By Rachel Collier

12 months ago, I was on welfare, $45K in debt, and living in my parents’ spare room. I had quit my day job for personal and health reasons. I looked for freelance work, but couldn’t get a fair wage. I looked for a new job, but couldn’t find a good fit. I felt powerless.

Today, I am debt free. I choose what I work on and when. Plus, I have time for passion projects, like publishing my book Maps for Makers: Systems & Stories for Changing the World.

I did not work 18-hour days. I did not pay for “get rich quick” seminars. I did not do anything risky.

How did I do it?

I started a service company called Third Door Marketing.

Along the way, I experimented with different business models and services until I figured out what works. To help you start your own low-risk, high-profit business, I want to share what I learned.

Here is the blueprint:

  1. Offer social media marketing services
  2. Set up the business
  3. Assemble a team of freelancers
  4. Create a sales funnel
  5. Manage clients
1. Offer social media marketing services
  • Social media marketing for businesses
    • 3–5 social media posts per week
    • 1–3 social platforms
    • Includes copywriting, graphic design, and analytics
  • Charge a flat-rate monthly fee of $1,500–2,000 per client
    • Do not accept clients at a lower price because there are lots of clients who will pay this price
  • Recurring revenues from monthly fees are ideal because you don’t need to constantly find new customers
2. Set up the business
  • To save lawyer fees, incorporate directly with the government
  • To save business banking fees, sign up for Bank of Montreal’s free eBusiness plan
  • To save accounting fees, set up an accounting system you can run yourself e.g., Wave Accounting (free) or QuickBooks ($20/month)
  • To save overhead and increase personal tax write-offs, work virtually from home
  • Consider paying yourself with dividends rather than salary to lower your personal tax rate
  • When submitted Harmonized Sales Tax (HST) payments to Canada Revenue Agency (CRA), choose the “Quick Method” option because this lets you charge clients the full 13% HST, but only remit 8.8% to CRA
    • By keeping 4.2% for yourself, you can gain several extra thousand dollars per year
  • Create a logo and website
    • Register a custom domain name with NameSilo for ~$10
    • Create a free logo with Canva
    • Create a website on Squarespace, Wix, or WordPress for ~$250
  • Get a custom e-mail
    • Google Workspace costs $8/user/month
  • Overall start-up costs: ~$500
3. Assemble a team of freelancers
  • Freelancers can do copywriting, graphic design, and analytics, and this frees your time for client management and sales
  • To find freelancers, ask your network for talented writers and Canva designers
    • Former journalists make good freelancers because they usually write well, can use Canva, are conscientious, and have high integrity
  • You can pay freelancers a fair hourly wage, while still making a good profit on the monthly fee
    • Freelancer expenses should be about 30–40% of gross revenues
  • Execute consulting agreements with freelancers
  • To monitor freelancer expenses, implement a free time-tracking system e.g., Clockify
4. Create a sales funnel
  • Your ideal client is a small- or medium-sized business with annual revenues of $300K–$10M
    • These businesses can afford your fee, but may not want the expense of a full-time marketing employee
  • Your ideal client has the following goal: maintain their brand and online presence with regular social media posts
    • Non-ideal clients want to use social media for generating sales leads
    • Sales leads are better generated with online advertising and e-mail campaigns
  • To get your first customers, ask friends and family for referrals, then ask these people for referrals
    • Warm referrals are more likely to become customers
    • For example, my network introduced me to 40 people over 3 weeks, and this resulted in my first 3 clients
5. Manage clients

Here is how I manage clients successfully:

  • At the beginning, schedule a discovery call to confirm the goal and propose a plan
    • The goal should be maintaining their brand and online presence with regular social media posts
    • Ask about your client’s brand voice
      • g., “I want to sound professional and knowledgeable”
    • Propose a strawman plan of:
      • 3–5 social media posts per week
      • 1–3 social platforms e.g., Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram
      • Includes copywriting, graphic design, and analytics
    • After the call, e-mail your client a “scope of work”:
      • The goal
      • A Google Sheets project tracker, including dates, details, and deliverables
      • The recurring monthly fee
      • A simple consulting agreement
    • Assign the work to your team
      • After your client agrees, assign action items and deadlines to freelancers
        • g., assign one freelancer to write 3 social posts by Wednesday
        • g., assign another freelancer to create social media graphics by Friday
      • Review your freelancers’ work for typos, brand voice, and clean design
    • Send the work for client approval
      • E-mail 2 weeks of content for your client to approve
      • For the first 1–2 months, your client will likely have lots of feedback, but this should decline over time
    • Publish the work
      • Use a social media scheduling and publishing platform to reduce hands-on time e.g., Hootsuite is free up to 3 accounts
    • Measure the work
      • Create a Google Sheets tracker for Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) to measure social media reach and engagement
    • Hold bi-weekly strategy calls
      • Before the call, send an agenda
        • g., “Let’s discuss how your content is performing, and the content we are planning. Is there anything else you’d like to discuss?”
      • During the call, review the Google Sheets KPI tracker
      • Ask your client:
        • Are you happy with these results?
        • Are there new content experiments you would like to try?
      • After each call, send your client a summary of actions
    • Ideally, respond to client e-mails within 4 hours, and no later than 24 hours
    • Invoice your client monthly

Overall, account management should take ~3 hours/week/account.

Over time, update your website with:

  • Client testimonials
  • Case studies with specific results
    • g., increased Facebook engagement by 333%

Testimonials and case studies will help you get more clients. You can also ask existing clients for referrals.

Business model

For this blueprint, here is the business model:

  • Annual revenue: $168K
    • 7 clients X $2K/month X 12 months
  • Expenses: $60K
    • Freelancers: $59K (35% of revenue)
    • Ongoing costs: $500 for Google Workspace, Canva, and website subscriptions
  • Profit: $108K
  • Time: 21 hours/week
    • 7 clients X 3 hours/week

To earn more money, take on more clients or increase your rates.

5-month start-up timeline
  • Month 1: Set up business, assemble team, create sales funnel
  • Month 2: Get first client
  • Month 3: Get second client, generate case studies and testimonials
    Month 4: Get third and fourth clients, generate case studies and testimonials
  • Month 5: Get fifth, sixth, and seventh clients
Conclusion

With this business, you can earn over $100K within 12 months. To lower risk and increase income, consider working a full-time job in parallel. Your freelance team frees up your time to perform well at both your business and day job.

Over time, this business can help you achieve financial freedom. Then you can choose to work on passion projects even if they don’t make money. And you can choose to walk away from bad jobs, places, or people.

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The greatest gift every girl can have is economic independence.

-Helen Mirren