How to Turn Your Side Hustle into Full-Time Business: 9 Steps for Starting Your Freelance Business

Have you got a side hustle that you want to take to the next level? Here's how to turn your side hustle into a freelance business in 9 steps.

How to Turn Your Side Hustle into Full-Time Business: 9 Steps for Starting Your Freelance Business
Portrait for Jason ChowBy Jason Chow  |  Updated September 6, 2023

After the pandemic, many creatives turned to freelance work for income. As a result, side hustles have sky-rocketed in the past several years and are continuing to grow. A 2021 online survey confirmed that an estimated 77% of employees in the arts and design industry are freelancers, and by 2027, freelancers will comprise 51% of the US workforce. 

Alt text: The number of freelancers in the US from 2017 to 2028 (Source: Statista)

Freelancing has many benefits, including flexibility, creative freedom, and pursuing your passion. However, many still dread turning their freelance design hustle into a full-time business. A full-time business comes with a plethora of risks and rewards. Getting started can be extremely overwhelming, and understandably, many hesitate. That said, those that take the leap can be very successful.

If you already have a successful side gig, why not consider turning it into a business full-time? Ready to turn your side hustle into a full-time business? Here are some tips to help you take your freelancing career to the next level

How to Start a Freelance Business in 9 Steps

1. Organize Your Finances

Starting a design business requires you to stay on top of everything finance-related. Before transitioning to a full-time freelance business, you’ll need a budget to launch: focus on saving as much money as possible. Try learning about alternative ways of making money, like passive income apps. It can also pay to have an emergency fund tie you over if things turn for the worst. 

Understanding your business’ finances will help you prepare for future decisions, such as transitioning from a per-project approach to a longer-term revenue-generating strategy. And staying on top of business metrics (sales, expenses, profits, cash flow, and more) can confirm if your business will generate enough profit to cover your costs.

Tools such as Xero (Accounting Software), Expensify (Expense Tracking), PlanGuru (Budgeting), and eCommerce solutions such as Shopify can be a great place to start. You can also use a tool like Invoice Simple and Billdu to calculate your profit margin easily.

2. Streamline Your Business Needs

Find tools that help streamline your business needs (Source: Weareindy)

Once your design business grows, you’ll need tools to streamline your business needs. Monitoring and tracking your work progress, tasks, and responsibilities can save you time and safeguard your business. 

Tracking your proposals, purchase orders, invoices, and finance-related data is equally essential – you’re working for income. These tools can also help to manage your marketing campaigns and client communications.

Don’t throw caution to the wind by investing in every tool immediately. You want to keep your expenses minimal, so move forward cautiously and carefully select the right combination of tools to streamline your design business. 

Envato Elements can streamline your creative business needs

Here are some great digital tools to get you started:

  • PlaceIt for fast creation of business visuals.
  • Zoho for invoicing and accounting needs.
  • Weareindy for managing your freelance business.
  • Hootsuite for social media management.
  • Envato Elements for creative assets and templates. 

3. Build a Strong Team

Working alone can have its perks – you get to be in the driver’s seat and ensure things run efficiently. While this may be true initially, when your business takes off, you’ll need extra pairs of hands to help you manage your business and deliver work on time. 

Hiring a core team is critical for expanding your business to achieve higher volume operations and sustainable revenue. Building a solid team means you can delegate tasks – such as maintaining your website and its performance, managing your social media platforms, or dealing with business finances. 

How you build your team will depend on the kind of staff you wish to onboard. For example, platforms like LinkedIn and Lensa are excellent to headhunt full-time team members, while you can find freelance workers on Upwork.

4. Expand Your Client Base

A crucial element of growing your design business is to keep those customers rolling in. Here are some strategies for expanding your customer base:

Build an Online Presence

Investing in your online presence is essential if you’re serious about growing your business. New customers will vet you based on your digital resume, and your online portfolios – such as your website and social platforms – are your first impression on potential clients. 

