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How To Effectively Manage Your Freelance Income

How To Effectively Manage Your Freelance Income

One of the toughest things about freelancing is figuring out how to manage your freelance income so that you’re not standing in line at the local food bank during the lean times (although that’s an option, and it’s certainly happened!). Here’s a how-to guide to help you smooth out the roller-coaster ride of your cash flow.

Open a Separate Business Account With Multiple Savings Accounts

Let’s talk about bank accounts for a minute. In addition to your personal checking account, it’s a good idea to set up a separate business account. This makes it easier for you — and your accountant, if you have one — to manage your freelance income. This will make your accountant very happy, come tax season.

In addition to your main business account, most banks will allow you to set up multiple savings accounts for free, so why not take advantage of this ability? Even though you can manage your freelance income using bookkeeping software or spreadsheets, squirreling your savings away in separate accounts isn’t a bad idea, if for no other reason that it might make you think twice before getting your hands on money that you’re setting aside for stuff other than splurges. Especially if, like me, you put the checkbooks and debit cards in one of those “perfect” places that you can never find afterwards.

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Here’s a suggested list of bank accounts to consider opening:

  • Main Business Account: Make this the highest-yield savings account your bank offers, so that any cash that’s in there is earning interest while it’s sitting there. When a client pays you, this is where you deposit the check. From this account, you:
    • Pay yourself
    • Pay your business expenses
    • Set aside money for taxes, retirement and emergencies
  • Savings Accounts to Open Under Your Business Account: Open the following savings accounts under your main business account, and then once a month, after you pay yourself, transfer a designated amount into each of them. Think of these transfers simply as additional bills to be paid. I believe that most banks will even allow you to automate these transfers, which makes it a pretty painless and darn convenient way to manage your freelance income.
    • Retirement Savings: This can be a traditional retirement account such as a 401K, or you could even start doing a little basic investing with this money, since  (hopefully) it’s going to be in there for awhile.
    • Tax Savings: This is the holding area for yearly taxes
    • Emergency Savings: This is your buffer for lean times.

Set Up an Emergency Fund

Your emergency fund should be the first thing you think of when you have any cash left over after your expenses are paid. Having a year’s worth of expenses in reserve is a worthwhile goal for effectively managing your freelance income. Your emergency fund will be there for you in case your income drops below what you need to keep your commitments. In addition, having an emergency fund means that you can turn away clients who don’t quite feel right, or if a good client runs into a financial tight spot and can’t pay you immediately, you’ll have a cushion to carry you through. And of course, there are those unforeseen things that just happen — called emergencies — such as a pet getting sick or an unexpected car repair.

Treat yourself like an employee

Decide how much you can afford to pay yourself, then on a regular basis, either write a check to yourself or set up an automatic transfer from your business account and deposit it in your personal checking account. It is from your personal checking account that you pay things like rent, food, and other living expenses that aren’t related to the business.

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When deciding how much to pay yourself, it’s a good idea to stay on the frugal side and only pay yourself enough to cover your living expenses plus a little extra, then sock anything that’s left over at the end of the month into your emergency fund.

Project Upcoming Monthly Income and Expenses

Part of effectively managing your freelance income is figuring out how much money you’re making and spending each month, and then using those numbers to estimate what the next year might look like. When you’re calculating your projections, it’s a good idea to base your budget on your lowest monthly business income and highest monthly business expenses from the previous year. This is like assuming the worst-possible scenario, and hopefully, if your income’s trend is generally upward, estimating conservatively in this way should give you a bit of a buffer, which, once again, you can sock away in your emergency fund. It’s impossible to have too much money in that emergency fund!

Break Up Client Payments for Big Projects

If you’re working on a big project that extends over multiple months, consider billing your client on a time-interval or a “milestone” basis. That way, if your client flakes out or can’t pay you immediately, you’re only out a partial payment instead of the whole thing at once. It also smooths out your income curve, making budgeting easier. Also, if you need to exert a little persuasive power on a particularly recalcitrant client, you can calmly explain that they’ll get no more work from you until you’re paid from the last billing cycle. Hopefully you’ll never need to use this tactic, but it’s there if you need it.

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Be creative in finding ways to generate additional income.

