I’m working on a great eBook that covers starting your own writing business from A to Z. Until then, consider this an excerpt that shows you all the steps to starting a freelance writing business from scratch.
Start A Freelance Writing Business the First Day
Sure, there are a lot of things you should have already done before this point, including making sure you are right for small business ownership, and that you have what it takes to be a freelance writer. So, let’s assume all the preliminaries are out of the way, and today is the day that you want to start your own writing business.
Pick a Name for Your Writing Business
Unless you just woke up this morning and decided, “Hey, I’m going to start a writing business,” chances are you already have some ideas about a name. Now is the time to pick one. You have to know your name because your next steps require it, already, believe it or not.
Choosing the right name for a writing business is a whole post in itself (I’ll do that next, maybe :). For now, let’s assume that you have some good ideas for your business. Time to make sure that name is available and unique (enough) to your business.
Hey, check out my article about whether Credit Karma is a scam.
First, see if business name is already trademarked. Just use the basic search from that link. Remember your name doesn’t necessarily have to be 100% unique unless it’s in the same business field. For example, there is a United Airlines, and a United Health Care, and a United Van Lines, and a United Technologies; you get the idea. The one exception is made up words. The reason Sprite is the only one with Lymon is because Sprite made up that word and then trademarked it.
Second, see if you can register the domain name.
Like any other business with an online presence, your small business needs a domain name. For example, my work from home freelance writing business is called ArcticLlama. You are reading this post (assuming it hasn’t been stolen by a scraper) on arcticllama.com. Getting a domain name is easy. Finding a good one that isn’t already taken is a little bit harder.
Go to a site that offers domain registration like 1and1.com, or namecheap.com, or even godaddy.com. Don’t just type your preferred name into your browser and see if something comes up. There are a lot of domain names that are owned, but not used, so you need to see if your website it truly available.
If you want to peak ahead, check and see if you can get close enough names on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Tumbr, and so on. These do not have to be exact, but you might want to see what is already out there and how it might impact your efforts.
Do I Have To Have a .COM name for My Writing Business?
You don’t necessarily have to have a dot com domain name, but keep in mind that is the default and what people will often try first. So, while you don’t have to have a .com domain name, I do highly recommend it. Choosing something else is a significant compromise. Don’t think it doesn’t matter, it really does. If you have three different name options and you can get the .com name of one of them, then choose that name. Most importantly, do not settle for a non-dot-com name if the dot-com version of your name is another writing business.
For example, if you want the name Super Duper , and superduper.com is already taken by some sort of writing website, you need to pick a different domain name. The reason is that inevitably, someone looking for you will type in superduper.com. If they find a writing business, then they will assume they are in the right place. Even if they figure it out eventually, they still will have spent time looking at your competitor. Now, if superduper.com is a plumbing supply business, then that is more acceptable. People will figure out right away that they are in the wrong place and try and find you another way (you hope).
If at all possible, get a dot com domain name.
Once you have your name in mind, go ahead and register your domain name. Find the option for private domain registration and take it. Spammers and scammers regularly scan the WHOIS database (where all domain name registration information is stored) for emails, addresses and phone numbers. You don’t want yours on there. Pay your money to register your domain. Get a notebook and write down all the usernames, passwords (you’ll change them later), DNS information and anything else that comes up. Getting a print out is better. Even if you don’t know what it means now, you’ll need all of that information later.
Congratulations. Your business exists now.
Register Your Business as an LLC
Ok, now that your business exists, it is time to make it legit.
Every state has a Secretary of State office. That office is where you register your business name. You are going to register as an LLC, which is a Limited Liability Corporation, or a Limited Liability Company. Yes, there are other choices, but unless you have unusual circumstances, this is right for most one-person freelance writing businesses.
Registering as an LLC both protects your business name (a little) and makes you legitimate enough to actually use your business name with people other than your mom. It also offers some liability protection, but don’t get wrapped up in that. It will also allow you to get an EIN for your business. It usually costs a little bit of money. Don’t be intimidated by the form, however. You should be able to fill it out yourself.
