At the risk of sounding like an overly cheesy motivational speaker, we all deserve the opportunity to pave our own path. Traditions, standards, and societal norms have a way of sculpting our daily decisions. Some may feel pressured by their parents to study science or medicine. Others may fear disappointing those who have already set the bar. But at some point, if you can’t stop thinking about how your life could somehow be different or better, you have to take a leap of faith.
My most recent leap of faith was quitting my full-time job to pursue a passion project and a life as a full-time blogger, which brings me to the topic of freelancing. When you switch from a full-time employee to freelance, you trade in one set of pros and cons for another. For example, you get the flexibility of working from on your own schedule, but you miss out on benefits and a 401(k) match as a freelancer. You save money on gas working from home but spend more on out-of-pocket healthcare. It’s a massive push-and-pull circumstance.
As someone who’s worked both sides of the spectrum, these are my tips for making it as a freelancer.
1. Learn to love math
Full disclosure: I failed math in high school. A straight-up F on my report card. Before you get all judge-y, the point is that freelancing requires a lot of adding, subtracting, and multiplying. No trigonometry—thank goodness. Whenever a check comes in the mail or via PayPal, I put that amount in an Excel spreadsheet to calculate how much more money I need to pay off bills and rent. I steadily add to that sum as more revenue comes in, and then I subtract money I use for fun things.
2. Get used to rolling solo
I’ll cut straight to the chase: No one holds your hand in freelancing. You are in charge of everything—your schedule, total income, workload, etc. Obviously, you can see how this could be a pro and con at the same time. There’s hardly any teamwork in freelancing, which means if you need help, or you have a question, be prepared to problem-solve on your own. The internet is your best resource for information and answers since there are no coworkers or managers to rely on.
3. Save every single receipt
This tip comes in handy around tax season. Most freelance income isn’t taxed, so it’s time to brush up on those budgeting skills. Yes, having and adding to a savings account is incredibly helpful, but please remember to save your receipts. You’d be surprised at how much you can write off on taxes. We have a whole article on unexpected things you can deduct. Receipts are concrete proof that you spent your own money to get the job done. The last thing you want is an audit from the IRS.
4. Be prepared to do some explaining
It took a two-hour conversation with my sister to explain “what I was doing with my life.” Freelance is increasing in popularity, but it’s still the norm in America to work out of an office with a direct boss or supervisor. According to Forbes, freelancers make up 35% of the US workplace. Older generations will have an even harder time understanding. I’m not going to lie: You will run into some doubters and haters, but that should only further motivate you to succeed at freelancing. Prove them wrong!
5. Don’t be afraid to add freelancing to your resume
Just because you don’t have an official employer doesn’t mean you haven’t been legitimately working. If you ever decide to revert back to an office job, explain your freelancing situation with pride. Don’t let there be this giant time gap in your resume. Some employers may ask where you’ve been working for the past few years, and there’s no shame in saying you worked for yourself, chased a dream, or pursued a passion project. Freelancing isn’t any easier or harder than working at an office. It’s just different.
Of course, none of this is going to mean anything if you don’t evaluate if freelancing is right for you. I know tons of people who prefer the routine Monday-through-Friday, 9-5, and that’s completely okay. Some people feel unorganized or anxious without daily order. But then again, I also know many people who thrive on flexibility and have enough internal peace of mind to deal with varying paychecks and schedules.