For a freelancer, there comes a time where some big changes are needed where it comes to your business. This feeling may come on suddenly, or could come on after several years. No matter what led you to this situation, here you are.
For me that big change was relaunching my freelancing business into something bigger, better, sexier, and more professional. In this freelancing tutorial, I'll walk you through my experience and how you can successfully rebrand and relaunch your own freelance business.
Have you ever stayed up at night, staring at your ceiling, with the feeling that something wasn’t quite right with your business, but couldn’t put your finger on it? Well that was me, during the middle of 2011.
I was within a year of graduating college, had been a freelancer for four years, and was enjoying the successes and growth with my freelance career. But there I was; staring at my ceiling with that gut feeling that something had to change.
I decided it was time to relaunch my business under a new name.
That was the start of one of the most extensive projects I have ever undertaken. It took me about six months to relaunch my business. I had a specific date in mind and I set out to relaunch my business by that date. I had alot of work to do.
About This Guide
I’m sure there are other freelancers who have been or are currently in the same situation I was: wanting to make big changes and feel that relaunching their business is the answer.
I gained a wealth of knowledge, along the way, and since the freelance community helped me get started freelancing over four years ago (and some helped me during my relaunch), it’s time I gave back with a guide on how to relaunch your freelance business.
Throughout this guide, I am going to take you through the necessary steps of relaunching your freelancing business. A lot of it may sound familiar, as many of the steps are the same steps you take when you first start freelancing. But since you have already danced that dance (right?), I am going to give additional insights as to what it is like to relaunch your business when you are already doing business.
Now I will probably use the term “relaunch” more than “rebrand,” and while they are both very close together, what I mean by “relaunch” is completely starting from the ground up and reworking everything about your business. This guide can help you if you are wanting to relaunch your business, but it can also help if you just want to rebrand your business, or another words just change your business name, target market, and other details while keeping most of the aspects of current your business the same.
It took me roughly six months to relaunch my business, so I developed this guide in months to make it easier. Of course if you wanted to take longer or need to do it in a shorter period, doing some math will allow you to do these steps faster or slower as necessary.
I have learned a lot in my four-plus years of freelancing, especially since I started with no business plan, no emergency savings, no clients, no referrals, no portfolio, and no website. I went from no experience to having a growing portfolio, several clients, and street cred where it came to my freelancing knowledge. I was extremely pleased with my success and my business growth.
That brings me back to staring at my ceiling. I was thinking about what my next step should be. Graduation was around the corner, my business was booming, and I sitting at the junction of many life-changing events.
I decided to relaunch my business for many reasons, both personally and professionally. One, I was close to graduation and do not intend on going on the job hunt for an employer. I enjoy my self-employment and with a business that is growing, it just doesn't make sense to stop to seek a job.
Second, I didn't feel like a full-fledged business. Since I fell into freelancing, I was just kind of running without really looking at where I was going. I took pretty much every project I could do, marketed myself as needed, and just changed a few things here and there to help with growth. This, my business side was telling me, was not going to last long.
Those were the two main professional reasons, but several personal reasons include wanting to stop operating under my name so that one, if I get married I wouldn't have to worry about a name change, and two, if or when I hired employees, they wouldn't be saying "I work for Amber Turner Creative." That to me just sounded weird. I also wanted to take myself more seriously and make myself take my career more seriously.
For most freelancers, I would imagine that their reasons could be along the same lines above. Others could include getting married/divorced, moving to another city, state, or country, possibility of wanting to sell the business in the future, moving from part time freelancer (with full time job on the side) to a full time freelancer, finding that their business isn't as successful as they want it to be, wanting to change up their current service offering (i.e., moving from print to web design), start hiring employees, or any other major life event. All of these reasons, and others, are very valid reasons to relaunch your freelancing business.
Month 0: Making the Decision
So what is with this long story about what led me to relaunch my business? Making such a big decision was not an overnight thing. I actually didn’t even know what I was doing until a couple of months into the process.
I knew that I needed to prep my business for some major life changes headed my way (mainly college graduation). I was operating under my own name, with no real solid business presence. I felt that with making this my full time gig after graduation, I needed to take my freelance business more seriously.
Make a list of pros and cons.
The reason I put making the decision to relaunch your business as step zero is because you really have to sit and making a list of the pros and cons to relaunching your business, and why. Without really sitting down and putting serious thought into making major changes, then ultimately there will be no step one.
This forces you to think about your business in ways you probably never have before. Is your business ready for change? Is it the right thing for you right now? To help guide the decision process, I made a list of questions to consider before deciding to relaunch your business.
