The “decision” to start working freelance wasn’t entirely mine. Due to a toxic work environment, I quit my job. I was suddenly out of work at 23 years old with little saved and no backup plan, but with a lot of knowledge and skills that I’d been building up over the last year. I had worked about a mile from my house, so I would walk every day. I couldn’t find another job that was within that distance and couldn’t afford a car. Instead, I drifted for a while, getting a few small writing jobs to earn some money. I slowly came to realize that I had the resources within myself to freelance and make money doing what I’d always wanted to do – web design and photography. All I needed were the external resources.
The transition definitely wasn’t smooth and isn’t close to being over. But I genuinely believe the worst of it is behind me. That being said, there are a lot of things I wish I knew before that shift in my life happened. If you’re thinking about quitting your day job or even think it may be a possibility, read this list of things I wish I’d known and prepared for. If may make your transition smoother!
Have Money Saved Up
Every list like this will touch on this. And that’s because it’s probably the most important thing to consider. I quit my day job six months ago and I’m still not breaking even. I wish I had been better about putting away savings before I found myself unemployed. Even though I’m working constantly, the first year or so of freelancing and/or starting your own business involves a lot of work you won’t get paid for. Take writing this blog post, for example. No one is paying me to do it. But blogging is a great way to drive traffic to your site and build an audience, which will hopefully end up in sales being made.
If you’re thinking of quitting, save some money up so that you have something to live on while you’re building your business up.
No One Cares As Much As You
I’ve realized in the last six months two very important things about running your own business: 1) No one cares about your business and if they do, they don’t care as much as you do and 2) Many people will appear not to care about their own business as much as you care about yours.
To the first point, it seems obvious now, but it’s something I have to keep reminding myself is normal. People can be very kind and may try to help you out, but overall, it’s every man for himself. We all look out for our best interests most of the time. It’s up to you to work hard and not depend on the kindness or weakness of others for you to benefit from. You also have to realize, especially when you’re just starting out, that people are probably not going to take you seriously. I have a lot of clients who don’t hold to deadlines or pay me on time because they don’t see me as a legitimate business. It took me a while not to take it personally.
To the second point, I often get incredibly frustrated when it seems like other business owners aren’t doing what I think is best for them. Having a good website is important! Paying extra for good SEO is important! Quality photographs are important! When clients drag their feet or seem to only want the bare minimum, it makes me feel like I care more about their business than they do. And sometimes, that’s the case when people don’t understand the value of a product or service. The only way I’ve found to solve this problem is to try to educate them and if that doesn’t work, let it go. It’s their business, after all.
Set Up the Little Things Right Away
There is a lot you can do to establish yourself and make your business seem more legitimate to potential clients and supporters. Here are a few things you can do at the very beginning and build upon as you grow so you don’t have to worry about them later.
- Get your website and social media accounts set up. Connect them and make your visuals, bios, etc. consistent across all platforms.
- Get business cards, brush up your resume, portfolio or whatever else you will need to market yourself. If someone happens to approach you about a job, you want everything immaculately prepared right away.
- Build relationships with people in your industry. Keep good friendships and lines of communication open. It’s the first step to networking since the people already in your inner circle know you. Almost all my jobs thus far have come from people I already knew.
- Start practicing and building good habits for yourself. Live your life like you are already super busy, even if you have no projects coming in. Start journaling or blogging. Start tracking your time and keeping a planner of deadlines and things to do. When you do get extremely busy, having all these skills will definitely come in handy.
Research the Technical and Financial Stuff
A lot of the aspects about going into business for myself came as a surprise. That can be embarrassing and set you back a lot. Before setting out on your own, do a good amount of research about what goes into running your own business. Do you need business cards? A website? What kind of tax information will you need to file? How often do you need to file your taxes? What receipts should you be saving? How are you going to track your expenses? Do you need a program for writing up invoices and contracts? Do you need an LLC?
This is only the tip of the iceberg. As a business owner or independent contractor, your responsibilities suddenly go beyond what they were as an employee. Attending business classes can help you get a handle on this kind of thing. Or maybe sit down with an old employer and pick their brains about what kinds of things you should be prepared to look into.
In life, there are no quick fixes. Permanent ones, anyway. No matter what your goal – from weight loss to an increase in sales – progress and lasting results take a lot of time and a lot of hard work. Some companies have to push for years and spend a lot of money to see the kind of results they are searching for. That being said, a journey of a thousand miles begins with a simple step, right? Why not start with learning how to improve your website SEO?
