December 30th, 2010

Reverb 29 and the Freelance Lifestyle

Describe a defining moment or series of events that has affected your life this year.

(Author: Kathryn Fitzmaurice)

{Future tool: The 99%’s How to Budget for an Irregular Income. For the next 3 days as you round out your year, we’ll share one tool each day to help you plan your year ahead.}

Sigh. I really love the effort and enthusiasm behind Reverb, but I think maybe having 31 different authors contribute without knowing what others were doing was not the best way to organize–a lot of these prompts are very similar to each other. Since I’ve already shared my “alive” moment, and my “best ordinary” moment, I’m hard pressed to come up with a “defining” moment, so I think I’ll skip it. Perhaps other people’s lives are of more moment than mine (hahaha).

But I thought I’d point out the budget tool that’s included in today’s prompt is really useful (there have been other planning tools included with the Reverb package, but I haven’t been paying attention. If today’s tool is any indication, I should’ve.)

Ages ago, in the summertime when I was doing those “Jobs for Writers” posts, I believe I promised to have a guest post on freelancing. It never happened, mainly because experts I asked couldn’t spare the time–which should be a strong lesson about the freelancing lifestyle right there. I never wanted to write the whole post myself: I was only freelance for a year, and it was a slightly strange situation. I do also work with and administrate for freelancers now, but my advice on how they “should” do things may well be based on how to make things easiest for the employer, not the freelancer.

Nevertheless, I know enough about the freelance life to know that the budgeting post above is very interesting, and I think extremely useful for those who have already been at it a while and are reasonably successful, but have run into some cashflow glitches. However, if you were just getting started in the freelance world, this advice would be pretty useless to you–how would you know what your average income would be, or when things might be likely to take a dip? This 99% blog seems pretty good, so maybe there’s another post somewhere on getting started as a person with an “irregular income,” but there’s actually a few really gold bits of advice to novice freelancers hiding in this post. Allow me to pull them out for you:

The first year is difficult. You generally don’t have the ability to base your budget on averages or on the lowest income from the last twelve months. (I was able to do this because I’d been earning money before I quit to blog full-time.)

Yep, the most useful way start a freelance career is to wet your feet while you work somewhere else. Not happy news to those who hope to just dive right in, but it is extremely useful, both for being able to budget and project income/workflows, and just for building up clients. You can do this a couple ways–In Method A, you have a job you like and are good at. Once you’ve been there a while, and have proved your talents and reliability, you ask your employers if you can go freelance. This is different from “telecommuting” or “working from home,” in that it’s on an hourly basis, not salary, and not necessarily guaranteed work, but with a lot more flexibility. In Method B, you have a job you don’t much like (whether you are good at it or not), so you begin trying to find other gigs you can do on a piece basis, evenings and weekends. It takes a long time to get a client base of folks who trust and respect (and need) your work. In fact, it may take a long time to even have paying clients; many freelancers start getting their name out with volunteer projects and favours for friends. Once you’ve gotten pretty good at finding, doing, and getting paid for the work, you essentially have 2 jobs and can quit one, if you so desire.

Before I quit my “real” job to become a full-time blogger, I began to set aside a large sum of money as an emergency fund. I figured that if my income dropped below the minimum I needed to get by, I could tap the emergency fund to provide supplemental cash. With luck, I’d be able to ride out any rocky storms. (I’ve been fortunate to not have to do this.) When you have an irregular income, the bigger your emergency savings, the better.

Yep, you definitely have to do this if you don’t try one of the gradually freelance methods above, and even if you do ease into it–still recommended. Even super-crack much-beloved freelancers have dry months–that’s what’s scary /exciting about it, I guess.

Back to me–I think freelancing is an awesome way to balance a creative career with a more lucrative one, despite the fact it didn’t really work out for me when I tried it. Some of us really really like having conversations in the course of the day, especially if we’re going to write in the evening. Anyway, I think it’s an interesting career path, and if there’s any happy freelancers reading this who could volunteer to be interviewed or even write that guest post, I’d be very happy to hear from you!

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