It Costs (Almost) Nothing to Start Freelancing

freelance costs

Sometimes the only thing standing between a newbie freelancer and success is the mistaken belief that it takes a lot of investment capital to get started. Most of the time, getting started is much simpler, and cheaper, than one fears.

Since most freelance work allows you to telecommute, most freelancers don’t have to worry about a fancy wardrobe or an office space—most work out of their homes, or at a local café. Many don’t even get out of their pajamas unless they have in-person work to conduct.

Here are some essential tips from freelancers on how to keep costs low as you get started with your freelance career.

Stick to the Basics.

Getting started as a freelance writer requires access to two basic items: a word processing program of some kind, and an interview recording device. Even if you don’t want to invest in your own computer, so long as you have a thumb drive, which can be purchased for under $10, you can use a library’s or a friend’s computer to do your word processing.

Another great thing about simplifications in technology is that what used to require several pieces of clunky equipment can now be on a smartphone: apps for scanning, recording phone calls, and even voice dictation software are inexpensive, if not free.

Molly Blake, a Palo Alto based freelance writer, adds that at some point you may want to invest in a good exterior backup drive in case of computer crashes, but you can also access cloud storage services such as Dropbox for free.

Molly also recommends some quality earbuds to ensure that your phone interviews are recorded clearly, but these also should not break the bank. While Blake prefers her handheld recorder for in-person events, which she purchased for $30, she stresses that it’s not necessary.

“I invest in handy dandy, good old fashioned reporter notebooks which can be bought at Staples for about $10 for a pack of six. I love them and carry one with me at all times,” Molly shares.

Ana Gotter, a Florida based freelance writer also got started without spending a dime. “My investment was absolutely nothing. I had a computer and that’s all I needed. I did buy a Dan Kennedy Art of Writing Copy book, for a total of 14.99.Toward the end of the first year I added a video creating software and website.”

Try not to buy into the myth of needing expensive technology.

Heather Seggel, a freelancer based out of Santa Rosa, California, points out, “The basic tools of the trade have changed very little—a used laptop gets as much work done as a new one, and for an incredibly long time I bought hours of dial-up internet service.

A telephone, tape recorder, pads and pens, and a few stamps and envelopes are, amazingly, still the main things I use for work.” Since she moved her office consists of “a table, chair, and a $159 refurbished Chromebook.”

freelance costs

It’s Cheap to Connect

After your essential supplies, one of the best low-cost ways to jump into freelancing is to connect with other business people in your field, and offer to cross promote and resource-share. Facebook groups for writers abound, from general groups of journalists to specific niches that might be your particular focus, from science, to education, to women of color.

If you live in a town with a chamber of commerce, it’s a good idea to join and attend mixers where you can meet people and hand out business cards. Local newspapers and entertainment magazines are also often a great resource for getting started.

Increase Your Skills

If you’re going to spend a little money up front, better to invest in improving upon the one thing most likely to make you more money: yourself, and your skills. Molly Blake’s biggest investment when getting started was to take online writing classes, each about $200, which was a direct investment in bettering her skills.

Molly adds, “The hardest part of freelancing isn’t the start-up costs—those are nominal. The tough part is sticking with the business through the ups and downs. But I also work in my yoga pants every day, take my kids to school, pick them up every day, and volunteer for field trip duty with absolutely no qualms and no boss telling me to be back for a meeting.  I love the freedom and I love being able to pop in a load of laundry or run up to my gym for a workout class when it suits me.” 

While you may not be quite ready to quit your day job right off the bat when you begin freelancing, you don’t need to rally a whole lot of cash to get started; you need determination, organization, and some willingness to rough it until your cash ship comes in.

Perhaps you should start with checking out Ariana Orland’s class on Becoming a Successful Freelancer.

Whether you’re starting your freelance career or looking to grow an existing business, get started with our free eBook today.

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Jordan Rosenfeld is a freelancer writer whose work has appeared in, The New York Times, The Rumpus, The Washington Post, Writer's Digest, and more.