College is over. Now what?
If you’re like me, I spent a lot of time after college looking for that perfect job, not knowing that the perfect job is about five years down the road. So, I spent a lot of time working as a barista. An English degree just isn’t what is used to be.
It wasn’t until later that I realized the power of freelancing. In my case, it was freelance writing, but there is a demand for freelancers in just about any field. And if you’re looking to gain a little experience and build your resume, freelancing might just be the way to go. But, I would be remiss if I didn’t tell you to beware, as well.
Be prepared to not work
Freelancing offers many opportunities, but it is also feast or famine. You’ll work quite a bit for a while, then without notice, you will be out of work. The key to surviving these stretches is sound financial planning, which is detailed below. You’ll be howling for savings – I was – but you won’t be starving.
Pleasing your clients should be your first and second priority as a freelancer, but that doesn’t mean that keeping you happy is going to be the client’s first and second priority. In fact, there will be plenty of clients that don’t even want to pay. You’re not an official part of their company, you’re not in their HR department, which makes you vulnerable to their whims. The only true way to get on their radar and stay there is to provide the highest quality product possible.
Set a schedule
Your schedule will become one of the most important things in your life. Making sure that you have enough time to complete work for all your clients, to get your chores/errands done, and still have time for you is imperative to successfully living the freelance life.
Go all out
If you want to be successful, you have to go all out. What do I mean by that? It’s simple – you need to brand yourself in some way.
You’ll want business cards, and you’ll want them everywhere you go. You never know whom you’re going to run into at Starbucks.
You’ll want a website. Everyone is online now, so don’t be the only person with a business card that doesn’t have a website. If you aren’t visible, you won’t be working.
Financially, being a freelancer is tough. Your finances are going to be under the watchful eye of the government. You’ll go without a “paycheck” from time to time. But that doesn’t have to be a terrible thing. In the rest of this article, I’ll give you a few pointers on how to make sure you live comfortably on a freelancer salary.
Separate bank accounts
As I mentioned, the government is going to be really curious about your revenue stream. One way you can make them happy is by creating separate bank accounts, one for personal use and one for business affairs.
You’ll want clients to pay directly into this business account. You’ll then be able to pull payroll directly from this account. More on that in a bit, though.
Taxes are still important
More often than not, you’re not going to get tax documents from your employers, which makes staying organized and on top of your taxes is all that much more important.
I usually advise people to pay their taxes quarterly. This helps you set aside manageable amounts of money each “paycheck” to pay every couple of months. If you pay yearly, like most people, you will be saddled with the full government bill all at once, which no one wants to pay. Try setting aside 10-15% from each paycheck. Here’s a great resource on freelance taxation.
Also, don’t forget about deductions. You’ll need to save pretty much every receipt you get from now on, but the money you save (and get back) will more than make up for that. Remember that you can deduct anything that is essential to you doing your job (think laptop if you’re a writer or paint if you’re an artist).
The great healthcare debate rages on all around us, but there is one thing that is indisputable – you need health insurance.
There are tons of healthcare options out there, so it shouldn’t be too difficult for you to find something affordable. If you’re going to be the most effective freelancer that you can be, you need to be as healthy as possible.
For a spell during my time as a freelancer, I used Freelancers Union, which helps freelancers get a little piece of the healthcare action. The key to choosing the right healthcare option is to be sure that the healthcare option you choose gives you exactly what you need.
Also note that, depending on their plan, you can stay on your parents’ insurance plan until you are 26. That number inflates to 29 in some cases.
Get on payroll
The money you make doesn’t all go to you. In fact, the government would rather you keep your personal finances and business finances separate. That’s what you created the separate bank accounts for, remember?
But now you need to get on some form of official payroll service so that you can actually get paid.
Putting yourself on payroll serves more than just that, though. You’ll be able to actually budget, which means you can plan for that vacation you’ve been eyeing.
Organize your receipts
Remember – no one wants to get audited. One way to ensure that you can be prepared for the government’s prying eyes is to keep your receipts for anything business related.
Keeping them in a folder or computer program should suffice, as long as you label and date those receipts to keep them organized. This also helps you during tax season, which is always nice.
All in all, being a freelancer is a great way to build your portfolio. It can also be a great way to get a business started. But, it’s not easy. It takes resolve and determination, as well as smart financial planning.