Working to improve your full SEO strategy so that it starts working for you is a long and arduous process. The last agency I worked for usually warned its clients that it would take up to 6 months to start seeing results. And even still, that didn’t always work. SEO is one of those huge ideas that is hard to tackle until you can learn how to break it down into small, bite-sized pieces. If you can systematize your SEO efforts, those 6 months will fly by and you’ll begin seeing results quicker than you thought.
There are certain SEO tasks I perform for each of my web design clients that are worked into the price of my services. They are simple and for one site, can be performed in just an afternoon. They will by no means shoot the site to the #1 spot on Google. They may not shift the rankings at all. But they are absolutely essential places to start. Without this foundation, you cannot hope to begin to rise your site through the ranks. And the best part – they require NO pre-existing code and NO technical skill or knowledge at all! Understanding Google and your website structure will help, but these tasks can be performed by pretty much anyone.
(It should be noted that I build all my sites with WordPress and I highly suggest you do, too. This guide is assuming you have your site built with WordPress. It truly is the best way to build a site with strong SEO.)
They are almost all on-page SEO tasks. According to Moz.com:
“On-page SEO is the practice of optimizing individual web pages in order to rank higher and earn more relevant traffic in search engines. On-page refers to both the content and HTML source code of a page that can be optimized, as opposed to off-page SEO which refers to links and other external signals.”
If that sounds confusing, it won’t in just a few seconds. Basically, it means that on-page SEO has to do with the content and code on the actual site. Off-page SEO has to do with how other sites treat yours.
So let’s get started!
Step 1 to On-Page SEO: Install Yoast SEO
As I said above, you should be working with WordPress. It’s one of the strongest SEO tools you can have in your arsenal as it does so much of the work for you already.
Make sure that after logging in, you go to Settings > Reading and make sure that “Discourage search engines from indexing this site” is NOT checked off. So many sites wonder why their sites are doing so poorly and they have this option chosen the whole time.
Now go to Plugins > Add New and search for Yoast SEO.
Install and Activate it. In the left sidebar, you should see it appear.
Step 2 to On-Page SEO: Titles and Meta Descriptions
Now, when you go to Pages in WordPress, each one of your pages and posts should have some extra fields under a new Yoast SEO subheading. To optimize each page, do the following;
- Under Focus Keyword, enter the keyword you want to target for that page.
- Click Edit Snippet.
- Add an SEO title and Meta description. The tool will let you know with a green bar when you’ve reached an optimal length.
- Under Analysis, follow as many of its recommendations as you can. When you’ve reached the recommended amount of optimization, the circle at the top of your page will turn from red to orange to green. Focus on getting as many pages and posts as possible to green, or at least orange.
These optimizations will not only give search engines vital information about each page and your website as a whole, but they show searchers/potential site visitors what your site is about. If you go to the edit screen for your page, you should see an example down at the bottom of what your title and description will look like on a search engine:
Step 3 to On-Page SEO: Connect to the Google Search Console
In the left navigation menu of your Dashboard, click the Yoast SEO symbol. You should see an alert like this one:
- In a new tab or browser window, go to Webmaster tools, which you can get to via this link.
- Find the red “Add Property” button and click it.
- Follow the prompts until you see a Verify button.
- Go back to your Dashboard and click on the link identified in the image below, then click “Get Google Authentication Code”.
- It will ask you to sign in to your Google account, then click Allow.
- Copy the code it gives you.
- Back on your Dashboard, paste that into the field and click Authenticate.
- It will show you a drop-down. Select the URL of the site you’re using, then confirm.
Step 4 to On-Page SEO: ALT Tags
When search engines crawl your site, they crawl your images, too. They want to know that your website is organized neatly and that everything you post is of relevance. Afterall, it’s Google’s main goal to only show the best results possible for every search. A great way to accomplish this is by editing all of your ALT tags on your images. But what’s an ALT tag?
The term “ALT tag” is a common shorthand term used to refer to the ALTattribute within in the IMG tag. Any time you use an image, be sure to include anALT tag or ALT text within the IMG tag. Doing so will provide a clear text alternative of the image for screen reader users. (Accessability and Usability at Penn State)
ALT tags also prove to Google that each image is organized, filed a certain way, and is about a certain topic. You can very easily edit your ALT tags through WordPress.
Go to Media and click on an image. On the right, you should see a field titled “Alt Text”. Figure out which page that image goes on. The keyword you want that page to rank for should go in that field. You can use the same keyword for multiple images. Every single image should have an ALT tag. Depending on the number of images on your site, this can be time-consuming. If you are short on time, only edit ALT tags for images that go on landing pages, etc. Maybe skip images for galleries or products and come back to them later.
And there you have it! All these activities should take you just an afternoon to complete and you’ll be on your way to a strong SEO start. If you’re interested in more SEO solutions, visit check out my other SEO-based blog posts.