Month 1: Seeing the Forest Through the Trees
The most time consuming part of the process for me was getting all of my thoughts down on paper, doing the necessary research to find out if I was missing any steps, and developing a plan of attack. I hope to save you some of the hassle here by helping you with the research and planning part.
Spend time focusing on the reasons behind the relaunch.
First off, spend some time writing down reasons and motivations on why you want to relaunch your business (some of which I am sure overlap with the pros and cons list in step 0). These act as drivers or reminders during the process as to why you are doing all of this work. Spend several days on this and don’t be surprised if you find yourself adding to or editing this list later. I have created a handy worksheet where you can start collecting your thoughts.
Keep an idea and thoughts journal.
With all these ideas floating around in my head, I found an empty spiral notebook (aka, the journal) and just started writing everything that came to mind: business names, marketing ideas, what I wanted my website to look like, the services I wanted to offer. Everything that possibly came to my mind, I wrote down in this journal.
Start reading freelancing books and articles to help generate more ideas.
I had this journal, full of notes and ideas about my business relaunch. But I know there were things I was missing. I turned to my handy library of freelancing books. I pulled every single book I had that talked about freelancing. It was time to read what the experts had to say.
While I was reading, my mind started fluttering again with all kinds of thoughts, all of which went straight to my thoughts journal. I spent about a month filling this journal full of ideas, to do’s, sketches, lists, brain maps, etc. while reading book after book.
Month 2: Developing a Game Plan
I love making plans. If it isn’t on paper with dates attached, it won’t get done. I just spent an entire month thinking and writing about my business relaunch, so as you can imagine, my journal was getting pretty full and was a bit unorganized.
Start organizing your journal into categories.
Since I wrote down everything to do about my relaunch, there were a lot of things in that journal and it was starting to get messy. I found a three ring binder and made tabs for categories based on what I had written in my journal. Some of those categories included business concept, needed advice, services, personal life, money, and marketing.
Starting with my journal and a handful of loose notebook paper, I started taking what I had and putting it in order. For instance, under the category “needed advice,” I would have a sheet dedicated to questions for an accountant, another sheet for questions for a lawyer, and so on. When I came across a question for either the accountant or lawyer, I wrote it on the appropriate sheet, then marked it out of my journal. I continued this process until everything in my journal was marked out.
Fill in the missing gaps.
When I had everything from my journal organized, I noticed there was some noticeable gaps of missing information. Example, I had alot of information about how I wanted my website to look, but no real information about how to market my business outside of my website.
I looked through my notebook and found several key areas where I needed more information. In the areas I did research to help fill in the gaps, just to make sure all of my basis were covered. Everything was starting to get fleshed out quite nicely.
Planning out the journey.
So now that all of my ducks are in a row, I needed to put myself on a schedule to make sure I met all of my deadlines for the big launch. For me, my launch date was pretty firm, so I worked backwards from the launch date.
First start by figuring out an exact date on when you want to relaunch your business. I suggest working backwards from that date when making a schedule. I have included a sample time table, with a blank one for you to create your own. From there it is really just making sure you can hit all of your marks in the allotted time.
Month 3: Business Foundation and Structure
Like I mentioned above, I fell into freelancing. So I never had decided on business structure I wanted, what accounting system to use, nor did I get a business license, business insurance, health insurance.... and the list goes on. And let’s not forget the BIG one: a business name.
What’s in a name?
One of the main reasons I wanted to relaunch my business was because it was time I stopped operating under my name and start operating under a business name. This process is different for everyone, but I had been thinking about a business name for a while. Once I selected my business name, January Creative, it was all downhill from there.
Spend plenty of time in this phase of your business, if you are planning to change your business name. Your business name says alot about you and your business, so you have to make sure you get it just right.
With choosing a name, some research needs to be done, such as making sure it isn’t already used, the domain name is available, and everything. That is where I had the most struggle. Every time I came up with a name, it was taken.
Once you select your business name, then rush around everywhere and start protecting it, including registering with the state as a DBA if necessary, buying up the domain name, register the Twitter name, set up the Facebook. EVERYTHING. You want that bad boy protected so no one else gets the chance to snatch it while you are doing all the hard work relaunching your business.
Sole proprietor, LLC, corporation, oh my!
I live in the United States, Tennessee more specifically, so you may need to find the equivalent to what I am about to discuss for your neck of the woods.
Most freelancers start as a sole proprietor because there is no official filing. You are your business. However, depending on the changes you are undergoing, you may need to change your business structure. This is where talking to a lawyer will help you tremendously. I was fortunate enough to talk to a lawyer and was able to select the structure pretty well.
