Thursday, November 06, 2008

Twenty Thoughts On Freelancing

I've been freelancing full-time since August, both online marketing/PR & comic book work. Here are some things I have learned about being a freelancer:

1. Your paycheck may be bigger overall. But remember, you have to put away money for taxes. I knew a guy who'd do freelance work all year and then be shocked that he had to pay so much in taxes, like it was this magical, unfair sum tacked on to life.

2. On the subject of taxes: deductions deductions deductions. Keep your receipts. And an accountant may be worth every penny.

3. You will most likely have to cover your own medical insurance, but don't let that discourage you if freelancing is something you really want to do. There are options: cheaper emergency medical insurance that just covers hospital visits, freelancer union insurance, etc.

4. Line up your gigs at least several weeks in advance, if not a month. Think long-term strategy.

5. Don't depend on any one assignment as being your sole and regular bread-winner. Develop multiple streams of income. I not only have multiple freelance jobs, but I maintain a regular sale of stuff on eBay. The eBay stuff is not a lot, but it's something. Keep revenue coming in.

6. A comic book freelancer told me this once: save your money. Develop a cushion. Because there might be times when you can't find anything, or are down to just one part-time thing and you need some help.

7. Maintain your relationships with your bosses, business prospects, everyone. You are your own PR agency. Network.

8. Don't take every job that is offered to you. Some jobs, after some consideration, might be more trouble than they're worth.

9. Don't be surprised if you end up working more hours as a freelancer than you ever did when you had a nine-to-five.

10. Take a walk outside every once in a while. Set up activities "after work" where you completely leave your work station. Do this every day.

11. Don't let people tell you that you aren't really working just because you work from home. But by the same token, admit when you're slacking off (at least to yourself).

12. Keep detailed documentation on the hours worked and what specific tasks you accomplished.

13. I find that getting ready in the morning and doing my hair/wearing a suit really helps get me in the right mindset to work -- especially for the marketing/PR work. I can't work in pajamas, I can't talk to clients in pajamas. Your mileage might vary on this point.

14. Especially if you're a woman: don't get sucked into doing lots of housework during your freelance workday. Yes, you are working on Internet marketing all day on your laptop in your living room. It's still work. You're not lazy. Scrub the floors another time.

15. Freelance work makes you realize that every hour of your time has a price tag on it. For my marketing/PR work, that starts at $25/hr. Knowing this, you might ask yourself if certain tasks might be outsourced to other places as to better make use of your time. Take laundry. Two weeks' worth of laundry costs me, total, almost six hours at the laundromat and $15. I can take it to be done by other people at the laundromat across the street and it will cost me $25. And they fold way better than I do. But I feel guilty about it; that I really should be doing my own laundry. But then, can I justify spending that big a chunk of my time doing the laundry when I could be working or researching? I still haven't quite figured this one out. I'm very tempted today to just take the laundry in and do it myself. Also, I get skeeved out at the thought of strangers washing my dirty underwear.

16. Just because you are now a freelancer does not mean you automatically have time for dozens of new hobbies and projects that make no money. It's not a holiday.

17. Diversify your skill set. Have at least two types of skills that you can use to get work. Make sure that one of those skills is really basic and elemental and might survive a recession.

18. Freelancing is awesome because I have my cat with me all the time. :-)

19. Sometimes you have to lock down your Internet and just focus on the one site you're using for work, because the Internet is your biggest potential time-waster. The Internet is That Which Eats Your Brain. Because I work with social media with clients, this becomes even more of a challenge. If I'm Twittering for a client on their account, what's the harm in checking my own account? Now I'm flipping between Twitters and have literally 16 tabs open. So all the personal stuff has to be minimized on my computer, or even better, completely clicked off -- at least for the duration of my assignment.

20. Time management -- it will make or break you. This has been the most important lesson.


  1. Bookmarked and saved for further study.

  2. I suspect that reading your blog when working from home, as I have just done, counts as "slacking"!

  3. Good stuff. The laundry thing, as simple as it may be, was something I never thought of. Goes hand in hand with the time managment. I'm kind a nine to fiver by day (more like eight to sixer) and (sort of) freelancer by night and it is really hard to balance the grocery store trip and the dirty dishes with the need to finish a project. (Plus, ya know, family, pets, life etc.) Not to mention the fact that it is hard to just turn the creative button on and off. It's a struggle. Even when I have everything perfectly planed out, I find that by the time I get to that window of time where I can just sit and draw I'm exhausted from everything else.
    Eh, I'll sleep when the kids go to college.

  4. You're right.

    I was a freelance writer for ten years, and it was very difficult. Now that I'm starting to freelance again, I find the focus inspiring. However, the finding the clients part is still the toughest for me.

