When it comes to managing your income, freelancing can be a rollercoaster. One month is champagne and caviar, and the next is 30 inventive mince recipes while maxing out the credit card.
Budgeting is not my strength, so I have forced myself to do it right. Now I find that despite income inconsistencies month to month, my lifestyle doesn’t need to suffer. Now I am a few years into my system, I am comfortable to share it.
First and foremost, make sure you are charging a realistic rate, that will keep you on top of your bills and allow you to enjoy life. After all, most of us chose to go solo for the lifestyle benefits.
Charge what you are worth.There was a time when I felt that I needed to undercut everyone else to do a job. I never quite plumbed the depths of Airtasker rates, but I erroneously thought client priorities were mostly about price. I had to work significantly longer hours to reach my income goals, so I set my rate correctly.
Get an idea of the going rate in your industry. A Google search can help. Some business sectors, such as writing, photography and public relations have handy MEAA rate guidelines to help. Sometimes though, you are more niche, more senior, or junior than the rate cards suggest so will need your own calculations.
"Despite inconsistencies month to month, my lifestyle doesn’t need to suffer."
Work out how much you need to live comfortably. That could be the full-time salary equivalent of an employee in the same role. While calculating an hourly rate might seem a simple division of desired annual income divided by the number of hours worked, that will leave you short. There are a few considerations you must factor in.
Consider your business running expenses and add that to your desired income. Include superannuation (10%) and any insurances you might need to pay. For example, if your desired income is $100,000, your business expenses are $10,000, and superannuation and insurances are $11,000. Your total “desired income” is now $121,000.
If you are looking at growing your business in the future, you will also need profit (after you’ve paid your salary), so add a margin on top. If you want to make a 10% profit, then your desired income jumps to $133,000.
How many hours will you work per week? Usually, that is between 37.5 hours to 40 hours. How many of those hours are actually billable? If you religiously take a one-hour lunch break, then subtract that from your weekly hours – though I am yet to meet a sole trader who stops for lunch.
How much time do you need for admin and marketing your business? Let’s assume five hours per week admin and five hours per week for lunch breaks. Your 40 hour week is now 30 billable hours.
Multiply that figure by 52 weeks to get 1560 billable hours per year.
Now take into account public holidays, annual and sick leave. Let’s assume public holidays are ten days, annual leave is 20 days, and sick leave is about five days. That’s 35 additional days (or 280 hours) you won’t be working. Subtract that from your annual hours worked (1560), which leaves you with 1,280 billable hours per annum. Divide your actual desired income ($133,000) by billable hours (1,280), and you get $103.00 per hour.
Had you merely done the first calculation of total hours (2080) divided $100,000 (desired income), without considering your expenses and leave, you would have been left charging yourself out at $48 per hour. Big difference.
Put aside money for tax as soon as you receive it.
It is tempting to spend all your income at once, but I can’t stress enough how important it is to put your tax aside before anything else, so you aren’t caught short by thousands at tax time.
I have a separate account where I immediately deposit GST collected and estimated tax.
My accounting app helps me with that, but I also pay quarterly instalments, so my BAS statement nominates a quarterly sum (useful if you don’t use an accounting app). Once deposited, I don’t touch this money until I need to pay the ATO. Nope – I don’t even look at it. Not my money.
Superannuation. Just Do It!
I also pay superannuation. Religiously. I never used to pay it. After all, there is no legal requirement for freelancers or sole traders to pay super and it can be a significant chunk of your earnings, but I realised there was a good chance that the creative mince meals for lean freelancing months might be replaced by tinned cat food in my retirement years (home brand).
If you don’t pay super but have an account or seven from your full-time employment days, check out the online calculators and see how much you’ll have to survive when you retire. Scary right?
Consolidate all your super accounts into one. Those funds whack you for fees. I chose a super fund that is in the top five performers and has lower fees, but also one that was really easy for me to deposit money into. I pay 10% of my earnings into super. Every. Single. Invoice. Like my GST and tax, I treat the money as if it was never there. I transfer it as soon as I receive it.
