Becoming the Boss: Critical Management Tips for Your Freelance Business

If you’re new to freelancing or planning to go freelance, it’s a big shift from working for someone else.

You go from being an employee to being the sole member of the Business of You. And, that means…

You’re the boss.

With that new role comes all kinds of new responsibilities. And handling them like the manager you now are will help your business run much more smoothly.

Here are a few things to think about as you make the transition.

Decide very early what your UVP and USP will be.

These statements will help you decide who you are as a freelancer and give you direction in your business.

Your UVP, or Unique Value Proposition, is a statement you create about who you are and what you do. What results are you striving for?

Think in terms of your clients (or future clients). Is your purpose to drive more sales? Is it to provide quality content that helps people make informed decisions?

Your USP, or Unique Selling Proposition, is a statement of what’s unique about you that adds value. Is it background experience? Education? Your personal story?

As a boss, you’re now creating your own company culture — and you’re the company! These statements will play a big role in that, so take the time to develop them until they feel right.

If possible, start freelancing before you quit your “day job.”

Establishing a client base before you leave your day job has multiple benefits. A major one is that it helps you get comfortable with your new role sooner.

As a freelancer, you get to establish the roles and boundaries with your clients, which you probably didn’t do as an employee. You also get to choose and develop your preferred work habits and schedule, whereas before you may have been acting according to other people’s choices.

These are good things, but they take practice! It’s time for you to test things out and see what works for you.

Even if you don’t have clients yet, you can still create routines or habits. But having “real work” involved sometimes has a way of forcing you to be more serious about making good choices. And, the discipline that’s required to have a freelance gig along with a day job will serve you well when you go full-time later.

Of course, another huge benefit of freelancing while you still have a day job is that you’ll give yourself a financial cushion.

Speaking of money…

Your financial picture is probably going to change.

Because an employer often gives you more than just salary — you might get other benefits like health insurance, a retirement fund (they might contribute to it, too), paid time off, equipment…

You need to cover all these things for yourself now.

How can you do that?cand

Cut expenses.

Take a look at your whole life, not just your business, and get rid of the things you can do without.

For things you can’t, figure out how to lower their cost. You could opt for  choosing a less expensive version. Or, look for ways to make what you have last longer.

Create a savings fund.

Save up a few months’ worth of expenses. Freelancing can be a financial roller coaster, especially in the early days. You might have a lot of money come in one month, but far less the next month.

Ideally, you’ll be able to keep your cash flow stable, but your savings fund will help you if you really need it. It’ll help you sleep better at night, too.

Apply for credit.

I’m not advocating taking on lots of debt. Like your savings fund, you’ll only use your credit if it’s truly necessary. And, you shouldn’t need to spend a bundle on your freelance business, because writing has low start-up and maintenance costs.

But, emergencies do happen, and they can be expensive. You don’t want to burn through your savings… and, depending on the emergency, your savings might not cover your costs anyway. (Gulp.)

Prevent this by applying for a new credit card or credit line while you’re still employed and are able to provide the creditor with evidence of your income.

You’re a lower-risk customer for them now than you will be after you’re freelancing. Plus, you might make more as an employee than you will at first on your own. So, you’re more likely to be approved now, and with a higher credit limit, than if you wait.

Raise your rates!

Getting your finances in order as you transition isn’t just about taking defensive measures.

Remember, you have a lot of new expenses to cover that you didn’t have before. And, you’re working harder than you were.

You’re not just a writer…

You’re also a project manager, administrative assistant, accounting department, and marketing department all in one.

Your compensation should reflect this.

So, raise your rates.

Exactly how much is up to you. You might want to crunch the numbers and decide based on your financial needs.

But raise them — whether it’s a modest amount, or double.

Clients expect freelancers to raise their rates occasionally. Plus, you’re giving your clients the message that whatever you charge, you’re worth it.

What if you had an employee?

One last self-management tip for easing the transition from employee to boss is to pretend you have an employee.

As you go about your day, ask yourself periodically: If I had an employee and saw them doing whatever I’m doing right now, would I be upset?

If the answer is yes, then it’s time to get back on track.

Becoming the boss is one of the toughest parts of being a freelancer. But, if you learn to manage your self-promotion, your work habits, and your finances, you’ll be setting yourself up for a successful writing career.

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Candice Lazar

Candice Lazar is a copywriter and marketing consultant. Her specialty is copy that helps clients develop long-term relationships with their customers.

3 Comments

  • Hi Candice,

    I really enjoyed reading this new article of yours. You really touched on some important areas that I hold true to my heart. One of which is the need to control our personal (as well as business) finances. In short, I am of the belief that our financial health is just as important as our physical health.

    Plus, I love how you closed this piece by giving us a mental exercise of looking at our business through the eyes of the BOSS, and envisioning how we would feel (as the boos) if we had an employee who was working and approaching our business in the same manner as we would normally do as an employee.

    Finally, I just want to make a quick point about credit and the difference between good debt vs bad debt. I have read many stories about what some of the top successful people have done when they first started out, and what I have come to conclude with is this…

    When you are first starting out, nothing is more important than finding out how to increase your income/revenue. And revenue is just an eloquent word that Accountants use to hide the stigma behind the word “sales.” In short, there is no other way to increase income than through sells — and copywriting is nothing more than salesmanship in print.

