Advice

Proof That Money Isn’t Everything

So when I decided to take the plunge and pursue freelancing full-time a couple years back, I did so with the intention of having time to work on some personal projects, namely a collection of short stories. Now that I’ve been getting this itch to also write a book to help artists and freelancers with their money, and also to carve time for their creative projects, I have even more reason to scale back on freelance business to focus on these projects. And while I have enough beans saved to take a sabbatical of sorts from freelancing, I haven’t done it. Not yet.

Well, why’s that? In short: I’m scared.

This is something I’ve heard time and again. From some of my favorite money writers and personalities such as Jason Vitug of Phroogal and Kristin Wong of The Wild Wong:

MONEY IS A TOOL. PERIOD.

Yes, I’ve decided to be liberal in my use of caps and bold.

Quit yer whining, Jackie. Don’t you know there are greater problems in the world? Debt, poverty, wage inequality. Crazy politicians.

But I wanted to make a point. Even if you had that money in the bank to do whatever it is you damn well pleased. There are obstacles. And a lot of them are internal. Sure, there are external obligations, such as taking care of kids or aging parents. But let’s talk about the internal struggle, shall we?

Habits
I grew up in a workaholic family. My mom, uncles and aunts, cousins were all industrious people. When we weren’t working to make money, we were busy at home, cooking, cleaning, fixing up our homes, etc. I just visited a cousin in Orlando who was so exhausted while moving that he fell off the pickup truck.

The biggest cardinal sins were to be lazy and selfish. Make yourself useful!

So naturally, I was a busybody. I was one of those annoying types in high school that was part of 10 clubs and got good grades. But busybody is my go-to. Busyness is a terrible habit. I often find myself losing touch with my values, feel burnt out, stressed, and even more anxious.

It’s hard to say “no,” especially when you are trying to please others. My friend Melanie of Dear Debt just attended the GirlBoss rally, and left with this: Are you doing something just to please others, or are you honoring a value? What are your values?

These habit energies are tough thing to undo. It could take years, or decades. I’m serious. I’m fully aware of my busybody tendencies, and I have to kind of constantly monitor myself. While I am still going to be volunteering and quibbling over how to add value to the work I do, I am going to give myself permission to indulge. Indulge in saying no to social gatherings, to obligations and give myself the okay to work on my creative projects.


Love of Making Money
Money is addictive, like crack. Studies show that when you make money, there’s a part in our brain that activates, similar to taking drugs. Yes, your brain thinks money is a drug.

My good friend Alan has told me, “In 10 years, are you going to look back and say to yourself, ‘Gee, I really wish I worked more?” Nobody thinks that way. And because I try to live a frugal lifestyle, which isn’t hard when you don’t feel deprived and find abundance in your life and take joy in the simple pleasures.

And I’ve never regretted not taking a job. I want to do the best job possible when given an opportunity, but it’s not essential to take on every job? Once again it’s all about value. What is the value for doing something? What’s essential?

Confidence
Just the confidence that this is the right choice for you. It’s about trusting yourself. There’s the adage, every time you say “no” to something is a “yes” to something else. So you just have to trust in yourself. My fellow freelancing buddy Taryn talks about how just because somebody else wasn’t able to achieve what you want to do, doesn’t mean you can’t carve out your own path to making it work. So be that trailblazer.

I don’t expect to necessarily make a cool million dollars, or write that bestseller. But I am saying “yes” to something I’ve been wanting to do for a very long time. And it will come in handy. Developing the habit to say “yes” to myself, to engage in deep, focused work, and to give myself permission to toll over something I can be proud of.

Inability to Say “No”
It’s far easier to say “no” to the long-term things, like taking on a full-time job or commitment. But it’s the casual commitments that eat up our time. Attend that mixer? Sure. Check out the new watering hole down the street. Let’s do it! I just finished Greg McKeown’s “Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less and he had some great tips on how to gracefully say “no,” such as “You are welcome to X. I am willing to Y” to set boundaries, or “Let me check my calendar and get back to you.”

Fears
There will always be fears. If you’re alive and breathing, you’ll be afraid of something. And there’s plenty to be afraid of. I’m not certain I’m even afraid that I won’t get back on the freelancer bandwagon. But you know what? There are a million ways to earn a buck. And you’ll just have to trust yourself and deal with any repercussions, perceived missed opportunities, and the like.

Discipline
So I’ve been reading Cal Newport’s “Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World,” where he talks about how the ability to focus deeply on your work is a rare and valuable skill. Especially in our day and age where we veer toward “shallow work,” such as answering emails, tweeting, meetings, and the like. But the ability to work interrupted and free from distraction is not only about having the time to do so, but the discipline.

Newport goes into detail about creating a regiment, setting time aside each day with a designated workspace. Easier said than done, right? And as we all know, managing money has nothing to do with knowing what to do, but having the freakin’ discipline to follow through.

So I’ll be starting off with 20-30 minutes of solid, Internet-free periods of work, followed by an hour, then 90 minutes, and working my way to two hours. I still need to figure out how I’m going to balance my personal projects with my freelance work, since I will still be working part-time, but that’s something that needs to be resolved.

What I am trying to say is that while money is definitely helpful and gives you options, it’s not everything. When you’re ready to do that thing you’ve always wanted to do but didn’t have enough money or time to do, you better have the habits and mindset in place to actually take the plunge.

If you had enough money to do what you really wanted, what would get in your way?

