Ten Essential Items Every Freelance Office Needs to Get Started

3452272176_3fabbca25d_bBecoming a freelancer is one of the easiest business to start, because–unlike starting a bakery, gym or other kind of business–it doesn’t require much capital to begin. Most people already have what they need to start, but there are still some essential items you’ll need to become a freelancer that you may (or may not) have.

Some of these are large ticket items, but most are inexpensive, easy to find, and very helpful. Let’s take a look at some of the things you’ll need to begin a freelancing business.

Essential Items

Here are some essential items for freelancers:

  1. Computer–Unless you’re planning on dealing with clients via mind control, you’ll need some kind of computer in order to design, code, write or whatever it is you plan to do. Computers don’t have to be expensive, even if you prefer a Mac. Nowadays you can get a very inexpensive Mac with great specs for brand new, or even purchase one that’s slightly used. I recently sold my top-of-the-line Macbook on eBay for $750, which was still better than a brand new PC. So check out eBay and other bargain places for gently used power machines. New isn’t always better!
  2. Cable Internet–Especially if you’re doing design or development work, high speed cable internet is a must-have in order to really do anything in business. Skip dial-up and DSL and go with cable (preferably 10mbps+) or even Sprint’s 4G portable wireless network (I’ve been wanting to try that). If you can’t afford internet just yet and have a laptop, considering making your local coffee shop, who often have free wireless, your office for now.
  3. Printer–Printers are a must have in order to print your tax info, business write-offs, contracts and more. Having a printer also allows you to have your own professional stationery without having to pay a professional printer for (which also cuts down on waste and space).
  4. Composition Book–No matter what work you do, a good notebook is essential for any freelancer. Designers need to sketch, developers need to write down slice sizes and CSS rules and writers need to, well, write. I love the composition notebooks because they normally go for less than $1.00, are wide-ruled for note crunching and last for forever.
  5. Good lighting–I’m in the process of moving my office out of the basement and upstairs into the best lit room because my office is a dark, scary cave. Lighting is essential to well-being and will save you from terrible headaches, bad eyes and even bad posture.
  6. Automatic Backups–An automatic backup has saved my life (and my client’s) more than once. Spend the money to set up a system that does it automatically for you, so you don’t have to ever think about it until you need it. I use Apple’s Time Capsule, because it backs up wirelessly, turns any printer into a wireless one and provides wireless internet (more on wireless below). Plus, it can work with multiple computers.
  7. File System–Whether you go with paper, paperless or a combination of both, you need to have a great filing system in place that allows you to quickly find client files, contracts, receipts, etc quickly.
  8. Ergonomics–I once spent $10 on a chair at Wal-Mart for my office. I used it for a week and had aching wrists, back, neck and bum. Ergonomic chairs aren’t cheap, but you can find comfortable chairs in all price ranges. Make sure the chair is proper height and the desk is large enough so that you can lay everything out comfortably. No one likes to be aching and cramped all day.
  9. Software–A lot of software these days are free (or have free versions) so take some time to set up what you need. You might even be able to get by using nothing besides Google apps. (Hey, I’ve seen it done!)
  10. Inspiration–Why do you keep working all day? Some people like to keep a picture of the goal they’re working towards, but I like to take it a step farther. I keep my Bichon Frise (that’s a white poofy haired dog) sleeping on my desk. Not only is he good for a hug and kiss after dealing with a nightmare client, he also keeps me motivated to work by reminding me that I have others to take care of. And, he’s just plain cute to look at while I code. So what motivates you? If you’re wanting a Porsche someday, keep a model of one (or a photo) on your desk. Wanting a vacation to the beach? Keep something in eyesight that reminds you of it in order to stay productive.

Almost Essential Items

You can get by without the items on this list, but you probably won’t want to.

