What resource suggestions would you suggest to someone starting their own freelance business?
January 6, 2008 8:50 AM   Subscribe

What resource suggestions would you suggest to someone starting their own freelance business?

I'm starting a freelance photography business in a small northeastern city. I've never had my own business before. At the start it looks like it will be a combination of my own work and assisting other photographers.

I've billed for various small jobs before but never been particularly organized about it. I have no idea how I would go about keeping a financial record or an invoice system. Or payment tracking.

The photography I'm not particularly worried about, I think I'm holding my own there.

I'm basically at the "Starting a business for dummies" level but I'd appreciate the hive minds suggestions on things I should be reading right now.
posted by sully75 to Work & Money (9 answers total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
Before you start, have an appointment with an accountant (seek recomendations from those with similar businesses), even if you plan to do all your bookkeeping and taxes by yourself. This is probably the one thing that made the biggest difference to me -- she gave me a system for managing this type of stuff that was far more manageable than anything I would have come up with myself.
posted by winston at 9:10 AM on January 6, 2008

I've had my own business for a long time. When I was starting out, I got some good ideas from Small-Time Operator. Also, Nolo Press has some useful titles.

If you'll be working on site or otherwise might end up with any liability to anyone, take the time to incorporate as an LLC. It cost me $85 and I did it online on 5 minutes (your state may vary). If you're a one-person LLC it won't make your tax paying any more complicated--you'll still be filing as a human being--but it will add a layer of protection between your business and you.

You'll need to file quarterly estimated tax to the feds and probably to your state as well. The IRS site will have info about that. While you're on the IRS site, download their booklet on what's deductible as a business expense. Nolo has a good introduction to deductions here.

To track expenses, I use Quicken, which is easier to use than Quickbooks, but it doesn't create invoices. I do that manually.

You might find some photography business advice in the Photopreneur blog.

Good luck!
posted by PatoPata at 9:33 AM on January 6, 2008

I like Freshbooks for billing. It's got a free option that you can use to try the service out. It allows you to send email invoices for free and to send paper invoices for a small cost.

I would personally get an accountant. There's all kinds of deductions you can take to reduce your tax liability, but you're getting into the complicated side of expenses -- vehicle mileage, etc. Plus, you can write off the cost of the accountant. (The accountant recently found $400 of expenses I'd missed, which reduced my tax liability for the year by about $150... which was very welcome.)
posted by SpecialK at 9:52 AM on January 6, 2008

Go buy "Best Business Practices for Photographers" by John Harrington right now. Subscribe to PDN while you're at it.
posted by bradbane at 9:54 AM on January 6, 2008

Add Freelance Switch to your rss feed and there are lots of useful/interesting articles with the freelance tag at del.icio.us.
posted by ceri richard at 9:55 AM on January 6, 2008

My blog (link in profile) has a few hundred posts on various aspects of consulting/freelancing. Freelance Switch is very good. You might also want to check out Freelancing for Dummies. And an early appointment with an accountant can be a big help.

You may want to join a local home business association or even the local freelancers' association. You should go with the aim of finding people to provide you with moral support (and tips), as opposed to job leads. (You may also find job leads, but you would generally want to look for those at associations where you are not among every competitor in town!).
posted by acoutu at 10:07 AM on January 6, 2008 [1 favorite]

Of the many sites I browsed, Business Owners Toolkit answered the largest number of questions I had to figure out when starting a small business. It seems more aimed at LLC/LLP/S-Corp businesses which my requirement, but it may be useful.
posted by McGuillicuddy at 4:50 PM on January 6, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks everyone!
posted by sully75 at 4:19 AM on January 7, 2008

There are so many aspects to running a freelance business. Since your questions specifically mentioned invoice tracking and finance, there is a lot of software that can help you run your freelance business, that I've found useful. One of the most important things in a freelance business is getting paid -- sign up for something like Blinksale or Freshbooks to send out invoices, track them, and send reminders to people. As far as basic financial records go, get yourself a dedicated bank account just for your business, and a business only credit card, and keep all your business transactions separate from your personal transactions. You can then set up Quicken to automatically download these transactions and keep tabs on how much money you make and spend. I wouldn't recommend Quickbooks for a one person freelance business because it's too complicated. An online personal finance tracking service like Mint or Wesabe would also be good in this area, but these are designed more for perosnal spending than for business spending. I'd check with an accountant about getting incorporated. This is often necessary to limit your personal liability and to have people take your seriously. Since I'm not an accountant or lawyer I can't give you any specific advice about that.
posted by lsemel at 6:22 PM on January 7, 2008

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