The freelance economy has grown tremendously in recent years. In fact, freelance workers are actually projected to outpace full-time workers by 2020. And for good reason: Freelancing enables motivated and independent individuals to work for the clients whose missions inspire them, while also allowing organizations to tap into the unique skillsets that they need for particular projects.
But freelancing comes with its own unique challenges, from achieving the optimal client-freelancer relationship to keeping your finances straight. As we have quite a bit of experience in the freelance world, we thought we’d pass along some of our learnings. Here’s our advice for freelancers who want to kick off 2015 on the right foot:
Maintain a Work-Life Balance
Making your own schedule can be incredibly liberating. As a freelancer, you are often free to work at the times when you are the most effective – early morning, late at night, or somewhere in between. The problem is, without the structure of a 9 to 5 schedule, it can become difficult to step away from work and unplug. There is always more that could be done, whether it’s clocking time on a project, researching potential clients, or honing your personal brand.
But, as with every career path, maintaining a work-life balance is essential for your success (and sanity!). It is so important to “work when you’re working, and not when you’re not.” One way to do it is to set (and adhere to) a schedule for yourself. Whether it’s based on an hourly breakdown or completing certain tasks on a given day, setting goals and limits will give you a sense of accomplishment and give you a clear sense of when it is time to sign off. If you want to do this by choosing a select number of hours to work each day or week, try using time tracking software – it will make your life a lot easier.
Find a Co-Working Space
In chatting with other freelancers, we’ve heard the same story over and over again: At the beginning of the freelance journey, working from home is awesome. No longer do you have to adhere to a “normal” schedule; you can take breaks when you feel the need, and set up an optimal work environment for you. But after a couple of days or weeks, you may start to feel a little bit isolated or unmotivated. The joy of working from your living room is replaced by a feeling that you need to have a separate workspace, with other like-minded individuals to talk to.
Enter the co-working space. Co-working spaces are offices where individuals work on their own projects in a rented space. If you live in a big city, you’ll find that they are all over the place. Some are catered toward specific niches – tech or creative, for example – while other are open to anyone who needs a space to work. Each co-working space is a bit different, offering different set-ups – from separate offices to open floor plans with desks – and ambiance, so you should definitely do some research and visit the spots that appeal to you before making a decision. Co-working will give you the opportunity to better separate work and home when you need to, and allow you to connect with others who are doing similar or related work.
If co-working isn’t for you, be sure to create a separate spot for working within your own home. And if you want to work outside the home, but can’t find a co-working space, give your local coffee shop or bookstore a try!
Seek Out Networking Opportunities
As a freelancer, you can secure much-needed support and inspiration by finding opportunities to connect with others who are involved in work that is relevant to your field. Without the built-in relationship-building that comes with working in an office, however, you’ll need to seek out these opportunities on your own. Even though networking as a freelancer takes a bit more effort, it’s relatively easy to do, and will have a big impact on your career development.
Start by using online forums like Meetup.com to connect with other individuals in your area who are working in your field or freelancing. You can also use LinkedIn as a resource for making connections. Reach out to the people in your network who are working for organizations and businesses that you admire, and ask them to connect you with others in the space. It may seem uncomfortable at first, but more often than not, people are more than willing (and even excited!) to help you make connections with others in their networks.
Co-working spaces often provide networking opportunities as well. Before joining one, be sure to check out whether or not they have events like happy hours and workshops that will allow you to spend some non-working time with the other members.
Stay on Top of Your Finances
Much of the time, managing finances is a little bit trickier for freelancers than they are for corporate employees. Independent contractors often have to handle their own accounting, from billing to bookkeeping to taxes, and many go into it without knowing the first thing about how to do it the right way. It might sound daunting, but there are ways to make it more manageable. Here are some tips that will make handling your finances easier:
- Separate your personal and business finances: This will make your life infinitely easier when tax season comes along.
- Select a finance day each month or quarter: Managing your finances all in one annual sitting will likely prove to be quite miserable.
- Use accounting apps / software: Find a software (like Freshbooks or Bench) that fits your needs, and take the time to familiarize yourself with how it works and how it can help you.
- Set aside a certain percentage of your income for taxes: If you aren’t working with an accountant, you can use a free tax estimator to help you decide how much to set aside for taxes.
When it comes to taxes and planning for retirement, Freelancers Union has some great tools that can help set you up for a successful year – check out their tips.
Don’t Forget About Health insurance
And last, but certainly not least, don’t forget about health insurance. When transitioning to the freelance life, it may be easy to forget about things that were previously built into your benefits package. Luckily, these days, applying for health insurance isn’t as difficult as you might think.
To get coverage, you can apply directly through healthcare.gov, which provides a great deal of information on health coverage for the self-employed. You can also turn to third-party sources like Freelancers Union for information about the best package for you.
However you go about it, just be sure to take care of it as soon as possible – open enrollment now ends on February 15th. If you haven’t applied by then, the only way you can get coverage for 2015 is if you qualify for a Special Enrollment Period. And if you don’t have coverage, you will be penalized at tax time at a rate that is certainly not worth it.
Whether you’re a freelancer or not, the New Year provides us all with an opportunity to start off on a better, more organized foot. Take steps to evaluate your work life, and make changes wherever you can improve.