  • Smartphone–Smartphones make it easy to stay connected and answer emails without being chained to your desk. They’re also pretty affordable nowadays as well. I suggest the iPhone for its extensive business and productivity app collection. Plus, you can use it for play after you’re done working.
  • Dedicated Office Space–I’ve got an entire room in my house used for the office only. Not only does this allow me to work in peace by shutting off the rest of the household, it also ensures that I can get away from work. If you work on your dining room table, you may not be able to eat relaxing dinners without thinking about work.
  • Wireless Everything –You’d be surprised at just how much an icky office can mess with your productivity. My office has been a mess for two weeks now since we’re renovating and I’ve seen it cut my productivity way down. That being said, one of the best ways to keep an organized, clean desk is to pay an extra few bucks for wireless. I’ve got a wireless printer, wireless backups, bluetooth keyboard & mouse and wireless internet. My desk is still a rat’s nest of wires, but a little less so. Plus, this allows me to move around the house and still use the devices.
  • Good Speakers–Music keeps me productive every day, so I find it almost essential to have a computer with good speakers, good headphones or good external speakers.
  • Books, Blogs & Podcasts–These things, while not necessary to being in business, keep you on top of the new stuff in your industry, which keeps you on top of others too.

What About You?

What tools and equipment do you consider essential for your freelancing business?

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Comments

  1. says

    A computer!? I knew I was missing something :(

    Also! Be careful with the whole moving the office upstairs thing! While it makes sense to work in more natural lighting you shouldn’t underestimate all of the heat your high performance computer puts out. It may sound odd but heat rises and having your computer upstairs means it has no where else to go. I work upstairs in my place and find that in the summer time I need to take breaks to pretty much go lay on the floor downstairs because the room I work in will easily reach 85 – 90 degrees.

  2. says

    A fan / air conditioning unit for when it gets hot. I know we rarely get heatwaves in London but a few years ago it was unbearably hot in my office and my concentration levels were affected – and so was my productivity. So I bought a mobile air conditioning unit which also doubles as a fan for when it’s not quite so hot. Cool head ever since.

  3. says

    I completely agree! In fact, I was so much less productive before I made a conscious effort to pull all of these things together in my office and – for pete’s sake – make the investment and get a comfortable chair. Now I can spend all day in my office if I desire without ever having to leave to find supply or get some inspiration.

  4. says

    Did I read this right? “I love the composition notebooks because they normally go for less than $100, are wide-ruled for note crunching and last for forever.”

    Are you buying them in bulk?

    I’m discovering that I really need solitude to get anything substantial done. Good headphones help. I’m also seeing the wisdom in having a notebook handy. As much as I’s like to do everything online I still need o have something more physical to chart out ideas.

  5. says

    An automatic backup is a good start, but you should also include an off site backup as well. If your house/office is broken into and your computers and equipment is stolen you will not have a backup. There are many affordable online backup services that will backup your files off site so even if all you equipment is stolen or your office is destroyed some other way you can be back up and running in no time.

    Not to mention it can also help you recover from your own mistakes like accidentally deleting a file.

  6. says

    I think you’re right on with this list of ‘essentials’. I wish there was a better cable internet provider in my new neighborhood. I just moved from Seattle where I had comcast cable internet ( usually 20+Mbps!), to a small town near Austin, Texas where I have DSL (1.5Mbps on a good day ;-(.

    I would also add a good, clean, non-cluttered desk to your list. So essential, especially for ergonomics.

    -Jacob

  7. says

    @Jason I have an iMac, so those things don’t get very hot ;)

    @Freelance FactFile LOL I forget that an AC isn’t standard in a lot of countries ;) We take those for granted here!

    @Craig/FFB It was a typo..I fixed it ^_^ Hopefully no one pays $100 for one notebook!

    @John My automatic backup is wireless, so it’s no where near my computers and is actually hidden away in another room – so I’m not too worried about someone finding it.

  8. says

    I have to agree on the desk. While it is really part of office space I think it is really important. I used to have this little desk that barely had enough space for my monitor and keyboard and when I moved over to a bigger desk I found it was much better for working at. I didn’t have to go and get things as much because I could keep the things I need (like my notebook!) handy.

  9. says

    Great list, thanks for sharing the advice and insights into the freelance necessities. Inspiration seemed like a nice bullet point, even with everything else one still needs the creative inspiration for work.

  10. A Noun says

    “Having a printer also allows you to have your own professional stationary ”

    I should hope you wouldn’t be stationary. Perhaps you’d like to print some stationery?

    Spell Cop LOL

  11. says

    I’m glad to see the smart phone made it to the “almost needed” list. About a year ago I felt too weighed down by technology and had to detox. Believe it or not I got rid of my iPhone and didn’t replace it with a cell phone at all. Instead, I use a landline with local calling only and Google voice. I have yet to encounter problems with that set up.

