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  • What are Touchpoints and Why Does Each One Count?

    Tuesday, April 18, 2017 by
    What are touchpoints As you look into marketing tips for your new business, you’ll probably see references to “touchpoints.” What are they, and what role do they play in a successful small business marketing strategy? Consider this blog your personal Touchpoints 101 class. We'll cover the basics of how to identify touchpoints, create positive ones, and use them to build your business.   HostGator Website Builder  

    What are touchpoints, anyway?

    Generally speaking, a touchpoint is any point of contact between a business and its audience of customers and potential customers. Every time your audience interacts with your brand, there’s an opportunity to strengthen (or undermine) your relationship. For example... Let’s say Snappy’s Crawfish Pies buys a booth space at a community fair and co-sponsors the event.Snappy Grilling Every event flier and social media post that goes out with Snappy’s listed as a co-sponsor is a touchpoint. Local folks see the message and see that Snappy’s is contributing to the event. That’s a positive touchpoint because it shows support for the community—and it lets potential fairgoers know that they can enjoy a hot crawfish pie while they’re at the event. At the fair, the experience of buying a pie from Snappy’s booth is a touchpoint that informs their view of the brand. Social media posts, visits to Snappy’s website, and contacts with customer service are all touchpoints, too. [bctt tweet="#marketing definition: A touchpoint is any point of contact between a business and its audience." username="hostgator"]  

    Why are touchpoints so important?

    Taken together, your company’s touchpoints define your audience’s experience with your brand. The more positive each touchpoint is, the better the overall customer experience. Using our hypothetical crawfish pie company, Snappy’s will want to make sure customers get a friendly greeting and fast service when they order in person, clear ordering information and easy checkout when they order online, and satisfying responses to any questions they ask of Snappy’s customer service department. [bctt tweet="The more positive each touchpoint is, the better the overall customer experience for your customers." username="hostgator"]  

    Who creates your company’s customer touchpoints?

    It might seem like touchpoint creation is entirely up to you as the business owner, but that’s not always the case. When a customer reaches out to your business, they’re creating a touchpoint. Maybe they check your website to see your business hours, or they call your customer service line to see about returning a purchase. Consumers set these touchpoints in motion, and your business needs to be ready to make them positive and productive. Third parties can create touchpoints, too. Say one of your customers sees a review of your business in their social media feed that reinforces their view of your business as awesome. That’s a touchpoint. If your business gets media coverage – good, bad, or indifferent – that’s a touchpoint for the customers and members of your audience who see it. Even bank and credit card statements can serve as touchpoints for your brand, when your customers see your business name in their transaction list. (If they see an unfamiliar charge with a confusing description and have to call their bank to find out it’s your business, that’s a touchpoint you’d rather not have. Choose your descriptor lines carefully!)  

    Where do touchpoints appear?

    For most small, home-based businesses, touchpoints mainly appear on your company’s website, in email, on social media, and on your product packaging. If your business is brand new and you’re just getting started, these are the areas to focus on first. If your business has a physical location or has booths at local events, in-person interactions with customers are touchpoints too. That includes everything from signage and employee greetings to product display and ease of checkout. As mentioned above, touchpoints can also take the form of media coverage and sponsorship of community events as well as direct mail, print and digital advertising, and post-sale customer surveys. Any time a customer or potential shopper contacts your business, that’s a touchpoint.  

    When do touchpoints matter most?

    customer touchpointsMcKinsey recommends thinking about the entire customer journey and the touchpoints they’ll encounter along the way. In particular, think about what customers will want to know before they buy from you, how they’ll buy, and what follow-up information they’ll need before they buy again. Based on that recommendation, Snappy’s Crawfish Pies might outline its customer journey and touchpoints like this:
    • Pre-purchase: Customers may want to know if the recipe is authentic, what the ingredients are, what to serve as sides, and where to buy.
    • Purchase: Can they order online for home delivery? If so, does someone need to be home when it arrives? Can they pick up in store? Where does Snappy’s ship?
    • Post-purchase: Can we freeze the leftovers? How long will a Snappy’s pie stay fresh in the fridge? Can we schedule regular deliveries?
    Touchpoints are also important for reaching audience members who aren’t ready to buy just yet. The trick with these folks (and with your current customers, too) is to pace your social media, email, and advertising touchpoints so your audience doesn’t forget who you are but don’t feel stalked across the internet by your brand. As with email campaigns, you’ll have to monitor the responses to your touchpoints to learn how to pace them.  

