There are plenty of good (and not-so-good) books about how to start your own freelance writing business. I've bought some and I've read some. I've even bought some that I've read and read some that I've bought. But being me, I tend to write down stuff that I do in case someone else might find it useful.

First, my list of things every writer should do to succeed (most of which apply whether they're freelancing or not). I do my best at these, though I'm the first to admit I'm better at some than at others.

There are resources out there--online, in print, and in person--ready to help with all of these.

Next, business organization. I operate on a calendar tax year and use a cash method. I operate as a sole proprietor, which means I own an unincorporated business by myself. I could have opted to make myself into a limited liability company (LLC) or to incorporate. These are the options in Pennsylvania.

Organization Type Sole Proprietorship General Partnership Limited Partnership Corporation S Corporation
Characteristics Simplest form of organization

Gives the single owner sole control and responsibility

Possible choice at the beginning with the option to change to a partnership or corporation later

Formed by agreement between partners, even an informal one, though a written, legal agreement drawn up among the parties is advisable. The agreement should cover at least each partner's contributions, how to distribute profits or losses, and dissolution terms. Without a written agreement stating terms otherwise, the state presumes that the partners want to distribute profits and losses equally. Formed by at least two people having at least one general partner and at least one limited partner.

Limited partners have limited exposure to liability and are not involved in day-to-day management of the partnership.

Most complex form of organization

The corporate charter restricts business activities, so most corporations define their activities in very broad terms there.

In forming, prospective shareholders transfer money, property, or both, for the corporation's capital stock. A corporation generally takes the same deductions as a sole proprietorship to figure taxable income.

Can reduce tax liability

Shareholders include their share of income, loss, or credit on their state personal income tax returns

Must have valid federal S corporation status

Advantages Minimal paperwork

Minimal legal restrictions

Owner retains all profits

Easy to discontinue business

Easy to establish

Can draw upon all the partners' financial and managerial strength


Liability is limited to the amount owners have contributed to their shares of stock

Any owner's death or share transfer does not affect the corporation's continuity

Disadvantages Unlimited personal liability for all of the business' debts and liabilities

Limited ability to raise capital

Business ends upon the sole proprietor's death

Unlimited personal liability for the firms' debts and liabilities

Business ends with a partner's death

Any one partner can commit the firm to obligations

If the partnership elects classification as a corporation for federal income tax purposes, it also becomes subject to corporate net income tax and the capital stock and foreign franchise tax


More costly and more difficult to create because of the paperwork required

Extensive record keeping

Close regulation

Double taxation (on profits and on dividends paid to owners)

How to Report Pennsylvania Income File PA-40 and PA Schedule C File PA Schedules RK-1/NRK-1 for each partner, PA-20S/PA-65, and C-F, if applicable to reconcile federal expenses to Pennsylvania rules, and Pennsylvania Schedules C, D, E, F, and so on, or the corresponding federal schedules. The corporation itself and its shareholders both pay taxes on a corporation's profits, though shareholders cannot deduct losses.

File RCT-101 with federal Form 1120, 1120S, 1065, or 990 and supporting schedules. Also subject to capital stock tax.

File corporate net income tax return, but pay tax only on any net recognized built-in gains that the corporation receives. The state taxes shareholders individually as with partnerships.
Other Requirements To use an assumed name, visit the Pennsylvania Open for Business web site Does not require filing to form the partnership, but it may be required to register a fictitious name Form by filing a Certificate of Limited Partnership with the Pennsylvania Department of State Corporation Bureau Form by filing Articles of Incorporation and a Docketing Statement with the Pennsylvania Department of State Corporation Bureau or visit the Pennsylvania Open for Business web site File Form REV-1640 with the Pennsylvania Department of Revenue within 75 days of the beginning of your fiscal year and supply a copy of your IRS' approval notification to the Pennsylvania Department of Revenue

Next, federal government stuff:

And of course, there's state government stuff. As with the feds, I use my SSN as my taxpayer identification number. I don't operate under a fictitious name, so I didn't have to worry about that.

And local government stuff. I applied for a permit to do business in my borough. As far as I know, that's the only thing I need to do business here.

Last, I have a small list of survival tools beyond my bookshelf and the Internet.

Where do I find work? Lots of places. My most important resource is satisfied clients, who provide me with repeat business and with referrals. But when they don't have work, naturally I get to be resourceful elsewhere. Here's a map of the virtual pavement I pound regularly to find work. "Regularly" depends on the place: places that post jobs for lots of sources (like job boards and the newspaper) change more frequently than corporate sites do, so I tend to check the former daily and the latter weekly.

(Note that some of these are industry-specific, some of these are significant to me because they're past clients or employers, and some of these are Pittsburgh-specific. But even if you're in a different boat (different location, different industries, whatever), I hope you'll find the list helpful as a springboard to creating your own list.) Now then--on to the list!