Most states allow you to register a business online. Beware the Google search here. You don’t want to end up on some scammer website. Don’t make a sloppy search like ‘register a new business’. Instead, be specific. Something like ‘register new business secretary of state colorado’ is better.
Pro tip: Start getting used to validating information you find on the internet. Don’t just assume what you see is legit. When searching for government websites, they often end in .gov or .us.
Start looking around for where to register a business, or register a tradename. On the Colorado website, it says “File a Form” underneath the heading of Business, Trademarks, and Tradenames. It might take a few minutes, but as a writer, you’ll have to get used to finding the information you need, so click around.
Find the form to register as an LLC and fill it out. (I can’t do step by step instructions for all 50 states, but you can probably figure it out.) Send in your payment, online if you can, mail it if you can’t. Print out (and get a screenshot) of the registration information. You’ll need it to get your EIN.
Get an EIN aka FEIN
Technically, as a sole proprietor, you are not required to have an EIN number. EIN stands for Employee Identification Number. It comes directly from the IRS. It is occasionally incorrectly referred to as an FEIN, or Federal Employee Identification Number.
The reason you need an EIN number is because when you get clients, they will need you to fill out a W9 Form so that they can report payments to you. (This is how the IRS makes sure you pay your taxes. Your client can’t deduct the payment to you unless they file the W9 with IRS, and they want to deduct that expense.) In order to fill out a W9 form you have to include either your Social Security Number, or your business’ EIN number. Now, when all of your clients are the New York Times, Microsoft, and the Queen of England, you can send off your SSN without worrying about it. But, in the beginning especially, your clients are going to be Bob’s Fish Market, and SuperCloudTastic and so on. You don’t want to be sending out your Social Security Number to everyone who ever pays you more than a few hundred bucks.
Get an EIN and use it.
Getting EIN is easier than setting up your LLC was. Go to the IRS website to apply for an EIN. (Remember validating websites before sending off your information? Official IRS stuff is always on irs.gov. Make sure you see it before going forward.) Don’t get caught up in the legalize.
- Click continue to go to the next page.
- Click Limited Liability Company and click continue.
- Read the next screen a click continue again.
- If the business is just you, then there are 1 members in your LLC, pick your state, and then click continue.
- Next is a warning about only having one person in an LLC. This is fine for your writing business. Frankly, it’s better for you. It means that you’ll do your business expenses and income on a Schedule C on your personal income taxes. This is a good thing. Click continue.
- Click that you are starting a new business, and click continue.
- Click Individual for the owner. You are the owner, not some other company.
- Put in your name and SSN (Yes, you have to give the IRS your Social. Don’t worry about it; they already have it.) Click continue.
- Put in your address. Tip: Put in your home address. Later, when you claim your home office as a small business tax deduction, one of the internal checks is that if your address and business address are the same, then it’s more likely your home office is legit. (This isn’t set in stone, but might as well get as many things in your favor as you can.)
- Now, put in your business name, exactly like you entered it on your Secretary of State website. Put in your state (It will be the same state for both fields unless you are doing something with an attorney’s help). Click continue.
- Answer No to all the next questions (unless you will actually be selling tobacco or something on the side…)
- Click Other on the screen about what your business does. (Don’t worry, this is normal.)
- After you click Other, you get a screen asking for what kind of other. You can pick Consulting or Service here. It really doesn’t matter.
- Now, when it asks what kind of Service or Consulting, be vague. You want as many things as possible to fit under your business depending upon how it grows. Something like Marketing and internet services is good. Something like blogging recipes is not.
- Choose how you want you EIN. There is nothing special, or more official, about getting a letter in the mail, but some people really want that. If you aren’t one of them, get an online letter. Either way, make copies of your letter. Put one in your business files, one in your personal files, one in the folder you use for taxes, and then save an electronic copy on your hard drive and your backup. The reality is that you can always look it up later, but having copies is less stressful.
Up next… Setting up your online business presence so you can start getting clients.