    How can you use touchpoints to build your small business brand?

    Regardless of the platform you’re using to interact with your audience, following these three simple guidelines can help you get the most value from each touchpoint you create. Be consistent in your messaging. Choose a logo, a tagline, and a color scheme and stick with them. Many small businesses overlook the importance of visual branding and a simple written message. They end up turning out a jumble of touchpoints that indirectly portray the business as disorganized and unprofessional. Be positive, and strive to turn any neutral or negative touchpoints into positives. This is especially important on social media, where a post by your business may generate questions or customer service inquiries in a public forum. Remember that these situations are touchpoints not only for the customer involved but for everyone who’s following along, so show your customer satisfaction and communication skills in their best light. Track your touchpoints to see what generates clicks, sales, and referrals and do more of that. Refine or eliminate touchpoints that don’t yield positive results so you’re not wasting time and money on low-return processes. Marketing touchpoints can be a big part of small business success.

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  • Why Entrepreneurship Matters

    Monday, April 17, 2017 by
    Why Entrepreneuriship Matters Entrepreneurs, we’re often told, are the economy’s heroes. Policymakers view startups and small businesses from Main Street to Silicon Valley as engines of innovation, economic growth, and overall prosperity. If you’re wondering whether to invest time and effort into starting your own business—or if you’re starting out and finding the learning curve steeper than you expected—you may wonder if the praise for entrepreneurs is valid or hype. Here are some reasons we think entrepreneurs and their work are so valuable, whether the businesses they run are large or small. HostGator WordPress Hosting

    Entrepreneurship lets business owners build they life they want or need

    entrepreneur lifeZhena Muzyka was a single mother with $6 to her name, no health insurance, and a child with life-threating health problems when she started her tea business. Muzyka told Entrepreneur magazine one of her goals was to grow her company to five employees so she could offer an employer-sponsored health plan for herself and her workers – the only way around the pre-ACA pre-existing condition exclusions that left her son uninsured. She told the magazine, “There’s nothing more powerful than a mother’s will to protect and care for her children and that translated into a new drive to succeed for me.” Today Muzyka is the author of Life by the Cup and has her own multimedia business at Zhena.TV, an outgrowth of her success turning $6 and a tea cart into a $6 million premium tea business. [bctt tweet="Entrepreneurship lets business owners build they life they want or need. " username="hostgator"]  

    Entrepreneurship offers new solutions to customer problems

    Sara Blakely wasn’t the first woman to struggle with ill-fitting undergarments but she was the first to make a billion dollars solving the problem. Blakely, founder and owner of the Spanx line of shapewear, wanted what most women who own a pair of white pants want – underwear that didn’t make her butt look awful in those pants. Making cut-off control top pantyhose for her own use was a start, but she didn’t stop there. After working hard to find mills that would create her products and stores that would stock them, Blakely leads a worldwide brand with a presence in dozens of countries and its own line of US retail stores—all because she found a problem and persisted in solving it for herself and her customers.  

    Entrepreneurship helps communities thrive

    Kentucky farmer Kenny Mattingly, whom I interviewed earlier this year for Out Here magazine, saved his family’s small dairy farm by learning to make artisanal cheese. Mattingly’s cheese-making venture pulled his parents’ farm out of the red, and his grown son is now in the business, which means the farm will stay in the family for another generation. Kenny’s Farmhouse Cheese sells to farm visitors as well as to restaurants, grocers and individual customers across the US. The company catalog offers preserves, sauces, sausage, mustard, salsa, and wooden cutting boards made by other local entrepreneurs to create a more robust and stable local economy.  

    Entrepreneurship can create new jobs and strengthen the economy

    entrepreneurship good for economyKenny’s shows that even a small business can create jobs when it’s successful. When it comes to job creation, though, it’s hard to beat tech entrepreneurs. Microsoft, founded by Bill Gates, employs more than 100,000 people. Apple, started by the late Steve Jobs, isn’t far behind, with some 76,000 employees. However, those are just the numbers within the companies. Each enterprise has also created supplier, retail, shipping, marketing and other jobs related to its company’s products and services. On its website, Apple takes credit for creating 1.9 million jobs overall, including 1.4 million related to iOS and its many applications. Microsoft was responsible for creating 14.7 million jobs as of 2007, according to a company-sponsored economic impact study by IDC. Even a small entrepreneur-led business will generate some local economic growth. As your business grows, you may need to work with a CPA, an attorney to help you incorporate, and an assistant to take care of daily office tasks. That’s just for a solo-run operation. Product designers and small retailers can add even more strength to their local economies as they hire production help, sales clerks, customer service reps, and shipping staff. [bctt tweet="Entrepreneurship can create new jobs and strengthen the economy. " username="hostgator"]  

