(Art credit: Kathryn Sheldon)
Deciding on a business structure, planning for the future, managing finances, and work-life balance are just a few of the tasks that can cause stress out small business owners. But hearing how other freelancers conquer these hurdles and learning which tools they use can be a game-changer.
We were excited to be able to chat with writer Marie Duke, the owner of Duchess Marie’s Quill, LLC, and a Freelancers Union member. Here’s what Duke has learned over the past year and a half as a freelance writer.
ZenBusiness: What do you like about freelancing?
Duke: I can do it in my own time. I can decide my schedule. I have a 5-year-old with special needs. She has Down syndrome and she's often sick, and we're looking at maybe needing to do another surgery by the end of the year. If I don't want to work or I can't because I'm focusing on her health, I can do as much or as little as I want to do, and it just works well with my schedule.
ZenBusiness: Are there any challenges that come with freelancing?
Duke: It's not steady money. It's hard to budget my paycheck. Luckily with my husband’s job, we don't need my paycheck in the sense we need to pay bills. Those major bills he can handle. It can be difficult to freelance and to work part-time because it's harder to budget, but that comes with any part-time job.
ZenBusiness: How long did it take you before you felt like you were really getting your business going?
Duke: A few months. I started with Fiverr taking freelance jobs, I guess, gigs, since it is a gig economy, and I started off as cheap as I could. I didn't want to outprice myself and wanted to make sure that I got plenty of customers. And as I started to build customers and build a rapport with certain customers, I found I could charge a little more.
ZenBusiness: Why did you decide to operate as an LLC?
Duke: Once the money started coming in a little more steadily, I figured out that I needed to protect myself, and that when I got ready to do my taxes I would need to have a business established. When I set up my business bank account, my bank suggested I do an LLC. They said, "If you set up a tax ID and you do an LLC, there are more legal protections, especially if you're writing for someone else." With a DBA you could lose personal money, rather than if you have it as an LLC. With an LLC, they're not going to come after your house if you have an issue with being sued by a customer.
ZenBusiness: Do you feel like having an LLC made you feel more legitimate? Or able to provide better service?
Duke: It does make me feel a little more legitimate, especially with so many MLMs out there. And not that multi-level marketing is the worst thing in the world, but a lot of small businesses these days are related to multi-level marketing. I want people to understand that this is me and I am representing myself. I'm not representing another company. And so it did make me feel a little more legitimate like I have an actual business.
ZenBusiness: How did you start to narrow down your choices for registered agent services?
Duke: My husband and I basically made some spreadsheets and said, "OK, this is what this service offers, and this is what another service offers, and this is how much each thing costs." We weren’t just looking for the least expensive companies, because sometimes the least expensive doesn't offer what you need. The goal was to find what's going to give us the most value for our dollar and provide the services we need.
Of course, we don't need as many services as a larger business. But we do need registered agents and we do need to be able to complete paperwork — and maybe I don't understand all of the paperwork. Somebody else can do that for me and it takes a little pressure off.
ZenBusiness: What was the process of working with ZenBusiness like?
Duke: Once we decided that ZenBusiness had what we needed for a decent price, we went ahead and went online and set up the account and chose a business name. We went through the process of setting up a tax ID. Then I took my LLC and tax ID paperwork to the bank and set up a business checking account.
ZenBusiness: What’s your favorite part about using ZenBusiness’ services?
Duke: For me, it's just that peace of mind that I don't have to deal with compliance. I don't have to worry about whether someone needs me available during business hours. I don't have to worry about when I want to take time off.
I don't have to worry about missing a deadline. It's just one less thing to deal with; one less thing to worry about.
ZenBusiness: Did you hear about ZenBusiness through Freelancers Union, or was that just a coincidence?
Duke: It was just a coincidence. I joined them about the same time. I think there was probably some influence from the Freelancers Union providing some information about ZenBusiness. But it just so happened that I also located them as I was looking for opportunities to have a registered agent.
ZenBusiness: Would you recommend ZenBusiness to other types of gig workers?
Duke: I would, especially if you're making enough to be taxed throughout the year for things. I actually have a friend who DoorDashes. I suggested that she look into forming an LLC, since she does have to separate expenses such as gas for deliveries, or wear and tear on your car, car maintenance, and other things related to her business.
ZenBusiness: What other tools do you use to manage your business?
Duke: I use electronic calendars through Google, to remember what's due and when. Fiverr is also nice because everything is kept in one place. And I use QuickBooks to keep up with my day-to-day accounting.
ZenBusiness: Do you have any advice for gig workers or freelancers who might be wanting to start an LLC?
Duke: I think a lot of things are going to a gig economy right now. A lot of people are leaning that way because of insecurity with jobs during the pandemic. People didn't know what was going to happen with their jobs, and I think it did open a new world for people to try something new.
My advice: Don't be afraid — put yourself out there! As a gig worker you don't want to feel like you have to take every gig that comes along. It's okay to say no, but the more you offer good quality service, the more people are going to come to you. Don't be afraid to try.
If you’re ready to take your freelancing to the next level, ZenBusiness can help. Start your own LLC in a matter of minutes, and save up to 20% off, here on our website. Freelancers Union members can also learn more about LLC formation in our Freelancer’s Guide to LLC Formation.