If you're thinking about becoming a freelancer you probably fall into one of two categories: you're sick of the daily grind and your 9-5 and are looking for a more flexible lifestyle, or you want to score some extra cash on the side. Regardless of why you're interested in freelancing, there are some things to keep in mind to ensure success for your fledgling business.
You're a now a small business owner
That's right – if you're getting paid in exchange for a service or product, you need to pay taxes on your earnings. You can register your business on the IRS website, where you'll also apply for your EIN (employee identification number – sort of like a social security number for companies). Most freelancers choose to register a sole-proprietorship, as it's the simplest form of business. It doesn't create a legal entity, but once created, you are responsible for its debts. You can either choose a fictitious name (trade name) or register it under your own name.
Once you've registered your business with the federal government, you also need to check into local licenses. Depending on your location, you may need one to operate just like a brick and mortar business would.
It's all up to you, baby
Sorry – you're not exempt from taxes
As a self-employed individual, you'll owe taxes on the gross revenue you earn. In addition to filing an end of year tax return, you'll also pay quarterly payments on your revenue. This tax is the same thing your full-time employer would normally withhold from your paycheck: income tax, Social Security, and Medicare. If you're just starting out, make your best guess as to how much you'll earn your first year to determine your payments. If you're too high or too low, you'll either owe money or get a refund at the end of the year. Come tax time you'll file either a Schedule C or Schedule C-EZ (for many businesses with under $5,000 of expenses).
Protect your health
If you're a full-time freelancer, you'll no longer have the option of getting health insurance through your employer. Never fear – there are plenty of individual health insurance options available to you. You can either do some research on your own, and buy directly from a large health insurance company like Cigna, United Health, and Anthem, or check out the plans on the Health Insurance Marketplace. If you're under 26, you can stay on your parent's plan.
Just take note of whether you prefer a high deductible plan (which costs less per month but for which you'll pay more out of pocket) or a more comprehensive plan (which covers more medical procedures and visits, but has a higher monthly cost). Choose whatever makes sense for your health and well-being. But make sure you do have health insurance: even young people in good health can have a health crisis that could easily set them back several thousand dollars without insurance coverage.
Every tabletop with internet access is now your desk
Go with the flow
Part of the reason freelancing is so appealing is because of the flexible hours. You're the boss, so you decide when you work. That means unlimited vacation time and are the freedom to work around your other obligations, like family. Many jobs don't offer part-time options, and for those craving flexibility, freelance work is ideal.
However, the flip side to the flexibility is that cash flow is often irregular. Some months you'll be overwhelmed with work, others you'll have a bit more free time than you anticipated, or wanted. If you can cobble together long-term contracts with your customers, you'll be assured a more regular income, but for the most part it's catch as catch can. This type of lifestyle can be enlivening to some, and anathema to others. It depends on your appetite for stability and risk.
You're the boss…in every aspect
Relying on freelance income means the buck stops with you. You've got clients who depend on you to meet deadlines and to deliver exceptional results. Working for yourself can be incredibly invigorating—there's nothing worse than working for a faceless company for a boss who really couldn't care less about you—but you should know yourself and how you operate before taking the leap.
For example, you have to be vigilant about managing your time. Some people don't need a boss hovering over their shoulder, asking about their progress. They can focus when they need to and deliver the goods on time. Others find it more difficult to work when there's no external motivation. They need that outside encouragement (read: casual inquiries about how the project is coming) to stay motivated. If your personality type leans toward the latter, it doesn't mean you won't be a successful freelancer. But just keep in mind it does take a certain amount of discipline.
Yes, I'm the CEO
So you've got a talent that other people will pay money for. Well done, you! Now all you need to do is find customers—easier said than done.
You can start by tapping your personal network: friends, family, acquaintances, old work colleagues, etc. Let them know about your new business and ask if they know anyone who might be interested in your services.
Make sure your digital presence is credible and professional. Keep your LinkedIn profile up to date, and either hire a web designer or use a pre-fab site like Wordpress or Wix to create a personalized website where you can send people interested in learning more. Also make sure you're active on social media (everything from Twitter to Medium to Digg, etc.) because you're building your brand. If people don't get to meet you in person, they'll get a sense of who you are from your online presence.
There are hundreds of sites for freelancers looking for work. Depending on your service, you can apply to be part of Toptal (for experts in their field), or set up a profile on 99designs (for designers), Contently or Freelance Writing Gigs (for writers), or a whole host of others. This is when having a website also comes in handy, as you can use it to showcase your body of work.
No more 9-5! You choose your own work/life balance
Being a freelancer isn't for everyone. Try getting some freelance gigs on the side to supplement your regular income to get an idea of what it's like. If you find yourself itching to work on those projects and excited to get more of them, perhaps a freelance work life is truly your calling. And you have to admit: being your own boss is pretty awesome.
As anyone who has ever sold a house will tell you, you must prioritize curb appeal. Before a potential buyer even considers looking inside your house, they notice the outside first. Does it attract the right kind of attention? Does it take away from the feel you're going for? If you plan to sell sometime soon, you must think about these things. Here are some landscaping options to increase your home's curb appeal, so you can get the best price on your home.