How to Manage the “Dark Side” of Freelancing (aka Downsides)

So the other day a fellow freelancer shared this post on the dark side of the gig economy.

Naturally, I was curious. What was this “dark side” of the gig economy? Were there child labor slaves working at Uber? A conglomerate comprised of side hustlers funneling water from drought-stricken areas?

Nope, it turned out the post was about a recent study that reveals a huge discrepancy from the overwhelmingly positive portrayal of freelancing and negative comments on freelancing floating on social media.

And there’s no doubt there’s a litany of content floating on the Interwebs on how amazing freelancing is, where you have freedom to be a digital nomad, live life on your own terms as a #girlboss, ad nauseam.  I’ve been suckered into reading those articles, too.

And according to a recent survey commissioned by Freelancers Union and Upwork, while 79% of freelancers say that freelancing is better than working a traditional job, only 37% of freelancers who freelanced on the side would consider freelancing full-time. Why’s that? Well, there are plenty of reasons, such as financial instability, lack of benefits and insurance, and fear of failure.

The downsides of freelancing and self-employment definitely need to be addressed.  

First things first. Know that:

Freelancing Is a Preference. It’s Not Perfection.

This is something I realized early on. Being self-employed is sold to you as this ideal. But it’s not. There are moments when you find yourself hitting your head against the wall, and being a #girlboss is a hell of a lot more work than having a 9-5.

And freelancing isn’t for everyone. There are people who resort to freelancing out of pure necessity. And the growth of the independent workforce isn’t always made up of people who took the leap because their business was booming, or from choice. It could stem from the fact that hours were cut off from their job, they were let go, or full-time jobs in their field were becoming more scarce. 

You have to do what’s best for you at certain points in your life. And that may mean returning to a full-time job, or juggling freelance with a part-time gig. 

And while some people are more well-prepared than others to launch into freelancing, you can definitely develop those skills and traits to help you be successful.

Here are some of the downside of freelancing and tips on how to best manage these downsides:


Income that Fluctuates Like a Bipolar Mofo
Besides variable income, you’ll also need to deal with ponying up for your own health insurance, pay for self-employment taxes, and save for sick days and vacation. Here are some ways you can beef up your income and prevent getting hit hard from the perils of fluctuating income:

Seek retainer clients
This isn’t really for those who are independent contractors with 1-year gigs, or those who work on a single project for a period of time, but rather for those who are employed in creative industries, such as writing, marketing, or being a virtual assistant.

Have a robust emergency fund…
You can never have enough of an emergency fund. While the recommended amount is generally 3-6 months, I say if you can swing it, try to have 1 year saved up. I know, easier said than done. I can go into detail in a later post on easy ways to save for an emergency freelancer fund later.

 

…And a baby emergency fund

I had talked about having a “mama and baby emergency fund,” and a baby emergency fund can be anywhere from 1-2 months of your barebones expenses.

Try to stay one month ahead of your expenses
Umm.seriously? Really? Okay, this one’s a toughie. But if you can manage to have all the income you need for the following month, you won’t have to be on pins and needles, waiting for that paycheck to roll in from an employer. I think I also can afford to be a little more lax with when I invoice, although I do my best to stay on such matters. One thing you can do is save your extra beans in a separate savings account or with an app such as Digit.

Come up with a system that works—and stick to It
I’m huge on automating. I don’t really budget, because I feel fairly confident in knowing roughly how much I spend on average in a given month. But if you want to track your spending, there are a ton of budgeting tools out there, like Mint.com and Level Money.

If you want to just create savings goals and automate them, you can try out Digit or Qapital. My friend Kristin has written a handy post on Qapital and how you can use it to automatically save money.

So my system may be complicated to some, but I have:

+ A business account where I deposit my earnings
+ A main checking account for my personal expenses
+ A long-term savings account for my short-term goals and freelancer taxes
+ A second checking account, one for groceries and household items
+ A third checking account, one for eating out and entertainment, aka “partytime” 

I also have a few retirement accounts, an HSA. For small savings goals I use Digit and just started playing around with Qapital for some saving goals. I know it seems like a lot to keep track of, but I automate everything and check in on it every so often to make sure there’s nothing suspicious going on.

Coming up with a system that works for you does take time. There’s no real shortcut. But the fun part is that there are bunch of tools sprouting up that can help you build out your system.

Dealing with Loneliness and Isolation
Yes, this is definitely a toughie. Sometimes my friends are in between jobs, or I organize work parties (aka coworking meetups) with a few buddies. But you can definitely deal with this in a bunch of ways.

Build your tribe. It doesn’t have to be in-person, especially if you live somewhere where there isn’t a vibrant freelancer community. I’m fortunate to live in Los Angeles, where, for better or for worse, not having a 9-5 is the norm.

Network.  In L.A. you can meet fellow freelancers at coworking meetups. I also am the L.A. organizer for Freelance Fridays, which is a free global coworking event for creatives and entrepreneurs. There’s also Built in L.A. events as well as Built in L.A. events in big cities in the U.S.

I’ve found great groups to ask questions, share my concerns and qualms on Facebook Groups such as The Freelancer’s Club by Careful Cents, Earn More Writing, and CloudPeeps.

Volunteer. You can stay connected with others through volunteering. Check out VolunteerMatch or Idealist.org to find organizations, or do a quick search on Facebook to link up with orgs that match your interests. I volunteer feeding the homeless, and it really is a lot of fun.

