How To: Manage Your Finances as a Freelancer
Bruce Gillespie is an award-winning writer, whose work has appeared in a variety of publications, including Chatelaine, Financial Post Business, and Canadian Geographic. Now a professor at Wilfrid Laurier University’s Brantford campus, Gillespie previously freelanced full-time for eight years and says one of the trickiest parts about it is learning how to manage your finances.
Switch it up:
Don’t just think creatively when pitching stories—also think practically. Freelancing isn’t all about what you want to write or where you want to get published; it’s also about paying the bills. “My experience is that newspapers pay more quickly than magazines, and that corporate work pays quicker and better than any media outlet,” Gillespie says.
Pitching stories of different lengths and to different markets can help ensure a more steady flow of income.
Have a back-up:
Despite Gillespie’s previous tip, it is likely there will still be times when all of your cheques will come in at once, and times when you won’t have any at all. He suggests getting a line of credit. It’s an easy way to access money until your payment does come in. The benefit is that the interest rates are much lower than those charged for taking money off credit cards or getting cash advances.
Do it yourself:
The one software program that Gillespie bought religiously was TurboTax Canada. It simply walks you through a question-form based on what you spend on your business. Gillespie’s always been interested in doing his own taxes and bookkeeping because, if he shipped it all off to an accountant, he says, “I wouldn’t have as clear an understanding of which tax write-offs and breaks are the best payoffs in terms of reducing my taxable income.”
Learning he could write off 50 percent of a meal with clients made him more likely to meet them for coffee or lunch, benefitting his ability to network. To find out what you can write off, talk to an accountant or look at the tax guides on Revenue Canada’s website, which Gillespie says are surprisingly simple.
Stay on top of things:
Regardless of how involved you want to be in the process, you still need to be able to tell your accountant your income and where it came from. You also have to save business-related receipts if you plan to write anything off.
Keeping on top of things doesn’t have to be complicated. To track everything, Gillespie used “the most basic Excel spreadsheets you could imagine.” Tracking your income and expenses weekly or monthly makes the process a lot less painful than trying to sort everything out when tax time comes.
Don’t forget to save:
When you’re freelancing, no one takes income tax off your pay and gives it to the government. Gillespie says one of the best tips he ever received was to take 10 to 15 percent off every paycheque and stick it into an account that isn’t easily accessible through a debit card. That way, when tax time rolls around, you’ll be sure to have the money the government’s looking for. If you can’t pay your taxes on time, the penalty fees are extremely high and you may have to rely on a line of credit or loan, and you’ll end up owing even more.