Extensive Plants and Greenery
A barren front yard won't get you the price you want on your home. So, invest in at least a little bit of greenery to keep the surrounding area from looking too dead. Shrubs and bushes tie the house to the lawn that precedes it, and flower beds bring a pop of color to an otherwise drab structure. You can also strategically plant some trees to improve the overall feel of your home's exterior.
As we mentioned, your lawn is one of the most prominent features of your home's exterior. A patchy, dried-up lawn will quickly drive your home's price way down. Some of the best landscaping options for your home's curb appeal involve improving your lawn for the next inhabitant. Overall fertilization, ground aeration, underbrush removal, proper mowing—all of these lawn care tasks contribute to a greener and more lively area that invites people to see your house, rather than stay away from it.
There's nothing like a broken and disheveled pathway to make someone think twice about buying a property. Just as you want the entryway in your house to be welcoming, so too should the pathway leading up to the house be inviting. The pathway from the street to your front door provides plenty of real estate to get creative with. You don't have to settle for a boring concrete pathway. Consider something more eye catching, like a cobblestone path or intermittent brick patterns, as a way to better welcome potential buyers.
Usable Outdoor Furniture
Landscaping doesn't just involve the ground you walk on; also included are the items you use as extras to the overall look. Outdoor furniture is one such extra that you don't necessarily need but can look quite attractive if done correctly. Staging is important with outdoor furniture. Old, broken-down pieces will only look like more work to the potential buyer. A few comfortable chairs, a bench, or a table with an umbrella really go a long way to improving your outdoor aesthetics.
A good tip for deciding on curb appeal items is to decide what you personally would want to see as a part of a welcoming home's exterior. You don't need to go overboard, but a little bit of forethought could net you quite a lot of extra cash in the sale.
Many people strive to support their community by donating their time or their money. When you find a meaningful cause, you might be quick to cut a donation check. Though it's admirable to be quick to act charitably, you should be wary of several common mistakes made when giving to charity. Being mindful of these mistakes and learning tips for making informed charitable choices can help you make the most out of your generous check.
Acting Quickly Out of Emotion
Mission statements are meant to be compelling. If you're an emotionally driven individual, it's natural to pull out your wallet at the sight of a sad puppy on TV or when informed about food insecurity over the phone. Unfortunately, not all charities are as effective or official as they may seem.
Take your passion for helping others one step further by making sure your chosen charity is legit. Speaking with a representative, reviewing their website and social media accounts, and looking at testaments online can give you a better idea of whether the organization is worth your donation.
Forgetting to Keep Record of the Donation
Don't forget that you can reap some financial perks from giving back! With the proper documentation of your donation, you can acquire a better tax deductible.
If you donate more than $12,400 as a single filer or $24,800 as one of two joint filers, you're eligible to deduct that amount from your taxes. So, when a charity asks if you'd like a receipt of donation, always answer yes.
Donating Unusable Materials
Most charities can utilize a monetary donation—it's the physical donations that usually cause some issues. Providing a local nonprofit with irrelevant materials or gifting them with unusable products are surprisingly common mistakes made when giving to charity.
Always check your intended charity's website for a list of things they do and do not accept. The majority of places will provide a guideline to donating or offer contact information to clarify any questions.
Strictly Giving at Year's End
As more and more people get into the holiday spirit at the end of the year, nonprofit organizations see an influx of donations. While it's great to spread holiday cheer via a monetary donation, it's important to keep that spirit going year-round.
With regular donations, charities can more effectively allocate their annual budget. Setting up an automatic monthly donation with the charity of your choosing can maximize your impact. You can account for a monthly donation by foregoing a costly coffee every once in a while.
Knowing how much you should spend on home maintenance each year is hard to figure out and may be preventing you from buying your first home. The types of costs you'll incur depend on the house you buy and its location. The one certainty is that you should start saving now. Read on to figure out how much to start setting aside based on the home you own.
The Age of Your House
Consider several factors when budgeting for home repairs. If you've purchased a new home, your house likely won't require as much maintenance for a few years. Homes built 20 or more years ago are likely to require more maintenance, including replacing and keeping your windows clean. Further, depending on your home's location, weather can cause additional strain over time, so you may need to budget for more repairs.
The One-Percent Rule
An easy way to budget for home repairs is to follow the one-percent rule. Set aside one percent of your home's purchase price each year to cover maintenance costs. For instance, if you paid $200,000 for your home, you would set aside $2,000 each year. This plan is not foolproof. If you bought your home for a good deal during a buyer's market, your home could require more repairs than you've budgeted for.
The Square-Foot Rule
Easy to calculate, you can also budget for home maintenance by saving one dollar for every square foot of your home. This pricing method is more consistent than pricing it by how much you paid because the rate relies on the objective size of your home. Unfortunately, it does not consider inflation for the area where you live, so make sure you also budget for increased taxes and labor costs if you live in or near a city.
The Mix and Match Method
Since there is no infallible rule for how much you should spend on home maintenance, you can combine both methods to get an idea for a budget. Average your results from the square-foot rule and the one-percent rule to arrive at a budget that works for you. You should also increase your savings by 10 percent for each risk factor that affects your home, such as weather and age.
Holding on to savings is easier in theory than practice. Once you know how much you should spend on home maintenance, you'll know what to aim for and be more prepared for an emergency. If you are having trouble securing funds for home repairs, consider taking out a home equity loan, borrowing money from friends or family, or applying for funds through a home repair program through your local government for low-income individuals.