A professional website will set you apart from the hobbyists. Focus on SEO to ensure you rank highly on Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs); the more significant your visibility, the easier it will be for people to find you online. Also, ensure you enlist a secure hosting solution to safeguard your website. If you’re unsure of how to launch a website, numerous resources can guide you through the process. WordPress and website builders can help you create a professional online presence. Don’t forget to choose a domain name that reflects your brand and resonates with your target audience. Launching a website is essential in establishing your freelance business and expanding your online reach.

It’s also important to leverage social media and other digital marketing strategies to jump-start your sales, generate brand awareness and strengthen your presence. Social media is a cost-effective way to boost your online presence if you leverage the correct platforms and engage your target audience.

Enhancing your website and social media with a steady stream of meaningful, engaging, and consistent content will help increase brand recognition. 


There are freelance design communities on Facebook to help extend your network. (Source: Facebook)

No business is an island. Like it or not, regular networking is imperative for any business’s success, especially when launching a full-time gig. Attend events and conferences, collaborate with other creatives, and seek like-minded peers and mentors. 

5. Implement Business Processes

When starting a business, immediately diving in and taking action is tempting. However, don’t get ahead of yourself: first, take a step back and review your business processes. Running your business without setting a proper workflow could lead to unnecessary work and stress.

Design and streamline your business processes to synchronize with your business goals. This could mean using templates, creating a brand guide, a content calendar, standard operating procedures, and other helpful guidelines. If your team is working remotely, put processes in place to ensure strong collaboration and communication among team members. 

Make use of platforms available to streamline your business processes. (Source: Asana)

Many tools are available to streamline your processes, from finances to workflow. Some examples include Asana (and Asana alternatives) for project management and Slack for communication.

6. Consider Legalities

Starting a design business full-time requires you to register your business. Doing so provides protection – just as customers can be unpredictable, the market can also be volatile. 

Consider the legal aspects of your business to protect yourself and any related proprietary information. Several business entities may apply, so do your due diligence. 

7. Identify Your Target Customers

When your design business was just a side hustle, you probably didn’t have to worry about getting to know your customers inside and out. However, things change when your sole income comes from your freelance business.

Customers are the pulse of every business, so knowing and understanding them is crucial. Get to know your customers, pay attention to their needs, and connect with them personally. 

Research the market and study your competitors. Explore areas with comparatively less competition, then craft your ideal customer or client profile by determining their needs, pain points, and purchasing behavior patterns.

8. Create a Business Plan

You must have a plan before diving into your business head-first. It’s imperative to build a business plan outlining your roadmap, profit projections, business goals, and the steps you’ll take to achieve them. Set a budget, outline reasonable sales and revenue objectives, and determine business milestones you want to reach with clear timelines. This will be of great help with project management down the line.

It’s also vital to plan out other elements of your business, such as marketing. Craft actionable steps and key performance indicators to track your progress. Also, monitor and review your goals regularly and adjust if needed. As a full-time freelance designer, you want to ensure high productivity. So, create a clear picture of where you are, where you want to go, and how you’ll get there. 

Some great tools for tracking progress, brainstorming, and planning your content include platforms like Later, Miro, and Trello (along with its alternatives). 

9. Protect Your Privacy & Invest in Security

While technological advancement brings many benefits, it also has setbacks, including escalating cyber attacks. Running a business means storing a lot of data. Be it sensitive or not, it’s your responsibility as a business owner to safeguard your customers’ information. 

The sophistication level of cyber-attacks is ever-evolving. Consequently, both business privacy and security are always at potential risk. Ensure you take the necessary steps to secure and protect your business’s and customers’ data, including proprietary information. If you don’t confirm this information, your business could suffer irreparable reputational and financial losses.

There is a massive market for security tools that suit businesses of all sizes. For freelancers, consider using a reputable antivirus solution like Norton, Kaspersky, or F-Secure.

To Wrap Up

Turning your side hustle into a full-time business venture is a significant leap. While this leap comes with various risks and benefits, it’s possible to successfully turn your freelance design hustle into a full-time business with the right mindset, planning, hard work, and flexibility to adapt and grow. While it can be scary to take that first step, what you’re passionate about brings in good money, and transitioning to a thriving and sustainable business could be the best decision you’ve ever made. 

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