The following is a guest post by Kimberly Palmer, creator of The 2012 Money Planner and author of Generation Earn, available on Etsy. She is also the personal finance columnist at US News & World Report. Take it away, Kimberly!
Ready to rev up your earning engine in 2012? It’s not too early to start planning some big moves, whether you want to launch a side business, start freelancing, or pick up some extra work on the weekends.
Giving your professional image a boost can be key to maximizing your earning potential through a side gig. The idea of spending money on your freelance or side business might sound backwards. After all, you’re looking to earn more money, not drain your existing bank account. But these five investments can help turn your budding venture into something that provides steady financial support throughout the new year.
1. Create a professional website. One of the beauties of our Internet age is that Blogger, WordPress, and other platforms make setting up a website simple and free. But if you stick with the gratis version, you’re going to look like an amateur. Of course, if that’s your goal — if you’re blogging to keep up with friends and family or for yourself — then there’s nothing wrong with that. Free blogs serve a valuable purpose. But if you’re reading this, then you probably want more than that.
Unless you’re a techie design genius, creating a professional-looking website costs money. Web designers charge anywhere from $1,500 and up for a full website, but you can start by just purchasing your own domain name for as little as $8. Because your website is the first place most people will get to know you, it will be a deciding factor in whether or not they hire you. Putting money into making it look good, which means clean and uncluttered design along with a bit of personalization, is essential. It can make the difference between potential clients sending you an email to ask about your prices vs. clicking off your page.
Read on for more ways to invest in yourself.
2. Hire a designer. You might think you had your design work covered after setting up your website, but that’s just the beginning. You might also want to hire a professional designer to create a branded logo (which also belongs on your website), matching designs for any of your products or eproducts, and social media background pages such as Facebook and Twitter.
For as little as $100 on a competitive website such as 99designs.com, you can get started. Professional designers will create something far more appealing than anything you can do in Photoshop.
3. Order branded printed materials. You can maximize that logo investment by ordering postcards to mail to potential clients or customers, business cards to pass out at networking events, and other printed materials from flyers to packaging for products. Again, the Internet makes it easy: you can pick one of the many affordable online print shops to create your printed products and quickly mail them to you. This step makes the most sense for those who need to heavily market their products or services and constantly reach out to new clients.
4. Work with a niche coach. Career and business coaches are a fast-growing field with hourly rates typically hitting $200 an hour. While this type of coaching can be helpful, especially if you’re looking for general guidance, I recommend something far more tailored to your own needs — a niche coach. A web search can uncover hundreds of niche coaches, from book proposal coaches to podcast coaches to social media coaches, and they’re usually relatively affordable.
Hiring one might sound like a frivolous expense, but a niche coach’s expertise can fill in the holes in your own, and it is far cheaper than actual employees. Think of your team of coaches as your own personal assistants, working to make you the best that you can be. If your social media coach helps you land 500 more followers with better tweets and a snazzier Facebook page, then the hour they spend with you will probably pay off in new clients and customers.
5. Buy a niche ebook or digital guide. The same principle that applies to coaching applies to the world of digital information, although you will pay less to get information this way. Again, these niche information products will fill in any weaknesses in your own expertise. If you love creating but marketing makes you cringe, then check out a marketing guide targeted to your own niche business. If you can’t stand money management or pricing decisions, consider purchasing a guide that speaks to those issues. Because so many bloggers and online experts publish their own ebooks, finding the book that addresses your exact needs is relatively easy with the help of a search engine.
The good news is that you don’t have to give your side business a complete makeover at once. Many successful small-time entrepreneurs start slowly, testing their products and services, and earning some money before putting it back into their business. Here’s to earning more in 2012!