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The freelance economy in the US is growing at an unprecedented rate. In fact, US-based freelancers saw a surge in demand despite full-time labor suffering. With many talented professionals joining the gig economy, staying ahead and keeping competitive is crucial. After all, the San Francisco Bay Area is reported to have a high concentration of freelancers, nearing 200,000, with many working in technology jobs like software development that have been largely unaffected by social-distancing restrictions.

If you’re one of the many looking to become a freelancer in the competitive state of California, or more specifically San Francisco, we’ve outlined steps you need to take so you can start your freelance business below:

Plan it out

A comprehensive business plan is key to successfully getting your freelance business off the ground — especially if you plan to do this full time. Steven Ma from The Startup outlines a few steps you should take: narrowing down your ideal clients and services, creating set prices for your offerings, and creating recurring options for existing/returning clients.

Narrowing down your ideal clients will help you maximize your time — you don’t want to end up accepting small clients with small jobs. This also lets you build an impressive portfolio, as you’ll get to showcase your talent and expertise by focusing on a particular industry. For instance, in San Francisco focusing on building a tech company will allow you to target the same clients as Silicon Valley. By creating set prices for your services, you’ll also get to set a boundary that works for you and the client, while recurring options help you keep existing clients for the long term.

Register Your Business

When you’re done thinking about the details for your business, operating as a self-employed freelancer requires registering with the government. While most freelancers think that operating under a sole proprietorship is best, this isn’t always the case. The primary way to protect yourself from liability is to choose an organizational form, such as a limited liability company (LLC) or corporation, as it makes the business a separate entity from you.

However, corporations may be complex for those just starting out, as it requires far more documents and has different tax implications. On the other hand, a ZenBusiness guide to LLCs in California explains how this business structure can help you protect your personal assets and gives you a lot of flexibility in terms of tax and how you run your business. Not to mention, it’s easy to form and can be done in just a few steps — it simply requires a name, a few documents, and a registered agent in California. And this doesn’t just apply to California, as the general process for an LLC across the nation is very similar.

Set up a website

A website is a necessity to build your brand as a freelancer. But before you dive into site mock-ups and design, plan it out first. Think about what you want the website to say, how it will look, and how you want to get traffic from clients. This is where you need to think about your domain name, website hosting, and website platform. There are a lot of popular platforms out there that offer all these services, such as GoDaddy, WordPress, Wix, and Duda — you just need to figure out what works for you and your budget.

Network and marketing

When you’ve set up your business legally and have a website for it, the next step is to get your name out there and find clients. You can do so by joining professional and local organizations, telling your family, or even cold calling. Referrals will make up the bulk of your gig, and joining organizations will help you learn insider tips.

While events and coworking spaces are on hold given the pandemic, the San Francisco Chronicle lists a few alternatives to help you meet new people. You can cowork at other people’s houses with an app called Gabe, or visit an outdoor social club such as the Academy, which hosts panel discussions, hands-on classes, and other activities where you can meet people to network with.

But aside from networking, you’ll also need to learn how to sell yourself. Millennial entrepreneur Yan Stavisski emphasizes that sales skills is one of the secrets to his success, as he was able to become a professional in his skills and provide value to his clients and business partners. In this way, you’ll get to sell your services better and attract more referrals.

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