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9 Things Every Freelance Creative Needs To Run Their Business

Table of ContentsUpdated Aug 14, 2023

If you’re a freelance creative, navigating the “business” parts of your career might feel like a drag. We creatives tend to get excited about building cool things, and we seem to lose interest when people start talking about things like billing, customer acquisition, and project management. But they’re still integral to your business, so here is a list of 9 things you need to successfully run a freelance creative business.

a woman take notes in a notebook at desk with computer

1. Portfolio Website

Your portfolio website is, perhaps, the most important thing you own. It’s where you showcase your work, demonstrate your skills, and communicate your unique creative perspective. Keep it updated with your latest projects, and follow best UX/UI practices to ensure your visitors get a great first impression. 

Pro tip: find a few great portfolio sites you really like and try to integrate some of your favorite features into your own.

2. Project Management Tools

Trying to juggle multiple projects and deadlines can become extremely difficult without the right tools. Project management tools help you track your work and manage your to-do list. I recommend using a very simple project management software when you first start out. Robust enterprise solutions like Asana or Monday.com can be great, but they tend to feel overwhelming if you aren’t familiar with project management. You can always upgrade to those options once you have too many clients to keep track of!

If you are looking for some trusted project management tools the team at Millo uses, I have added some below, give their free trials a shot! 

3. Communication Tools

In our digital world, having quality communication tools ensures that you can respond to clients quickly, collaborate effectively, and present yourself professionally.

Most freelance creatives run into issues with client feedback. Whether it’s trying to schedule a meeting with a client to review your work, or struggling through the back-and-forth of emails, there hasn’t always been a great method to capture client feedback. That’s part of the reason we built Whelm. We have a robust client feedback suite that makes client reviews a breeze (and asynchronous, too!).

4. Marketing

You can be the greatest freelancer in the world, but it doesn’t matter if no one knows you exist. Identify the marketing channels that will help you reach your target audience and get to work spreading your message, whether that’s posting on social media or dropping off a business card in physical locations. Embrace the challenge of marketing—it’s just another platform to express your creativity!

A contract is the foundation of a professional business relationship. It defines the scope of work, payment terms, and what happens if things go awry. It can be supremely boring to deal with, don’t get me wrong. But it’s an important safeguard that protects you, your work, and your client, so don’t ignore it.

Common Contract Types

  • Freelance Contract/Agreement: This is the most critical document. It outlines the scope of the work, payment details, timelines, and responsibilities of each party. It should also cover confidentiality, intellectual property rights, and termination of the agreement.
  • Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA): This agreement is needed if the freelancer will have access to confidential information related to the client’s business. It ensures the freelancer will not disclose or misuse this information.
  • Statement of Work (SOW): This document is typically attached to the main contract and gives detailed descriptions of tasks, deliverables, deadlines, and any specific requirements for the work to be performed.
  • Invoices: Invoices are used to bill the client for the work done. They should include the amount due, due date, services rendered, and any other pertinent information.
  • Work for Hire Agreement: In some industries, the client might require this document to clarify that they own the rights to the work produced by the freelancer.
  • Service Level Agreement (SLA): If your work involves ongoing services, like maintenance, an SLA outlines the expectations for things like response times, resolution times, and availability.
  • Proposal or Estimate: Before the work begins, a freelancer will often provide a proposal or estimate outlining what the project will entail and how much it will cost.
  • Business License or Permit: Depending on your location and the nature of your work, you may need to provide proof that you’re legally allowed to operate as a freelancer.
  • Intellectual Property (IP) Agreement: If your work involves creating new content, an IP agreement ensures both parties understand who owns what.
  • Insurance Documents: Depending on your industry, you might need professional liability insurance or other forms of coverage.
  • Payment Agreement or Schedule: This can be part of the contract. It’s crucial to specify payment terms, due dates, and the method of payment.
  • Timesheets/Work Logs: If you are billing based on time provide documentation showing how much time was spent on different tasks.

If you are looking for a turn key option, the Freelance Files by Millo has an extensive list of files, templates, and contracts to get you started.

6. Networking

Meeting new clients is essential to making a living. It’s through networking that you find new opportunities, learn from peers, and stay up-to-date on industry trends. I’m a bit of an introvert, so I don’t usually get excited about networking events. But when I force myself to go, I usually leave feeling excited, inspired, and hopeful.

7. Health Insurance

Health insurance is about as exciting as watching paint dry, but you still need it. Even if it’s a low-cost, $0 deductible plan, make sure you get some coverage. You might not think you’ll need it, but trust me, you do. Sitting at a desk, staring at a computer screen all day can take its toll on your health. A regular visit with a physical therapist can keep you at your best. Plus, if something scary like a car accident or sickness comes your way, you won’t have to carry that financial burden alone.

8. Financial Processes

Budgets, invoices, expenses, tax preparation, and more. Get these right, and life is good; ignore them, and you may find yourself in a storm of financial confusion. 

A good place to start is setting up an LLC, creating a business bank account, and getting in touch with a certified public accountant (CPA) or bookkeeper. I’ve liked Novo as a bank for small businesses. The software is user-friendly and free, plus it integrates with most financial softwares like Quickbooks. We use it here at Whelm, and it pairs well with the invoicing tool in our own software.

9. Prepare To Grow

You likely won’t need these things when you’re first starting out. but as you grow, a virtual assistant or a robust CRM (customer relationship management software) might come in handy to help you manage the chaos.

There you have it! That’s my list of 9 things every freelance creative needs to run their business. Treat each component with care, and you’ll be well on your way to building a freelancing career that is creatively fulfilling and financially lucrative. 

One More Thing

I feel like I should make a small plug here at the end for Whelm. I’ve been a freelance graphic designer for years, so I know the struggles you might face as a freelancer. I started Whelm to help with that. It’s a business management suite, built specifically for freelance creatives. You can manage your client feedback, send custom invoices, create digital contracts, and more, all from one app.  

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Written by Chipper Whatcott

Contributor at Millo.co

Chipper is the founder of Whelm – a business management suite for freelance creatives. With a background in digital marketing and years of experience as a freelance graphic designer, he's passionate about creating accessible tools for freelance creatives.

Chipper's Articles

Reviewed & edited by Alex Skinner, Editor at Millo.

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