Freelance nirvana

Last week I talked about the pitfalls of being a freelance designer and how difficult it is for new grads to make a living. This week I’m going to talk about the advantages and highlights.

You are your own boss. If you don’t like a project, if it goes against your morals or beliefs or just doesn’t feel right, you can refuse it. If you don’t like a certain politician, product, or service, you can refuse it. Make any excuse you want without being disparaging. You don’t want to burn bridges. That art director or media buyer may be looking for someone for a different project down the road and you want to leave yourself available. And this is another argument for networking; you will quickly learn who you can trust.

You might have problems with a client getting paid in a timely manner. You might find yourself getting blamed for something that wasn’t your fault. As a freelancer you can stand up for yourself and defend yourself without threat of being fired. In fact, you can have the courts behind you if your client won’t pay or if it is a true defamation of character issue. You don’t have to take the guff.

You get to set your hours to a certain extent. Granted you don’t always get to do this and you don’t always know ahead of time when you’ll be busy. But if you’ve just busted your buns for the last few days meeting a deadline and making your client happy, take some time off. You don’t always need to jump into the next job just to fill out an 8-hour day.

One issue I talked about last week was paying your quarterly income tax estimates. These are based on your last year’s tax burden. First of all get a good accountant who knows the proper way for you to track your income and expenses and fill out your returns. Then learn how to manage your money. It took me a while to figure this out. I’d get a big check and then buy some savings bonds with it. Three month, six month, nine month or one year terms so that I could collect just before my quarterly estimate was due. The money didn’t burn a hole in my pocket and actually made some interest… which was also taxable. Be very aware of your good years and lean years. Because your estimates are based on your last year, a bad year followed by a good year will mean you are underpaying your estimates. This is another good reason to have an accountant; talk to him/her before the end of the year to see if you should increase your last quarterly payment. A good year followed by a bad year can be a major problem. Now you are paying higher estimates and don’t have the income to cover them. Again, some kind of saving or short-term investing plan helps tremendously.

One final positive experience I’ll share with you. My wife worked while I was freelancing. My kids never came home from school to an empty house. I might have been working in the studio but I was always there to hear about their day and to talk to them. I credit this for the wonderful relationship I’ve always had with them. And it took a burden off my wife knowing that they always had someone to go to.

Freelancing is a lifestyle that lets you have more fun and more control then a 9 to 5 job allows. But it also requires a great work ethic. If you’ve got the work, do it; don’t put it off because tomorrow may bring another job with a tighter deadline your way and now you’re swamped.

And besides, it is way cool to say, “Yeah, I’m a freelance artist.”