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So how and when do you start? How much money should you save up? What programs or software should you buy? What steps do you take to get a company name (do you just open up a checking account?)? Also (I know there is one of these on the forum but I want to elaborate on it) how do you approach your first client? What documents do you provide and are there places to get these contracts on the Internet? What do you try to get them to sign at the proposal? Essentially, how do you do it?
I for one just finished my first site. It was a simple hobby site. I know, I have a long way to go. But I know that even the simple site that I hand coded in notepad after taking tutorials online showed potential. And I immediately fell in love with it. I have talked about it at work and showed it to people and all of a sudden landed 3 clients and am charging them practically nothing just to learn more. I made a new years resolution that I would go out on my own by the end of the year.
I am actually going to target a niche in my area that I know I can excel in. Real-estate agent sites (I am an admin at a real-estate office). You should see these templates that they all have for sites that the company charges them $400 to set it up and $25 a month and all it is is a few things thrown in a cms and its done.
I donít make a lot of money where I work. So it will be hard to get a financial cushion to sit on when I go out on my own.
But here is my plan.
I am going to get business cards right away after I get paid for the site I am doing right now. On my list of things to purchase are: a laptop, dreamweaver (brother let me borrow it right now but if i start making money I am going to purchase it), a cms creator that my friend showed me (about $1k), make my business site, and as said above business cards.
Am I on the right track? Can anyone add anything for all of us beginners to learn?
list of things to purchase
I'd recommend not buying anything (or at least, the bare minimum - business cards maybe) until you have your first client. Let the revenue from the first contract pay for the expenses you need to set up the business - particularly as you say you don't have much of a financial 'cushion'.
It's good to practice building sites for others...I've done it...and I still doing it.
But I think it's much better, after you learn the stuff, to build your site (find a suitable niche), improving it and make it in a cash machine...or even better have 2-3 sites (in different niches or related on to another) which can be turned in a cash machine.
Of course, it takes a lot of work and inspiration...and maybe you will need help (maybe you can involve your g/f?)...but I think the reward can be much more than building the sites for others (been there, done that...and still doing it :(...).
I know there are webmasters here which are doing that...and they are doing very well.
You're showing great enterprise (spotting a problem for which you have the solution in your niche) and I'm sure that you WILL go freelance eventually and that you'll be very successful.
However, it's vital that you keep your eye on the prize, which is selling your services.
Forget the biz cards, the company name and all the paraphernalia and just get CLIENTS.
Give a prospect a quote, get a retainer (50 per cent) and go for it.
Re laptop, software etc -- these are just resources. Use what you have and do the work. You will never have all the resources you (think) you need.
Just get started. Work for one client, and another and another...
You start tomorrow morning, any later will be too late!
>How much money should you save up?
On the safe side 2+ years of income and expenses, if you are "feeling lucky", 6 months will do! I saved over 2 years of income and expenses, 6 months would have done, so I waited too long :(
>What programs or software should you buy?
A good HTML editor, a good FTP program (I like CuteFTP), a good "paint" program (I like PaintShopPro), a good accounting system (I like QuickBooks), a good credit card billing system (I like Authorize.net), some clients will want "Flash", for that I prefer Swish to Macromedia.
>What steps do you take to get a company name (do you just open up a checking account?)?
You need to Incorporate, you can do this online for typically less than $150. Then you need to open a checking account in the name of the company. You will probably need a business phone bill & Tin # to do this.
You will also need to pay your State fees for business registration and possibly register with the State/County for Intangible tax.
>how do you approach your first client? What documents do you provide and are there places to get these contracts on the Internet?
My first clients were people I already knew or people I was geographically close to. They had a need, I had a solution (low cost in those days), and it just went from there. Previous acquaintances are easier sales than "unknowns".
>What do you try to get them to sign at the proposal? Essentially, how do you do it?
You get them to sign a website development agreement and hosting agreement in the first instance. You might add an SEO agreement later.
If you have no experience of writing such agreements you might need an Attorney's help with this. If you are comfortable with contracts then there are many you can simply "steal" from other sources on the web and rewrite them accordingly.......probably still best to pass them by an Attorney before you present them to a prospective client!
The hardest part of this is the financial cushion.
I live paycheck to paycheck because the area I live in is so expencive. It would be hard to me to save up 6 months worth of income let alone a couple of years. I think at the rate I am picking up prospective clients already I might be able to get away with a couple of months worth saved up. (And the clients are only from one real estate company... real estate is an expencive think in the area I live so they all have tons of cash)
Any other advice or stories about what you did to go freelance?
There are plenty of free FTP programs and whatever else you need out there so I wouldn't spend any money on software or hardware at this early stage unless you absolutely need it--you might need to buy unexpected software or hardware later in order to accept a job so keep a cushion for those expenses.
Re Dreamweaver I wouldn't go in that direction if you are already writing code by hand-unless you like correcting the code errors so your pages will validate. Once you've done several websites you will have a collection of snippets of code you can use for future projects.
They say it takes 5 years for a business to take off so only buy software hardware as you need it.
When I actually go full time freelance I am going to get (a loan for) a server and a T1 (which a friend who owns a computer gaming center said I could hook up there since I am not planning on haveing an actual office). Judging by this area I could easily charge $50 a month for a site. $25 for hosting is and $25 for 'renting out' a CMS for their site.
All these ideas a zooming through my head and the only people who are supportive are people on here and my gf... my family thinks I am insane. (Which I just might be... :P )
I mean, you are competiting with other freelancers who can offer cheaper hosting (not on their own computer) and are working with free CMS. So they are charging only for their services, not for CMS too.
Also, do you know how to administer a server, a web server?You don't want to be taken down by hackers...
Do you pay for your server software?
As for the hosting costs. I work as an admin at a real estate firm atm and they charge $25 a month to the agents here for hosting on their horrible server that goes down about once a week.
And the CMS I am just thinking about the renting of it right now. I know that these agents (who make an average of 100k a year and some of my potential clients make 5-10x that) would quickly pay it. But who knows. I am just figuring it all out right now.