Managing Anxiety and Depression
I’ve long had to deal with anxiety, and when you freelance, anxiety can definitely be exacerbated and heightened when you freelance. You do have more you’re responsible for and more to worry about.

Self-care is crucial, as well as keeping a schedule. Life-work balance may go out the window at times, but you’ll need to stay productive. I try to meditate and exercise every day. While I don’t always manage to do this, I try to squeeze in mini-sessions. For instance, 10 minutes of stretching and resistance, or 10 minutes of meditation.

Things Can’t  Be 100% Awesome Time
This is a general rule of thumb in life. And when you’re freelancing, when things are awesome, you’ll get a thrill at working for yourself. And when they’re not, well, you will need to know that’s just part of the path you’re on. Having a backup plan can help, and just being aware that, yes, you’ll have slow months.

Freelancing is an Exercise in Practicing Patience
You’re not going to land amazing clients at the same time overnight. Nope. It definitely takes time to seek out opportunities, build rapport, and the like. Or if you’re trying to come up with a new way to make money or find clients, you may need to toss a bunch of things against a wall and see what sticks. I’m dealing with this right now, and little ventures I’m trying out for the first time feels like a waiting game.

But knowing exactly what the downsides of freelancing are, you’ll be able to better manage them.

The Conversation That Helped Me Turn Down a $96,000 a Year Job

Illustration by Viet Vu

When I was in between jobs a few years ago, I was scurrying around like a crazed rat that had lost its way in a maze. The week after I had been let go from a one-year contract job as a personal finance writer for an insurance company, I met with a bunch of different recruiters at creative job agencies around town.

And when I landed a job interview to basically proofread web articles for an investment firm downtown, I didn’t really know how I felt about it. The contract job (read: no benefits) would last anywhere from 6 to 18 months. The rate was definitely right: $44 and hour, plus $2 an hour for “parking fees.” So I did the math, and a full-time, $46 an hour gig roughly equaled $96,000 a year. Umm..certainly nothing to balk at.

I landed an interview, and an acquaintance who currently worked there and was kind enough to give me great pointers. Right after the interview the recruiter gave me a call to ask how it went.


“Good, I think.”
She asked, “If they offered you a job, would you take it?”
I replied, “I don’t know.”
I could tell she was disappointed in my response, but it was an honest answer.

At that point, I had landed a lot of great job leads for personal finance publications. Writing about money was something I had always wanted to do. I was in talks with about four different places, and in the “courtship phase,” so to speak. So again, nothing was for sure.

About an hour after the interview, I received a call from the recruiter that they wanted to offer me the gig. Of course, she needed an answer as soon as possible. Naturally, I equaled dollar signs to her. I asked if I could have the weekend to think about it.

I got zero sleep for practically two days. I asked my good friends what they thought. Some of them couldn’t imagine why I wouldn’t take it. “Wow, that’s a lot of money.” “You could save up and then take a year off if you really wanted to.” Another good friend asked had some really great advice. She asked me what I was scared of doing the most, and to run with that. My friends were well-meaning, but their words of advice were started to feel like a bunch of bees buzzing around my head. I knew the decision had to ultimately come from me.

Here’s the thing: I initially accepted the offer. It seemed like the practical thing to do. And wouldn’t you be crazy for turning down that sort of money?

That weekend, I met up with my friend Tricia. Her brother from Canada was in town, and we met up her Tricia’s husband Andy for dinner in Echo Park. Andrew was also freelancing at the time, and interested in what I was up to.

I told him about the job I was offered. Telling someone how much I was offered felt insane. Andy asked me a bunch of sound, practical questions that really shed some insight. By the end of our convo, I had changed my mind about accepting the contract job. I didn’t want to take it anymore.


Here’s what he asked:

How many clients do you have now?
I had three clients, and after FinCon, was in the “courtship phase” with about 4 clients at the time. But nothing was set in stone, which was pretty nerve wracking.

How long can you live off your savings?
I had a decent amount saved. Since I am such a frugal person and have been saving my beans since my first job after college, I could comfortably live off my savings for about a year. If I was going to barebones about it, I had enough to get by for about a year and a half.

This played a major part in my decision-making. If I had looming debt and no savings, I would’ve taken the job in a heartbeat. But because I had a cushion of savings, I could weather any potential storms.

How much are you making a month freelancing?
Income-wise, I had a great month the month prior. One of my clients requested more content from me, and I netted $6,000 from just one of my existing clients.

I would be making about $8,000 a month with the contract gig. The $2,000 difference didn’t seem that large. And I felt that if I really tried, I could make $8,000 in a single month on my own. No having to drop buckets of money toward

If you’re thinking about being a full-time freelancer, I suggest raking in at least half of what you’re making at your day job. You definitely need some anchor clients when you’re starting out. Plus, it takes a while to figure out your “productivity flow,” how much time it takes to complete certain assignments, and the scope of projects.

How excited are you about the actual job itself?
I felt confident in my abilities to do the job, but as far as day-in, day-out satisfaction and growth, there was nothing. Besides learning about that particular company’s organizational structure, and perhaps a bit more about investing, I knew I had a cap on learning—and earning potential. Although I was scared to, my gut was telling me that I would just be delaying what I really wanted to be doing.

