Freelancing is financially challenging, even in the best of times. But in today’s troubled economy, the ups-and-downs of full-time freelancing can cause some to question their chosen career path. But, with a few nuts-and-bolts tips – and an occasional reality check – successful freelancing is possible.
On a bad month, just paying the bills can be tough on a freelancer’s budget. And there’s no guarantee as to exactly when things will pick up. When money’s tight, the last thing you need is another bill.
Lose the plastic… and a lot of the stress will go with it.
Anticipate Your Income
While traditional employees can anticipate a regular paycheck at the end of the week, freelancer’s never know exactly when their next paycheck will come. And when it does, the amount may vary. Track your income based on past experience. Keep reliable records. Is your income seasonally based? How much did you make at this same time last year?
Don’t spend it until you get it…and know how much to expect this month. And every month.
As a freelancer, there’s no one to depend on but yourself. And, in most cases, there’s no one to help you market your skills. Unless you promote yourself and continually work to gain new clients, you’ll never build a successful freelance career.
Go outside your comfort zone and work everyday to market your services. If you don’t, no one will.
Plan For Taxes
As an independent contractor, there’s no one to withhold your taxes each week – and the dollar amounts on those tax-free checks can be a wonderful boon to your bank account. But remember: the taxman cometh!
Set money aside to pay your taxes each year. A freelancer who fails to plan for tax day will have hard times in April.
(However, the good news is, if you work from home, there are certain tax deductions you can look into—so divvy up a section of your home as an office, and start doing your research.)
How many times have you looked back at last month’s receipts (or check register) and been unable to recall where all the money went. It’s undeniable evidence that most of us buy things we don’t need…all the time. As a freelancer, you probably work harder than most 9-to-5’ers, and it’s tempting to treat yourself to a new outfit or gadget as a reward for all that effort. But most of the time, the cost isn’t worth the return. And a healthy bank book at the end of the month is always more satisfying than a new toy.
Cure the stuff-itis. It’s a disease you won’t miss.
The best brick-and-mortar companies consider their business image to be an essential part of doing business. They wouldn’t consider going into business without all the trappings of professionalism. Why should you, as a freelancer, expect to do anything less? Avoid amateurish inkjet business cards and clip art logos. Keep your website up-to-date, and, if web design intimidates you, hire a pro. A little money spent in this direction will go a long way toward building your business image. And that’s nearly as good as money in the bank.
Look sharp. It’s the easiest thing you can do to help your business.
Do the Work
If you’re working from home as a freelancer, it’s always easy to shirk responsibilities. There’s always an errand that can be run or a chore that could be tended to. Dusting, cleaning, phone calls, and email: they all cut into your set-aside work time. To succeed as a freelancer, you’ll need to take your “work time” as seriously as any 9-to-5’er – even more so. If the average employee goofs off at work, he’ll likely still receive a paycheck at the end of the week. As a freelancer, you won’t.
Avoid distractions. Get something done.
Freelancing is hard — this month, next month, every month. It isn’t for everyone. And it isn’t as easy as punching a clock. As a freelancer, your salary will never be as regular as a traditional employee. And you’ll never have the same level of security. Get used to it…or get out.
Stop the complaining, and accept the realities. You’ll be a better freelancer because of it.
Angie Picardo is a staff writer for NerdWallet. Her mission is to help freelancers stay financially savvy and spend money wisely.