It’s hard to believe it’s been almost 2 years since I started my design business, Coral Antler Creative.
If you’ve already started your online service-based business, you know that the first few/several months can be hard, especially if you are the only income for your household. I remember literally not sleeping for days when I was launching my website, drank a ridiculous amount of coffee, and didn’t leave my house. I started an unhealthy pattern of eating and not taking care of myself that I’m now paying for because I spent all my time engulfed in getting my business off the ground. I spent monthly just marketing myself on social media, literally, that’s all I did for 8 hours a day. It’s been two years of alternating between euphoric bliss and paralyzing fear. But honestly it was exactly what I wanted to do and I loved every minute of it (other than those few horrible clients that made me question my purpose, ha). Because I believe this is what I was made to do. When you are so passionate about something that comes naturally to you, it never really feels like work, and that’s when you know you’re doing your souls purpose.
Not everyone has what it takes to be an entrepreneur. And that’s okay because the world needs employed people as much as it need entrepreneurs.
Nicole Connolly summed up what it takes to be self employed perfectly:
“If the though of an unstable income terrifies you, then you shouldn’t be self employed.
If lack of security scares you, then you shouldn’t be self employed.
If you are not business minded, then you shouldn’t be self employed.
If you can’t see the rainbow through the rain, then you shouldn’t be self employed.
If you aren’t tough as balls, then you shouldn’t be self employed.
There is only so much you can learn from books, study and experience. The rest is in your DNA – and if you don’t have it, you just don’t have it.”
So how do you get business necessities on a budget?
I’m going to show you exact what I used (still use) and what I paid for everything I use in my business. You’ll be surprised how little you need every month to start off. I’m not going to show you ALL the options you can use because that can get overwhelming very fast. I’m simply showing you my process of what I used and what works so you can literally copy exactly how I started my creative business.
Most people already have what they need to start an online service-based business: a computer, a phone, and internet connection. I’m not going to add these in the monthly expenses just because I’m assuming you already have these things. I personally use a Dell Laptop (with 2 additional screens for larger projects), my Verizon android cell phone, and high speed wireless internet.
You can set up a free email address for your business on Gmail, which is owned by Google. So if you have a google account (also FREE), you can set this up super easy. Some people think you need to have a “professional” email address (i.e. Jennifer@coralantler.com) but it’s not necessary for you to look professional. I STILL have my free gmail account after 2 years and have never lost a client because of it. As long as you are using your full name or business name in the address and not something unprofessional like “hottie99@gmailcom”, you are good to go.
Monthly Expenses: FREE
Website and Blogging
First things first: you need a website. I have seen some people run a business with just a business Facebook page and honestly, I have no idea how they can be successful unless you are doing something other than a service based business like design. The first thing I think about when someone doesn’t have a website, is that they aren’t a legit business. To appear professional and make your potential clients trust you, this is a must.
Here are the things you need to setup for your website:
You’re domain name is the same as URL. Once you decide on your business name and check to make sure it’s not taken yet here, this should be your first purchase. I use Godaddy.com for my domains. I have several for different businesses and have used them for about 5 years and never had an issues as far as domains go. You can find discount codes for Godaddy here. For the first year you can buy a domain for .99 cents! After that it’s $12 a year. OR even better, you can purchase a managed WordPress hosting plan that comes with a free domain.
Yearly Expense: FREE for the first year with hosting coupon
I also use Godaddy for hosting. Lots of people have conflicting experience with using Godaddy for hosting. I will say that I have never had any issues with them until this year, and it’s only been a couple times. There customer service is amazing and better than any other company I’ve worked with for clients projects. So overall I will say I recommend them. Purchasing the managed wordpress hosting package is the best way to go. You can also get coupons for your first year of hosting here. With the coupon it’s only $1 a month with a free domain. Make sure you check out the prices after the first year because they do change.
Yearly Expense: $12 for the first year with coupon
Since I’m a designer, I obviously designed mine myself so there was no expense. But there are other options if you don’t have the art gene. You can find premade logos on Creative Market or Etsy for less than $25.
I use WordPress.org for my site. This part is already setup through your hosting with the managed wordpress hosting option. It seems so intimidating at first but once you start using it and watching tutorials, it’s SO easy.
(you can also check out my step by step tutorial on how to set up your website on WordPress)
Yearly Expense: FREE
I use the Divi theme by Elegant Themes. It’s ridiculously versatile. You can create anything out of it and it’s very easy to use for beginners, especially with all the tutorials you can find online and here. There is even facebook groups specifically for this theme so you can ask pros questions when you get stuck. My clients love it because they don’t have that tech headache even when they aren’t tech savvy. Highly recommended.