  12. says

    I completely agree with the ergonomic chair because if you’re not comfortable your productivity levels go way down! I’ll be saving up for a really good one soon :P

    Great tips btw.

  13. says

    Another good article. Been following a lot of these habits for a while now, and to great effect. A room w/ ample natural lighting can make a world of difference. The basement option was never possible for me, thankfully, but I know a select few who still do it. It feels like they’re working in a dungeon. And backing up, despite making so much sense, is still something a lot of people don’t do. I guess it’s because of the cost/time of setting up a system. People are surprisingly lazy. I backup manually onto redundant internal drives that I’ve “externalized,” and I also have a Linux media-file server.

    All in all, the only two things about this article I don’t fully agree with are “I recently sold my top-of-the-line Macbook on eBay for $750, which was still better than a brand new PC,” mostly just because it kinda comes off as a biased jab at PC’s. Come on, Amber, you know you wanna! ;-) I’m also frighteningly good at finding powerful laptops for good prices, and I contend that I could find a PC laptop for $750 or less that would be just as good. Also “Smartphones are also pretty affordable nowadays as well.” I guess it depends on whether or not you think short-term or long-term. Billshrink estimates that owning an iPhone 3GS or Droid over two years can run you between $2800 and $3800! Compared to the pre-mobile era when a person on a standard landline could have easily gone 24 months not spending more than $500. And a lot of the good apps, especially for the iPhone, aren’t free. App bills on that thing can be like music on an iPod. It really adds up after a while.

  14. says

    Good list, Amber!

    I would add a good quality USB headset and microphone–essential for Skype calls with clients, creating podcasts and webinars (if you use that for marketing your services).

  15. says

    @TheAl I’ve never been able to find a PC that’s been better than any of my Apple computers – and I’m not biased, I used to be a diehard PC fan. Tell me, what PC can go for over a month without having to be resetarting (pff what PC can go over a DAY?)

    Also, wherever you found those iPhone stats are wrong. Mine cost $99 to buy brand new and $60 a month…that’s only $720 a year and much less than most of my friends with regular cell phone’s bills.

  16. says

    Agree with most of this but the DSL comment is wrong. If you can get comparable speeds to cable I see no reason to throw DSL under the bus. I get a 10 mbps connecton on my DSL and have had zero problems. In fact it works much better than my prior cable setup.

    I think the correct thing to say would be to get the fastest connection for your money, be it DSL or Cable.

  17. says

    A chair is a definite must. If you’re going to sit in it every day it’s imperative to your health to have a decent chair. Otherwise you’ll find yourself popping ibuprofen and aleve on the weekends and wondering why your back and legs are so sore.

  18. says

    @Amber Weinberg “I have an iMac, so those things don’t get very hot ;)”

    I beg to differ here – I have a Dell PC and a Power Mac G4 at my desk – the Mac keeps me from having to use a heater in the winter. Granted it might be the 24″ Apple monitor, but I don’t get that kind of heat from the 21″ Samsung on the desk too.

    And my Sony laptop never gets turned off – it’ll reboot after a Windows update but it’s worked like a dream for me.

    As for SmartPhones – go Android :D

    Guess we’re on opposite sides of the spectrum when it comes to devices – but go PHP/CSS/HTML – we match there :)

  19. says

    I’ve been using a whiteboard for a while, I bought it only €10 :) and was able to get all the rest for free (markers, magnets, board sweeper,…). Maybe something to get as well to keep track of your current projects.

    and for all those with wires all over the place you may want to look at https://www.bluelounge.com/cabledrop.php (I bought a package and it’s very useful :D)

  20. says

    Saw the wink – missed the “i” in iMac. But I’m just giving her a hard time – my sarcasm was lost in the emotionless text <3

  21. says

    @Amber: “Tell me, what PC can go for over a month without having to be resetarting (pff what PC can go over a DAY?)”

    - Aside from some CS3-MC slowdowns I’ll gladly admit to, all of my PC computers, both Linux and Windows, run just fine for very long periods of time without any warm rebooting. It all just depends on how you maintain it. And a well-kept PC (which, mind you, never necessarily means MS Windows automatically) can be a very competent machine. It helps that my involvement, education and lifelong experience with computers go well beyond web, and has a lot to do with IT/hardware/software troubleshooting and maintenance. So I’ll also concede that I can’t speak much from the standpoint of an average Joe or lower. And most people will weigh a computer’s whole worth on how well it can take a beating from an idiot or two. Maybe a PC will bend under the pressure of a horrible keeper long before an Apple, but that doesn’t matter to me. If a computer isn’t well cared for, IMO all bets are off. I’ve seen plenty of Apples fall apart, physically and performance-wise, in the hands of negligent people.

