A majority of the monthly Freelancers Union Spark events are educational and focused around a specific topic or speaker. However, once or twice a year, Spark hosts an open networking happy hour. In addition to offering drink specials, snacks, and opportunities to win free drinks and Freelancers Union swag, these particular events tend to draw a strong crowd because of the promise to connect.
As freelancers, we don’t have traditional co-workers, clients, or employees. Most of the time, our work is done remotely, our meetings are conducted over phone or video, and our day-to-day operations take place in our home offices. There are things that seem commonplace to those in more conventional jobs, like getting up and getting out of the house each day, bouncing ideas off your office-mate, or taking a lunch break with your boss. However, these things are luxuries to freelancers. So, when a chance to connect with our peers presents itself, it’s no surprise that we’ll flock there.
This month at the Manhattan Spark happy hour, we convened in Tribeca over cocktails, craft beer, pub fare, and prizes. Freelancers gathered around high-top tables, and the other co-leaders and I circulated the space. As we moved from table to table, we asked the attendees who they’d like to meet at the event and worked to connect them.
While the topics discussed in the more educational workshops are always incredibly relevant and useful, this ability to connect is what makes the monthly Freelancers Union Spark events invaluable. Before I became a co-leader, I connected with two girls through Spark events, one who has become a dear friend and another who has become an incredible accountability partner and friend. Now, as a co-leader, I’m honored and thrilled to be able to facilitate connections among other freelancers.
Freelancing can be a lonely and isolating line of work, but it doesn’t have to be. If you’re looking to make more connections with fellow freelancers and grow your work community, I highly recommend checking out a Freelancers Union Spark event. There will likely be another happy hour event later this year. However, at the end of every Spark, there’s about half an hour of open networking following the workshop. To find an event near you, check out the Freelancers Union website. If you’re in the NYC area, stop by the Manhattan event and say hi – I’ll be there co-leading, and I’d love to connect!
Talking about money is uncomfortable. This has never been more apparent than at the most recent Freelancers Union Spark event. In Manhattan, we typically draw a crowd of forty to fifty freelancers, and we have to actively stop discussions short – our freelancers normally have so much to say, it’s near impossible for everyone to have a chance to share their thoughts. This month, the turnout and engagement at the workshop were noticeably lower than usual. Even in the freelance world where, like it or not, we have to have conversations about money with each and every client, it still feels like a taboo topic.
Fortunately, we enlisted some help to facilitate the discussion on this sticky subject. One of the experts from our partner Moven kicked things off by setting the foundation for the way in which we should approach our finances. The pathway to financial freedom starts with a basic understanding of your spending habits on a macro level, not a micro level. Approach this practice with mindfulness. Don’t psych yourself out by getting caught up in every single expense, and never make judgement on yourself in the process. Remember that step one is simply the gathering of information – what do your spending habits look like over the course of ninety days?
Once you’ve gathered this data, start working on a deeper level. Divide your expenses into categories and classify the elements within the categories as “wants” or “needs.” For example, within the category of Food/Drink, a Starbucks coffee might be classified as a “want” and a trip to Trader Joe’s might be classified as a “need.” It’s important to organize items within a category as opposed to identifying an entire category as a “want” or “need” to get the best assessment of your spending habits. Another component you might want to consider here is the “happiness factor.” Identify which expenses are making you feel fulfilled, well-rounded, and balanced. Although an expense may be a “want” and not a “need,” this step will help you recognize which nonessential expenses are still beneficial to your well-being.
After you’ve taken a look at your expenses, shift the focus to your income. One of the key differences and challenges between freelancing and having a traditional job is consistent income. Without a fixed salary, your income is likely going to fluctuate from month-to-month depending on the number and scope of projects you’re working on. The key to creating stability with your earnings is to diversify. There are numerous ways to create multiple income streams – passive income projects, physical products, courses, teaching, and even working a part-time gig in addition to freelancing. Remember to think about diversifying from multiple angles – this could be breaking down your projects into daily, weekly, monthly, and quarterly work or finding alternative ways to generate income like consigning or selling on eBay. Just start brainstorming, and you may be surprised by the ideas you come up with.
