What I Wish I Knew About Money Before Becoming a Freelancer

April 4, 2022
Manage Your Bread

When you take that first step to become a freelancer—however that step looks like—you’ll soon realize one thing: you have no clue what the fuck you’re doing.

You did your homework, you spent hours researching and getting your ducks in a row, you asked the necessary questions and got all the answers. But so many things will happen and the only thing you can say is, “yep, experience sure is the best teacher” …as cliché as that sounds.

Backstory: I have a very complicated relationship with money. I never thought I was a good enough writer to be paid.

Then when I got paid and freelancing was actually working, I thought I wasn’t worthy of being paid XYZ. You see where I’m going with this? Me, money, self-confidence, and our trouble in paradise. In 2017, about 7 years into the business, there were so many money-related things I wished I realized earlier.

And then there were few that I was just glad I learned right at that moment.

Your Rates Have to Cover More than the Bills

On the business side of things, most freelancers who come from the corporate world would say their number one goal is to make the same monthly income in freelancing. Which is not a bad goal.

This is exactly what I did.

I thought if I could make the same amount in freelancing as I did in my old 9-to-5, I’m good.

Thing is, freelancing is a business. There are other business expenses that you need to cover, especially if you want to grow.

Think social media manager, or a virtual assistant, or some paid software. Whatever that is, sooner than later you will have additional monthly expenses necessary to grow your business. The sooner you come to terms with this, the better.

Note: Depending on where you’re located, you will also need to account for taxes when earning self-employed income. It’s generally recommended to set aside 20-30% of each payment you receive for next year’s tax bill. Keep this in mind when projecting out your freelance income numbers.

Negotiation is Always on the Table

Negotiation is just as much a hot topic as pay gap and rates. And one thing I tell the writers I coach is that the number one thing to do when they’re offered a rate is to negotiate.

I wish someone had told me that before. I wish I knew how to professionally negotiate early on. And I wish I knew that negotiating doesn’t mean you’re hungry for money.

It means you’re acknowledging your skills and your own financial goals. Nothing wrong with that!

Heck, I negotiated my rate for this very article and the next articles I’ll be producing for Creatorbread.

The writer in me some years ago would be proud. And if you do the same, as scary as negotiating may be, for sure you’ll be proud of yourself too.

Your Rate Does Not Always Define You

It’s a good thing I did not keep a screenshot of every writing opportunity that I saw where I thought I wasn’t worth their offered rate. Because then my phone memory would be full. Reality is, money is just money. But it’s almost always intertwined with self-worth which is why it becomes so perplexing.

Your rate may define your output. It may define your knowledge and skills, your years of experience, and the kind of entrepreneur that you are. But it does not and will never define you as a person.

This is to say if you believe you’re a good graphics designer but your rates are on the lower end, that doesn’t immediately make you a cheap graphics designer. It just makes you a normal human being still figuring out how to professionally market and sell their services at a higher rate. And it is okay to struggle. It’s okay to not know how much to charge. And it’s definitely okay to work your way to higher rates slowly but surely.

It took me 5 long years to be able to charge $200 per article and I didn’t even give that number. The brand did. All I had to do was say yes. Does this make me a bad writer? Or a cheap writer? No.

I know I’m good at what I do. I just struggle with the right mindset. I struggle with self-confidence and I most definitely struggle with marketing my services at $200 per article.

And that’s okay. That’s called experience.

Wrap-up

I could probably write a whole book about money, the freelance business, and self-confidence.

These three things I will never be tired of talking about. Thankfully, I have learned the importance of negotiating and how to do it professionally without feeling icky so there’s that. And while my confidence still disappears on me every now and then, I’m learning to separate self-worth from how much I’m charging.

These things are not always easy, but they are important for you to be a successful freelancer. And knowing more about money and your relationship with it is vital in building a sustainable freelance business.

You don’t have to know everything. But to succeed, you have to open yourself to whatever the world wants you to learn.

Because that, and the willingness to explore and take risks, will take you to places.

Tammy Danan

Tammy Danan is a storyteller who reports on environmental and social issues. She also covers productivity, creative pursuits, and the future of work.

Her words have appeared in VICE, Audubon.org, ZEKE Magazine, Shutterstock, Toggl, among others.

You may find her on Instagram @SlowFreelancing

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