Starting a business costs money. Period. Even if it’s a totally online work-from-home business. If you want your business started right, you’re going to have to spend some money. I’m not talking buckets of bucks here, but you should expect to pay a few hundred at least when you’re first getting started. You don’t have to pay it all at once, but there are some essential expenses. There are also some other extra services and programs that are really nice to have. But it’s hard to prioritize expenses and determine exactly what you need when you first jump into the biz. The exact answers will depend on you and your business, but there are some guidelines you can use to get yourself headed in the right direction and hopefully keep you from spending too much too fast or having your business languish because you aren’t spending enough on the right things.
Here is a list of things I have personally invested in, placed in order of importance (in my humble opinion).
1. Website Hosting
Creating a basic website on a free program like Wix or WordPress.com is a nice start, but if you’re wanting to get serious with your business, you need the layout and widget freedom of hosting. You should purchase your own domain name regardless of whether you start with hosting. You don’t want clients to have to type “.wordpress.com” after your company name to find you. Wix is even worse. I had a Wix site as part of a college portfolio assignment, and it was a nightmare just to find it in a Google search. You basically just had to copy and paste the exact, complicated link.
I suppose you can get by without hosting if you just want a basic site that functions mostly as a portfolio, and if you don’t plan to have a lot of traffic, so long as you purchase your domain name. However, if you want to be able to fully customize your site, you’ll want hosting. If your business is a blog, you absolutely need it. High traffic volume, which is vitally important for a completely monetized blog to be profitable, can crash a WordPress.com or Wix site. You also can’t add an email list if you don’t host the site, so if you’re planning to send out newsletters for your business, you can’t go with the free stuff.
In freelancing, your website is your chance to make an impression. You aren’t meeting with clients in person. If someone finds your site through a targeted search, your website is your very first impression on that potential client. You want it to look good, and you want it to portray your type of business and your personality. If you are sending pitches, it’s always preferable to have an online portfolio to link back to rather than sending samples as attachments. Many people will not open an email from a stranger if it has an attachment; they can’t be sure it doesn’t contain malware. Many email providers will automatically send these sorts of emails to the junk folder. Links are always best, and you want that portfolio to impress. Investing in your website is essential.
I use Siteground for my hosting. Cost: $95 a year.
2. Relevant Courses
Courses bolster your business in two ways. One, they help you feel more confident in your skills and make you better equipped for your line of work. Two, they look good on a resume or your About page.
If you’re first starting out, you know you can write, you’ve just chosen your niche, but you haven’t ever actually written in the specialized style that niche requires, a course is a great help. For instance, copywriting is a very targeted style of writing. You have to draw readers in quickly, convince them of a product or company’s worth, and provide a call to action that elicits a sale. Often, you have to do all of that in the space of a few sentences. If you know you want to write about certain products you’re interested in, makeup for instance, but you’ve never actually written sales copy, a course on copywriting is a great idea. It will not only help you craft better samples, but it will also boost your confidence. That confidence will show through in your pitches.
I took the Professional Book Editor Certification course from IAP Career College. I already knew my grammar rules, already knew all about Chicago Manual of Style, already knew a good deal about the art of writing books, already had a few small editing jobs under my belt, but I didn’t know how to launch a career as an editor. I also didn’t know all that much about the publishing world. This course really helped me. It didn’t teach you how to make editing marks or dive into the actual editing process. Its focus was to teach the ins and outs of the editing world, from the different types of editing and the different editing positions in traditional publishing houses to how to start a career as a freelance editor. If you’re wanting to land a job at a traditional publishing house, that course can help you out a lot there, too. If you’re looking for something a little more hands on that has you practicing actual book editing, there are plenty of those out there as well. Your best option for something like that would be to take a course from a University or from a copy editing guild/association. Those will probably be a bit more expensive, but they will also be more well-rounded and accurate.
Another course I took when I first started was Gina Horkey’s free Kickstarter course. That course is just five rounds of emails that help you find direction with your business. She’ll teach you how to brainstorm a niche, how to get your first samples, etc., in brief emails. The extension of that free course is the far more in-depth version: 30 Days or Less to Freelance Writing Success. The course takes you through setting business goals, deciding on your niche, how to set up a business (will you be a sole proprietorship, an LLC, etc.), how to get good samples, how to pitch, how to find the best work for your niche, how to build your website, how to promote your business, how to find your unique writing style, how to format certain types of writing, how to be efficient, and more good stuff. You can choose between the Starter, Growth, or Rockstar packages. Starter is just the main course. Growth adds 15 cool templates and tools like client contracts and a pitch tracker. Rockstar has all that, plus one-on-one contact with Gina. She’ll review your pitch template and give you a whole month of personal coaching. This course is usually $147, but May 25th through June 2nd, Gina is running a special sale for her birthday where you can get it for $99 with the coupon code: GinaBday. I have not taken this course. By the time I clued into the fact that investing in my business was a good idea, I was already past the beginning stages and the lessons provided were things I already had learned the hard and slow way. But I love Gina, and if her blog posts are any indication of the plethora of knowledge she can provide, I’m sure this course is very helpful if you’re struggling with how to get started.
