Today begins my by 13th week of freelancing. I’m (verrrrrry) far from saying I’m comfortable. However I’ve never been happier with my employment situation or made more money than I am at this very moment. I’ve also never had this much uncertainty on where I’m finding my paycheck each week or never worked so hard. In this post I want to share with you 8 lessons I’ve learned so far in my freelance journey. I hope they can help you if you are a freelancer, are looking to make the transition to being a freelancer or just are interested in life as a freelance video editor.
Lesson 1: The Work Will Come
Work will find it’s way to you. It just does. I can’t 100% explain it. But somehow you will find work. Maybe it’s because your back is against the wall. Maybe it’s because you’re reaching out to people you normally wouldn’t reach out to (more on this in a moment). But you will find work. I have found that it’s a domino effect. Once you get in at one place and you do an awesome job you’re more likely to get referred for a different job that you’ve never even heard of before.
Making the jump to freelance feels like you jumped out of a plane with no parachute and you are scrambling to tie one together as you plummet towards earth. You will figure it out though. You’ll make your parachute and it’ll slow you down for a few moments then it’ll get ripped from your hands and you have to create another one. The work will come.
Lesson 2: You Have to Ask for Work
The work will only come if you ask for it. Let me repeat: You have to ask for work in order to get it.
No one will hire you out of the blue. You have to email, call, text, LinkedIn, go to networking events, talk to people at bars, Tweet, Snap, and Insta your way into finding work. A few weeks ago I made a short vlog about what I’m doing to find work you might want to check out.
Here’s my #1 takeaway. You can stop reading after this if you want. Ask for work and tell people you are looking for work. Explain what you can do for them and how hiring you will do X, Y and/or Z for them. Face-to-face is always best but if you can’t meet up any of the aforementioned internet tools work as well.
Lesson 3: Estimate Your Earnings AFTER Taxes
As freelancers we have to pay for our own social security and other taxes that full-time employees don’t because companies pay for them. We also have to pay self-employment tax. Essentially ~27-30% of whatever you make as a freelancer in the US is going to go to taxes. And you are responsible for paying that quarterly. So when you are giving your rate or bidding on a job remember that you will not see 100% of that. Roughly every $100 you make, you’ll only see $70.
This is something I didn’t think about when I was a full-time employee. I just got my paycheck every two weeks and that was that. I knew what to expect and how much I made a year. So when I went into #freelancelife I thought at first, “hey I can just bid on jobs that’ll equal my paycheck and I’ll be making the exact same with all this freelance freedom.” False. That thinking undercut me by 30% which is a big decrease in payment. Since then I’ve raised my rates to make up for this. So instead of thinking I’d making $100, charging for $100 and ultimately making $70 I am now charging $130 and making $100 when I should be making $100. Make sense?
Lesson 4: You Can Write Off A Lot for Taxes
Disclaimer: I am not an accountant or a tax expert by any means. I am a humble freelance video editor from the internet trying to help out other editors the best I can and hopefully maybe one day they’ll purchase coaching services or training products from me so I can supplement my freelance income and buy my dog organic treats. That being said…
I never realized how many “things” you can claim on your taxes. Essentially how it works is that you keep track of business related expenses and this gets deducted from your yearly income and you end up paying less taxes. So if you made $60,000 a year but had $10,000 of business expenses you only pay taxes on $50,000 worth of income.
A few things you might not realize you can claim as business expenses are:
- Driving miles to and from jobs
- Tolls while driving to and from jobs
- SaaS’s for your business (i.e. QuickBooks, Screenlight)
- Editing software (i.e. Avid, Adobe, etc.)
- Website hosting for your business
- Business mailbox
Lesson 5: I use QuickBooks More than Photoshop Now
QuickBooks is an online tool where you can keep track of your business income and expenses and track how much you need to pay for taxes. Each week, typically Thursday, I spent about 45 minutes 1) logging my miles 2) logging my invoices and 3) logging my expenses.
I do not have this linked to my bank account (yet) so I manually go through my online bank statement transaction by transaction. Even though this kinda sounds like a pain I actually oddly enjoy it. It gives me a chance each week to review what I’ve been spending my hard-earned money on. As much as I love Starbucks seeing 5 Starbucks transactions for $2.31 a day adds up after awhile. I never noticed until I actually looked each week.