    Entrepreneurship can drive society-wide improvements

    Because entrepreneurs are driven to create the life they want and solve the problems they deem important, and because they tend to have strong community and economy-building skills, it’s not surprising that successful entrepreneurs are often the driving force behind major social initiatives. From Blake Mycoskie, founder of TOMS, which donates goods to people in need for each shoe and eyewear purchase, to the Gates Foundation’s push to get cellphones into the hands of women in developing nations, entrepreneurs are naturals at thinking up solutions to problems we face. When Warren Buffett was a 13-year old paperboy and horse race tipsheet publisher, he was solving the problems at hand. Today, the investment guru is one of the wealthiest people in the world and a co-founder (along with Bill and Melinda Gates) of The Giving Pledge, a program that invites other billionaires to solve big problems by pledging half or more of their wealth to philanthropy. Among those who’ve taken the pledge are international royalty and nobility, donors from old-money families like Hilton and Rockefeller, and a substantial number of self-made billionaires.  

    More reasons entrepreneurship matters

    In my experience as a solopreneur with a writing business, I’ve found that being my own boss forces me to focus on what’s important and leave the rest aside. My kids are learning, by watching me and other entrepreneurs in the family, that setbacks are part of the process and that it’s possible to build something good if you work at it, set goals, and build strong connections with others. Even without a billion-dollar business model, there’s a lot of satisfaction in being able to decide which projects to say yes to and which to decline. There’s also a sense of pride that comes from earning enough money from my own business to contribute to causes that matter to me. If you’re just starting your entrepreneurial journey or wondering how to start, follow the HostGator blog for step-by-step guides to starting your own online store, surveying your customers, and launching your home business. Is there anything we missed? Tell us why you think entrepreneurship is important in the comments below. 
  • 15 Essential Tools Every Ambitious Blogger Needs

    Thursday, April 13, 2017 by
    Online tools for bloggers Blogging isn't easy. There’s a common misconception that bloggers just write. And as a full-time blogger for your own site or maybe multiple clients, you know that writing is just one of many responsibilities. Beyond writing creative text, bloggers must develop attention-grabbing topics, create eye-popping visuals, and promote their posts on social media. Plus, there’s the business of blogging that includes tracking time, signing contracts, and collecting payments. That’s why it's so important for bloggers to use tools to make their lives less hectic. Here’s a list of 15 tools every ambitious blogger needs to excel in their craft and business. Recommended WordPress Hosting  

    1. Hubspot’s Blog Topic Generator

    So, it’s time to write. You sit down at your computer and stare at it for 30 minutes. You’re experiencing a bad case of writer’s block. The creative juices aren’t flowing. To break through this mental barrier, try using Hubspot’s Blog Topic Generator. This tool will help you generate ideas fast. Type in a few terms in the form. And voila! The generator produces a week’s worth of blog topics. Hubspot's Blog Topic Generator  

    2. Grammarly

    Most writers will agree that writing is only 20% of your job. The other 80% is editing. Writers continue to refine their writing to give readers their best work. It’s how they master the skill. Grammarly makes you a better writer by spotting grammatical errors and offering synonym suggestions. It’s like having a virtual editor. “With Grammarly, we have managed to eliminate almost every type of mistake that could potentially sneak their way through our editorial process. Grammarly has lead us to much higher customer satisfaction rates and fewer headaches for everyone involved in the content creation process,” says James Kosur, chief marketing officer at Presto Media.  

    3. CoSchedule’s Headline Analyzer

    Headlines rank as one of the most significant parts within a blog post. If you can’t capture people’s attention in a few seconds, it’s likely that your post will never get read. CoSchedule’s Headline Analyzer helps you solve that problem by scoring your titles. The analysis includes the overall structure, grammar, and readability of your headline. Moreover, you’ll learn whether your title needs an added boost of emotion. CoSchedule's Headline Analyzer

    4. BuzzSumo

    Blogging is very competitive with the growing number of content pieces being published every single day. People want their voices heard. To scope out the competition, use BuzzSumo to explore what types of content get traction. Also, learn who is sharing content and how that content compares to your posts. “With BuzzSumo you can type in a specific keyword and get a list of the most shared content related to that keyword. That way you can see what was involved and attempt to duplicate the results (or "10x" as they say),” writes Jordan Lore, a content marketer and PPC manager at Wishpond.  

