The first thing I ever wanted to be was a farmer. I read the ‘Little House on the Prairie’ series when I was in middle school, and decided that I would live just like Laura Ingalls Wilder.
The second thing I ever wanted to be was a writer. After starting a garden in my backyard and realizing how hard farming would actually be, I came to see that it was the story of Laura’s life that really captured me. I was enthralled by the images she painted with her words, and the characters she made come to life.
Today I make the majority of my money as a writer. It took roughly 20 years, but I’ve achieved my goal of being a writer. I pitch stories, write and edit them, and people pay me for it!
The Realities of Being a Freelance Writer
It’s wonderful and weird to be a freelance writer. On the one hand, I did it. I’ve achieved my goal and I’m living my dream. That’s pretty awesome, and I’m genuinely happy to be writing about personal finance every day. On the other hand I spend SO MUCH time in front of the computer. I’m my own boss and frankly, I’m not always great at motivating myself.
It is also at times, hard or annoying. Writing is fantastically romanticized in our world. Hands up if you think “being a writer” involves steaming mugs of coffee, beautiful desks, long walks in nature for inspiration and probably a house with a roaring fireplace.
That’s hardly the case. I write at an Ikea desk in the second bedroom of my apartment, which I share with my boyfriend’s assorted instruments. It’s a rare day that I wear “real” clothes (#workoutclothesforlife). I spend hours and hours alone – there have been multiple 48-hour periods where I haven’t left my apartment because there was no need to. (I do try and combat this tendency by hosting co-working sessions at different coffee shops in Austin. I’m not a weird hermit!)
As for the workload and finances of it all, here’s what I do. I am responsible for pitching ideas to companies, writing the content, editing it one to three times, finding photos to accompany the story, sometimes SEO for the post, adding it to my portfolio, invoicing and recording payments, saving for and paying quarterly taxes, and tracking tax deductions.
When I first started freelancing I had two clients. It was super easy to manage my money. Right now, I work with anywhere from five to ten clients a month, and everything has gotten much harder to manage.
Quick note: all of my freelancing is done outside of all the work I do for Bravely. For Bravely I organize events, write this blog and keep up the social media and promotional side of the business. I also have to track the income Bravely makes.
The Finances of Being a Freelance Writer
I believe in radical financial transparency, so let me start with a confession: I am a record keeping hoarder.
My whole financial literacy journey was jumpstarted by the fact that money was absolutely ruining up my life. I didn’t make enough, I had a ton of debt and I knew nothing about how money worked in the real world.
I’m so scarred by that experience that now I tend towards the other end of the spectrum: I keep everything to do with money. All the emails. All the receipts. The invoices, the payments, the taxes, the contracts.
Inbox zero? Not a thing that I will ever achieve. Minimal desk papers? Not for me.
Now onto the system that I actually use as a freelance writer!
You have to invoice a client in order to get paid. It’s an annoying truth (I hate invoicing). I use Freshbooks for most of my invoicing, and PayPal for a few clients that request it.
I recently made the switch to Freshbooks and I friggen love it. Accounting software y’all – it’s a time saver, a stress eliminator and does all the tracking down of late payments for me.
On every invoice I include my name, mailing address, specific titles of pieces I wrote, cost per article and an explanation about how to pay me. Some of my clients mail checks; most of them use an ACH transfer.
I also recently started including a 5% late fee, because some of my clients regularly miss their due dates. I offer a 15-day and 30-day payment period. This means I invoice someone on August 20th, but don’t see the money until September 10th for most of my clients.
I have a business bank account. If you work in any type of self-employment, I 100% recommend you open a business account. They’re usually free and they make a world of difference in your organization.
I have a checking account and two savings accounts in my business account. Checks and money transfers are deposited into my checking account. I transfer money to my personal checking account after I account for my freelance taxes.
All freelancers should expect to pay 30% of their income to taxes. (It’s a f*cked up and out-dated system, and I encourage everyone to vote in officials who talk about changing the system.) I manually transfer 30% of EACH PAYCHECK I get to a savings account called “Taxes.”
This means I always have enough to pay my quarterly taxes, and doesn’t leave me scrambling. Now, deductions are a freelancers best friend and you may not actually end up owing 30%. I’m a “better safe than sorry” kind of girl though, so I save 30%.
As a Nervous Nelly when it comes to paperwork, I keep everything. Here’s a list of the documents I keep records of (digitally and hard copies).
- Tax records (1099 forms, W-2’s, tax filings)
- Business receipts
- Invoices and payments (checks, etc)
- Contracts with clients
Having several different clients means I get paid several times a month. Tracking is key to staying on top of things. I manually track my income in an Google sheet, and Freshbooks tracks it for me. I check that weekly and record how much I make monthly from each client, as well as any side hustle income.
My sheet is color coded, because income from Bravely stays in my Bravely accounts. I don’t transfer it to use to pay personal bills. This year Bravely will break even and is not generating any income for me. Events are expensive y’all.
That’s pretty much my entire system! It’s a lot of manual work at the moment. Any freelancers (freelance writer or otherwise!) out there have a bookkeeping software they love? I’m considering making a move in the upcoming months but haven’t found anything I love yet.
Author: Kara Perez
Author Bio: Kara Perez is a freelance writer and founder of Bravely. Kara discovered her love of finances courtesy of her quarter-life crisis. Broke, underemployed and saddled with student loan debt, she realized that her lack of financial education was crippling her adulthood. After figuring out how to pay off her $25,302 in loans on a salary of less than $30,000, Kara created Bravely to help other women take control of their financial lives.
Link to social media or website: http://www.bravelygo.co | Instagram @webravelygo | Twitter @bravelygo