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My logo, which was created for free using OpenOffice Draw and a free stock image.

My logo, which was created for free using OpenOffice Draw and a free stock image.

What do you need to set up a freelance business? Determination, a computer with an Internet connection, and yourself. The rest—a website, business cards, business name, etc.—are really just window dressing.

However, if you want to present yourself as a serious professional, you need a website and business name. If you do in-person networking, business cards are a must. But there’s no reason to break the bank. When I began freelancing, I set up a simple website for $25 and bought business cards, which cost $24.11—totaling $49.11.

With a little planning, you, too, can create a professional image for under 50 bucks. Here’s how:

Website: $0 to $26 a year. Unless (or until) you can guarantee that your website will pay for itself (e.g., through product sales or ads), there’s no need to spend more than you have to—especially for those of us whose site is really just a glorified resume with a blog. By choosing a free WordPress theme, using free stock art and open-source software (OpenOffice Draw rocks my world!) to create my header and logo, and allowing WordPress to host my site, my website costs just $26 a year (without private registration, it’d only be $18). If you don’t want to buy a domain or you’re OK with the web host’s branding and ads appearing on your site, you can create a free site through either WordPress or Weebly.

Domain-Name Email: $0 to $50. While not necessary to run your freelance business, domain-name email can enhance your professional image. If you’re using WordPress, you can set up free domain-name email with either Google apps standard (the premiere edition is $50/year) or Noho. Weebly also supports free domain-name email, providing several tutorials to help you set it up after you publish your site.

Business Name: $0 to whatever your state requires. The cheapest—and easiest—route when setting up your freelance business is to simply use your own name, which includes buying your YourName.com domain. (Owning your YourName.com domain is a good idea, even if you don’t use it for business.) But if your name is Joe Smith and you’re doing business as Joe Smith Editing, you’ll probably need to file a doing business as (DBA) application with your state. Some also require you to publish a public notice in a local paper. The costs and requirements differ from state to state; here in Illinois, the DBA application is $50 and having it published in the Chicago Law Bulletin is $55.

Business Cards: $10 to $25. I ordered 500 double-sided, upload-your-own-design business cards three years ago through Vistaprint … and I’ve only handed out maybe 100. So those cards might just last me a lifetime (boy am I glad I still use the same email and phone number). Single-sided cards are cheaper and you can use the many free-yet-polished designs provided by several companies, such as Zazzle, 123Print, and Moo. Many printers also offer occasional specials and discounts, especially if you sign up for their emails.

So there you have it—how to look like the professional you are, without breaking the bank.