    5. Canva

    Research uncovers that content paired with a relevant image boosts people’s retention of the information by 65%. Therefore, it’s essential that your blog post contains jaw-dropping visuals. With Canva, you can produce high-quality graphics for your post. Choose from millions of images and hundreds of fonts. It’s drag-and-drop feature makes designing easy for beginners. If you ever need inspiration, check out the brand’s interactive tutorials. Canva  

    6. Keyword Planner

    How will your target audience find your content? It all starts with boosting your organic search traffic. Google’s Keyword Planner is effective for forming keyword ideas, viewing historical statistics, and generating traffic forecasts. “Google’s Keyword Planner is a great place to start plugging in keywords that are relevant to your site to see what the competition for each of those keywords looks like. This will help you eliminate the ones you shouldn’t be optimizing for and select the ones that can work best to drive traffic to your site,” states Forbes contributor Jia Wertz.  

    7. Sprout Social

    Content promotion amplifies the reach of your work. So it makes sense to use social media  because it helps spread your message to a diverse audience. However, managing multiple platforms is a time-consuming task. That’s where Sprout Social comes to the rescue. This platform lets you schedule and publish your content across several social channels. With its powerful analytics, you’ll identify your best content and discover trending topics in your mentions. Sprout Social  

    8. Constant Contact

    Email marketing plays an integral role in connecting directly to your audience. Your subscribers are already familiar with your content and want to read your emails. With customizable templates, Constant Contact gives you the flexibility to shape your message. And you can track your success in real-time. “One of the key perks to using Constant Contact (vs. sending emails manually) is that you can track the successfulness of your emails. Constant Contact tells you how many people opened the message, clicked a link inside the message or forwarded the email to a friend,” says Jeremy Marsan, a business analyst and staff writer for Fit Small Business.  

    9. HostGator

    An online presence is critical for bloggers to build their brand and attract new readers or clients. A website makes it possible for you to show off your skills and portfolio. From site building tools to templates, HostGator gives you everything to launch your website right now. The WordPress Hosting plan also empowers bloggers to manage website content more efficiently. HostGator  

    10. Toggl

    When you’re engulfed in your work, it’s easy to forget how much time has elapsed. Knowing the time it takes to complete specific tasks helps you manage your time efficiently. Toggl makes sure you never lose a minute of your billable time. To increase client satisfaction, you can send reporting straight to their inboxes. No Wifi? Not a problem. The tool offers offline support.  

    11. Wave

    When tax season rolls around, scrambling for pertinent documents will only add to your frustrations. Every professional blogger needs accounting software to create, send, and track invoices. Wave helps you stay organized and run a better business. Within the software, track income and expenses to understand your cash flow. You also can connect your bank accounts for transactions to appear in your bookkeeping. Wave  

    12. Sortd

    It’s difficult to stay productive when you receive hundreds of emails per day. Without even noticing, a few crucial emails might slip through the cracks, causing more chaos. Sortd maximizes your productivity by turning your inbox into an organized workspace. Tori Reid, a contributor at Lifehacker, writes: “With Sortd you can sort your emails into actionable lists. Just drag and drop an email from the left pane—your inbox—into one of the lists you've created on the right. You can use the lists for follow ups, receipts, or anything else you see a need for.”  

    13. DocuSign

    Whether you’re signing brand partnership agreements or a new client contract, you don’t want the burden of paperwork. You need a digital solution. DocuSign starts the signing process with quick access to your documents. Trust that your electronic signature is secure and legally binding. The platform uses the strongest data encryption technologies to protect your privacy. DocuSign  

    14. Dropbox

    We live in a mobile culture. You constantly bounce around between multiple locations. So it’s common to forget your laptop that contains all your work files somewhere. Dropbox solves that problem by giving you access to your files from any device. Forgot your laptop? Just open them from your mobile phone. The tool also makes it convenient to collaborate on projects with your partners or teammates.  

