Everything You Need To Thrive When Going Freelance

Walking away from a steady 9-to-5 to pursue your dreams of going freelance can feel a little bit like jumping out of a plane: exhilarating and bold but also pretty terrifying. While the idea of choosing your own clients and setting your own hours is appealing, freelancing involves way more than freeing up your weekday calendar to do what you love. At the end of the day, you’ll need to figure out how you’ll stay afloat financially, which goes beyond just paying your bills on time. It’s a delicate balance that requires ingenuity, diligence, and a bit of flexibility.

If you’re considering making the transition to full-time freelance work (or have recently made the leap, like yours truly), the good news is you’re not alone. In 2014, the Freelancers Union commissioned a study that found about 34% of the American workforce was composed of independent workers, and that stat is expected to grow to a whopping 50% by the year 2020. With so many millions going freelance, there are more than a few tried-and-true techniques that can help make you an extra-efficient, higher-earning business of one.

Ready to learn more? Click through to discover seven key steps to aid you on your freelance journey, including managing your expenses (both personal and business) and tackling your taxes like a pro with Intuit.

Illustrated by Kelsey Wroten.
Gather all the industry contacts you have.

First things first, grab a notebook (or pull up a spreadsheet) and make a list of all the people you’re acquainted with, both in your own industry and in any relevant adjacent industries. As a writer, my initial list included past and current editors I’ve worked with, plus creative directors and graphic designers. Don’t forget current coworkers you plan to keep in touch with, too, or anyone else you think will be open to putting you in contact with a new client. Once you have your list, consider letting them know you’re on the lookout for new work, but keep in mind there are also other, nontraditional ways to find projects. For example, sometimes editors will issue a call for freelance writers on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and other social media platforms. If you know where to look, you can tailor your social media scrolling to boost your business.
Illustrated by Kelsey Wroten.
Start tracking and organizing your personal expenses.

If you're not already aware of what you typically spend on things like transportation, groceries, and shopping, making a budget can be a daunting task. The easiest approach involves keeping tabs on how much money goes into and out of your bank account for 30 days — that is, long enough to account for rent, other assorted monthly bills, morning coffees, and everything else you pay for on a daily basis. If using pen and paper seems outdated, the Intuit Mint app is a free, digital alternative for managing your funds. Whatever method you choose, having this information will make you better equipped to decide exactly what you should cut back on, where you could stand to double down, and how much you’ll need to earn in order to make your goals a reality.
Illustrated by Kelsey Wroten.
Know your worth.

It can be jarring when a client asks you for your rate on the spot, so get ahead of the game. Research your skill set online, and talk to a few trusted colleagues about industry standards regarding pay — both hourly rates and flat fees. Furthermore, decide what your price range will be ahead of time in order to smooth out those client conversations as much as possible. Of course, there will be times when you and your client will have to negotiate before finding a price that’s right; therefore, I suggest reading up on how to hold your ground during those tough discussions. Above all, don’t be afraid to charge for what your talent and time are worth!
Illustrated by Kelsey Wroten.
Schedule, schedule, schedule.

Now that you don’t necessarily have to wake up early, commute to the office, and be at your desk by 9 a.m., it’s tempting to turn off your alarm and sleep in…every day. Pro tip: Don’t! Feel free to play around with your working style and see what suits you best — maybe you’re more productive in the evenings — but don’t lose track of your schedule completely. Keep regular meal times, don’t skimp on sleep, and don’t forget about self-care. Jumping from deadline to deadline without established work hours can quickly turn into a marathon session, so bake in time for a long bath, an at-home manicure, or whatever you need to feel calm and whole. I swear by my planner, using different pens to classify each day’s tasks — from meetings to workouts to face masks and TV time. If I notice my week is filling up with blue and gray ink (errands and work) and not much green and pink (social engagements and cultural events), it’s an immediate signal I need to balance my plans.
Illustrated by Kelsey Wroten.
Get smart about your taxes.

As a freelancer, you’ll quickly learn to stay persistent when it comes to getting paid, and it's crucial that you bring that same energy to tax season — aka when paperwork often starts to pile up. For those new to freelancing, Intuit QuickBooks Self-Employed can make things like invoicing and tracking expenses much easier. Once organized, your QuickBooks info can be transferred to Intuit TurboTax Self-Employed, a service specifically geared toward independent contractors. To help streamline the process of growing your business, Intuit also offers one-on-one help (should you need it) and assists with industry-specific deductions. It's a win-win situation that'll free up more time for you to do the work you love.
Illustrated by Kelsey Wroten.
Consider alternative ways to earn cash.

I’m good with kids, so I always pick up the phone when friends and family call in need of a date-night sitter. I also find it endlessly fascinating to listen to fellow writers’ Q&As, so I make myself available whenever I see a post looking for someone to do a quick transcription job. All in all, there will be times when your main freelance gigs slow down — prepare yourself by figuring out which of your other skills can make you money. Don’t be afraid to step outside of your lane to drum up some additional revenue.
Illustrated by Kelsey Wroten.
Remember to get up and out of the house.

Best case scenario: You’re now freelancing like a pro with a full client roster and a balanced budget. You’re living it up, but when there’s a lot of work to be done, it’s all too easy to become tethered to your laptop. Take breaks, walk around the block, or meet a friend at her office and do a long lunch. Like hitting the proverbial reset button, a bit of fresh air once a day can do wonders to clear the mind.
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