How to start a freelance business from absolute $0 & without taking on debt

Have you ever wanted to start a business or start freelancing, but hesitate because you don’t think you have enough money to start? It’s true it takes money to make money, but I can assure you it is possible to start from literally nothing. 

In 2006 Kyle MacDonald started with just a paperclip and traded his way to a house through a series of 14 trades with perfect strangers. In 2020 during the pandemic, Demi Skipper, a woman in San Francisco, started making trades with a bobby pin and hopes to get to a house as well. 

Just as these creative citizens made better and better trades you can also start working for yourself with little or no money to start. 

First take an inventory of what you currently have to work with. We already established that you have absolutely zero dollars. But do you really? Is your income budgeted down to the last dollar? Maybe there’s a subscription that you can do without, or a Starbucks habit that you can cut back on. Let’s just pretend that you decide to cancel a Disney plus membership and a couple trips to Starbucks per week. That right there created at least $17 per month. 

What if you didn’t have anything to cut from your budget? Look around the house and see if you have anything you can sell. Have a garage sale, or put things up for sale on Facebook Marketplace, and Craigslist. Let’s pretend you sold a few things and now have $100. 

Now you’re making progress! The best thing about service based businesses such as graphic design, web design or writing is that you are your most valuable asset. If you have a computer or even a smartphone you can start working online. 

First things first, you’ll want to do is start creating examples of your work. Volunteering is the best way to do this and get reviews from your friends and family. Maybe even find another business owner who needs work done and you can make trades which worked out well for Kyle and Demi in our previous example. Next create free profiles on platforms like Fiverr and Upwork. Once you have a collection of your work to show and some reviews from previous clients then you have experience that you can sell. 

Remember to sell the value to your talent, not just the time it takes you. Thinking this way in the very beginning of your freelance career will help you from getting stuck in the trap of trading time for dollars later. 

Once you’ve earned a couple hundred dollars you’re going to need to get your business in order with a business license, and business bank account. Legal zoom is a good option for this, however bootstrapping it and finding the information out on your state small business website works just as well. 

At this point you might be tempted to start a website and put your portfolio together. However, this might sound odd coming from a Web Designer, but you really don’t need a website to start out. Create a Paypal business account and you can start collecting money there. As you get more and more clients and work your revenue will build on itself. The $117 you found around the house can be invested into joining Google Workspace to keep your business organized and give you a professional email address. Then the $100 you earn for a logo design can be saved to purchase your business license. Pretty soon it will start to snowball, and you will want to pay yourself a consistent income.

When I first started I would get paid from a client and I would transfer all of the money into my business account. The problem with this is that the months that you don’t have as much work you will have nothing to pay yourself. Instead start by putting all of your income into one account and then decide how much you want to pay yourself each month and transfer that amount out into another account. Even if you connect your bank account up to Upwork, make sure you connect it to your business account not your personal account. 

So as you can see it is possible to start from literally zero when you offer a service like graphic design, social media management or copywriting. Consistency and persistence can be more valuable than a fancy computer. Providing a great service to your customers and budgeting your money is also important. 

Are you looking to start a new freelance career? Request the Getting Started Freelancing Money Planner below. This example on the first page assumes that you’re starting from zero, with some sample amounts you could get paid on your first freelance graphic design or social media marketing projects. The amount you pay yourself is only $20. That’s ok, this starting plan is something you can begin doing while you are still working full time. You do want to pay yourself something, so I recommend you take that $20 and go reward yourself with a nice working lunch at Panera Bread or something once a week. If you start out with larger numbers great, remember, the important thing is consistency.

So enter your email address below and we’ll send you the Planner today so you can put your goals into practice in 2021!