The New Freelancer: Launching Your Virtual Company

September 8, 2009 at 10:03 pm

Step 1: Launching Your Virtual Company

So you’re ready to head off into the awesome world of freelance development: be your own boss, call your own shots, hire people, fire people, and rake in the money. The new freelancer is the virtual company: a team of individuals, each with their own unique talents – loosely associated with each other that come together on a project-by-project basis according to the needs of each assignment. Virtual companies are taking over the web development world. They are flexible and scalable, with low overhead and global reach. Getting up and running with your own virtual freelance business is now easier than ever. There are plenty of freely (and cheaply) available resources online to help you get started. But before you do anything, you need to make your company official. This series of articles are based largely upon my own experience in starting up a virtual company. This first segment will help you get your new business off the ground.

The Business Side of Creativity

Consult the Experts

I highly recommend reading through The Business Side of Creativity: The Complete Guide for Running a Graphic Design or Communications Business by Cameron S. Foote before taking any steps towards your company launch. Much of what we’ll cover in the first step of this series is addressed in this book, and it will give you a good idea of what you’re getting into.

Form a Business Plan

Before you jump head-first into designing a logo, building a website, and schmoozing clients, take a step back and remember that this is a business. Without a solid plan of attack, your company will be in the red before you know it. Even if you never show your plan to anyone else, it’s a good idea to put your business goals down on paper, and to revise this plan every year. Secondly, if you ever want to convince a bank or a private investor in loaning money to your company, a business plan is mandatory. Here’s a sample business plan template to help you get started.

Go Daddy

Choose Your Company Name and Register Your Domain

Now for the fun part. Be creative. Take into consideration the identity you want to portray. This is your brand. But keep in mind that naming your company and registering a domain go hand in hand. You won’t be taken seriously without a website, but virtually every real-word domain is already reserved, so think about spelling your company phonetically. It should be easy to remember. Dot-coms are the most desirable but they are not necessary, so consider all your options. Naming your company can actually be the most difficult step in your company launch. Take your time and find something that you know you’ll be happy with for many years. Above all, have some fun with the process. Here are some resources to help:

IRS

Register With the IRS

Ahhh, taxes. There’s no way around it. But that’s not the only reason you should make your company officially registered with the government. Having a corporate identity offers a layer of protection between you and your clients/contractors. This also allows you to keep your business and personal finances separate from each other. Having an EIN lets you present yourself to your clients as a business entity, not just a freelancer. Of course, if you’re not located in the United States, you’ll need to register with your local government, not the IRS. There are plenty of services out there that will offer to take care of this legal process for you. However, doing this yourself is not difficult at all. Everything you need is available at the Internal Revenue Service website. You can apply for an EIN here. The application process takes less then an hour and you should receive all your paperwork in the mail within a few days.

Get a Business Account

You have your detailed plan of attack, your brilliant company name, your website domain reserved at your registrar of choice, and your business registered with the government. Take a second and breath. You’re official! With your new EIN, you can and should open up a business checking account. It’s always best to keep your business finances separate from your personal transactions. While you’re at it, make sure to order some nice professional voucher checks. Consider opening up a business credit account as well to build some credit for your company. Always deposit your business income in your business account, and pay all contractors from this account. Keeping all your business transactions in one place is a life-saver when tax season comes around.

MOO

Brand Yourself

Now it’s time to form your public identity. If you’re a designer this is the most fun. If you’re not a designer, it’s time to get in touch with one. You’ll need your business basics: a logo, some business cards, and a website. The website doesn’t need to be overkill, but be sure to include the essentials: about the company, contact information, and a big call to action to get in touch with you. Your business cards don’t need to be quite so typical either. The more unique and eye-catching, the better. I order my cards from MOO, skinny little cards that are especially great for designers/illustrators/photographers.

Congratulations!

At this point, your company is up and running! You may not have any clients available or work coming in, but your website is live and you’re ready to hand out your freshly printed business cards to everyone you meet. The hard part is over. In the next segment I’ll cover some useful web applications to help you easily run your new virtual company. Remember, you still need to manage projects, keep track of contractors, and stay on top of your invoices. If you found this segment useful, or if you have anything to add, or even if you completely disagree with every word on the page, feel free to contact me and let me know your thoughts.

Business | |

Consolidation Is Coming

August 11, 2009 at 9:26 am

The trends are everywhere. Facebook just bought FriendFeed. Google Voice is currently in beta, and Google is launching Wave later this year. What do all these tools help to do? They consolidate multiple streams of information into one thread. With FriendFeed, you can now see all of your friends’ status updates from Twitter, Facebook, and Flickr on one web page. Google Voice combines all your phone numbers into one, and puts your texts and voicemail in one place. Google Wave renders all online conversation as one organic stream of consciousness. Blogs, IMs, and email all appear in real time in the same conversation. In fact, I’m sure Google would love to have their suite of online tools be the one-stop-shop for all web users everywhere.

Until recently, the very successful Web2.0 apps seemed to do just the opposite. They restricted their features to one task and did it exceptionally well. Basecamp tackled project management. Tick focused on timekeeping and budgets. Mint handles personal finance, although you could make the case that it packages all your financial data into one location. Google Maps is strictly a map. Their exposed APIs allowed them all to be extended and have their functionality broadened, but at their core, these are simple single-task tools. Web applications that attempted to do it all collapsed because of their bloated and unfocused nature.

Now that the web-as-application has matured from its infancy, users are looking to spend less time on multiple sites and get more done in one place. I expect this is just the beginning of the consolidation years, and developers looking for the next area of growth should start thinking about how to streamline multiple online tasks/data/communication into simpler, organized, easy-to-use, and consolidated applications.

Web2.0 | |

Do You Want to be a Freelancer or an Entrepreneur?

July 28, 2009 at 7:00 pm

The Bootstrapper's Bible

The Bootstrapper's Bible

From Seth Godin’s manifesto, The Bootstrapper’s Bible:

A freelancer sells her talents. While she may have a few employees, basically she’s doing a job without a boss, not running a business. Layout artists, writers, consultants, film editors, landscapers, architects, translators, and musicians are all freelancers. There is no exit strategy. There is no huge pot of gold. Just the pleasure and satisfaction of making your own hours and being your own boss.

An entrepreneur is trying to build something bigger than herself. She takes calculated risks and focuses on growth. An entrepreneur is willing to receive little pay, work long hours, and take on great risk in exchange for the freedom to make something big, something that has real market value.

Business | |

Seth Godin and The 7% Solution

November 28, 2007 at 8:43 pm

Seth Godin asks his readers to imagine they’re real estate brokers and need to charge above the standard 6% commission. How can they justify a higher rate? This is a great exercise to reevaluate what you’re offering your customers. What if you had to charge more than your competitors? What will distinguish you? Can you do that for what you already charge? Clear and simple, Seth.

Marketing | |

A List Apart: Findings from the Web Design Survey

November 3, 2007 at 11:26 am

A List Apart has pieced together results from a survey given to close to 33,000 web professionals. There are some interesting findings about who we are and why we do what we do. View the survey.

Business Web | |