    With that said, the next thing I found from my research of studying some of the most successful people that started at the bottom was that they always took what money they were bringing in (income) and reinvesting it back into their business.

    You see, what I’ve found is that a lot of people, once they start seeing in increase in their income, they start to also increase their spending. And there is a major difference between spending and investing. One is a waste and provides no return, while the other is strategic in nature.

    Therefore, when it comes to credit, I love what you said about using it as a means to be able to afford for unexpected emergencies, but I would also say that the only thing credit cards or credit lines should be used for is to bring more attention to your business — marketing and advertisement. These are investments that help bring more income and revenue into one’s business. In other words, credit cards should never be used for entertainment purposes, or to scratch one’s spending itch.

  • Great work, Candice.

    I started my business on June 2, the day I completed Joshua Boswell’s “Launch” program, so I’m just a few months in. And while I can say I’m a working writer with a steady stream of clients and projects (how cool is THAT?), I’ve also collected a few “key learnings” that I’d humbly add to the tips you’ve given here.

    1. Join BNI (or some other networking group, though BNI is the granddaddy of ’em all). If you’re an introvert, like me, you’ll be amazed at how easy they make networking… and you WILL GET PAID WORK. I joined the same day I started my business (6/2/17), and had my first client and paycheck within three weeks. Now, it’s not “going rate” work – you’re kinda starting off in TWO businesses (one as a generalist for lower fees, and the other as a super-niched expert who is using the generalist dough to fuel your prospecting for niche clients)… but you’ll be appreciated, and you’ll be getting paid to practice! And build your portfolio!

    2. Hire a bookkeeper. I found one in my BNI chapter, of course, and instantly hired her. In fact, I’m trading services with her, working on her brochure and web copy as we speak. And she’s keeping my books absolutely straight for the CPAs, so I’m NOT going to get in trouble with the IRS. I was lucky enough to start my business with a business degree, so I knew this was essential going in. You can keep your own books… but you’ll mess things up, and waste time, and not have the insightful financial reporting you should have. I could tell you what I’m making PER WORD, and the info I get from my bookkeeper is fueling smart business decisions (rates, product mixes, where I should be specializing, etc.) that I wouldn’t be able to make otherwise.

    3. Get a personal banker. I did (another BNI buddy – no surprise). And I opened two accounts with him – business checking, and business savings. My “company policy” is to divide my weekly deposits (Weekly! Again, how cool?) 70% into checking, and 30% into savings. I then have my bookkeeper cut me an actual paycheck, to me, signed by me, for 40% of my total revenue. So 30% stays in business savings to pay Uncle Sam, 30% stays in business checking for expenses (such as AWAI programs!), and I spend only 40% of my revenue on movie tickets, wine, and low-carb treats. And my banker and bookkeeper work together to keep things straight in my business’ finances.

    4. Establish an organizational system that works for you. For old-school me, my calendar is a 3×5 card file box with a card for each day coming up for the next two months. I schedule my work by dividing projects into pieces and distributing the pieces to work-day cards for the dates from proposal acceptance to deadline. This year my kick is not to go to bed until I’ve completed my card! I also have a white board in my home office that lists my current projects (with notations such as due dates, completed, follow up on ___ date, etc.), both writing projects and proposals for new work I’m still trying to land. I also keep track of my hours on the white board, just so I can keep tabs on my “employee.” (BTW, I’m averaging about 30 hours/week on my business, total, including BNI.)

    5. Create (or buy from AWAI) certain business templates. The ones you’ll use right away include Proposals, Project Time Lines, and Invoices (yay!). I bought the essential business templates from AWAI and ended up customizing them for my business.

    6. Set aside one day a week for marketing. Mine’s Friday, which always starts with my BNI meeting, and continues with 1:1 F2F meetings with chapter members and other prospects and clients. I haven’t done as much prospecting in my niche as I had planned, but am now getting on top of things to the extent that I can spend part of every Friday following up on leads, sending solicitation emails, pushing my social media, etc… so I’m sure I’ll be getting rich soon. BTW: When I land the 3-7 lucrative niche clients I need to make a reliable six figure income, I may well discontinue my BNI membership, having no more need for the “training wheels” it provides… but I’m enjoying the group so much, I may stick around anyway! But if you join (they’ll love you… BNI NEEDS copywriters), you can go into it telling yourself that this is a temporary thing while you build your niche business. That’s what I did.

    7. Give something away to get started. I’m offering TEN FREE TAG LINE ideas to anyone in my BNI chapter who wants ’em. The process of doing those projects gets me into their tent, marketing-wise, and is leading to great other projects (and a juicy portfolio!).

    I have not performed to 100% of my ability on these best practices… life does intrude sometimes… but I feel productive, and headed in the right direction. I hope this is helpful to anyone out there who’s about to make the leap to the writer’s life. Don’t worry… it’s WELL worth it… and the ideas here (and in Candice’s piece, of course) will help make sure nothing gets in the way of your success.

    Write on!

  • Wow! I’m glad you both enjoyed the article, and I appreciate you sharing your thoughts and insights. Lots of great ideas here that add value to the original piece. Thanks for taking the time to comment.

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