The last course I purchased was Michelle Schroeder-Gardner’s Making Sense of Affiliate Marketing Course. Michelle makes a million a year with her blog through affiliate marketing and other monetization methods, so she knows what she’s doing. The price of this course is steep at $197, though, and I’m still debating whether it’s worth the money. It does provide a lot of very helpful info about using affiliate links appropriately and effectively all in one place, but I think it would be most beneficial and worth the price for those who have absolutely no clue what affiliate marketing really is or how to go about it. I knew all the basics before I bought the course, so only about half the lessons have been new information to me. I’m not done with the course, but that’s not because its complex or lengthy; it’s more about me being super busy and prioritizing other things. You get access for life, so I’m not really in any rush. However, I will say that I was using affiliate links for over a year and not making a cent, but after beginning Michelle’s course in January of 2017, I’ve officially made my first sale. $37, woo-hoo!
30 Days or Less to Freelance Writing Success: $147 for the basic package, currently $99
3. Invoicing/Accounting System
I’ve already talked a good deal about this in various posts, so I want to keep this short and sweet. Having a program that helps you easily create professional-looking invoices and also tracks those invoices for you is a must. It just makes life so much easier. I use FreshBooks for this. Through the program, I can send invoices that look like this:
I can also keep track of which clients pay me the most, what type of work gives me the majority of my income, which invoices are overdue, etc. I can track hours for hourly projects. I can send automatic reminders for late invoices. Best of all, I have access to tons of different reports that really help out during tax time.
FreshBooks is the most popular invoicing system in the freelancing community, at least in my experience and interaction with other freelancers. You can sign up for a free 30-day trial. That’s what I did, and by the end of the first week I knew I was going to keep it. There are different packages. I currently have the smallest. The only difference in the packages is how many clients you can invoice at once. I think when my yearly membership comes due, I’m going to switch to the next package up because I’m beginning to cut things close; I have to pray one client pays so that I can delete that client from the roster and add a new one in time. However, up until very recently the lowest package of 5 clients at a time worked perfectly fine for me.
Freshbooks Cost: $15, $20, or $50 per month. You can also pay yearly to save a little money.
4. Relevant Memberships
There are an incredible amount of writers’ guilds, editors’ associations, freelance networks, etc. out there to join. Some are free, some aren’t. You can join any free ones that grab your fancy, but you’ll want to be more cautious with the paid ones. Really look at what the membership offers. You want more than just a community. If you’re paying, you better be getting access to a nice job board that can give you new leads, and if you’re paying a hefty monthly fee of say, $40 or more, you’d better be getting a heck of a lot more than that. You want access to exclusive articles about your industry, tools to help you succeed, and a well-connected and lively network that actually shares job leads and helps each other out. You should also look for memberships that allow you to put your name and business details in some sort of database for clients to find.
If you take one of those IAP courses, you can get access to one of their relevant membership communities for just $1 per year. However, I have never actually used mine (That’s just entirely my bad; I really ought to get in there and check it out) so I can’t really testify to its worth. But I do have other memberships that I use regularly.
I am part of a book ghostwriter’s network called Gotham Ghostwriters. That one is free, but you must provide a resume and writing samples and have a phone interview with a staff member before you are accepted. The reason it is free is the company gets a commission from each project they help you get, but the great thing is they charge the client for that commission rather than taking it out of the project price that goes to you.
The one paid membership I have at the moment is to Publishers Marketplace. Their database is free to search if you’re looking for book packagers or authors to pitch, but if you buy the membership, you can get your name in that database. I’ve only had it three months and already landed two clients from it with no effort on my end. I actually landed the first the day after I set up my membership page, and it was a gig that earned me $2,000. So, it’s definitely paying for itself thus far. The membership also gives you access to some tools that are super great if you are seeking publication for your own work. For instance, you can use their “Who Represents …?” tool that lets you easily find the agent who represents a book that is similar in genre and style to yours. It helps you narrow down the giant agent pool a little easier.
