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  • Writer's pictureErin Ratliff

The Ultimate Set Up / Start Up Checklist for Freelancers, Sole Proprietors & Small Businesses

Entrepreneurs With A Completed Business Plan Are 260% More Likely To Start Your Business

As a solopreneur or small biz founder, having a solid foundation of business systems and processes can give you the confidence and peace of mind so that you can focus on building your brand. And while it’s tempting to push off the overwhelming/serious/"boring" stuff for later, it is much wiser to set up your business correctly in the first place, than it is to solve a very painful or expensive problem once it arises down the road.

Below are dozens of legal, operational and administrative considerations when starting and scaling your business. Top to bottom, this is the step-by-step checklist I wish I had when I first started freelancing!

"By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail."

Benjamin Franklin

Sales & Marketing Systems

Your Brand

Before doing anything you should verify that your business name is available on state and federal levels, and secure a domain for your website. Then clarify and create your...

  • Vision - your goals and path to sucesss

  • Mission - what you do (your niche) who you serve (your customer)) and how (your services) and why you do it (your purpose)

  • Values - goalposts of success for your vision

Pricing Guide

Create your general pricing guide with the rates you've set. Ideally have one page per service.

Audience Growth Channels

Consistently create content to grow your community on rented platforms like social media and then drive them to your owned platforms, such as your email list. The key is consistency and authenticity, not perfection.

Don't forget about the power of in-person networking too!

Automation tip: Create a "Content Waterfall System" by taking one long-form piece of content and turning it into Posts, Stories, Reels, E-newsletters or Youtube shorts.


You can create an online portfolio without a website, but ideally, your own website will help you really stand out as a professional. It's a great way to share search-optimized content on a blog, or to capture email addresses if you'd like to start a newsletter one day.

 Pro tip: Make sure to include website terms of use, and privacy policies.

Client/Customer Referral System

Word of mouth is your most powerful salesperson. Create a referral pipeline from your community. You can do this in a variety of ways: through trackable links, inviting friends, referral incentives, etc.

"Efficiency is doing things right; effectiveness is doing the right things."

Peter Drucker

Client Onboarding Systems


How do you handle leads to conversions? Will you do a discovery call or a form? How will you convert them to a client and get started working with them?

Contracts & Agreements

Develop standard contracts or agreements outlining the terms and conditions of your services, payment terms, scope of work, and any other relevant details. Consider consulting with a legal professional to ensure your contracts are comprehensive and legally binding.

A iron-clad project proposal or partnership agreement will guard your time, energy, and resources. Don't forget to include the following clauses to help manage expectations:

  • The Schedule. "Partnership agreement begins on the date of deposit receipt." ie You don’t start the project until the client pays your deposit. This protects you from doing unpaid labor.

  • The Consultation. "Retainer includes up to (x hours) of video conferencing for the duration of the retainer. If additional calls are required, they are billed as a line-item cost of ($X) per hour." This protects you from the dreaded “Can you hop on a call really quickly?” If clients want your extra time, they need to pay for it! . You can use this as your proposal template later, if you need to make a custom one for a project.

"Automation applied to an efficient operation will magnify the efficiency. Automation applied to an inefficient operation will magnify the inefficiency."

Bill Gates

Financial Systems

Business Bank Account

Open a separate checking account for your business, for both legitimacy and asset protection. It's alsoeasier to sort your business expenses – a must for tax season.All of your freelance income should go into this account.

Note: remember to set aside 20-30% of everything you get paid for self-employment taxes. You can either pay quarterly taxes or deposit that money into a high interest savings account or a folder inside your business bank account. Even better? Set up an automation so every time an invoice hits your account 25% of it automatically goes into a separate reserve for taxes.

Bonus: Most business banking has invoicing and secure payment processing capabilities built in! This is a great way to avoid pesky transaction fees (cough PayPal cough)


Keep a detailed records of income and deductible expenses throughout the year, remembering to calculate and set aside estimated taxes to avoid penalties. Consider consulting with a tax professional for guidance and assistance!

What many self-employed people and small business owners don't realize is that you can still write off your business expenses without registering as an LLC. 1099 workers are only taxed on their profit, not their revenue. Legitimate business expenses are all tax deductible, not counting towards your revenue. Look to write-off things like...

  • Computer

  • Books

  • Co-Working spaces

  • Blue-light blocking glasses

  • A portion of rent (It counts if you WFH!)

Tip:  Know your numbers. Each month check in to make sure you're meeting your goals for Revenue, Profit and audience growth.

Passive Income/Monetization Systems

Own your audience by providing digital products, online courses and curated subscription communities. This will provide predictable revenue you can count on.

Pro Tip: Build an emergency fund to cover unexpected expenses or periods of low income. Aim to save enough to cover at least three to six months' worth of living expenses. Also don't forget about your retirement savings plan!

"The will to win is important, but the will to prepare is vital."

Joe Paterno

Legal Systems

Employer Identification Number (EIN)

Get an EIN, a federal identification number! It takes just a few minutes on the IRS website, it's free, and it works just like your SSN when it comes to your taxes.

Optional: If you plan to employ others, consider establishing a business entity to limit personal liability, such as LLC or Corporation.

  • Intellectual Property Rights: Understand intellectual property rights, including copyright, trademark, and confidentiality agreements, especially if you'll be creating original work or dealing with sensitive information.

  • Use Disclaimers/Disclosures: Consider using disclaimers related to warranties, endorsements, third-party content, earnings, professional-client relationships, information accuracy and more.

  • Business Insurance: Consider obtaining business insurance to protect yourself from liability and unforeseen circumstances, such as professional liability insurance, general liability insurance, or business property insurance.

  • Consult Professionals: Seek advice from licensed attorneys and accountants to ensure proper legal setup and compliance with regulations.

Wellness Systems

Healthcare and Benefits: Explore options for healthcare coverage. Consider joining professional organizations or associations that offer benefits to freelancers.

Time Management: Establish boundaries between work and your personal life to maintain a healthy work-life balance. Implement strategies to prioritize tasks, set realistic goals, and avoid burnout.

Professional Development: Set aside periodic "Choose Days" or "CEO Days" where you step back from day-to-day tasks and focus on strategic planning, networking, upskilling, and long-term goals. By dedicating regular time to work On the business rather than just In the business, freelancers you can avoid stagnation and achieve faster growth and greater success.

"Work Smarter, Not Harder"

The Bottom Line

There is no short-cut to success. If you don’t have strong (proven) and scalable (automated) systems in place, you’ll likely never be a 6 or 7-figure entrepreneur.

Operational efficiency is the foundation of business, enabling you to adapt quickly and overcome challenges that will inevitably arise. Streamlining processes allow businesses to focus on what matters most – creativity, innovation, problem-solving, delivering value to customers and staying ahead in the competitive market.

Also remember this: no matter how much time, training, or how many systems you have in place, there are still a million "soft skills" you'll need in order to excel: communication, honesty, integrity, intense dedication, grit, agility, adaptability, resilience and a healthy dose of delusion.

Don't be one of those entrepreneurs who gives up before giving your dream enough time to come to fruition. Dig in, show up, make the time, make the sacrifices and take the individual action steps every day to reach your goals. Trust me, if I can do it, so can you.

"Build your own dreams, or someone else will hire you to build theirs."

Farrah Gray


Erin Ratliff is a holistic business coach and organic growth & visibility marketer serving energy-sensitive, earth-loving, heart-led soul-preneurs, self-starters, and founders with the mission of personal and planetary healing.

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