How I Started My Freelance Business at 14 and How It’s Grown
The Beginning (ca. 2004-2006)
I’ve always been a techno nerd, gadget geek, and somewhat of an Apple fanboy (less so now than when I was younger). Unfortunately, for a 14 year old kid with no job, I didn’t have a means of affording and playing with cool new computer equipment or electronics. A small allowance, birthday gifts, and Christmas gifts were my only “income” generators.
To change this, I decided to start a small neighborhood business helping people with their Macs (naturally, because I was obsessed with Apple and knew a lot about Macs). I asked my parents if I could put a small advertisement in a small, local newsletter and they agreed to help me pay for that ad. My starting hourly rate was a very respectable $10.
Over the next year or two, I slowly and irregularly began acquiring clients, mostly friends and acquaintances of my parents. My legs, bike, and scooter were my modes of transportation. I troubleshooted and fixed computers, printers, and networking issues and taught clients how to perform tasks on their Macs, as well as answer any random tech-related questions they had.
Around this time, I also became very interested in web design and taught myself HTML, CSS, and Photoshop. This interest and these skills would become very useful later.
Opening Up Doors (ca. 2006-2008)
When I turned 16 and received my drivers’ license, my freelancing business opportunities really opened up. I could now help clients all around the Twin Cities area (the Minneapolis-Saint Paul metro). I hesitantly posted an advertisement on Craigslist for free (I was a pretty shy kid and my parents and I were nervous about me meeting strangers online). My hourly rate was now $25. I slowly began getting new clients by email and phone.
My freelancing business up to this point was solely IT consulting, training & support (at the time, I used the term “computer consulting & tech support”). Also around this time, I began offering web design services, however I wasn’t marketing them (yet).
Working, Learning, Having Fun (ca. 2008-2010)
Throughout high school and into the beginning of my college career, my regular side job was my freelancing business, which I now referred to as “technology consulting.” I officially registered my company, SimDex, with the State of Minnesota in 2008 as a Limited Liability Company (LLC). I had used the “SimDex” name in my childhood when I started a club with a friend, but now it had new meaning: it was sort of an abbreviation of “simple design” (in reference to clean, simple web design). My rate was now $30 per hour.
I had a very irregular, sparse flow of clients during this period, but luckily, the income I generated mostly satisfied my craving for technology – I could buy video games, computer accessories, and electronics that I wanted. Freelance tech consulting and web design was a great side gig for me, but it was only that – just a “a side gig”. I had no idea this gig would eventually evolve into a fun, fulfilling and successful career.
I began to focus more on web design part of my freelance business since it was more fun, creative, and profitable than simply teaching people about their technology and fixing computers electronics. I eventually increased my hourly rate to $40.
Things Get Serious (“Shit Gets Real”) (ca. 2010-present)
The last two years have been simply incredible in terms of my freelance business’s growth, and when I graduate from college a year from now (June 2013), I cannot wait to see where it will go! I’ve used my summer, winter, and spring breaks in college as test runs (trials) for determining whether my business would be able to support me financially post-college. My rate is now $50 per hour, but I’m moving away from the “pay for time” model and towards the “pay for value” model.
The client base I have slowly built up over the past 6 years has created an incredible network of potential customers via client referrals (the best source of business!). I hadn’t thought about this concept previously, but now I’m realizing the power of networking (you know, that cliché overused business term). Additionally, I became more serious about my advertisements on Craigslist. I totally recreated them from scratch and used a professional layout & design combined with high quality copy to produce an advertisement that (I thought) was 10 times better looking and more professional than any other ad in the same category on Craigslist.
From the data samples I’ve collected in the last two years in terms of income, I speculate that not only will I be able to survive from my freelancing business post-college, but I’ll be able to thrive. Since I came to this realization, I’ve become more and more determined to grow my business, and I’ve spent more and more time and energy researching, thinking, and working to achieve that goal. (Unfortunately, my grades in college have suffered as a result of this realization, but I’m also now realizing they don’t really matter in the “real world.”)
Most importantly, I’ve fallen in love with the idea (the lifestyle, really) of having the freedom to do the type of work I love, when I want, where I want, and with whom I want. It’s truly incredible to think that I would never have to work for and be financially dependent on a single employer.
Last summer, in addition to running my business, I had a part-time job (technically, I was a contractor) at a market research company that made me realize I want – nay, need – to be on my own, to have no boss except myself, and to experience the risks, excitement, and rewards of being self-employed! It’s the freelancing lifestyle that I love and need. That’s why I run the How to Freelance blog.