- Money: I made sure I had enough funds for the bare necessities to last at least 3-6 months. This way, if the work wasn't coming in, I didn't become homeless (which is always a plus). Do your best to plan your finances as far in advance as possible.
- Clients: Over the years I've learned that it's extremely important to network. Every job I've ever had, I made sure to leave with some connections. Whether it's emails, phone numbers or LinkedIn connections. Upon my exit, I contacted all of these connections to let them know I was open for business. Make sure you keep in touch with your network, not only when starting a freelance business, but throughout your career.
- Portfolio: probably the most important box to check was my portfolio. I wasn't going to land new clients or temporary work if I couldn't present my amazing skills. You may need to work some late nights or weekends, but make sure your website is on top of its game. Include all your best work, (you may need to get permission to use it), be personable, clients want to hire you, so promote yourself, include all your contact info and social media accounts.
- Blog: one thing I really wanted to do was share my knowledge of web design and development. So, to me, maintaining a blog is mandatory. The idea of blogging about the industry that I loved and working on fun projects was the world to me. I can't stress enough how important a blog is for your business. From freelancers to huge organizations, a blog will help drive traffic to your website and help your SEO. Also don't be afraid to share your knowledge: guest post on other blogs and be active on social media.
Full CircleThe freelance life was great, and if you're looking for more free time while working on the projects you love, you'll be hard pressed to find the downsides. You will gain your freedom and the ability to accept or decline new clients as you see fit. However, the more I blogged and published the designs I was creating, the more clients came knocking. It was all the success I had hoped for, and I was in high demand. There came a point where I was turning down work left and right. I had my free time and I wasn't going broke. However, the downside to all this freedom had begun to reveal itself in the very perk I had always wanted: I was spending too much time at home. In addition, I began to wonder what would happen if I took on more work, hired some help, and really tried to build this freelance business into more of a small agency or studio. I was excited to see how this could grow. If I took on all of the projects I was turning down, I would have more funds to allocate to projects and in turn, produce bigger and better websites. I decided to slowly move towards creating a consulting business. I didn't just want to work from home, I wanted a team, an office space, and to actually leave the house. Once again, I created a short list of mandatory boxes to check before officially making the leap to a consulting business.
- Register your name: If you want to start your own agency or business, you'll need a name, I chose Avex Designs, and registered an LLC. There are a few options for you here, but I felt an LLC was best for me. Depending on your situation and geographic location, another option might be best for you. I used Legal Zoom to get registered and it was around $800. Sounds expensive but once your LLC or business entity is setup, you'll be able to set up a bank account and start accepting payments under your company name. Which is a huge plus. You can also take advantage of tax breaks as well, depending on where you live.
- Office space: You can continue to work from home if you'd like, but I wanted that NYC address and I really needed a space of my own. That is where a shared office space came in. It was affordable and offered all of the amenities that I needed. The space was all inclusive with wifi, conference rooms, beer, coffee and a great location.
- Employees: Now that I had an office space, I needed some employees to help take on the work load. I actually hired a close friend who was a designer, so it was an easy choice for me. However, as we started to staff up and bring on more employees, I used services such as Indeed and Krop to find amazing talent.
Wearing many hatsWhen making the jump from an employee to freelancer and then to an agency founder, you really start to take on various roles. I wasn't just designing and developing anymore. Some roles I took on when first starting my agency—and continue to take on—were:
- Project manager
- Creative director
- Human Resources
- SEO specialist
- Account manager
- And more…
John Surdakowski is the founder and creative director at Avex Designs, a digital agency in New York City. John has been working in the digital space for 15 years and loves sharing his thoughts and experiences about web design, development and marketing. When he is not collaborating with global brands and agencies, he's writing music, spending time with his family or in the mountains snowboarding.
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