Expenses, emergencies, holidaysI have a big media quarterly subscription bill, so I set aside money for it each month. And if I charge my clients for the service, that portion of the invoice is put away immediately. I put it into the same account as my tax money.
I also put aside money into an emergency account. I can dip into it during quieter times if I need to pay for kids’ excursions and things that can’t wait. Ideally, you should aim to have a few months income locked away there, but that can take time.
I also have another account – and I love to check the balance of that. That is my annual leave accruals. I don’t religiously deposit into that, but as often as I can. I save all year for my holiday. It is a pleasure to deposit my money there. Next year we are planning a trip to Europe for the family. Happy days.
While it might sound like there’s not much left after that, it is enough to feed a family and also feel secure I can meet my financial obligations in the quiet times.
It took me years to come up with a system that works for me, but knowing that my finances are in some semblance of order gives me peace of mind year round.
Which reminds me – here’s 44 mince recipes.
This article first appeared on Flying Solo www.flyingsolo.com.au/finance/managing-income-as-a-freelancer
By Fiona Hamann
Principal of Hamann Communication
Like many of you, I started my business on a wing and a prayer. Sick of long city commutes and time away from the family, I chucked in the office job and felt a bit like a trapeze artist without a safety net.
Having resigned from my last role, I had no redundancy to fall back on, so I spent the first year trying to achieve a successful business on a shoestring budget – a cheap, chunky laptop at the kitchen table and excel spreadsheet to manage my invoices, and Google to help me track media articles and source contact details for my PR business.
In short, I had little in the way of any strategy except to work hard and hope for the best.
Each day I would clear my work mess up and use my "office" to serve dinner on, resulting in lost papers and documents and a stilted workflow the next day as I re-setup the previous day's to-do lists.
It wasn't productive, and after a year of fiddling and faffing and generally being very bad-tempered about the inconvenience of it all, I decided I needed to get more professional.
I was terrified of some of the investments I needed to make to improve my business until a close friend told me that I need to back myself. If I don't believe in my company, how could I possibly hope that my clients would?
But there were some pretty expensive changes I needed to make. In hindsight, I am pleased I took the plunge because my business has grown five-fold in three years, and my productivity levels are now through the roof compared to before (unless I get distracted by social media, which has been known to happen on occasion)
Dedicated Office Space
Perhaps the most significant, and non-tax deductible, expense was creating an office for myself.
Luckily, we had a huge rumpus room downstairs, and I could section off the end with a partition wall, and add a window and power points. It cost a pretty penny, but I now have a dedicated office space.
I shut the door at the end of the day and can switch off from work, and my documents are all exactly where I left them when I return in the morning. The added bonus is my house now has a "study" which has added to its value.
I spent money on furnishing my office properly and lashed out on a new iMac, which was faster and much better than the clunky laptop. Thankfully all these items could be written off immediately with the ATO's $20,000 instant asset write-off.
If you don't have the luxury of an oversized rumpus room to convert, or are renting, it is still worth ensuring you have a space that is yours alone for business. You can save a lot of time when you don't need to set up your workspace like a crazy hot-desker each day.
Get your Finances in order
This was definitely something I should have done sooner! I spent two years trying to manage my finances on a spreadsheet. For someone who was barely competent to study “Maths in Society” at school, and is not proficient at Excel, I really don't know what I was thinking.
I think my accountant also hated me intensely at tax time when she saw me walk through the door. Nothing added up or was allocated to the right columns, and my receipts were still stored haphazardly in the obligatory shoebox.
I trialed all the big brands, but baulked at the cost and the complexity, until a friend recommended a company called Rounded, which is designed for sole traders.
I can honestly say, I have never looked back. It offers everything I need at just over $200 for the whole year (and like my office furniture, it’s also tax deductible.)
