26. Spend less than you make. If you make a dollar freelance, you should save at least 33 cents for taxes. There are also hidden costs to freelancing. Healthcare costs more. No company match for the retirement plan. You have to spend money to find assignments. You don’t get paid when you go on vacation.
27. Don’t buy stupid things. I love to read car magazines. As I was drooling over the latest German-built Un-Obtanium sports car, my very wise wife said, “Yeah, Sparky? How many days of freelance you need to work to buy that thing?” Damn. A lot of days. So that’s not gonna happen. But I did manage to publish a story about cars in one of my favorite car magazines, Hemming’s. I shot the photography, wrote the piece, and got a full-color page layout. Half a dozen readers wrote letters saying they loved the story. And Hemming’s paid me with…a hat. Yes, I got a fully-adjustable, poorly art-directed baseball hat with a flat brim that was not ironic in a hipster, gangster kind of way. Now, I wouldn’t work for any agency without getting my day rate. But I always wanted to write for a car magazine and I checked that one off my bucket list. When I met with a potential client at a furniture store, he said, “Oh, I got a ’69 Camaro. I saw your story in Hemmings!”
28. Get an app to keep track of mileage on your car when you use it for business purposes. I use mileagebug. Save all of the bills; cable, electric, heat, as a portion of them can be written off. Your job is not to be the accountant. Your job is to provide the accountant with all of the information he or she needs to do the books correctly. Even if your account is Abraham Lincoln, do not give him or her access to your money. Plenty of creative people have been fleeced. Do not be one of them.
29. Have a project outside of freelance that is 100% positive for when you don’t have work. The reality of freelance is it is not even. I worked 24 days in a row in February, then only two in March. As a staffer, you were used to “the machine” dropping assignments on your desk. Now you have to go find the assignment. Some jobs are three-day assignments. Other jobs I’ve heard of where people get into huge agencies and end up “perma-lance” for a year before someone in accounting figures it out and makes them get out or take a staff job. The outside passion project, whether it’s fine art, fitness coach, the Great American Novel, whatever, can be really good to keep you positive.
Here are some of mine from the past year: lost 25 pounds, published stories in Boston Globe, Hemmings, Laser Sailor magazine, restored a wooden boat, won a national championship in said wooden boat, competed in Laser Worlds in France, rebuilt the Weber grill, created a blog about freelance life, worked on a novel and a biography, perfected my relationship with my Labrador retriever.
30. Work with your accountant to pay your quarterly taxes on time. This is on the list twice so you don’t forget. The IRS is going to get their cut so eat the pain early. Pay your taxes and enjoy life. If you don’t pay your taxes, well, it’s going to get ugly. I try to pay mine a day or two before they are due. There’s an old saying I think of. If you’re going to eat a turd, don’t nibble it. Gobble that turd. Paying taxes is one of the biggest turds there is and it’s good to just get it out of the way.
There are more freelance tips where those came from. If you want the entire list, send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Do good work and live a good life.