The final element of creating pathways to financial freedom is to assess your rates. In order to determine the rates you need to charge, you must know your spending habits – what does it cost you to live, work, and play? Compare this against industry standards, and you’ll find the sweet spot. Don’t forget the importance of varying your income streams. By taking on multiple types of projects and work, you’re not only diversifying your income but also allowing yourself to diversify your rates. When you’ve got an array of offerings at a range of prices, you’re able to attract a wider scope of clients and, ideally, more work.
Talking about money may be uncomfortable, but it’s time to break out of your comfort zone. Let’s continue the conversation – tweet me at @AOCBlogGirl using the hashtag #FreelanceSpark with questions or tips on how you’re creating pathways to financial freedom in your freelance business.
Freelancers Union Spark events take place monthly in over twenty cities around the country. Visit the Freelancers Union site to find out about a Spark event near you. If you’re in the NYC area, stop by the Manhattan Spark, and say hello! I’ll be there co-leading!
Ebb and flow is a natural part of freelancing. If you’re like me, you have a few steady, ongoing clients, and the rest of the work is project-based. It often seems that you’ll start a few one-off projects around the same time. You’ll complete them in a few weeks or months and realize you’ve been so busy working that you’ve failed to pitch or apply to new clients. For a week (or two or three), you’ll coast along with your long-term clients in one of those inevitable ebbs.
Having freelanced full-time for over two years, I’m no stranger to the ebbs. In my earlier freelancing days, my initial reaction was to panic, desperately start pitching and applying to any opportunity I could find, and beat myself up for my lack of forethought. It took me a (very) long time to use the inevitable ebbs effectively and allow myself to actually take advantage of the downtime.
Next time you’re in between freelance projects, remember that it’s the nature of the industry. Don’t panic! Set aside time each day to continue your ongoing work and pitch and apply to those clients and projects (and only those clients and projects) that align with your brand and expertise. During your next lull, don’t forget to take time to focus your business and yourself. Below are 20 things to work on when work is slow:
10 Ways to Work on Your Business
- Make updates to your portfolio or website
- Catch up on writing case studies for past and current clients
- Gather testimonials from past and current clients
- Make sure your contract and policies are up to date
- Implement something new, like a newsletter, blog, or social channel
- Check in with your long-term clients
- Amp up your social media presence
- Develop a new offering, product, or service
- Brainstorm how to grow your existing clients
- Revisit your business plan and long-term goals
10 Ways to Work on Yourself (and Your Creativity)
- Spend more time outside
- Try something new – learn a new hobby or skill
- Amp up your workout routine
- Read a book
- Spend time with others – try a breakfast, lunch, or coffee date
- Explore your city like a tourist
- Travel to another city
- Do something spontaneous
- Cook dinner, bake something, or try a new recipe
- Get back to you and do what you love
Many of us chose to freelance full-time, yet we forget to embrace that flexibility and power to shape our own schedules. We look at our roommates, partners, or friends, and we tell ourselves we should be working nine to five, Monday through Friday. We must remember why we’ve taken the road less traveled in our careers: for the opportunity to pave our own way and build unconventional businesses.
Last week I had a girl’s night with one of my friends and fellow Spark co-leaders. After much-needed mani/pedis, we sat down over wine and cheese to catch up. Inevitably, the conversation shifted to our work and, eventually, to the upcoming Spark event, focusing on growing your freelance business. We commiserated about feeling underqualified to lead a discussion on the topic since it was something we each struggled with in our careers.
A week later, the moment of truth arrived: the night of the monthly Spark event. I approached it optimistically, hoping a freelance veteran would attend and spill the magic secret to get from point A to point B in your freelance career. Of course there is no magic or secret to growing your freelance business. What I took away from the discussion is that in order to take your freelance career to the next level, you have to achieve a careful balance of give and take – it’s all about knowing what’s worth investing to get a better return.
What You Put In
Bottom line: you have to put something in to get something out. Your most valuable resources are time and money, and you have to learn to invest both wisely to successfully grow your business.