I can invoice (and track payments) and add expenses, pus screenshot receipts and upload from my phone. It calculates my BAS and estimates my income tax. But perhaps my favourite feature is the ability to set goals and see my business grow on a colourful dashboard.
It has literally saved me hours, saved my sanity and stopped me from getting anywhere near a financial spreadsheet since I got it!
My accountant will be happy this year, as she can now access my data with her own password, and I won't have to see her tutting about my lousy record keeping (cos it's not!)
In reality, I know that accounting software isn't responsible for my business growing, but it really motivated me, and the dashboard pushed me to achieve my income goals.
The time I used to spend on Excel, can now be used on my core business or marketing to new customers.
Don’t Skimp on the software you need for your business
What good is running a PR consultancy when it takes half a day to source media contacts through Google, and the same again to track stories? But media monitoring and databases are stupidly expensive.
This was a big decision for me as it was way, way more expensive than my accounting app, and I would be locked into a 12-month contract. But I bit the bullet and signed up with a media monitoring and database service (Meltwater).
Thankfully I held out signing up until the final deadline. With a salesperson eager to earn their commission, I was able to negotiate the price down, and also arrange a quarterly subscription model, which gave me three months to stump up the cash.
I am now able to offer media monitoring and a media database to my clients, as well as system generated analytics, which gives me an advantage over other smaller sole traders, who generally don’t offer it.
I am on excellent terms with many of my local competitors (there's enough pie out there for everyone to have a slice), and so I sell them media lists and monitoring when they need it, as well as charging my clients a monthly subscription (a proportion of my own monthly subscription), which is a value-add for them. My big investment virtually pays for itself now, which is a huge relief.
The media monitoring has given me back so much time and is far more efficient than the Google monitoring I was doing. Best of all, I don't have to record media lists on Excel (as you may have guessed, my most hated program)
While it is tempting to try and run your business on a shoestring, and invent home-made solutions like McGyver, once you back yourself, believe in your ability and invest in the tools you need for your business, you can take it to the next level – both in terms of productivity and profitability.
This article first appeared on Flying Solo on 25 October, 2018
image credit: @rawpixels
By Fiona Hamann
Start-Ups are increasingly challenging to PR, as there is a new one launched every day, so you need to stand out head and shoulders above the rest.
If your start-up has just received funds via a capital raise or angel investor, it is critical that you negotiate the ability to disclose the investor details and the amount you raised with your investors; otherwise it becomes challenging to get coverage in business publications or national media such as the AFR.
Details that build a fantastic start-up story include the amount raised, the names of high profile investors and a small history of prior successful investments they have been involved with. If possible a quote from investors goes a long way. Details about the pedigree of your company management team are also excellent, as is any story about how the founders identified the need for the product or service you are offering.
If you can't provide investor details and amounts, it is good to show how you have launched your product and smashed your own targets, showing a public appetite for your product or service. However, when I say “smashed”, I mean your figures are comparable to big competitors and are really impressive.
Media are not interested in the story unless you have a good angle. It is not about leveraging media contacts. If you don’t have a newsworthy story, then journalists simply won’t cover it, regardless of how many connections your PR person has.
It is all very well to say ‘We just want to announce we have launched’, but without a compelling news angle, you would be better to spend your money on advertising or social media.
PR is not guaranteed media coverage and relies on a good “news story” for publication.
However, all is not lost
If you are unable to announce investor details, amounts or information that will reassure people your company is solid, then you may want to take a longer view to establish your name in the market. This is called a thought-leadership PR campaign.
By getting your name out there as an expert spokesperson on your topic or market, you can move towards being the first point of call for media when they are running a piece on your industry. Here are three strategies your PR consultant should be able to help you with. Building your reputation in a crowded marketplace takes time though.
A good PR consultant can help you to identify angles and strategies to build a reputation as a thought leader, if you are prepared to play a longer game.
By Fiona Hamann