Like I said, there are countless options out there. Just look at a few before you dish out money for one.
Publishers Marketplace Cost: $25 per month
5. Professional Website Theme
Designing your website is normally a huge pain in the ass, especially if you’re using a basic, free theme. Unless you’re a coding wiz, something’s not going to look the way you want it no matter what you try, something’s not going to work the way it’s supposed to, an element you want to include will be unavailable, and you’re going to end up throwing an undignified temper tantrum worthy of a four-year-old (or maybe that’s just me).
Paid themes always have more features, more customization capabilities, and generally don’t cause such a big headache. They also almost always look way better. Appearance is crucial. As I said in my very first point on this list, your website is how you grab your clients’ attention. It needs to quickly convey that you are a legit, professional businessperson. Investing in an awesome theme that looks just how you imagined it is totally worth it. However, not all of them are super easy to use.
Enter the Divi Builder. *Angelic music plays and a beam of sunlight breaks through the storm clouds.*
I found out about the Divi theme and the Divi Builder plugin thanks to one of my favorite freelance bloggers, Jorden Roper. Divi is part of the Elegant Themes family. Elegant Themes offers 87 professional and highly customizable themes through a single subscription. You pay one price to get access to all of their themes and plugins. The Divi theme is crisp, clean, and kickass, but the Divi Builder plugin is the real star of the show. Pick any of the Elegant Themes you want, but if you’re going to go with this company, make sure you get the package that includes the Builder. If you are anything like me and have trouble visualizing what your site will look like while trying to customize things in your dashboard, you’re going to want to kiss the shoes of whoever made this thing. The Divi Builder allows you to customize the site while looking directly at the final product. You can drag and drop things around the screen. Hell yes, you heard that right! You can add new elements with one click. You can type out a paragraph and customize the font, size, and color right on the page instead of having to work from the dashboard and hope you’re typing in the right place. You can see everything happen in real time and know exactly how your site will look without ever having to hit a “Preview” button. Want to see exactly what I mean? Go check out the tutorial video.
After just giving up and tossing the computer at my husband, saying, “Just do whatever you think; I’m sick of this damn thing,” on my first website go-round (I may have used stronger language, but let’s keep it PG-13.), discovering the Divi Builder when I decided to revamp my site at the beginning of 2017 was pure bliss. You think I’m joking or exaggerating, but I’m not. Dealing with confusing technology when I’m trying to realize a creative vision makes me furious and a little bit sick. It’s unhealthy, but true. I had to watch one or two short tutorial videos that the company provides to get rolling, but once I did, oh my God, the stress melted away, and I love the finished product.
Elegant Themes Cost: $89 per year for the package that includes all themes and all plugins (including the builder). You can also pay a lifetime one-time payment of $249, but that’s a big commitment.
6. Home Office
I love my home office. I’m in it as I type this. Writing is an internal, private, creative affair that requires focus and me-time. I know some writers like hustle and bustle around them, but even the few writers I’ve met like that prefer something like the steady but quiet background noise of a coffee shop, not the sporadic in and out of other family members, barking dogs, playing or crying children, etc. A home office is a sanctum.
It’s also a tax break. A big one. My home office saved me $600 in taxes this past year *celebratory dance, possibly with maracas.* I wrote a whole post on home office essentials that you are welcome to check out if you aren’t sure where to start. But if you have the space to make yourself an office, do it. It can be as expensive or cheap as you want it, just get yourself a nice space where you feel comfortable. It will help you get your work done and save you money at tax season.
Cost: I probably spent around $800 when it was all said and done, but I bought a treadmill that my husband turned into a desk so I can get exercise while working and ward off that muffin top that’s been threatening to creep up on me ever since I chose this sedentary career path. I also got a really nice new printer.
Cripes, this turned into a monster of a post! I hope I didn’t lose you there. I’m going to ramble for just a moment longer and give you a bonus round.
Many freelancers invest in a social media scheduling program like Tailwind or Crowdbooster. Honestly, I probably should, too, because I’m slacking in that department. However, I’m not sure one of these programs would really help my slacking, even though they would help me get more posts out faster if I’d actually take the time to use them. If you rely heavily on social media for your marketing, though, definitely check something like this out. I have no experience with them, so I can’t really give any suggestions, unfortunately.
No business can thrive if the owner does not invest in the company. Even if you just operate under your own name, that name is a business. If you choose this career path, that name is your livelihood. Start thinking of yourself as a business and start investing in yourself and your work. If you invest in the crucial things first and take the time to pick the right programs and products for you, you’ll see the return.