    15. TransferWise

    Want to receive timely payments? Of course, you do! However, invoicing payments to your overseas clients isn’t always a simple task. TransferWise calculates the real exchange rate so you don’t lose any money. Choose to send payouts to your email or bank accounts. On top of that, this tool is 8x cheaper than banks. TransferWise  

    Take Your Pick

    Yes, the life of a blogger is sometimes unorganized and stressful with back-to-back deadlines. Fortunately, you can move in a positive direction. Start using these tools to accelerate your writing and business. They will help you increase your productivity, so that you can become a better blogger.
  • Win by Competing on Value, Not Price

    Wednesday, April 12, 2017 by

    Competing on value not price

    One of the most frustrating aspects of running a small business is setting the right prices and sticking to them. After a few art markets where customers pass you by in favor of cheap trinkets at the next booth, or after you lose another bid because your prospect found someone cheaper on Craigslist, you may be tempted to drop your prices, lower your rates, and try to compete on price. Don’t do it. Business veterans describe competing on price as a sucker’s game that puts you “at the mercy of your dumbest competitor.” You’re more likely to succeed if you compete on value instead. In this post, we’ll talk about adjusting your customer personas, and customer-service goals to do that, along with strategies for different types of businesses, from home-based solopreneurs to B2B agencies and consultants. Create Your Blog

    Change your customers, not your pricing

    Your business can’t exist without a base of customers who give you repeat business and referrals. If would-be customers are passing you over on price, you need new customers. Take a good look at your target audience. Are they extremely price-conscious? Customers who buy on price alone should not be your audience, for two reasons. First – and I write this without judgment, because getting by when you’re broke is a job of its own – customers who only care about the lowest price don’t have money to spend with you. How can you to sell to, let alone upsell to, someone with no money to spend on your stuff, no matter how great it is? If you drop your prices, you may get a little more revenue in the short run, but from customers whose lifetime value to your business is very low. [bctt tweet="Customers who only care about the lowest price don’t have money to spend with you." username="hostgator"] Second, price-focused customers are loyal to the lowest price, not to any particular store or service. Say you cut prices to beat the competition, figuring you can absorb the loss until you get a lot of these price-focused customers. Then your competitor drops prices lower (maybe they’re doing high-volume sales, maybe they’re dumb – it doesn’t matter). Now you’ve taken a loss on your sales and lost your customer base and you may not have enough cash to recover. [bctt tweet="Price-focused customers are loyal to the lowest price, not to any particular store or service." username="hostgator"]  

    Fine-tune your customer personas

    For small online businesses and home-based business, it’s important to get out of the mindset that your friends are your only customers. We tend to hang around people like ourselves, so if all your pals are bootstrapping their own business or side hustle, they don’t have the money to spend with you, at least not yet. If you’re a freelancer or run a B2B business, avoid the “whatever client comes along” treadmill. Market to clients who have the budget to hire you now and give you repeat business. Good advice I got from my freelance writing mentor Carol Tice was to set a minimum market-capitalization or venture-capital investment threshold for prospective B2B clients. This can help you avoid sinking time into one-off projects for small-budget clients so you can focus on finding clients that appreciate your value and will pay your rates.  

    Value-over-price goals

    The most concise description of providing value I’ve seen comes from writer Neil Gaiman, who got it from Stephen King: “People keep working in a freelance world… because their work is good, because they are easy to get along with and because they deliver the work on time.” He goes on to say that two out of three is good enough – that you can be cranky if your work is good and on time, or that you can be late if you’re good and people like you. If you really want to win on value, though, aim to deliver all three. That way, if one area breaks down every now and then, you’ve got some wiggle room. Let’s get a little more specific. Whatever your business, your value goals should include: Building good customer relationships Remembering birthdays, offering promo deals and preview sales, following up on purchases and asking for feedback are all ways to build lasting relationships. Enhancing customers’ experience Etsy encourages its sellers to package items beautifully and maybe add a small bonus item. This works surprisingly well, because it makes buyers feel special. Saving your customers time Rush shipping, gift-wrap and product tutorial videos help retailers save time for their customers. Agencies and freelancers can save time (and upsell their services) by offering market research, social media management, site hosting and maintenance, and other services to commercial clients. Giving customers peace of mind Make your refund or revision policies clear and fair. Answer questions and complaints quickly and professionally. Show your customers and clients that they can rely on you. Staying ahead of the curve Whatever business you’re in, offer your clientele new ideas, products, or ways to use existing services. If you sell shawls, keep up with color and fabric trends. If you sell white papers to businesses, offer to script video summaries they can post on their websites. Making your customers look good The ultimate value goal is to make your customers look so good that people will ask how they do it. One of my friends is a metalsmith who makes jewelry (when she’s not making swords). I will buy her work forever because every time I wear something she’s made, I get compliments and questions about where to buy. It’s a win-win. I feel great and I give out her business cards. Maybe that presentation script you wrote earned your client raves at the trade show. Maybe your silk flower customer got hundreds of shares on her wedding-décor photos. Make your customers look great and they’ll be your best ambassadors. That’s the one-size-fits all advice. Let’s get more specific.  