Lesson 6: Get an Extra Hard Drive
I’ve been using the same 2TB Fantom G Force Drive external hard drives for years. I keep my main hard drive clean and have a backup of all the essential elements on my computer. Once I started freelancing and needed to use it more than for EVF video tutorials and small side projects and I couldn’t clean it as often it became apparent I needed an extra hard drive just for current freelance projects. I moved all my vital elements (templates, music tracks, generic lower thirds and background, etc.) onto a new hard drive and it’s 100% dedicated for freelance work. I actually need to hit up Amazon and buy a backup drive now.
Lesson 7: Do the Little Things for Free
Treat each client like you would when you had a brand new girlfriend or boyfriend when you were 16. Woo them. Pretend you are Steve Harrington from the first few episodes of Stranger Things. Say nice things to them. Buy them presents. Think of them night and day. Make them feel like they are your one and only.
In the video world that means do the little things for free, especially at the beginning. If there’s a shoot and you’re going to be editing that project and it doesn’t inconvenience you too much, volunteer to go to the shoot!! Heck, maybe help out. You might even be able to give your input that’ll save you in the edit bay.
“Hey, don’t you think we should move that soda bottle on the desk in the background? Otherwise I’m going have to blur it out in post.”
“Oh yeah, good idea!”
That’s just one example. The bottomline is that when you can do small things for your client that’ll improve the final product or your relationship, just do them! Don’t think about hourly rates or not getting paid. I promise you it will pay off in the end.
Lesson 8: Be Proactive
In the full-time editing world it gets really easy, almost too easy, to just go by the book. The producer told me to do X and I’m going to do X even though I know it’s wrong. Then you can point fingers and say, “it wasn’t me!” because you are getting paid anyway. Yes, this is horrible work ethic but I know it happens.
In the freelance world doing this only hurts you. It’s so vital that each project goes well so when you see something that you know is going to be wrong and even though you’re going to step on some toes you gotta speak up. Your goal is to deliver the best video you can in the most timely manner. Do that.
Putting It All Together
After 12 weeks of freelancing here’s what I’ve figured out:
Work will come but you have to ask for it. Be aware of taxes. Estimate what you’ll make after taxes and know what you can write off and how to keep yourself organized with a tool like QuickBooks. Get another hard drive just for freelance work. Doing the little things for free and being proactive will pay off in the end with your clients.
Thank you so, so much for reading this post. If you have any lessons of your own that you’ve learned while freelancing or any questions please leave them in the comments!
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3 thoughts on “8 Lessons from 12 Weeks of Freelancing”
Nice blog post on freelancing. As a freelancer for 3 years and a staff editor for ten before that, and now a staff editor once again, I think this is a good list. Couple additional thoughts:
Write-offs: You missed a couple.
– cable bill
– internet bill
– cell phone bill
– movie tickets
– general office supplies (pens/note pads/etc.)
– work from home? measure the square footage of the space you work in (office, bedroom, etc.) You can write that off as your office space.
– gifts for clients (got a good client and want them to have a gift card for all the work they have been throwing you?)
– parking at your networking event, drinks you bought at your networking event, food you bought at your networking event
– anything and everything that has to do with your work/world as a freelancer
Get a business credit card that you only use for expenses. It will be another way to help track things you can write off.
Also, I would say doing the little things for free is nice, but you should do that AFTER you have had a client for a while. New clients pay full price (or whatever you negotiate,) long term clients get the free stuff. I used to knock a little off the invoice if someone would book me for a whole week. And if you are going to work for free, add up those hours and write them off on your taxes as client gifts. (<- 2 birds, 1 stone)
Another piece of advice I always give freelancers is pay yourself first. When you get a check for an invoice, take 30% of that and stick it in a savings account. When quarterlies are due, empty that savings account to pay for your taxes. That way you don't have to think about it.
Wow! Great list, Barry!
So you write off food for what you eat while at the job? Hmm. Never thought of that. Or the movie tickets or the gifts for clients.
Getting the business credit card is definitely near the top of my list of business priorities.
I’ll top your 30% automatically into savings. I take my 30% and put it in my wife’s savings account so I can’t ever touch it! Then ask her for it each quarter.