One of the most common time investments for freelancers is pitching – pitching concepts to leads in hopes of gaining a new client or pitching new ideas to existing clients in hopes of expanding their scope of work. Once you begin to grow your freelance business, time becomes an increasingly precious (and sometimes scarce) resource – your cash flow may vary, but there are only 24-hours in a day! When time starts to become your limiting factor, it may mean that you need to invest some money into outsourcing a portion of your workload by either hiring an employee or automating some of your tasks.
Investment: Time Investment: Money
Example: Pitching Example: Outsourcing
What You Get Out
The amount of money you earn isn’t the only way to measure your success as a freelancer. The amount of time you get back and can re-invest in your business is another good indicator of a growing and thriving freelance career.
Passive income is one way to give yourself more time. Yes, the term “passive income” is a bit misleading – it’s not completely passive. It typically requires you to devote a certain amount of time, and possibly money, upfront. The goal of passive income is for the return to eventually exceed that initial investment. It’s crucial that you’re clear on how much time or money will need to go into a passive income project upfront and what you’ll need to achieve in order to profit.
Another way to regulate your cash flow without raising your rates is to explore retainer packages and value-based pricing. A retainer may be a good option for a long-term client who gives you consistent work. With a retainer, a standard fee is agreed upon and paid upfront in order to secure your services on an as-needed basis. Value-based pricing is perfect for the client who’s in a rush or panic – one who’s either under a tight deadline or who’s had a hiccup in-house and needs help fixing the mishap. Having a standard rush-fee for these types of projects can help you to get more value for your time.
Return: Time Return: Money
Example: Passive Income Example: Retainer or Value-Based Pricing
If your business is on the way to reaching that next level, you may be wondering, what now? The next step could be considering an LLC or incorporation. Whether you want to grow your team, better protect your personal assets, or just add some extra credibility to your business, restructuring may be the way to go. Like everything you need to grow your freelance business, taking this step requires both time and money. Not sure if you’re ready to take the leap or if this would be a smart move for your business? Check out incorporate.com for more details on the process.
Freelancers Union Spark events take place monthly in over twenty cities around the country. Visit the Freelancers Union site to find out about a Spark event near you. Next month’s event is focused on financial freedom – you won’t want to miss it! If you’re in the NYC area, stop by the Manhattan Spark, and say hello! I’ll be there co-leading! For more information about Freelancers Union or Spark events, feel free to tweet me @AOCBlogGirl – I’d be happy to answer your questions.
Growing up as an only child, you get very creative at finding ways to entertain yourself. One summer, on a particularly long and lazy day, I remember starting an idea jar. I carefully cut several pieces of paper into small strips, grabbed a box of crayons, and started writing down every activity I could possibly think of. Then I went to the kitchen cupboard, grabbed a mason jar, and filled it with all the little strips. After taking some time to make an elaborate label for the jar, I gave it a shake to mix up all the creative goodness. Time and time again, I returned to this jar, usually out of boredom but sometimes out of the thrill of letting the fates decide how I might spend my afternoon. I continually added to the jar whenever a new idea struck me, and the possibilities grew and grew.
As a self-employed individual, it’s often challenging to know how to productively use breaks throughout the day. Most times, I’ll turn to whatever book I happen to be reading or my coloring book, or, if weather permits, I’ll go outside and take a short walk around my neighborhood. But lately, I’ve been looking for something new, and I remembered the idea jar I created when I was a kid. I immediately had an ah-ha moment: I need an adult creativity jar.
So, I reverted back to my eleven-year-old self. I carefully cut several pieces of paper into small strips, grabbed a box of crayons, and started writing down every creative exercise I could possibly think of. I started with each creative habit I’ve shared in this series – it seemed like the logical jumping off point. Then I continued to brainstorm and get specific – go outside, sit in once place for fifteen minutes, and write down at least fifteen observations… take a book from the shelf, open it to a random page, choose a word or phrase, and start to free write… pick a playlist, put it on shuffle, and dance it out to at least three songs (thanks for the idea, Jess Grippo!).
For this month’s AOC Blog Creative Habit Challenge, start with a jar and fill it with every creative exercise you can possibly think of. Get started with the concepts from this series, then let the ideas flow from there. I’m always on the hunt for new creative activities and sources of inspiration, so please share one of the original ideas from your creativity jar using the hashtag #AOCBlogCreative habit.