So you’ve made the decision to start freelancing, consulting, flying solo, doing gig work ... whatever you want to call it... congrats! You’re among a growing number of top talent who are building their careers around this flexible and rewarding work model.
But before you jump into your first gig, there are some super boring boxes to tick. Never fear, we’ve drawn on our collective experience to help you on your way with a few wise words of advice.
Your first decision is around how you want to structure yourself as a business - sole trader, company, partnership or trust? There is some great advice on business.gov.au. Chat to your accountant (by the way, if you haven’t already found yourself a great accountant, make this priority numero uno).
Whilst the barriers to entry and costs of setting up as a sole trader are lower, some clients may have a preference that you have a company structure. This is something to keep in mind.
Sorting your business structure can get a little admin heavy but the good news is that you only have to do it once, and then you are officially a business owner!
Admin AND expense. A double whammy. The type and level of insurance that you require depends on the sort of work that you do so find an insurance broker who can point you in the right direction. Most people typically need professional indemnity and some public liability but chat to others in your field of work for broker or provider recommendations.
Keep in mind that some clients will have particular insurance requirements, and your premiums will increase as your revenue grows, so you may need to bump up your coverage over time.
Dollars and cents
While you are talking business structures with your accountant, quiz them on other financial aspects you'll need to be across. For example, when you need to start collecting GST and other taxes. Chat to them about how you will manage your cash flow to pay yourself, and contribute to your super, when experiencing a lumpier revenue flow.
Consider whether you want to be doing BAS statements yourself or will outsource this oh-so-fun activity to your accountant. You’ll be issuing invoices and creating expenses, so get advice on the best way to manage your financial admin that can quickly get out of control if you don’t have some systems in place. You may opt for a manual process to start with, before progressing to simple accounting software such as Xero or MYOB.
Some people trade under their personal name and others establish a different business name. Eith
er way is fine and business names can be registered at the ASIC website. Consider if you want to create a new email address or if your existing one will do. Clients might not respond well to firstname.lastname@example.org … but a simple gmail address with your full name is more than adequate. Down the track you might want to consider purchasing a domain name for a website and slick matching email address.
Whether you have a full website or not, prospective clients will want somewhere to find you, and find out more about what you offer. At the very least, make sure your LinkedIn account is up to date, provides an overview of the business you’re running, and gives clients the information they’d be looking for about your previous experience and qualifications, when deciding whether to work with you.
Set your rates
Ah, the million dollar question! This can be tricky. Talk to trusted people in your network who engage on-demand talent in similar work and try to get a read on what they pay. Speak to others in the know and ask them directly what they think you are worth. On-demand talent in your network may or may not be comfortable sharing their own specific rates, but will be more than happy to share some ranges and what they’re seeing and hearing in the market. Position your rate at a level that is reflective of your experience and stand by it.
Don’t forget to indicate if your proposals are inclusive or exclusive of GST… suddenly having to add 10% to the rate a client has agreed is a fast-track to a very awkward conversation!
Tell the world!
You will be incredibly surprised at where your first client is hiding. Usually it’s in plain sight. So your first important job (after finding an accountant) is to tell people about your new business.
Tell the people you used to work with (they’re perfect as they’ve already seen you in action), your friends, and everyone else you know. Yes, including your pals at CrossFit, your bookclub, the other Beach Road weekend warriors, the dog walker, the person next to you on the plane, and the gaggle of parents at school pick up.
Be super clear on what you do (don’t worry, your spiel will take practice) and the problems you solve to be front of mind for people who need your amazing skills. And then tell us the strangest, or most unlikely, place you’ve found a client or collaborator.
Heading out on your own is no small step and represents a completely different way of working. But the flexibility to work with a diverse range of organisations, engage in work that plays to your strengths and values, and own your work-life balance is a game changer. Getting these basics in place from the get go will provide the important foundations for this life changing career move. Go well!