  22. says

    Great list of essentials and I agree. I depend on my Egnyte Cloud File Server, it automatically backs up my data and I have anywhere access to all my files. I also can’t say enough about having the right chair! Sit in it before you buy it, test it out not just for seconds but as though you were working. The wrong chair can ruin your day and your productivity!

  23. says

    The ergonomic chair is probably the most important (after the computer + internet). I bought a Ergohuman chair because I had back pain, I had a sciatica that was really painful.
    Unfortunately, even though I don’t have back pain anymore, the chair hasn’t proven to be very good quality.
    The rubber on the wheels have broken and fallen apart, the mesh seat is now too loose, so I had to put a cushion underneath it. the arm rests are too high and too hard which causes pain on the elbows.
    So I wouldn’t recommend it.

  24. says

    Good list. I find hanging photographs on my wall of successful times to be good, as it motivates me to experience the same feelings I had when the photograph was taken.

  25. says

    For my suggestion I highly recommend having an awesome pair headphones.

    When I’m working, I want to space out and dive right into working without distraction from others. With fast electronic music I can pump out my work.

  26. says

    You got me there on software. After setting up the new home PC, I immediately downloaded all of the software necessary for my work. I love it that most of them have free plans. :)

    I lack the chair, the work space, and the other hardware though. I even had to place my external hard drive on top of the airconditioning unit. I work upstairs and the room isn’t that wide to accommodate all of this

  27. Rj says

    Also depending on what country you live in you have to make sure you are legally allowed to work out of your house, because once it comes tax time, or time to file for a proper business license, you might find yourself in violation of local and state laws.

    You also need to follow any tax rules to get proper deductions, such as in the USA if you work out of home and want to do home office deductions, your home office must be 100% only for your business, if it is not and you get yourself in a audit then you will see how quick the IRS can take your normal life away.

    Remember this is a business, so you have to treat it just like that. The second you do not is when you WILL find yourself in trouble. (like having a upset client find out you have no proper business license or permits, and they turn you in, or worse your competition that you argue with on forums and blogs)

  28. Georgie Py says

    A good chair is always essential including enough desk space. 3G or DSL for internet will also do just fine for me.

    For my software requirements I only go to one place, that is why I personally tend to favour SSuite Office’s free office software. :)

    They have everything you need to get started for free. :D

  29. Ekrem Büyükkaya says

    I agree with you about all the list. But here’s another very essential item for me: A large whiteboard. OK, maybe many of freelancers don’t have it but I use it almost always. OK, you can say computers and smartphones has everything but still I can’t do brainstorming on my iPhone or my computers; and still while working I use the board for taking notes because it’s easy and even I don’t like papers, I sometimes want to write with a real pen.

    Thanks for this great article =)

  30. says

    I can’t believe I am about to type this … and I’ll preface this comment with the fact that I was a 10 year cable tech who worked on a team to bring the area where I live broadband cable internet back in 1999. – A DIE HARD cable advocate.

    I am now in disagreement with the – GO CABLE – camp … … there, I said it … I still can’t believe that came from my fingers … aaaaaack.

    Anyway, it all boils down to what is the fastest speed for your money, and being someone behind the scenes of the cable co for so long I can honestly say, DSL and Cable are now really comparable when you’re matching mbs per mbs.

    We recently switched to a DSL connection because it was half the price of cable here in our area. We were paying $70 for 8mbs and now we’re paying $35 for 7mbs. (I haven’t noticed the diff in 1 mbs) There are also some areas of this valley that can get 20mbs DSL while Cable still only offers 10mbs at it’s top tier (although they could provide faster) they have been increasing the bandwidth only to compete with DSL, so as soon as DSL reaches 20mbs in more areas, I’m sure Cable will match or bump it up over. They’re still fighting over price though.

    Now I have to go see why there’s a cable truck parked out in the alley … they’re on to me … hahahaha

    … Scott

  31. says

    I would add whiteboards, whiteboards and more whiteboards! Prefereably magnetic ones (so you can play with those funky little shapes).