    When you sell the same physical goods as other merchants

    For online B2C businesses that sell mass-market products, value comes from making your customers feel truly taken care of. Ways to differentiate your shop from other sellers include: Help new customers make the most of their purchases. For example, nail wraps are popular now, with women who sell them from home and with customers who hate nail polish. A nail wrap seller can set herself apart by recommending the best styles for beginners and emailing how-to videos to customers immediately after their first purchase. If your customers like your product and know you’re helpful, they’ll come back. Ask your existing customers what they really need, and create bundles to fill that need. Maybe you sell cosmetics and know people in a recreational dance or theater group who need stage makeup. Package the products they need most – lip color, lashes, and makeup remover – for their convenience. (You can also send tutorial videos or offer a demo.)  

    When you sell your own products to consumers

    If you sell your own creations online, promote the quality differences between your goods and cheap alternatives. Maybe your products are made in the US with reclaimed materials or are simply more durable. If there’s a difference that will matter to your target audience, include that in your marketing and product descriptions. Also, tell your story, because people who shop local or small want a sense of community. A good example is In.gredients, a grocery store in Austin. The grocery business is tough on a great day, and the Austin market includes a huge regional chain with a century of brand loyalty and Whole Foods, which is based here. In.gredients doesn’t compete on price or selection, though. It’s positioned itself as a “zero-waste micro grocer in East Austin committed to providing the community with local, seasonal, and sustainable food.” In Austin, there’s definitely a market for that customer experience.  

    When you sell services to other businesses

    Everything we’ve covered so far applies to B2B services, freelancers, and agencies, especially the need to qualify your prospective customers. As your business grows, you should revise your qualifying criteria so you don’t get stuck at an earnings plateau. For B2B professionals, add-on services can set you apart. For example, if you’re a CPA who offers tax preparation and advice, your clientele might gladly add a la carte bookkeeping and payroll services to save time and hassles. For freelancers and consultants, reliability and quality will be your strongest selling points. Show your portfolio and client testimonials on your website, as Detroit wedding photographer DeAndre Glover does. If your site shows that you’re reliable and do good work, and you’re a pleasure to talk to when prospects contact you, you’ve hit the Neil Gaiman-Stephen King trifecta. For agencies, your clients expect you to save your clients time and hassles while delivering reliable, high-quality work. To truly set your business apart, show your clients they can trust you to stay up to date on technologies and methods they don’t have time to learn. HMG Creative, a digital agency in Austin, provides conveniences like web hosting (as a HostGator reseller) and pushes hard to stay ahead of the tech and marketing-trend curve. This is how you make your clients look great, which is the best way to build loyalty and win referrals. By now, you should have a list of ideas you can use to market your business on value, rather than playing the losing price-competition game. Want more inspiration and ideas? There’s a whole section of customer success stories on the HostGator blog.
  • How to Become a Freelancer: 10 Tips to Get Started

    Tuesday, April 11, 2017 by

    How to Become a Freelancer

    For some of us, the appeal of freelancing is irresistible. Being your own boss and choosing your own clients can give you more control over your time, more interesting work projects, and – if you’re good and have some marketing chops -- more income than you would earn as someone else’s employee. Starting can be intimidating, though, and a little guidance can make it easier. After many years of part-time freelance writing and four years as a full-time freelancer, these are the initial steps I recommend when aspiring freelancers ask me for advice. I learned them from following Sarah Horowitz at the Freelancers Union and writing experts Carol Tice at Make a Living Writing and Linda Formichelli at The Renegade Writer. My focus is writing, but the steps apply to just about any type of freelancing.  

    1. Find mentors and peers

    A connected freelancer is more likely to be a successful freelancer. National groups like the Freelancers Union, local meetup groups in your city, and freelancer-focused websites by experienced pros can put you in touch with fellow freelancers to share information about available gigs, successful marketing, contract negotiations, continuing education, and other aspects of your business.  