As a freelancer, I oftentimes take on assignments and work with clients because there’s a chance to grow or learn in some way. Maybe I’m working with a top-notch editor that could really expand my skillset, and push me to be a better writer. Or for publication that is open to hearing a fresh spin or or some of my weird ideas (I have many of those, by the way).


And because I write every day, anywhere from 3-6 hours during the workweek, I’m a stronger—and more prolific—writer.

What do you want to do ultimately?
I’ve long been curious about freelancing. I know that a lot of people turn to freelancing because their hours are reduced at their jobs, or they get laid off. But this is something I had long fantasized about.

Andy suggested I do freelance. He said that I could be proofreading articles 40 hours a week for the next year, or lay the groundwork for my freelance writing business. And you know what? He was 100 percent right.
While I didn’t net six figures in my first year as a full-time freelancer, I didn’t starve, either. I actually netted more money in my first 10 months than what I was making at my old day job. And I worked less hours, which was pretty awesome. Plus I was able to hang out with my friends and family, and travel more. And there’s zero doubt in my mind that I made the right decision.

We respond to numbers. You see the words “six-figure salary” and the first words that pop in your head are like “whoa,” or “I want that.” But of course, you don’t know how many hours someone may put on the job to rake in that much dough, or if they’re running their own business, how much they had to put in to get that sort of return. (Case in point: Stefanie O’Connell’s business expenses for generating a six-figure income in 2016. I admire Stefanie for your savvy business prowess and transparency to her readers. Yeoch).

But there’s a lot that goes into making a big decision that goes beyond your salary and benefits (which are obviously both very important things to factor in). For me, having some clients in place, an idea of what you want to focus on, and having an emergency fund, are key.

If you’re seriously considering taking the leap into full-time freelancing, what are you biggest qualms about doing so?

Freelancing Out of Necessity? Here’s Your Ultimate Game Plan

Illustration by Viet Vu

Freelancing can be pretty freakin’ awesome. But it can also suck hard, too. Having just hit my 15-month mark as full-time freelancer, I’ve realized how crucial it is to keep things together—and how easily things can fall apart. Freelancing is a funky hybrid of sorts. One one hand, you have have the freedom and flexibility to choose your clients (ideally), to create a schedule that jives best with your productivity style, and work pretty much anywhere there’s reliable wi-fi. On the other hand, you need to stay super organized, and bear the responsibility of footing the bill for your own health insurance and retirement. Oh, and then there is the anxiety and stress that comes with income that fluctuates month to month.

Freelancing is oftentimes depicted as a choice, something A-types and hustlers do on their own accord. But what if you were given a gentle nudge—or were straight-up forced—into freelancing? In 2015, while I had long wanted to try out the freelance life for myself, I took a baby step from leaving my full-time job with benefits at a job I liked and accepted a one-year contract position. However, about two months into it I was given the pink slip. They were overstaffed and so had to let me go. Initially I was in shock, but two days later I was on the plane to FinCon, a conference for money nerds and personal finance content creators. And lo and behold, I landed a bunch of leads at their Freelancer’s Marketplace.

My leads, along with a robust f*ck-off fund and a super helpful talk I had with my friend Andrew prompted me to not accept a near 6-figure contract position at an investment firm. That was almost half of what I was used to raking in a year. The job would’ve been fine, except that it was putting off what I really wanted to do—freelance! It was incredibly scary, and to be honest, still is. But I found that it has all been worth it. I was able to make more in the first 10 months of the year than I had at my old full-time job.  

But what if you’re not as prepared? If you’re freelancing out of necessity, either because you were laid off or had your hours drastically reduced, how can you best manage? Here are some pointers on how you can make up for that lost income, and land “bridge gigs” that could potentially lead to your next job?


Tap into overlooked pockets of savings
Yes, the 3-6 month emergency fund is something we could all use. But seriously, most of us barely have a couple of hundred bucks to our name. I highly recommend couch scrounging, breaking piggy banks, and trying to find little pockets where money might be. This includes bank accounts you had opened long ago with a few dollars in it.

Moving forward, seriously work on boosting your savings, either by starting off with a few hundred dollars, then a buffer fund that can cover a month’s worth of your basic expenses. I absolutely love Digit, and since I signed up this past March, have saved nearly $3,000. How Digit works is that it uses an algorithm to automatically save money for you. I am super lazy, so love how effortless it is. You can use that money to put toward your emergency fund.


Boost your earnings by doing what’s easiest
I’m all about doing what’s easiest. I had been working in publishing and communications for about 9 years when I was nudged into freelance, I was moonlighting for about 6 years, writing personal finance articles, copyediting art magazines, children’s books, and writing copy for websites. I also was petsitting and test proctoring at a local university. So I reached out to my network and got whatever gigs were easiest for me at time.

And while I don’t really do as much copyediting as I used to, I still work at my old job at a publisher about 6 months of the year for about 10-15 hours a week, and I consider them an anchor client. And guess what? I still petsit and test proctor on occasion. Those are both gigs where I get paid to sit on my bum and work on my freelance.

Get your feelers out there, and take on whatever side hustles are easiest for you. If you love to drive and have a reliable ride, sign up to be a rideshare driver, or if you are an ace at repairing your bike, then offering fix-up workshops. Sell your junk on sites like eBay or decluttr, get paid on sites such as Swagbucks, or take advantage of referral codes and cashback offers.

The key is to make money quickly so you don’t have to  needlessly tap into your credit cards. You really don’t want to hurt your credit, so don’t spend more than you need to. Once you get your bearings, you can spend more time raking in cash in ways you really want to.