    I use to use Outlook to run everything, task list diary, upcoming projects, the lot. It pgot to the point that the time it would take to maintain all that info was ridiculous. Enter a 4ft x 3ft whiteboard, some coloured dry whipe pens and a sheet of that magnetic vyn used for truck / van signage (ebay for about £6 in the UK).

    Now my task list takes up 1/2 of one wall (try procrastinating with that thing in your face! :o] ). Just cut the vynl into strips and write your tasks on them and stick them on the board. You can reorder them if priorities change, colour code them, then when a task is complete just whipe it off. I also track upcoming and confirmed projects that haven’t started and use magnetic arows to show how soon I might need to follow them up.

    I also use magnetic whiteboards as mood boards and have one hidden behind a door as longer term ideas board.

  32. Colton says

    I agree with Karen! Egnyte is a perfect solution that I use daily. It has online and offline access.

  33. says

    Excellent list and couldn’t agree more about the ergonomics and correct lighting. A dedicated office certainly helps as you can leave the room and close the door when finishing your work.
    Music certainly helps me as I work alone, some nice relaxing chiliiout or classical usually does the trick.
    Comfort in general is essential and I swear it helps with productivity as I have have worked in some very sterile office/studio environments and been a waste of space as a creative.

    File back-up is a must. it still amazes the amount of people I come across who do not have a back-up of any of their business files and some just rely on basic back-ups done on flash drives.

    I have a bright orange studio with subtle lighting which makes the studio glow on a dreary grey day, I love it.

    Another thing is to be as tidy and as organised as possible, no likes to stare at a pile of paper work.

    Excellent post. :)

  34. says

    lots of colorful sticky notes and a softboard for me! btw, thanks Amber for listing these things. I think setting up the work space minus the wires is very helpful indeed.

  35. says

    A good webcam – either built-in to your laptop or external – is essential for longer Skype meetings with clients or fellow contractors. As a longtime remote worker, I’ve found that adequate “face time” is invaluable in maintaining a good relationship with remote clients, coworkers, and associates. If it is impractical to meet up in person, video can be the next best thing.

  36. says

    A decent printer is more than just a fax. If you got a scanner involved in it, then you’ve got yourself a whole office administration crew in that little box.
    Well worth the spent!

  37. says

    Online backup solution is critical. I cannot stress how important it is.

    Billing software! Getting the client is difficult enough. I don’t like worrying about invoices and payments. I use Billing Boss from Sage (http://www.billingboss.com) which is a free online invoicing tool to create unlimited quotes/invoices for unlimited customers currently, and to keep track of payments I receive. The interface is simple enough so I can usually create invoices in a minute or so on my phone or online.

    They also recently launched their mobile payment tool and I can now collect payments from the customer on the spot through my phone (http://www.paymentboss.com). Payments collected immediately emails an invoice to the customer, plus I can keep track of all payments through their web-based interface on my desktop.

    My accountant can access all of this data through her login so I don’t have to worry about sending her a file each month.

    Full Disclosure: This author has been compensated by Sage. I am their Social Media Consultant but I was using their product well before they contracted me. They found me when I sent them an email giving suggestions about Billing Boss!

  38. George says

    Hi,

    Nice article. I am new to Freelancing. But what I like the most so far is that I don’t have an office. That is one of the things I hated at my previous full time job. Now I work sometimes from the public library, home, starbucks, beach etc. I am a programmer, so don’t need anything other than my laptop for working.

    I think you should add a laptop with long battery life to the almost needed list. Then you can go to the beach with a 3G USB dongle and work ~6 hours in the best office possible!

    Cheers,
    Geroge.

  39. says

    I think we also need alarm clock. This is a simple device to remind us to take a break for two to three hours of continuous work. We need to relax and recharge our body and mind to become more productive the next time we go to work.

  40. says

    I rarely leave responses, but after reading through a
    few of the responses here Ten Essential Items Every Freelance
    Office Needs to Get Started | FreelanceFolder.
    I do have a couple of questions for you if it’s okay. Could it be simply me or do a few of the responses look like they are written by brain dead people? :-P And, if you are writing at additional sites, I’d
    like to follow anything new you have to post. Could you list of the complete urls of all your public pages like your twitter feed, Facebook page
    or linkedin profile?

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