There’s a whole movement called the Share Economy that you can tap into for additional sources of cash at little or no cost to you. If you have an extra room in your house, consider renting it out to travelers, or rent your car when you’re not using it. Or consider investing some of your leftover money in things that appreciate in value, such as musical instruments, that you can sell later for a profit. The more different streams of income you have, the less of a hit you’ll take during a dry spell in freelancing.

If possible, live on only one income.

If you have a partner with a job or other regular stream of income, do your best to live on that income alone, and either save or invest everything that you earn from freelancing.

Establish a foundation of thrift.

You never know when you’re going to have a lean month, or even a lean year, so make a habit of living on the cheap. Sign up for Netflix instead of paying for cable TV. Buy clothes at a thrift store, or check out local garage sales for things like furniture, sports equipment and appliances. Avoid buying fancy tires and rims for your truck that are going to cost a fortune to replace later. Trade stuff that you don’t want for stuff that you do want on Listia.

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Resist “lifestyle inflation”.

This is the temptation to increase your spending as your income increases. If you find yourself at the end of the month with money left over, stash it in your emergency fund or invest it back in your business by, say, paying for some online advertising or attending a seminar in your field of expertise.

Prioritize spending.

Many financial experts recommend sitting down and writing down your expenses. Prioritizie them according to importance and pay the most important ones first.

Pay down your debts.

Take a piece of paper and divide it into columns. List your largest monthly payment toward the left, then go smaller and smaller until your smallest monthly payment is at the far right. Double up on the smallest payments until that debt is gone. Then take the money that you’re no longer spending on that debt and start doubling up on payments on the next debt. Keep going until all of your debts are paid off.

Featured photo credit: Twister/Beyond Neon via flickr.com

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Last Updated on June 20, 2019

50 Businesses You Can Start In Your Spare Time

50 Businesses You Can Start In Your Spare Time

Most people want a few more dollars in their wallets. But between an employer and family, the time most of us can devote to a second job is severely limited. Running a small side business can provide a few more options: you don’t have to show up at a set time and you can use skills you already have. Not all will be perfect for everyone, of course, and I’m sure that you’ll have a few ideas of your own after reading this list. If you’d like to share any other business ideas, please add them in the comments.

