Just because you’ve been in the freelance industry a few years doesn’t mean you can’t improve. Whether you’re searching for ways to increase your income, improve your portfolio and credentials, or simply be more productive, this veteran freelancer checklist will help you take your freelancing career to the next level.
Freelancer Checklist: Finances and Goals
1. Get Your Taxes in Order
Quarterly taxes always seem to be looming but, hopefully, you’ve been budgeting along the way. If not, you may have to take some of your extra end-of-the-year income and put it toward your state, federal, and self-employment taxes. You should generally estimate about 25-30% of your gross income as your quarterly estimated taxes. Once you’ve paid these next ones, you won’t have to file again until Tax Day.
To prepare for your tax filing, compile a list of all the deductions and expenses you’ve had during the year. These will vary depending on your freelance profession, but this freelancer checklist for deductions and expenses should put you on track:
Home Office Deduction
Each freelancer is eligible for a home office deduction, regardless of whether you rent or own. All you need to do is find the square footage of your home office divide it by the size of your home. For example, if your home is 2,000 square feet and your home office is 200 square feet, you’re left with 10%. Therefore, you can deduct 10% of your home-related expenses. If you rent, you may have to use the simplified deduction. To figure this, take the size of your home office and multiply it for $5 for your total deduction amount. However, 300 square feet is the maximum size allowed by the IRS.
Being a successful freelancer is all about staying ahead of the competition. As such, it is to your advantage to earn every certification or higher degree possible. Not only will this give you an edge in the competitive freelance field, but you can also write off all the costs of continued education, such as seminars, tuition, books, and other costs.
Office Equipment and Utilities
Nearly every freelancer completes their work with a computer, so if yours went kaput, you may have spent a pretty penny for a new workstation. Fortunately, this also counts as a tax-deductible expense for your freelance business. The same goes for printers, ergonomic desk chairs, a portion of your cell phone bill (only the percentage of the bill that’s used for business). In addition, your internet bill is also a tax-deductible expenditure to help lighten the burden of your overhead.
Retirement Savings and the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion
Savers and retirement planners, rejoice! Any money you put into a traditional IRA up to $6,000 is tax-deductible. However, a lesser-known rule applies to the free-spirited freelancers also known as digital nomads. It’s called the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion or FEIE.
The way the FEIE works for most digital nomads is that if you spend 330 out of 365 days outside of the United States (including territories and commonwealths), you can exclude up to $104,100 off your federal income taxes. For many nomads, that means you won’t have to pay much, if any federal income taxes. You’re still on the hook for self-employment taxes, so you won’t get all of your income back.
In addition, you still need to file quarterly estimated taxes just as you would if you weren’t eligible for the FEIE. By doing so, you can avoid penalties and late fees, even though you’ll get it back. Confused yet? If so, consider hiring a tax professional to walk you through the process, at least for the first year you claim the FEIE.
By compiling receipts early and figuring out which expenditures are tax-deductible, you’ll save yourself from running around like a crazed maniac on April 14.
2. Lay Out Goals and Plans for the Year
Before you start throwing out monetary figures and the number of clients you want, relax. The first step in your freelancer checklist is to make reasonable goals. Creating unachievable goals, such as earning $1 million when you’ve only ever earned $50,000 or landing 100 extra clients isn’t realistic. They will only cause you stress, mental strain, and disappointment.
To help you create realistic goals, try using SMART goals. SMART stands for:
For example, you may want to make more income. So set a specific, realistic, and achievable figure and set a timeframe to reach the goal. Regardless of what goals you set, each of these aspects of SMART goals should apply.
To help you stick to your goals, you may even want to create a freelancer checklist that acts as a map. Follow the steps on the checklist, and you’ll reach your goal. It’s important to note that discouragement is a real part of the freelancing world. Resilience is key. You may have to pick yourself up every so often, but don’t let it hinder your opportunities to become a more successful freelancer.