Create different streams of income
For 27-year-old Tyler Philbrook, a personal finance blogger who runs I am the Future Me, he looked toward several side hustles when his job as a pharmacy tech was cut from 36-40 hours to 28 hours a week. While he had already started side hustling as a freelance writer, he also began to drive for Lyft and Uber, and made money on Amazon through their Fulfillment by Amazon program. He’s currently making $2,000 a month from Amazon, $200 a month freelance writing, and a few hundred a month as a rideshare driver. What’s amazing is he is making more money selling on Amazon than at his day job.

Ideally, you should have been working on your different streams of income by side hustling well before you have to turn to freelancing, Philbrook recommends. “If that’s not possible, don’t freak out. It’s not the end of the world; it  just will be slightly more difficult at first,” says Philbrook. 


Keep an open mind
Okay, so maybe you’re at Point A and what you ultimately want to do is at Point Z. I’ve learned that piecemealing your way to what you want to do is a great approach. So in other words, go from Point A to B, and take it from there. It ultimately took me 10 years and hopefully it won’t take you that long, but by figuring out what I enjoyed the most at each job, then trying to do more of it at my next job, all while building up my skills in my off time. I will get more into detail about this in a later post, but be open to opportunities, taking on new skills, and most important, grow where you’re planted.

Ease up on yourself
This ish takes time. Even though I had started side hustling and building out my client base long before I took the leap to freelancing full-time, I didn’t start really getting into the swing of things and writing for some of the new clients 1-2 months later. And depending on where you’re at, it could take longer. So be patient with yourself, and keep at it.

While you may be freelancing due to less-than-ideal circumstances, by pulling your skills and resources together, you can make this freelance thing work. While it may require more work and grit than a day job, it can be far more rewarding. And you may learn that you’re actually cut out for self-employment after all.

Disclosure: I do get some monies if you sign up via my link for Digit, so if want to check it out and support the blog, I’d be much obliged.

How Getting a Custom Freelancer Contract Can Help you Save or Earn Money

 

Freelancers Contract

Illustration by Viet Vu

By Tristan Blaine, Esq.

Contracts. The word stirs up such excitement, doesn’t it? But seriously, contracts can actually be sort of fun when you think about all the possible uses for them and you realize how empowering it can be to use them effectively. But not only is it empowering, a contract can help you save or earn serious money. How? Well, to start with, it can help prevent a client from skipping out on the bill, and save on the time and money that may be necessary to track down payment.

To be clear, this post is not meant to be legal advice, and some or all of it may not apply to your situation. I don’t recommend drafting your own contracts. The best way to use this information is to take it to a small business lawyer and discuss how it relates to your freelancing business. Try to find a lawyer who has reasonable pricing and flat fees (they do exist, and I’m one of them!). It probably shouldn’t cost more than $500, unless you have a particularly complex situation. If that still sounds like a lot of money, keep in mind that it’s likely a tax deductible business expense. And having a great contract could easily help you save or earn thousands of dollars, much more than what you would be spending for legal help.

Also note that the client may not necessarily agree to any of these provisions, in which case you should decide whether to drop the provisions or drop the client.

All that said, here are 6 important contract provisions you should know about to save and earn more cash.

1. Detailed description of scope of work
This one is pretty basic, but is often overlooked. Describing in detailed and specific terms what you will do for the client makes it clear that anything other than what’s in the scope of work will cost the client more money. So if the client tries to say they thought your flat rate included, for example, several rounds of revision until the client feels satisfied, you can point to the scope of work that (hopefully) says your price includes only one revision. Often the client will then concede and pay you for the extra work.

2. Intellectual property provisions
Make sure you are up to speed on what intellectual property rights you have in your work (a topic for another post; or find a good intellectual property lawyer), and that you clearly state in your contract what rights you are and are not giving to the client. Generally, if the client wants more (or all) of your rights, they should pay you more.

3. Clear payment terms
Another seemingly obvious one, but have you included exactly how and when payment is to be made? If not, the check could get “lost in the mail.”

4. Late fees
Part of the payment terms, but this one deserves its own category. Late fees are a great way to incentivize clients to pay on time, every time.

5. Limitation of liability
You may not be thinking about what happens if your client sues you, but unfortunately it’s a possibility. But did you know you can limit the amount of money the client can sue you for to only the amount they paid you? Yep, just make sure you have one of these nice little provisions, and you could save some serious cash.

6. Liquidated damages
Sounds complicated, but it’s not really. It’s simply a way to make it easier to enforce the contract in case your client violates certain provisions. You see, sometimes it’s hard for a court to determine how much one person should pay the other for not following the contract. For example, if the client uses your intellectual property but doesn’t credit you as you had agreed, how much is that worth? Maybe it’s your lost profits, but it’s often hard to figure out how much profit you would have made had they credited you properly.

To deal with this you can simply stipulate “liquidated damages” of a reasonable dollar amount or percentage of your fee, and this is the amount that the client would likely have to pay you for breaching certain parts of the contract.

Fun stuff, right? Let me know if you have any questions or comments on any of this!

Tristan Blaine is a “freelance lawyer for freelancers,” which is a fun way of saying that he has his own law practice and works primarily with freelancers and small businesses. He also created a website, Law Soup, for everyone to get some quick answers on a variety of legal topics.

