So what does it mean to be a freelancer?
Definition: a person who works as a writer, designer, performer, or the like, selling work or services by the hour, day, job, etc., rather than working on a regular salary basis for one employer. (Dictionary.com)
Freelancers are those who provide services on their own terms as their own employer. That’s what it means in my words. I have readers who are coming into the profit side of their creativity. Hopefully articles like this can help you better understand how to make a real profit from your gifts and talents. When I became a freelancer, I didn’t have a mentor. Coming from a business that had several staff and more, I never thought about the small things. In business, the small things matter. Here are five things that I wish someone would have told me. Now of course, they may seem very basic. However, you would be surprised how we miss the “little things”.
1. Color Within The Lines
This is the first thing I had to learn and quickly! Many freelancers work from home or operate out of a co-working space when starting off. This tempts many to work all day and all night because where you work is only a few feet away. If your co-working space has a 24-hr open door policy this can be a very open field as far as your hours of working. However, just because you are your own boss doesn’t mean you need self-control. A good number of creatives are not great at time management or honestly any management of any kind. We hire people to do these things for us or teach us how to do these things because we care about the “expression” aka our gifts to be shared. However, we must learn for ourselves how to be a manager of us. If you can’t manage yourself, don’t go into business. You must learn how to set hours. Shut down the computer at a set time and unplug. Stop answering client calls past a certain time. Staples closes near me at 9 PM. Staples does not care about me calling them at 9:30 PM asking why they aren’t open. The phones won’t be answered because no one is there. Staples desires to serve me the best they can. However, management means knowing when to open and close.
The same goes for the space you work in. Have a set place where you work. Create order and a routine in your life. For me, I’ve worked from a laptop for years. I don’t really need a set office. However, there does need to be a HQ (headquarters) where I keep all of my important paperwork, files, ect. So even though you may travel around, there should be a “office home” for yourself. You need to have lines of separation. When you blur the lines, you won’t know when to stop working. This is unhealthy. Lastly, get yourself some sunlight. Open up the windows. This goes for those of you who have the ability to work from home. I work hardcore. For a long time, I liked the blinds shut, music blasting in my headphones, and would sit in one spot for 12-15 hours (sometimes longer). That was unhealthy. I ended up having dizzy spells, dehydration, and loss of sleep. Now, I can’t blame anyone but myself. It was my unhealthy schedule, poor deadlines, and more that created this storm. Nevertheless, you fix it. You do what you have to do for the sake of your sanity and you move on.
2. Your Piggy Bank Is Your Best Friend
So this may seem like an obvious one but track your finances. As a freelancer (even if you file as an LLC), the IRS sees you as a self-employed individual. Therefore, a single employee LLC does not pay taxes as the business but as the individual. With this in mind, receipts and a trail are your best friend. Don’t trust credit card statements because it doesn’t include what was actually purchased. You need to be able to divide what was a business expense and what was a personal expense. I learned this early on as a little girl. Let’s say for example you walk into Target. You see some things in the office section that would be perfect for the business. However, you also need to pick up some milk for home. When I come to pay for these items, I should pay for them as separate purchases (so two receipts). I would take the one for business and place it inside an envelope marked for that month (so example: Biz Receipts September 2016). You can of course use apps or technology that read your receipts and turns them into digital data and sorts them automatically. However, this is a quick old school way. So take into account things like gas for meeting clients or traveling for business trips. All of these things can be written off for tax purposes. Again, I know this may seem very simple. However, many mix up their finances. Why is this important? Well because when it comes to filing your taxes, you don’t want to go through the pain of having a receipt mixed with personal transactions and business transactions. You would have to go through every receipt to first figure out which one is it (personal vs. business). Do you have time to read every line? Do you remember if you actually bought the juice and fruit for a business meeting or if that was for a business lunch/event? Remember that your taxes are filed for an entire year so you need a complete year of documentation noting these transactions. Welcome to being a business owner!
I personally recommend using Quickbooks Self-Employed (only $5 per month). You can also get it with the tax bundle for $12 a year. I also recommend another platform called Freshbooks.
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3. Charge Your Worth
Are you charging by the hour or by budget? Or are you designating flat rate pricing? Whatever you do, do not lower your pricing. There are enough $50 logo brands. Look at your business model/plan and see what your financial structure is. Have you asked yourself how much you want to make in a year? Divide that into months and then into weeks and then into days. From there, you can see what you would have to make in order to match that number. Now remember, that does not include expenses and taxes that you will have to pay. Nevertheless, look at what you are providing to the market and charge a healthy price. If you don’t believe that people will not pay for your services, then work on branding, networking, and connecting to the people who will pay that price. Of course, be realistic and see how you can make your skills and services/products desirable. Don’t overcomplicate your pricing. Have a back-end file that has pricing for your normal services. For custom products, know that providing a flat fee can be dangerous because you don’t actually know how long it will take. I used to provide flat fees and then I began noticing how a client would ask for 500 more things and being that I provided a flat fee without limitations, that was a problem. I’ve seen platforms include restrictions on their flat fee services. However, you have to remain firm if you do that kind of pricing. As I moved away from that, I went into hourly pricing. This is what the majority of professional freelancers do. However, please note that an hourly rate is not for those who want to get you for “cheap”. My rate was $100 an hour when I did hourly design services. Of course, I no longer design full time. However, these are just a few ideas of how to layout pricing. I truly recommend on not providing flat rate services and doing custom quotes for everything. This allows you to sell to the potential customer via email. Educate them on what they are receiving.
4. Brand Yourself
As a solo business owner, you have to brand yourself like none other. Show off your skills including behind-the-scenes of the process. Use your social media platforms and website to establish who you are as a service provider. People shouldn’t be confused about what you do. Make your online website a hub for readers to connect. Offer tips per week to showcase your knowledge of the services you provide. People have become DIY’ers. Who doesn’t want to save money? Teach your readers how to create DIY projects via your channel of knowledge. Show your personality on social media and engage with those who connect with you. I’m the most introverted person. I know that it does not seem like that. However, over time I’ve forced myself to enjoy social media and actually become a connector. Establish a brand kit for yourself, pick a set of colors, get a few photos in line for headshots, and start connecting with people. Travel and connect with people at different events. Be confident in your gifts and abilities. Have business cards ready in your wallet or business card holder. Be sure to build up an email list via your website!
5. Refresh & Stock Up on Creativity
This is just as important as running the business. Resting and refreshing on creativity is essential. I sleep a lot on the weekends. I watch my favorite shows on Netflix and break away from the world. When it’s after hours for your business, don’t answer the phone! Don’t answer any texts. You have to treat yourself like an actual business owner. When the business is closed, so is your files and task list. You can pick it up the next business day. Many freelancers burn out because they are broke and don’t get enough sleep. Guess how you can fix that? Charge your worth and set boundaries. Your creativity is an extension of who you are. If you’re running around drained out, you can’t provide your best to those who need your services.
So what are some things that you wish someone told you when you started your business? Are you a freelancer? What services do you provide? I would love to hear what lessons you’ve learned so far.