  5. Anonymous10:17 AM

    I've been freelancing for 8 years as a AD/Illustrator/Graphic Designer(web/print/interactive).

    Great site...

  6. I really need to do the leave the workstation thing. I have a feeling that's impacting my ability to produce negatively.

  7. I'm going to save this post to my favorites for the day that I officially switch from being a nine-to-fiver PLUS a freelancer, to a real, live, actual full-time freelancer.

    Not to pick one of those patented OS commenter "reverse sexism!" fights; but I can give the ladies a run for their money when it comes to avoiding my paid work by doin' laundry, scrubbin' floors, etc.

  8. As someone who is about to become a full time freelancer, this is great advice!! And the internet really DOES eat your brain. Like right now. *chomp chomp*

  9. I find freelance design work much more satisfying than 9 to 5 work doing the same thing; I think it's due to the autonomy.

  10. 25$ Dollars for an hour?
    Serios that's freakin cheap!

    In Denmark it's normal for af
    freelance to charge 170$ for
    an hour.

    Of course then we also pay around
    50% in taxes.
    But the again, we have free mediacal
    service (no exeptions).
    Free schools
    (including university).
    + You are a paid a 1000$ check
    every month while you take an
    educatiion, so you can concentrate
    on your studies and don't waste
    the time with work.

    A little of the subject I know.

    But 25$ for an hour is well scary!
    Sorry if I misread anything,
    because 25$ sounds like I could
    have been.

    But there's a moral to the story,
    paying good taxes to the goverment
    does pay of.
    Every one, rich or poor do get
    the same benefits of the things
    listed above, mentioned just
    to erase doubt.

    Well anyways hope you'll get
    some cheaper med care now Obama has
    been elected af president.

    PS: Great blog, a lot of fun
    to read :)

  11. "The Internet is That Which Eats Your Brain."

    Truer words have never been spoken.

  12. Amen.

    I have taught classes in both freelance writing and photography and I always emphasize the business aspect.

    Being artistic and poetic is nice but a head for business keeps you able to continue producing the art.

  13. " it was this magical, unfair sum tacked on to life."

    It is!

  14. Thanks for writing this! This is really valuable advice. My wife is thinking of becoming a freelance writer, so I'll be sure to pass this along.

  15. I've been a freelance artist now for 17 years and have always had 3 to 4 regular art or design jobs every month that I have to do to keep money rolling in. Comic work is only 10% of my gross really. Valerie's list is pretty on money. Having some money put away in case there is a lag is always good. Keep $10 grand or so in a separate account and draw on that only in case of emergencies.

    Working from home two feet from my bed is the best!! Even my Yorkie loves me being there!

  16. Great list, and some things I'll definitely be keeping in mind.

  17. Regarding laundry... there's a lot of empty time while waiting for the washer(s) and dryer(s) to finish. I spend it surfing the web on my cellphone. If you've got a blackberry, check your email, schedule the next week, make contacts, do the "secretarial" stuff that you can't do while being creative.

    Here's some good info:

    21. An Employer Identification Number (from our friends at the IRS) allows you to sock a lot of tax free money away into a retirement account. (As the employer AND as the employee.)

    22. Set up a separate bank account for your freelance transactions. This will help you if/when you get audited. Use the attached debit card to pay for expenses as well. Your bank might also be able to set you up with a "small business" account. If nothing else, that allows you to use the shorter "business" line at the bank.

    23. Social Security. 15.3%. (You pay both halves as employee and employer.) More info here:
    (And your local government probably requires various deductions as well.)

    24. Along with the EIN, you may wish to incorporate. With this, you get even more legal and tax benefits.

    25. Research information on small businesses. (Libraries are free, business related research is tax deductible.) Again... your tax dollars at work...
    and your state or city may have seminars or offices to help you.

    26. If you haven't yet, find a good accountant who can help you with the paperwork. He or She will probably pay for themselves with the various deductions claimed.

    27. If you are extremely fortunate, you'll only need a lawyer to help you with incorporation. Still, it's never a bad idea to find one before your "one phone call". Some law universities offer pro bono services. If you can, find one with a good intellectual property program.

    28. Never stop learning. If your schedule allows, take some Continuing Studies programs during the evening. Every major university has a College of Business. Community colleges usually offer small business courses. As a student, you can deduct the expense on your taxes. You might be able to claim them as a business expense as well. (Major corporations offer tuition assistance, why not you?)

    29. Since you are your own company / corporation, you can unionize very easily.

    30. Research business books and organizations specific to your occupation. Join them (if only to network). The Graphic Artists Guild publishes an excellent handbook, and the more "freelancey" a business is, the more likely it is to have a strong advocacy organization.

    Okay, Val, I'll shut up now. I'm a librarian with a boy scout complex, and can't help helping other people.