Yearly Expense: $69 or $160 for lifetime membership
I use Mailchimp for collecting emails and sending out my freebies and occasional email blasts. They are free up to 1000 contacts without automatic mail. Mailchimp also integrates directly into the Divi Theme so there’s not much work to set it up.
Monthly Expense: FREE
A lead magnet is basically an free offering to give to your potiental clients in exchange for their email address. Sumo Me is a plugin that is free (there is a pro version too) to use for this. They have popups and embedded options, you can even make a page on it’s own just to collect emails and offer your freebie.
Monthly Expense: FREE
This goes along with accounting. But even if you are using an invoicing software or shopping cart on your site, you have to pay Paypal or Stripe transaction fees. Thankfully these come out as clients pay so you don’t have any upfront fees or additional fees throughout the month. If you are setting up eCommerce items on your site, you will need to use the plugin Woocommerce. It’s free and easy to integrate with your site and products.
Also, I strongly suggest that you put away money in another account for your end of the year taxes every time you get paid. This will save you in the end when you’re crying on the floor because you forgot to do it all year and now you have to set up a payment plan with the IRS, not fun. You can grab my tax deduction worksheet here also.
Monthly Expense: FREE
Bookkeeping and Accounting
There are certain business necessities worth investing in, and an accounting software is definitely one of them. You will not need an accountant which are much more expensive than this option. I use 17hats. You can do everything from setting up and sending your clients quotes, invoices, contracts, and automatic payment plans. It keeps up with all of your accounting so you can see how much you made at the end of every month or year for your taxes (this is automatic). You have a do to list, google calendar integration, workflow, input contacts, projects for each client, etc etc. This software is amazing and you can try it free for 14 days. I cannot recommend it enough!
Monthly Expense: $29 (They offer discounts if you pay for the whole year)
Social Media Platform
This is how I market my business. I mainly use Instagram and Pinterest. But I also have an account for Twitter and Facebook that are automated. I recommend choosing 2 to focus on and automate the rest. I use IFTTT to automate my posts, it’s free. This means that when I post something to my facebook page it will automatically post it to my twitter, etc. You can set up tons of different “recipes” to post to and from which accounts you have setup. Instagram also has an option to post to facebook and twitter while your already posting to Instagram so you don’t have to keep up with the others. This saves time and makes it easier to market your business on all platforms with no extra work involved. I set mine up years ago and haven’t had to do anything with it since, it’s still automating away!
I will say for the first year it is crucial to keep up with your marketing to get yourself out there. You can also join facebook groups to target specific clients in your niche and make friends.
Monthly Expense: FREE
To keep up with my daily tasks, appointments, and client calls, I use google calendar.
For free stock images I use Thestocks.im. They have several of the free stock sites all on their site. You can check out my pinterest board where I’ve curated 300+ free stock images for free-spirited professionals, or go here to see other free stock image sites.
Graphics, Marketing Materials, etc.
If you’re already freaking out about having to learn Photoshop and paying monthly for it, you can chill because there are cheaper ways for DIYers.
Canva is an online tool for creating graphics and it’s ultra user-friendly plus it has beautiful templates! You can create ALL of your social media graphics and smaller graphics for your website. However, I do not recommend Canva for creating your ebooks and PDFs. I have clients request all the time that I create there ebooks in canva so they can edit them as needed. But honestly, the quality of their PDFS are poopy. And if you want to look professional, you need to have professional quality. So I’ve found another solution! Enter Google Slides. You can create beautiful PDF ebooks (from scratch or from their templates) and the quality is great! I’m planning to offer a tutorial on how to do this soon but for now, if you go this route, google is your best friend for learning. 🙂
In addition to just googling, Lynda.com is my personal favorite for learning programs and software, especially Adobe. It’s not free, but well worth the price when you can afford it.
Once you get to a point where you can start investing in your business, I would suggest using Creative Market to find templates, photos, and graphics made by designers and photographers like myself.
Here’s where I urge you to splurge. Get a REAL photographer that has a portfolio and a REAL website. Especially if you’re the face of your business, take that responsibility seriously and help your business look more professional. You can find a great photographer that has “mini” sessions (almost all of them have them) so you can get a 15-30 minute shoot for at least $100. Anything under $100 is not going to be great quality unless you are doing a mini session and it’s been discounted because you have less time with the photographer. This advice is coming FROM a photographer. You get what you pay for when it comes to photography. This isn’t an expense you will need to pay for often. You could go 5 more years without needing to do another shoot. It’s well worth it.
That’s it guys! Literally everything you need to get your online service-based business started! I hope this was helpful because I know something like this would have been gold to me when I was starting out and having to figure it all out myself.