marketing Conference) is the world’s largest marketing, media, and advertising conference and exhibition series hosting 40+ events annually in cities across the globe. Network with thought leaders, gain insight into the latest innovative technology, and hear from some of the most thought-provoking speakers in the industry on topics ranging from emerging digital strategies to the latest tech innovations. This conference will leave you feeling inspired and challenged.

Writing and Journalism Conferences

Chicago Spring Fling Writer’s Conference: From webinars to keynote speeches, networking, a silent auction, a book signing event, gala ball, and more, this romance writing-focused conference is perfect for both published and unpublished writers looking to network and level up professionally. The conference’s masterclasses cover timely and culturally relevant topics like Ted Lasso as Romance, and The War of Art – to name a few!

ASJA: ASJA (American Society of Journalists and Authors) is an annual virtual conference featuring keynote speakers and expert sessions led by some of the United State’s most successful freelance writers. This conference is perfect for those of you who want to connect with other freelance writers, gain confidence in your craft, and get inspired to take your career to the next level. With keynote speakers and workshops covering topics like 9-5 freelancing and making six figures as a freelancer, this is a conference all of you freelance writers won’t want to miss.

Freelance Interview Series – Freelance Finances 101

Freelance Interview Series – Freelance Finances 101

Treyton DeVore is a creative entrepreneur, freelancer, financial planner, and founder of Creatorbread, a blog and newsletter created to answer all of those questions the self-employed have about money and business. Subscribe to his newsletter if you’re ready to take your business game to the next level.

Freelance Finances 101

How do you recommend freelancers structure their business?

For those just starting out, it makes sense to keep it simple and operate as a sole proprietor (which means you’re acting as a business but you have no established entity). You can accept payments, write off expenses, and offer professional services all without an LLC. But if you plan to stick with it for a while, I recommend setting up a single-member LLC. It’s essentially the same thing as being a sole proprietor, but you get a few extra benefits:

  • You can apply for an EIN, which is like a social security number for a business (so you can use that rather than your SSN when filling out W9s)
  • You can apply for business bank accounts
  • You can apply for business credit cards
  • You have more legal protection

If you plan to grow into an agency or you’re consistently hitting $10k months, it may make sense to establish an S Corp to save money on self-employment tax. This is complex and rules vary by state so you need to speak with an attorney or accountant before doing so. This’ll help ensure the right steps are taken and that it makes sense for your situation.

Why is it important to have a separate business bank account?

Mixing personal and business transactions in one account would be like managing work for two separate clients in one folder that they both have access to. When you go to file taxes, you need to know what expenses are tied to the business and what income is subject to self-employed taxes – so I recommend having separate business accounts to make your financial life 1000x easier. Without separate accounts, you’d have to go transaction-by-transaction through your personal bank and keep track of the numbers in a spreadsheet to maintain proper records.

You’ll also have cleaner insights into your business when you have accurate numbers. By connecting your business account to accounting software, like Freshbooks, you get all sorts of financial data and reports. Understanding these will help you make better decisions and ideally, make more money.

At what point in the freelance journey do you recommend bringing on a bookkeeper and/or accountant? 

I recommend working with an account for tax filing from day one. It’ll cost a little bit of money ($200-1,000+), but even tools like TurboTax typically charge to file self-employed taxes. I like paying for peace of mind so the couple hundred dollars it costs to work with a CPA is beyond worth it. For bookkeeping, it typically makes sense once you’re doing more than $100,000 per year in business revenue. The monthly fees can be a little steep, which is why I recommend doing it yourself until you have extra money in the business to start outsourcing tasks & responsibilities.

What money management advice would you give to year 1 freelancers who want to plan appropriately for things like taxes and retirement?

Most importantly, make sure you’re setting aside something—anything—for taxes from every payment you receive. I recommend 25-30% as a general rule of thumb but the accurate percentage will depend on your unique situation. 

Get paid $2,000? Move $500 into a separate account. Some banks, like Found or Novo, will do this automatically. Then you can make the necessary quarterly tax payments (which is required if you expect to owe more than $1,000 throughout the year) and have the funds ready to go. 

For retirement, there are a few options available. The easiest way to get started is by opening a Roth or Traditional IRA. These can be opened at places like Vanguard or Fidelity and they’re almost like a bank account that lets you buy stocks. In 2023, you can only put $6,500 into either a Roth or Traditional IRA and there are also some income limits that start at $68,000. The limits change each year so be sure you’re staying up to date with new laws & numbers. 

Outside of those two accounts, the best options will depend on how your business is set up. I wrote a fairly in-depth post here about the following accounts:

  • Solo 401k
  • Taxable brokerage
  • Roth and Traditional IRA

Contrary to what most financial advisors would recommend, I don’t think retirement should be a priority when you’re just getting started, especially if money’s tight. There’s massive upside to getting started early, but there’s also value in financial stability and peace of mind – even more so if you have variable income. Personally, I haven’t invested much in retirement since I started the business. Less than $500. I’ve put all the money back into the business to grow it, paid myself, or saved it in cash. When the business is more established and I have a solid financial foundation, I’ll have more income to ramp up retirement savings in the future.

What expenses should small business owners be keeping track of?

Anything that’s “ordinary or necessary” for your business. That’s how the IRS defines a legitimate business write-off. Need a computer to write? Keep track of the expense and you can probably deduct the full amount on your taxes. Pay for a course to learn a specific skill? Write it off. If you want to learn more about taxes, I wrote a full breakdown of how tax write-offs work here.

What are your go-to podcasts, blogs, or other resources you’d recommend to small biz owners interested in learning more about finances?