    2. Pull together your portfolio

    Prospective clients want to see your work. Gather links to projects you’ve done for current and former bosses if you’re not bound by a NDA, create PDFs of your print work, or show off work you’ve done pro bono for nonprofit and community groups. If you don’t have a portfolio, you can easily create one following this guide from HostGator. [bctt tweet="Want to succeed as a #freelancer? Better get yourself an online portfolio." username="hostgator"]  

    3. Define your specialties

    Doing what you love is a good goal, but mining your expertise can pay the bills, and who doesn’t love being solvent? If you’re not sure what your niches are, read over your resume. Maybe you have medical equipment manufacturing experience and can write knowledgeably about the subject for marketing clients, or you’ve designed several e-commerce sites for retail boutiques and can turn them around fast. Niche knowledge can help you establish yourself with good-paying clients, build an impressive portfolio, and subsidize your passion projects, too.  

    4. Plan your services

    Think about what you’re best at and how you prefer to work to decide what services you’ll offer. For example, I like to dig into topics so I focus on long-form copy like special reports, magazine features, and extended blog posts like this one instead of short social-media posts. Some writers like the adrenaline jolts and big paydays that come with handling rush work for clients who are up against deadlines. Offer the services you’re comfortable with and omit those you don’t like.  

    5. Gather testimonials

    Ask employers and colleagues who’ve given you LinkedIn testimonials or other praise if you can use their words in your marketing. The most effective testimonials include a picture and name, so request permission to use those, too. Most people will be happy to say yes. Copyblogger has more tips on using testimonials in your marketing, which we’ll touch on in a few steps. [bctt tweet="Starting out as a #freelancer? Gather testimonials and recommendations from past employers." username="hostgator"]  

    6. Set your rates

    Most new freelancers just accept what their first few clients offer. This is understandable but unsustainable. Research the rates for your type of work and price yourself within that range based on the value you can provide to clients and what you need to sustain your business. Calculate your base hourly rate to learn what you must charge to earn a living. The Freelancer blog at Contently outlines the process. The number you get may seem high, but it has to cover not only your billable time but also marketing, administrative and accounting time and expenses employees don’t have, such as professional insurance and self-employment taxes. [bctt tweet="#Freelancer rookie mistake: Basing your rates on what your first few clients offer." username="hostgator"] Note: If you quote this hourly rate to prospective clients, they may run away screaming or at least snort before they hang up on you. That’s because self-employment rates sound exorbitant to people used to earning an hourly wage and who don’t have to think about employer costs. Most experienced freelancers bill by the project rather than by the hour to avoid invalid comparisons between employee hourly pay and freelance rates. Per-project rates also give your clients a firm budget item instead of a wait-and-see cost.  

    7. Define your target clients

    Specific clients will vary by niche and the type of work you do. In general, ideal clients are those who can pay your rates, provide a good showcase for your work, refer you to other potential clients, and have more than one project for you over the long term. Ideal clients also pay promptly, communicate clearly, use contracts, respect your time, and don’t expand the scope of projects without also expanding your fees. Not sure how to find your target clients? Talk to your mentors and peers, and do lots of research.  

    8. Take care of the paperwork

    For tax and legal purposes, you’ll need a business permit, IRS EIN number, and a business bank account. For peace of mind, you’ll want professional liability insurance. You also need to understand the typical freelance contract for your type of work—your peer network is a good place to start—and use it with every client.  

    9. Get a website

    Your site is how prospects will find you. The ideal site looks good on mobile devices as well as desktops, includes your portfolio and testimonials, serves as a sample of your work, and gives prospects a way to contact you right away via phone or email. Seed your site copy and meta tags with the search terms you think clients will use to find you, and update your site regularly to maintain a solid search-result position. Get your website today with HostGator's affordable web hosting plans.  

    10. Always be marketing

    Your site is an important marketing step, but it’s just the first. Find the social media channels your target clients use and jump in. Attend conferences and trade shows to meet prospects. Send direct mail and email letters of introduction. Ask current and former employers and clients for referrals. Trade tips and ask for feedback from your professional peers and mentors. Establishing yourself as a freelancer is a lot more work than a 9 to 5 job, but if you like to learn new things, enjoy creative work, and want more professional freedom, it’s well worth the effort.