  1. Selling collectibles — From antique books to teddy bears, there are plenty of opportunities to buy and sell collectibles. It’s important to familiarize yourself with the collectible of your choice but if you choose something that you’ve been collecting for a while, you’ve got a head start.
  2. Locating apartments — It can take time to sort through apartment listings, but you can make some money by finding the perfect apartment for a renter.
  3. Baby proofing — New parents often prefer to bring in an expert to make sure their home is safe for a new baby.
  4. Calligraphic writing — If you’ve got elegant handwriting, you can pick up gigs writing or addressing wedding invitations, holiday cards and more.
  5. Selling coupons — Search on eBay for coupons right now and you’ll see thousands of listings for coupons. It’s just a matter of clipping and listing what you find in your Sunday newspaper.
  6. Pet training — A surprising number of people don’t know where to start in training a pet. Even teaching Rover simple commands like ‘Sit’ and ‘Stay’ can bring in a few dollars.
  7. Running errands — A wide variety of people want to outsource their errands, from those folks who aren’t able to leave their homes easily to those who have a busy schedule.
  8. Researching family trees — Amateur genealogists often call in experts, especially to handle research that has to be done in person in a far off place. If you’re willing to go to a local church and copy a few records, you can handle many family tree research requests.
  9. Supplying firewood — The prerequisite for selling firewood is having a source of wood; if you’ve got some land where you can cut down a few trees, you’ve got a head start.
  10. Hauling — As more people trade in their SUVs for compact cars, hauling is becoming more important: people have to rent a truck or hire a hauler for even small loads.
  11. Image consulting — Image consultants provide a wide variety of services, ranging from offering advice on appearance to teaching etiquette.
  12. Menu planning — For many people, the trip up in eating home-cooked or healthy meals is knowing what to prepare. Meal planners set a schedule to solve certain dietary problems.
  13. Microfarming — Cultivating food and flowers on small plots of land allows you to sell produce easily.
  14. Offering notary public services — Notary publics can witness and authenticate documents: a service needed for all sorts of official documents.
  15. Teaching music — If you’re skilled with a musical instrument, you can earn money by offering lessons.
  16. Mystery shopping — Mystery shoppers check the conditions and service at a store and report back to the store’s higher-ups.
  17. Offering research services — Just by reading up on a topic and compiling a report on it can earn you money.
  18. Personal shopping — Personal shoppers typically select gifts, apparel and other products for clients, helping them save time.
  19. Pet breeding — Purebred pets can be quite value, especially if you can verify their pedigree.
  20. Removing snow — During the winter months, shoveling walks can still be a reliable way to earn money. You might be asked to take care of the driveway too.
  21. Utility auditing — As people become environmentally-concious, they want to know just how efficient their homes are. With some simple testing, you can tell them.
  22. Offering web hosting services — Providing server space can be lucrative, particularly if you can provide tech support to your clients.
  23. Cutting lawns — An old standby, cutting lawns and other landscaping services can provide a second income in the summer.
  24. Auctioning items on eBay — Want to get rid of all your old stuff? Stick it up on eBay and auction it off.
  25. Babysitting — Child care of all kinds, from babysitting to nannying, can offer constant opportunities.
  26. Freelance writing — If you’ve got the skills to write clearly, you can sell your pen for everything from blogs to advertising copy.
  27. Selling blog and website themes — Do a little designing on the side? Customers that don’t want to pay full price for a website will often pay for a template or theme.
  28. Offering computer help — Particularly with people new to computers, you can earn money by providing in-home computer help.
  29. Designing websites — It may require a little skilled effort, but designing websites remains a reliable source of income.
  30. Selling stock photography — For shutterbugs, an easy way to put a photography collection to work is to post it to a stock photography site.
  31. Freelance designing — Check with local businesses: you can provide brochures, business cards and other design work and get paid a good fee.
  32. Tutoring — Math and languages reamin the easiest subjects to find tutoring gigs for, but there is demand for other fields as well.
  33. Housesitting / petsitting — Stopping in to check on a house or pet can earn you some money, and maybe even a place to stay.
  34. Building niche websites — If you can put together a site on a very specific topic, you can put targeted ads on it and make money quickly.
  35. Translating — The variety of translating work available is huge: written word, on the spot and more is easy to find even on a part-time basis.
  36. Creating custom crafts — No matter what kind of crafts you make, there’s likely a market for it. Etsy remains one of the easiest places to sell crafts.
  37. Setting up a wi-fi hotspot — With a little bit of equipment, you can set up a wi-fi hotspot and charge your neighbors for the access they’ve been ‘borrowing.’
  38. Selling an e-book — You can write an e-book about almost anything and put it up for sale online.
  39. Affiliate marketing — If you’re willing to market other companies’ products, you can earn a cut of the sales.
  40. Renting out your spare room — From looking for a long-term roommate to listing your guest room on couch surfing sites, that spare room can make you money.
  41. Offering handy man services — Handling small household tasks can provide you with plenty of work, although you’ll probably be expected to have your own tools.
  42. Teaching an online class — Share your expertise through a website, an online seminar or variety of other methods.
  43. Building furniture — For those with the skill to create handmade furniture, selling their creations is often just a matter of advertising.
  44. Providing personal chef services — Personal chefs prepare meals ahead of time for customers, leaving their customers with a full freezer and no mess.
  45. Event planning — From planning corporate events to bar mitzvahs, an event planning business can require plenty of work and offer plenty of pay.
  46. Installing home safety products — Particularly as Baby Boomers age, people able to install handrails and other home safety products are in demand.
  47. Altering / tailoring — If your sewing skills are up to par, altering garments is coming back as people try to stretch more wear out of their clothing.
  48. Offering in-home beauty services — Hair cuts, makeup and other beauty services that can be performed at home have a growing demand.
  49. Business coaching — Helping others to establish and develop their businesses can provide many opportunities to earn money.
  50. Writing resumes — Writing resumes can provide a reliable income, especially if you can put a polish on a client’s credentials.

There are plenty of offers that claim to provide you with the opportunity to make thousands of dollars a week. Unfortunately, none of these businesses will provide that sort of income, but they aren’t scams either. They were chosen because they all require a minimum investment to get started — some require nothing more than a flyer advertising your business. Even better, if you do enjoy any of these businesses, there is a potential with most of them to continue to expand — perhaps even to the point of going full time.

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Featured photo credit: Omar Prestwich via unsplash.com

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