Your situation may send you on a different path, but whatever path that is, it is important to get that straightened out now, and understand reasons, risks, and benefits to that structure.
Since I was headed to the big leagues, it was time to become legit. I never took the time before to become legal with a business license, along with getting a solid project contract, business insurance, and all that jazz. This time around, it was time to make sure my business was legal and protected.
Some freelancers already have these things, but if you don’t, it is time to start getting together the following: lawyer, accountant, business insurance, business license, health insurance, and separate bank accounts. I made a nice checklist for you of things you want to get together for your business relaunch. Check out the download accompanying this tutorial for userful worksheets!
If you have most of these things already, then you should take the time to change the business name on the right papers, and make sure that any major changes you are making still are being supported by things like your lawyer, accountant (and accounting process), contract, and especially business insurance.
Defining your business.
The creative concept for your business should drive everything else you do from here on out by coming up with what your business is, what it will do, how it will do it, etc. Some call it a business plan, others call it business definition. Think if it as a document that will guide you in producing everything you need for your business.
Define things such as your services, your mission, your goals, and your financial aspects. You should have alot of these ideas in your notebook, but taking those ideas, fleshing them out, and making it into a solid definition of your business will help guide you through the process.
Month 4: The Fun Part
Here is where the most fun came for me. After all the planning was done, it was time to put that plan into action. I had a website to build, a business license to get, and so many other things. It was time to get to work!
Getting down to business.
So now the rubber meets the road. Start hunting for a lawyer and an accountant, start getting your website developed, get your business cards ready and printed. I’m sure you started a list in your notebook, but here is the time to really get everything done about your business. I have created a checklist of the items I got for my business to help guide you.
Since every freelancer and every business is different, the elements you need to pull together will vary quite a bit from the list I have included. Take time to make sure you have covered all of your basis, and everything you need is ready for the big relaunch day.
Remember to keep your business in mind.
I struggled with making sure I kept what was important about my business in check throughout the entire process. Be sure to continually reference the document you created that defined your business. You want your business relaunch to not only run smoothly, but you want to present a very professional, polished, and complete business to the world.
Month 5: Adding the Final Touches
I spent all this time getting everything ready, and the deadline was getting closer and closer. I finally got to a point where everything was starting to come together.
Tying up loose ends.
This should be the time where you are looking through your notebook and making sure that everything you had written you have implemented or completed in some form. I have created a checklist of some things you may want to go over to make sure they are completed.
For me, it was the things that I had thought about doing that I never added to my notebook. When I seen things starting to wind down, I was thinking of more things to implement. You may have had a few thoughts already, but this is the time to make sure you are ready for the relaunch.
Month 6: Three, two, one.... blastoff!
So here we are. All the deadlines have been met, everything is ready to go. You have planned for this moment for six months (give or take), and now it is time launch this massive project you have worked hard on.
The deadline is closer than it may appear.
The most important thing to keep in mind is meeting your deadline, especially if you have started promoting a new launch with a specific date before the launch. There is nothing that could harm your relaunch more than missing a highly-visible deadline.
If you haven’t promoted an exact date on when you are planning to relaunch your business, then you have a little bit of wiggle room (but not too much!) to make sure you have everything ready.
It’s that time!
So all that is left is to relaunch! For me that meant launching the new website, putting announcements on all of my social networks, and promoting the heck out of my business relaunch.
So what was the outcome of my freelance business relaunch?
Since relaunching my business on January 1, 2012, I have gotten alot of interest in my business. Several things have happened, such as getting featured on galleries like Creattica and in articles. I have received phone calls from highly qualified clients who work at major companies. Also, my phone and email has been going off so much so that it takes me hours to catch up every day!
Since it's been two months (at the time of this writing) since I relaunched my business, alot of the interest hasn't turned into projects yet, but with so many highly qualified prospects in the pipeline, this will surely translate into some projects.
When I notified my clients of the change prior to the relaunch date, they were all very supportive and glad that they knew that I would be sticking around for the long run, and not running off to get a job and stopping my freelance practice. Many of them congratulated me on my new venture as well!
I say all of these things because if it wasn't for relaunching my business, most of this interest would have never happened. When I took the time to polish up my business, change the name, and present myself as a professional business, people reacted in a very positive way.
Conclusion, but most importantly, the beginning.
You did all this hard work in getting your business relaunched, and you are getting positive feedback. But this isn’t the end of the journey. It has only just begun. You should be having feelings of a fresh start and a renewed motivation to reach for your freelance dreams.
You have worked hard, so it is time to celebrate! Work your freelance magic, wow your prospects and clients, and start landing projects like you have never had before!