My Personal Road to Financial Wellness: What Freelancing Is Really All About


The following blog post is part of The Road to Financial Wellness blog tour. The Road to Financial Wellness is a three-month, grassroots campaign promoting financial empowerment on a national level and encourages people to pursue their dream lifestyle. Find out more about local events near you.

When I took the plunge into freelancing full-time last fall, approaching it as a yearlong experiment, I really didn’t know what I was in for. And although I had been hard at work building a solid relationship with money for as long as I could remember, learning to deal with money matters when self-employed is a completely different beast.

Sure, there is learning to work with income that ebbs and flows, budgeting for self-employment tax and your own healthcare, and creating your own routine and structure, which are all part of the rite of initiation that millions of the self-employed have gone through.

And as I am two-thirds into my experiment freelancing full-time, I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about why I decided to try out freelancing in the first place. While I’ve never been big on building wealth, I’ve been deeply interested in being free to create a life that is more in step with my values.

Here are a few insights I’ve gained on how freelancing relates to financial wellness:

It’s Changed My Relationship With Money
Back when I was working a day job, you agree to working a certain number of hours for a set amount of pay. And you do whatever it takes to get the job done. I remember at one salaried job I worked diligently and was crazy about timing myself so that I was super productive. But how did I get rewarded? Did I receive a raise, or maybe got to go home early? Nope! I was just given more stuff dumped on my plate!

When you freelance you get paid for the value you bring, not the time you put in. Conversely, you can see the clear exchange between your time and money. Oftentimes I consider whether it’s more valuable to me to get paid X amount of money to write an article or keep that time to myself, whether to go on a hike, spend time with my friends, work on my fiction, or just lollygag.

Because I am pretty careful with my money, I feel like I have the freedom to make that decision instead of taking every job that comes my way. When I first started I felt compelled to take on every writing assignment that came my way, but soon realized if my heart wasn’t in it, I wouldn’t do my best work.

I Can Be There for Others
Now that I have more flexibility with my schedule, I’ve been able to be more available for my friends and family. I sometimes head over to my 81-year-old friend Marie’s house to get some work done in the middle of the day, and now that my mom is about to enter semi-retirement, I can carve out time during the week to help her with her transition.

I used to worry about having to take time off if one of my parents fell ill and needed me to take care of them. My work life and personal life is better integrated. With freelance I can ideally still work while being there for others. I’ve taken on the approach of being a minimalist freelancer, meaning I do my best to do enough to maintain financial wellness while having time for other aspects of my life. It’s a daily struggle, and I’m still working at attaining that.

I’ve Stopped Hiding Behind the Guise of Being Busy
For the longest time I didn’t have much career focus, and I didn’t think I could ever combine two of the things I loved the most: writing and helping others have better relationships with money. Besides holding a day job, I’ve always felt pressed for time to work on my passion projects. I felt as if my social life got in the way of focusing on my creative endeavors.  So I would make the excuse of being too busy when I felt like being a hermit.

And when I started getting paid to write about personal finance a few years ago, it was pretty amazing. I almost couldn’t believe my luck. And when I am not trying to hit deadlines,  I am able to make time to work on my passion projects.

But I have come to realize that for a long time I had been hiding behind my aspirations. I need people in my life, and I want to be better at maintaining relationships.

I am someone who values people but also needs a lot of time by herself to think, wander and create. And striking this balance can be a complex project. Being self-employed has enabled me to be more honest with myself, that I need people yet also need a lot of alone time.

Working hard at being financially healthy has given me the freedom to take the leap to freelancing fulltime. And while I create a new budget and structure to help me stay financially fit, I am also realizing how freelancing is a sort of portal to learn about myself and live in accordance with my values.

Illustration by Viet Vu

 

On Coming to a Zen-Like Approach to Freelancing

As I’m nearing the end of my 8th month as a full-time freelancer, it’s hard to believe I’m two-thirds in to my yearlong experiment. Life has certainly been a little crazy, and I’ve slowly come to realize how much I’ve learned in the last eight months. I’ve learned a lot about managing my time and money, landing and working with different kinds of clients, and dealing with self-motivation—and the occasional lack of it.

I’ve been practicing Zen Buddhism under the teachings of Thich Nhat Hanh for about six years now, and while I’ve gone off track more times than I would like to admit, being a practioner has helped me deal better with my anxiety and be a more peaceful, compassionate person. Plus I’ve met some great people.

As I am starting to formulate my own approach to the freelance life,  I see just how much freelancing that ties in with my Zen Buddhist practice. I’ve mused a little bit as to what it means to be a minimalist freelancer, and here are a few ideas how you can have a more mindful, Zen-like, mindful approach to your work.

Non-attachment
While not all freelancing professions are created equal, and depending on what line of work you are in, you can build and maintain a roster of clients and have relatively stable work. However, as I’ve discussed with my mastermind group buddy and freelance mentor Alan, continuity is not something you can rely on as a freelancer. Granted, life is filled with uncertainty, but there is a greater margin for stuff going up—and down—when you freelance. You may gain a boatload of clients or lose some, and your money ebbs and flows, too.

You can love the work that you do but it’s also important not to connect your feelings of worth and well-being to it. This is far easier said than done, and can be applied to any job, but with freelance you could have a one-off assignment or have something end earlier than you would like.

