In order to support our creative writing, some of us turn to freelance work to pay the bills. Working our own hours, being able to pick and choose the jobs we do, making a living from what we love most – these all sound like awesome benefits, and they are! However, being a freelancer doesn’t come without its challenges, so we’ve put together a list of these to think about if you’re considering becoming a freelancer…
1. Rate of Pay
Deciding on a rate of pay is always a challenge when it comes to being a freelancer. It feels like there are a hundred different ways to do it: per word, per article, per project, per hour… but there’s really no wrong or right way to go about it.
You just have to choose how to charge depending on how you work, and also what’s fair to your clients. Deciding on the actual price is tricky as well… You don’t want to charge too high, or you won’t get any work, but you also don’t want to charge too low – or you won’t be able to justify spending the time on the job.
What clients are willing to pay you depends on a number of factors. A lot of companies nowadays are outsourcing their copywriting, and are approaching freelancers in countries like India, Philippines etc. who can afford to charge as little as $5 an hour due to their lower cost of living. This makes charging decent rates difficult for Australian writers who are freelancing and trying to make a living.
In addition, because of this, many newer writers are charging less than they should in order to compete for work – which drives the overall cost businesses are willing to pay for freelance work right down.
The only thing we can say here is stick to your guns. If you have the experience and skills to back up what you’re asking for, don’t let anyone tell you you don’t deserve your desired rate of pay.
2. Making and Chasing Invoices
When you become a freelancer, you’re your own employer which, unfortunately, means you’re in charge of all the tricky paperwork etc. that’s needed. Firstly, you need to work out what kind of invoicing system works for you, whether you use an online app like Wave, or you create your invoices from scratch. Wave Accounting is very useful, as it provides you with templates that you simply add your information to. It means all your invoices look sleek and professional, and are the same in appearance every time.
Once you’ve created and sent your invoice off, the hard work’s done, right? Sadly, most of the time it’s not. As a freelancer, there are always going to be clients who are a bit ‘chilled out’ when it comes to staying on top of who they owe money to.
This means you’ve got to keep track of who you’ve invoiced, who has paid and when you’re due to be paid. It’s a tedious task, and quite frankly, it’s not a particularly nice feeling. You’ll wonder whether they’re going to pay you at all, or if they’ve received your invoice in the first place. Basically the challenge here is having to follow up what you’re owed in a polite and professional manner.
Tip: When you reach an agreement with your client regarding the work to be carried out, send an email confirming the details, but also add that you reserve the right to charge a late fee should the client fail to pay you on time. Having this up your sleeve will help give your clients incentive to stay on top of what they owe you.
Hopefully you’ve seen the first episode of Dylan Moran’s Black Books… If you have, you’ll know how most of us feel about doing our accounts. Tax and how you keep your records is different in every country, and a lot depends on what ‘tax bracket’ you fall under.
For most of us, we invoice our clients and at the end of the financial year hand these invoices over to an actual accountant who deals with all the nitty gritty details for us. However, you should charge your clients with tax in mind – the tax that you will have to pay at some point down the track.
Tip: Make sure you keep a record of your expenses. As a freelancer there are a lot of items you can count as ‘deductions’ for when you complete your tax return. These things can include but are not limited to: computer repairs/purchases, softwares, subscriptions, printing costs, travel to see clients, internet bill, phone bill etc… Anything that you have purchased in order to complete a job is worthwhile noting down and asking about when you see your accountant.
Unlike regular full-time work, the salary of a freelancer is inconsistent, and seasonal. Sometimes, there’ll be plenty of work to go around, other times it will feel as though your income has dried up.
It’s certainly challenging trying to navigate an irregular income, and it means you have to be quite smart with your money – always leaving some aside for when you might need it. This is probably the most important factor to consider if you’re thinking about being a full-time freelancer…
Do you have savings to fall back on? Are you comfortable knowing that you’ll have no sick days or annual leave? Unless you’re unbelievably gifted with money, it’s unlikely that you’ll have a nice superannuation fund to cushion yourself when you ‘retire’. Not only is freelance work irregular, but it can also be quite hard to come to terms with for these reasons as well.
Working for yourself can certainly be challenging in the motivation department. You’ve got no one looking over your shoulder, checking what you’re doing; you’ve got no KPIs (Key Performance Indicators); and no one seeing what time you get to work in the morning.
While all these are quite liberating details, they also mean that you are solely responsible for the work you need to carry out. If you don’t show up to work, you don’t get paid – it’s that simple and it’s that hard.
6. Everyone Else’s Two Cents
At this point, you’ve probably thought long and hard about the challenges of being a freelance writer, but there is one more to consider: dealing with the opinions of others. It seems, if you want to live a creative life, one thing you’re always going to have to put up with is friends/family/strangers putting in their two cents about what you do.
There’ll be people who think you have it easy because you don’t have to commute, there’ll be people who don’t take your job seriously because you can do your washing at lunch time if need be, sometimes your family might ask you to do errands simply because you’re ‘at home’.
Like it or not, these are things you’ll have to shrug off as a freelancer. Learn to be firm with your ‘office hours’. Have set times when you are unavailable. If this means putting a sign on your study door, by all means do it. The sooner people realise you take your work seriously, the sooner they will too.