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Am I charging too much? Not enough? Am I saving enough for retirement? Making the most out of my tax breaks? The freelancers we surveyed this year had a lot on their minds—and a lot of advice to offer.
As a freelance platform, we field a ton of questions from folks wondering if they’re doing this freelancing thing right. It makes sense; when we forgo the predictability of traditional FTE work for the flexibility of freelancing, the laws that used to govern our work are thrown out the window.
In their place, we have choice. While empowering, this choice can also fill us with self-doubt: am I charging too much? Not enough? Am I saving enough for retirement? Making the most out of my tax breaks? Using the right services to help me along the way?
We launched our first annual State of Freelance Development survey to try to answer these questions for our community. While the results from the survey are really enlightening, the most striking result was the sheer volume of freelancers who are concerned about…well, life.
So, is it “normal” to be worried about [fill in the blank] as a freelancer? We’re here to assure you that it is, indeed. Below, we’ll round up the seven most common concerns among the freelance community, and offer a few resources that we find helpful in navigating each.
It’s no surprise that access to affordable healthcare is a major concern for freelancers this year. The Affordable Care Act (ACA) in the US has been a major political talking point during this years’ election cycle, and uncertainty around the Act’s longevity has left many worried that the cost and accessibility of their current healthcare is subject to change. Still, others relied on benefits provided by the employer of a spouse who may have been laid off during this year’s economic downturn.
One alternative to traditional insurance plans for freelancers are professional associations like the Freelancers Union, which offers group insurance options at affordable rates. Like other marketplace options, the Freelancers Union provides several options for members, including supplemental insurance like dental, vision, and disability.
The standard rule of thumb for emergency savings is three to six months of expenses; as freelancers, it’s safest to err on the side of six months, given the nature of our work. Took on a longer-term client that ends up being a nightmare? Hot New Technology is released that suddenly every client is looking to migrate to? Or maybe life happens, and you need to take a few months off of work?
Whatever the reason, the chances of needing to tap into an emergency fund are a bit higher for freelancers than they are for traditional FTE workers. Add this savings goal on top of an already bloated list of freelancing expenses, and the financial weight of building a freelancing practice may make it seem less attractive.
However, building that emergency fund is possible. Because building your emergency fund is (ideally) a one-time endeavor (unlike, say, retirement savings, which is a forever thing), temporarily cutting certain costs or taking on short-term work for the sole purpose of adding those funds to your emergency account is a wise strategy. Take on a few shorter-term gigs that, while not sustainable long-term, can directly fund your emergency savings. Ditch your subscriptions for three months. Sell that basket of old electronics that no one has touched in years. Then, send those savings directly to a separate, accessible account that earns interest to keep your money working for you.
71% of freelancers are concerned about planning for retirement.
For many of us, envisioning a time when we aren’t working can be a tough feat. Freelancers often have the gift (or curse?) of entrepreneurial minds, which means planning for retirement is often the last financial decision on our minds. However, the sooner we begin saving 10–15% of our income for our future, sixty-five-year-old selves, the more freedom we’ll have to pursue those entrepreneurial dreams well into our golden years.
Without employer-sponsored retirement accounts, freelancers typically choose an IRA plan for retirement savings. An SEP-IRA is a good option for freelance professionals, as it can cut down your taxable income (saving you on taxes), and there’s a higher contribution limit than a typical IRA would have.
87% of freelancers are concerned about knowing that they’re receiving fair pay.
There are few professions (save for government jobs with public salaries) that give employees peace of mind when it comes to fair pay. Much of this uncertainty comes from a cultural stigma surrounding open discussion of our salaries mixed with the phenomenon of imposter syndrome among under-represented groups. Freelancing is no different: even on freelancing marketplaces with public hourly rates, it’s hard to tell what rates are appropriate for certain skill sets, locations, and types of work.
In hopes that more freelance platforms follow suit, this concern was what drove us to publish the 2020 State of Freelance Development report. Gun.io is also working to create in-app tools for freelancers to feel more confident that their rates are both competitive in the market and honor their expertise and abilities.
Beyond a global push for more transparency around compensation, tools like Glassdoor can give freelancers insight into compensation trends by company and by comparable in-house roles. Understanding that FTE roles may also include benefits that freelancers pay out of pocket (health insurance, retirement savings, etc), you can use these benchmarks to reverse-engineer a competitive freelance rate that appropriately values your expertise.
76% of freelancers are concerned about saving for and paying taxes.
Ah yes, taxes. Whether you follow the 30% rule religiously, or flex your savings up and down with the typical feast and famine cycles of freelancing, tax bills are the least exciting part of being a freelancer. Plus, navigating the best tax-savings strategies is (quite literally) a full-time job, so many of us end up paying more than we need to.
Indi is a fantastic option for freelancer-specific banking. Your indi account both autosaves for taxes and collects your receipts, so when it comes time for tax payments, your business expenses are already neatly accounted for — and more importantly, the funds are set aside and ready to be sent to Uncle Sam.
69% of freelancers are concerned about collecting non- or late payments from clients.
Even with solid contracts in place, client disputes come with the territory, unfortunately. Whether you have a client refusing to pay due to a scope misunderstanding, one who completely ghosted, or are just consistently receiving late payments that put your own financial stability in jeopardy, unpredictable client payments are a real risk for freelancers.
Working on platforms like Gun.io (for technical freelancers) can mitigate this, as the platform takes on the client vetting and verification process, all invoicing and payment follow-up, and covers much of the risk of non-payment. These platforms pay freelancers consistently and without the need to constantly send and chase down client invoices.
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