What do you actually need to get started as a freelance?
It’s so obvious that you need clients that the need for ‘marketing’, for establishing a route to a sustainable flow of work, can almost go without saying. In the same vein, while I imagine it is possible to run a freelance copywriting business without a stable broadband connection, I can’t personally imagine what that would be like, so I do consider it another non-negotiable must-have.
So, providing you accept the 2 prerequisites above, my focus here is on the 3 things that I consider provide the basic, yet highly robust, structure of a system on which you can run your freelance business pretty much for ever.
1) A CRM system. An efficient and simple way of managing correspondence with your ever growing circle of clients. You need to be able to file correspondence by client, job by job, and to access the emails, attachments and links for that job at a moment’s notice. Outlook is the answer. Or Entourage if you work on a Mac as I do. Set up your folders properly and file incoming mail as it arrives. And back up regularly!
2) A Project Archive. You need a discreet, safe, stable drive or partition to house your project folders. If you can afford it, I’d strongly recommend you buy an external drive for this purpose, and use it for nothing else. If you don’t have that money to spare right now, partition the drive on your PC to create a walled garden, if you know how or, failing that, just create a ‘COPYWRITING CLIENTS’ folder and use that. Whichever drive solution you choose, start a new folder each time you get a new client, and a new folder within that each time that client gives you a new project. Keep all the files you generate on any project named and filed properly.
3) An Accounting System. You may find it hard now to imagine that you’ll have lots of clients, but in time you will do. If you set yourself up as a sole trader (which most freelancers do at first) then you can get by with a very simple accounting system. If you start to generate revenue far in excess of your overhead then you might be better off being a Limited Company, and at that point an accountant should advise you. A small business accounting software package is a really great asset, of that there’s no doubt, and if you can afford one then get one. Not only does it make keeping track of your earnings easy, but it manages your client contacts and keeps track of your project history. Until then, though, you can easily get away with 3 ring binders, labelled ‘COPY OF EVERY INVOICE’, ‘INVOICES WAITING FOR MONEY TO ARRIVE’ and ‘INVOICES MONEY RECEIVED’. When you invoice a job, print 3 copies of the invoice. Put one in the post to the client, put the second copy in your ‘COPY OF EVERY INVOICE’ folder, and the last copy in your ‘INVOICES WAITING FOR MONEY TO ARRIVE’ folder. When payment for the job is received, write the date of the payment on this copy and transfer it out of ‘INVOICES WAITING FOR MONEY TO ARRIVE’ and into ‘INVOICES MONEY RECEIVED’. At the end of the year, you will be able to hand these files to an accountant and have him or her draw up the accounts you’ll need.