The term “freelancer” has its roots in tales of medieval Europe. A soldier sworn to no lord or king could act as an early form of mercenary—he was free to offer his lance, or weapon, to anyone who paid for his services. Today’s freelancers may have traded in their spears for laptops and their cavalry for hybrid cars, but the landscape of the urban knowledge economy can be just as treacherous as the old battlefields. Here’s a brief look at what every freelancer should know before committing to the highs and lows of self-employment.
Have a Dedicated Workspace
People believe one of the perks of self-employment is the freedom to work from bed. In reality, such comfort only gives you the freedom to fail. To freelance successfully, you need just as much rhythm, routine, and structure in place as a nine-to-fiver, even if you do allow yourself to deviate from that at times. Getting to work each day requires setting aside dedicated space for work and not for play—a separate desk and perhaps even a separate computer. You may be able to work in peace in a home office or coffeeshop, but some freelancers appreciate the collaborative environment of co-working spaces once they reopen in earnest.
It turns out that the work doesn’t always sell itself. In a crowded marketplace, if you don’t advocate for yourself, it’s likely that no one will. The hustle never stops when you’re freelancing, but you can make it a little easier by establishing an online presence that shows off your best work with a professional presentation and ringing endorsements. Just like there’s no advertising quite like word of mouth, professional networking and the recommendations and referrals that come with strong and well-earned relationships are a difference-maker for freelancers.
Plan for Taxes, Insurance, Retirement, and More
What every freelancer should know before going into business for themselves is that the paperwork piles up fast. The IRS does not smile upon self-employment, hitting freelancers with heavy taxes to make up for employers who don’t withhold over the year. Healthcare will be your own responsibility. Most of all, there’s no employer-directed retirement plan for freelancers, which means you’ll have to take your retirement into your own hands. Fortunately, the advent of the individual 401(k) has made self-directed retirement plans easier than ever for freelancers and sole proprietors alike. Freelancing is still hard work in many respects but knowing that one day you can lay down your lance will make life easier.