Freelancing: Nuts & Bolts, and Flotsam & Jetsam

Starting out as a freelancer


I recently left my job as a scientific recruiter to embark upon a career as a freelance writer and career stylist. One thing I noticed while researching freelancing was that while a lot of freelancers talk about their career transitions, not many write about what it was like for them to learn the nuts and bolts of the business: the unsexy administrative stuff. I decided to blog about this from the perspective of a newbie learning the ropes.

Getting the word out: open for business!

I wanted to get the word out right away, so the first order of business for me was to create and launch a website, start social media marketing, and to design and order business cards, contracts, and invoices.

I used Wix to develop my website, and I have had a very positive experience so far. They have a ton of templates: I spent a lot of time up front to find one with a layout I liked and good navigation. Then it was easy to tweak it to fit my needs and personal style. The design tools seemed to be fairly intuitive, and the customer support has been very prompt and super overall. (Update, March 2018: I have since moved to WordPress. I’ve been using WP for over a year now with another website, and I wouldn’t go back. It is also saving a lot of money to move from Wix to WordPress with SiteGround hosting.)

I chose GoDaddy for web hosting service. I also decided to shell out the extra dough to get a company-specific domain name (, since it helps boost site recognition. Overhead costs: cha-ching!

As to social media: while I had a handle on Facebook and LinkedIn, one thing I did NOT understand was Twitter. Hashtag???? (Or, as one ESPN announcer famously put it, “hashbrown”) MT??? RT???? Okay, okay—I’m way behind the curve on that. I sort of get it now. There’s a special strategerie with all this: anyone can #whatever. It’s HOW you # that matters. And I’ve learned that it’s better not to have a whole bunch of RTs. MTs are much better. Don’t know what I’m talking about? BWAHAHAHAHAAAA! Now you know how I’ve been feeling!!!

I also discovered HootSuite, which makes brand management much easier because it allows you to manage multiple social media networks, including LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus, and many more. The service allows you to set up tweets and posts in advance—very handy for keeping you on the radar if, say, you go on vacation or get too busy to twit. Er, tweet. (Update, March 2018: Hootsuite has begun limiting the number of posts you can schedule without going to a premium tier, so it’s no longer possible to schedule enough to cover an entire vacation. Boo.)

Overhead costs: money, money, money

As I began paying for my logo, domain name, website, business cards, and other initial expenses (a.k.a. hemorrhaging money), I realized that I needed a way to track the overhead costs for my business. I set up an excel spreadsheet for this purpose, with tabs devoted to expenditures, miles driven in my car, contacts made, and income. I also set up a calculation for quarterly taxes.

I got a lot of ideas for the spreadsheet from QuickBooks, which is really fantastic software for nearly every aspect of running a business—but an expense I can’t quite justify yet. So I have my spreadsheet that I tweak constantly as I figure things out.

I worked out a filing system for receipts, check stubs, taxes, and all the other not-very-foxy administrative stuff I need to keep a handle on. I also created a system for tracking all my current projects.


Exactly one week after quitting my job, I received my notification that my healthcare coverage would be ending. I went to the healthcare marketplace to enroll in a new plan—one that costs less than half of what I’d be paying for COBRA. Add that to the overhead tab! I didn’t have any major issues navigating the healthcare marketplace—I found a plan that I could afford while being able to keep my current primary care provider. My only complaint is that I couldn’t immediately set up an automatic payment so that I could deal with it and forget about it.


Non-business-related happenings

The cruise

At the end of April, I went on a cruise to Honduras, Belize, and Mexico with my family during a much-needed vacation. Then I needed a vacation afterwards…Let’s just say that we broke the Fun-‘O-Meter! The cruise was intended as a “bucket list” trip for my parents, and we all had a wonderful time. I used HootSuite to tweet while I was gone!

The drive from Washington State to Madison, Wisconsin

Then, about a week after that, I traveled to Washington State to help my parents plan for a big move to Wisconsin. I will blog all about that experience someday, including my epic drive through Washington, Idaho, Montana, South Dakota, Minnesota, and Wisconsin—in my parents’ decrepit ’96 Toyota Corolla.

The scenery was gorgeous for a lot of the drive. But geez—I never wanted to sit in a car again.


Back to freelancing…

Thanks to networking and informational interviews, I was fortunate enough to find a fantastic mentor right away who was willing to enlist my editing help while showing me the ropes of navigating NSF grant applications. This work is giving me a handle on what grant consulting entails, and the process of applying for SBIR/STTR grants. There are many other grant application processes I need to learn, but this is a great start.

Thanks to the grant work, I was very busy from the get-go. I continued doing the work remotely while I was in Washington—I was very grateful for that flexibility. Being swamped with work and figuring out family issues was great in some ways, but also let me make excuses for not staying on top of administrative stuff, like being diligent about entering and filing receipts. As a result, about 2 months in, I have a pile of stuff to deal with. I am pleasantly procrastinating by writing this post.

Off I go.

Posted by Michelle Frank

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.