In this article, Ruth E. Thaler-Carter rounds up key takeaways from her recent IABC-St. Louis presentation, “Going Solo — Launching a Communications Consulting Business.”
Starting a communications business is equal parts exciting and challenging. Fortunately, IABC members have an advantage when thinking about going solo, thanks to our network, resources available through IABC and experience as business communicators, all of which help establish credibility with prospective clients.
Thinking of going solo? Here is a series of mini checklists to help guide you through this milestone in your career.
Have skills and experience, and have a business mindset. Writing, editing, photography, graphic design and other business communications activities are creative acts. Having a communications business is a practical process. Be prepared to handle business aspects that might be new to you, from finding projects to contracts, marketing and promotions, and client relations. Learn about business model options and structures (i.e., sole proprietor, LLC, partnership, etc.), marketing/promotions, communication, networking, taxes, etc.
Save for expenses — more on that in the next section. Find out whether your town/city requires a license to work from home as a business, especially if you live in a condo or belong to a homeowners’ association. Once you have these first steps secured, add the following considerations to your list.
Budget for expenses before and as you embark on your solo business journey. Have a savings cushion before you launch. It takes time for a solo communications business to generate income, much less profit. As you budget, keep in mind the following necessities:
- Supplies, equipment, software and apps
- Taxes! (Prepare to pay quarterly in the U.S.)
- Training and education
- Promotions (websites, ads, etc.)
- Travel (conferences, client offices)
- Health insurance
Sources of Clients/Projects
Tell everyone you know and have ever worked with that you’re open for business and appreciate referrals. You never know where new business might originate. Start with known resources to find clients and projects. Also, be visible and active in your IABC chapter or region. The more you do for IABC, the more IABC is likely to do for you. People hire and work with those they know, and the IABC community is a great community in which to be known. Consider these sources of business:
- IABC colleagues
- Job services of other trade and membership associations
- Converting your current job into a consulting contract
- Nonprofit organizations
- Individual, independent or self-publishing authors
- Your own website
- Social media and discussion boards
- Speaking engagements and teaching opportunities
- Alumni associations
- Family, friends, neighbors, colleagues, past employers/co-workers
- Bidding sites (Pro-tip: This is a last resort — they are usually low pay and have demanding quality control systems.)
Research what colleagues might be charging and assess your living expenses. Consider the following:
- Scope: Is a writing project by the word, character, hour, page or flat fee?
- Be careful of scope creep with flat or project fees.
- Clients usually set pay rates, but sometimes you can negotiate more.
- For writing, editing and proofreading, always define “a page.” The standard is 250 words, regardless of typeface, type size, page size or margins.
Have contracts and agreements with all of your clients — they don’t have to be lengthy or full of legalese. If clients object, point out that contracts protect both parties, not just you. Recommendations for contracts include:
- Create a template with a checklist of everything you imagine might go into a project, and tailor it to assignments.
- Have a late-fee policy.
- Send invoices!
- Aim to be paid when work is accepted, not until it is published or your client gets paid by their client if you’re subcontracting.
- The Paper It’s Written On, by Dick Margulis and Karin Cather
- The Business of Editing, by Richard Adin, Jack Lyon and Ruth E. Thaler-Carter
- Booklets and webinar recordings from the Editorial Freelancers Association, National Association of Independent Writers and Editors, and other organizations
Promotions and Marketing
Be prepared to do your own promotions, even if you’re an introvert. Promotional materials include:
- Your own website
- Blogging — on your own blog and via guest posts on colleagues’ blogs
- Social media, including LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram and Facebook
- Writing (articles in professional publications, your own book, etc.)
- Visibility in IABC and other professional organizations
- Award entries
Ready to get started? By keeping these tips top of mind, you’ll be ready to embark on your solo career journey.
Ruth E. Thaler-Carter
Ruth “I can write about anything!®” Thaler-Carter has been a freelance writer, editor, proofreader, desktop publisher and speaker since her high school days and full-time since 1984. She has been published internationally, nationally, regionally and locally in magazines, newspapers, newsletters, books and websites. She has been a member of IABC/DC, Baltimore and St. Louis; was recognized as an IABC/DC Communicator of the Year; and has been published in IABC’s Communication World magazine, as well as serving as editor of chapter and international conference newsletters. She created and hosts Communication Central’s “Be a Better Freelancer”® conference, now in partnership with the National Association of Independent Writers and Editors.