Focusing on the here and now
I struggle with anxiety about freelancing on a daily basis. I am someone who craves stability, and I know that if I’m not okay with living with a little bit of variance and uncertainty, then I probably shouldn’t freelance. What’s funny is that I’ve been doing really well. I enjoy all the writing that I do, I’ve been doing well money-wise, and I’m creating a structure to carve in time to work on my two main passion projects—working on a short stories collection and this blog. And now that I have a much more manageable schedule, I have more time to focus on my passion projects. I really can’t complain. So why do I feel so anxious all the time? I guess I get anxious no matter what the circumstances.

I made a deal with myself. As long as make my emergency fund a savings priority and have a backup plan in place when I have a lull in work or the going gets tough, that’s the best I can do.

Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind
I don’t always succeed at this, but I try to treat every assignment I do as if I’m writing for the first time. This keeps me excited about the work and it helps me do my best. When time permits, I savor the work. It’s helped me enjoy what I do immensely. This can be challenging to do when you have a lot of deadlines and write about the same topics. But trying to approach something with a new set of eyes really helps keep the work fresh.

Equanimity
Equanimity essentially means giving everything equal weight. This might be the hardest thing to do, because wouldn’t you naturally spend the most time and energy on the stuff you enjoy the most, or that pays the most money? Isn’t that the smart way to work? By giving everything equal importance, you’ll be able to savor the work more and in turn produce high-quality stuff.

Not expecting anything special
The last few months of last year were insane. I worked pretty much non-stop and made more money in a month than I ever imagined making. However, I was so stressed that I vowed never to work that way again. I oftentimes think about what it means to be a “successful” freelancer. Does it mean working for big league publications and high-paying clients? Or landing an assignment with a rate that’s four figures? What data is useful in figuring out this “success”?

Of course, the definition of success depends on the individual. But I see a lot of people writing e-books and selling e-courses on how to kick ass at freelancing. I think sometimes it can be an illusion. Of course it requires a lot of skill, focus, and discipline. You really have to be a self-starter and comfortable at hustling and networking. This isn’t anything new.

But some of your success is left up to chance. Sometimes you work in a niche that’s hot. Or you entered at just the right time. I’ve made a lot of money some months, and not as much in others. I landed my first four-figure assignment and it was pretty awesome. But I’ve also experienced my first lull. Lulls are awesome too, because I have more time to work on my other projects. Are these “meaningful” events? Signs that I’m on the “right track?” I’m not really sure, to be honest. I do know that I’m happier knowing not to expect anything “special,” as if something huge to about to happen.

Practicing gratitude
I try to be grateful for every opportunity that comes my way, and to do my best work. The joy exists in the work itself. There isn’t a day that goes by that I’m not grateful for getting the opportunity to test out the waters. Every day is a little bit different. And that is pretty awesome in itself.

New Year, New Start: Optimize, Not Maximize

As you know last year I decided to take the leap and become a full-time freelancer. It was a major decision for me, and a very difficult one at that. I was offered a high-paying contract gig, one that paid nearly six figures. I know. It was the most money I’ve ever been offered for a job. As a writer and proofreader who has only worked in non-profit and publishing, I never thought I would be ever be offered that much money for a gig. I waffled over it like crazy, and didn’t sleep for days.

And although adjusting hasn’t been life on Easy Street, I know that it was the right choice for me. I have decided to commit to at least a year to freelancing, until the end of this October. Ideally I would love to live this way for as long as possible, but I figure a year would help me get a feel for the ebb and flow of this sort of work and learn to roll with the punches.

As we kick off a new year, I’ve been thinking a lot about how I want to spend the next year as a freelancer. The toughest thing is achieving a balance between all the things I want to work on, I find that my passion projects and freelance business are oftentimes at odds with one another. Instead of trying to maximize my work, I want to try to optimize.

What does this mean, exactly? Maximizing and optimizing are terms used in the investing and business world. Maximizing means to gain as much as possible, no matter what the cost. Optimizing, on the other hand, is finding an approach with the most cost-effective or highest achievable outcome given the constraints. Okay, so I may be tweaking the meaning slightly, but to me this means figuring out what’s the important to me, what gives me the most joy, and putting more time and resources into the things that matter more.

The big questions for me are:

How much freelance should I take on? How much money should I try to make?
How much time should I devote to passion projects?
What can I do to best support these priorities?

Income-wise, December was an amazing month for me. I made more than twice as much as I did working my old full-time job. But I worked like crazy and had little time for anything else. My family and I took some weekend trips over the holidays and I remember getting up at 4 am to work. I worked in the lobby of a hotel while my family was out and about. It sucked. And I am going to be  honest: I don’t ever want to work in that fashion again. So instead of taking on as many clients as possible, working crazy hours and making as much money as possible, moving forward I can be a little more picky with clients, work less and make enough to survive. I can then make more time for my personal projects, which are my fiction (I am working on a graphic novel and collection of short stories), and this blog.

While trying to grow and develop my freelance business, I will continue to carve out some time each morning to work on my projects. I have not been successful at this, to say the least. My goal is to start super small. I will start with 10 minutes every morning and see how that goes. Of course, you can’t get too much done in 10 minutes, but as my good friend Alan Steinborn of Real Money has told me, consistency is key. You must do it every day, no matter how long.

To support my goals, I am going to commit to working my own projects every day, no matter the looming deadlines. Even if it’s just for 10 minutes. I am going to be careful with taking on more freelance work. If I find myself having any downtime or a slower period, I will be sure to have a game plan in place to take advantage of this time.