Freelancer Checklist: Preparation and Pitching
3. Retool Your Resumé
Freelancers don’t always need a resumé, especially if you have a vast network of contacts or possess an impressive portfolio and experience. However, not every freelance gig is steadfast. Many are one-off projects or on an as-needed basis. Sometimes, you might have to search for jobs as an independent contractor to supplement your income. There’s no shame in that.
Finding a job as an independent contractor is something you should always consider on your freelancer checklist, although gaining employment as a contractor is a different process altogether. Most of the time, you’ll apply for a position much as you would if you were searching for work as a full-time employee. That’s why you’ll need to retool and refresh your resume.
Take time to craft a summary that explains the type of job you’re seeking. Also include a sentence or two about what you can bring to the company. Eliminate any extraneous jobs that won’t pertain to the job you are seeking, and put your most relevant work experience at the top of the resume.
If you’re having trouble making your resume eye-catching, impressive, and yet still succinct, check out Virtual Vocations’ resume assessment and resume writing service. With help from experienced resume writers, you can turn a bland, lackluster resume into one that will attract potential employers.
4. Take Your Cold Pitching Up a Notch
Perhaps the toughest hurdle for any freelancer—old or new—is finding more work and clients. Unlike your full-time colleagues, you don’t have the luxury of having a laissez-faire day at the office or waiting for your boss to give you more assignments. The burden of earning an income lies entirely on your shoulders.
To maximize your earnings, you must constantly market your services to prospective clients. While networking can certainly improve your chances of finding clients that know they already need your services, a potential gold mine lies in those that don’t yet know they need your services. Unfortunately, these businesses won’t come to you—you must send your best cold pitch to draw them in.
That’s what makes improving your cold pitch a vital portion of your freelancer checklist. There’s a certain science to cold pitching, one that you must understand and hone to increase your clientele.
Assess Potential Clients
The first step toward any potential cold pitch is to assess the needs of a company. Many freelancers skip this step and blindly select companies that may or may not need their services. However, a quick assessment of a company in your particular field or niche gives you a bargaining chip and lets them know why they need to hire you.
Email the Right Person
Once you have discovered a potential client, use their “About Us” web page to find a senior manager, HR manager, or hiring manager who can make personnel decisions. Pitching to anyone else is often a waste of time, and your message may fall on deaf ears. You may not want to bother a CEO or CFO with a business proposal, but go as high up the chain of command as possible.
Craft an Eye-Catching Subject Line or Headline
Whether your expertise can make the business $50,000 in profits is irrelevant if you cannot get that right person to open their email. You need a compelling headline or subject line in your email or instant message to attract attention and give the recipient a reason to keep reading.
A proper subject line or headline should spark the interest and curiosity of the other party while also leading as seamlessly as possible into your pitch. HubSpot offers a list of some of the most effective subject lines for sales and cold pitching, but make sure to tweak yours. If you use the same exact subject line from the examples, you risk the chance that potential clients may recognize the subject line and promptly delete the email.
Show How You Can Offer a Unique Solution
No matter what your profession is, the key to landing a client is to speak to their needs. If you are a writer and notice that a company is lacking a blog or informative articles, discuss how your experience and writing style can improve their website and appeal to customers. This is where specificity reigns. The more precise you are, the more you increase your chances of doing business.
Freelancer Checklist: Growth
5. Improve Your Credentials
Success in the competitive freelancing world requires differentiation. While you can include this in your sales pitch and advertising, you’ll also want to demonstrate your proficiency by improving your credentials. That’s why you should add updating or earning new certificates and education to your freelancer checklist.
Accredited organizations in your field often have training programs and certificates. However, you can also look at online learning companies such as Coursera, Udemy, and LinkedIn Learning to gain more knowledge. Contrary to popular belief, sometimes it’s not who you know; it’s what you know.
New Year’s resolutions might have already come and gone, but if you adhere to this freelancer checklist, you just might find the extra spark that turns you into a freelancer extraordinaire.
iStock Photo Credit: mapodile
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