So I ask you: What’s important to you? What steps will you take to optimize your life? What will you do to support these goals? 

 

How to Make Friends with Risk (Even When Fear Is Still Hanging Around)

I have never been much of a risk taker, especially when it comes to my money. I mourn every nickle lost playing penny slots on family trips to the Indian casino, and my mind on autopilot naturally does a cost-benefit analysis of purchasing a pound of bananas versus a pound of pears (a pound of pears wins every time, by the way). What can I say? I’m just “grandma” like that.

And when I talk about risk it’s not just the monetary sort. This risk can be a big move, or a job change, or trying something completely new. So when an opportunity presents itself, even though there’s a big part of me that knows there is much to gain by taking a chance, it’s super tough. I decided to leave my steady, 9-5 job with benefits, a job I enjoyed, to take on a contract job that was more along the lines of my long-term goals of being a personal finance professional. It was a big decision for me, and it felt like I was taking a risk. It’s that part of you that is going from what you’re comfortable with, what you know, to a bottom-of-your-stomach feeling of facing the unknown. Here are a few tips on making friends with risk:

1.  Remember what you have to gain.
When fear takes over your instincts kick in and you want to cower underneath a rock, it’s difficult to have perspective on why you made the decision in the first place. By reminding yourself what you have to gain, you’ll be able to stick to your decision and work through any rough patches.

2. Find your anchor points.

My former boss introduced this concept to me to explain his foray into starting his own business. Anchor points can be what you perceive as sound and steady. If you’re foraying into freelancing full-time, your anchor points could be a couple of steady clients you can depend on for income. If you’re moving to a big city, it could be a volunteer group you want to check out or maybe fun hiking trails in the area. These anchor points will help build a foundation (and maintain your sanity) as you make your big move.

3. Think: It’s not a leap, it’s a transition. 

If you’re like me you might feel momentarily paralyzed when facing fear. Think of your decision as a series of smaller steps rather than leaping into an abyss of the unknown (although it may feel that way). And try your best not to idealize the past and replicate former conditions. For instance, if you are moving to a new place, you might miss your awesome friends, favorite pizza place, that sort of thing. In your new town you may want to have the same friends and hangouts of course, but the pieces may not come together immediately. The thing is that you’ll be working with different puzzle pieces, so expect something different. It may appear imperfect at first, but the unfamiliar can be an exciting thing!

4. Have a backup plan.
Isn’t that a slap in the face to blissful optimism? It certainly is. Being pragmatic will help you get back on your feet in case things don’t work out. Sit down and figure out some options for a Plan B, Plan C, and so forth. Rule of thumb: it never hurts to have an emergency savings and to build out your support network. Also giving yourself a time frame also helps. Do you plan on staying in the new city or work on starting your own business for 1 year, or maybe 2?

Life is filled with uncertainty, and to borrow a cliche, change is the only thing you can bank on. So why not embrace a change that can help you grow in the long run?

Skimp or Splurge? Starting Your Own Brewery

In the last Skimp and Splurge story we featured Studio Mucci and their Etsy Store. In this installment, we’ll cover running your own brewery or cider mill. You haven’t had hard cider until you’ve had Downeast Cider—or so I’ve heard. *sad face* Downeast Cider is run by 20-something founders Matt Brockman, Ross Brockman, and Tyler Mosher. Their passion for high-quality hard cider began in 2011 when Ross and Tyler were just college seniors.

As New England’s newest and fastest-growing hard cider company, they’ve managed to stay true to their original, homespun process of using all-natural ingredients to make freshly pressed hard cider. As a hard cider lover, I’m a little jealous that I don’t live in Boston to enjoy their cider. Hoping it comes to the West Coast one of these days!

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In the past few years, Downeast Cider increased their input threefold and made the Forbes 30 Under 30 in the Food and Wine category. They also do cool things like host a prom at their headquarters and are co-sponsoring a music festival. Good times! Here are some tips from Matt, Ross, and Tyler on what to skimp or splurge on when it comes to running your own business:

Office furniture: Skimp
All of our furniture either came from the island of misfit furniture from a back-alley used furniture store or from the dump. It’s actually a recycling company that will get truckloads of old furniture from businesses that are no longer businesses, and they drop it off on our loading dock with a backhoe.

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Useless Merch: Skimp
Which is most merch. You don’t need T-shirts and hats and golf balls and all that garbage. First, if it’s not high quality or useful, most of it will actually end up in the garbage. If you’re a tiny B2B software company that nobody has ever heard of (or pretty much any small company for that matter), spending $500 on T-shirts is an ego stroke and a waste of money.

Lawyer: Splurge
Much like insurance, you can easily justify skimping on your lawyer when setting up your corporate docs. If things go sour, these documents, such as your operating agreement and articles of organization, are the map for solving issues. If your map sucks, it’s useless and you’ll have to start over again. If you’re gonna skimp, write something on a napkin. If you’re going to spend any money at all, make sure it’s quality work. Mediocre legal work is a complete waste of money.

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Customer Service: Splurge
Especially if you’re an entrepreneurial amateur. Over-the-top customer service is another insurance possibility. If you make a mistake and your customer doesn’t think you give a shit, you can kiss them goodbye.

Equipment: Skimp
At least in our business, you can get a lot of what you need for much less than full price if you can find it used.  New is oftentimes no better than used when you are talking about stainless steel equipment that is built to last a lifetime with proper care.

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