Wednesday, September 29, 2021

Why Freelancers Need to Start Their Retirement Planning Now


You had a dream.  You acted on that dream and learned the ebbs and flows of making it profitable.  You learned about self-employment taxes, both state and federal.  You learned how to pay these taxes on time, along with other expenses that may come along, like payroll or necessary construction at a physical site.  Then you realize how much older you've gotten.

Much older, in some cases.

There's that thing called retirement that our parents (or grandparents) worked long and hard for but that thing's changed a lot over the years.  For one, more elderly people are working part-time jobs to supplement their retirement and/or social security.  If you think that's the norm we should all be prepared for, consider the fact that social security will be reduced in 2034 - if not eliminated.

Depending on your situation, there may not be a need to panic.  A lot of factors, like property and other assets may be able to provide a cushion when you reach that age.  Though it may seem a ways off right now, believe me, Father Time has a way of creeping up on a person when they least expect.

Getting the Basics in Order

If you don't have a separate account for business, get one now.  It makes it easier to apply for a small business loan if you need it and is just a good habit to have. Nerdwallet has a long list of business bank accounts you can open with a low/no deposit.

Now is also as good a time as any to pay down any large outstanding credit accounts or negotiate high-interest rates.  This thing isn't over yet and while some debt may be forgiven, we know that process seldom happens overnight.  If it's a matter of a few hundred dollars, it might be worth it to sell some unused items.

Finding Options that Lead to Your Money Goals

While you may not want to give up your freelancing aspirations, you have to see things for what they are.  Do you anticipate growth in the coming year? If so, what events are likely to make this happen?  Should this fall through, what next?  If you can't give a solid answer to these questions, it may be time to look into working for someone else.

Although a full-time job may make it hard to pursue freelancing at first, it is possible.  However, not all full-time jobs are the same, as salaried positions or those that require commuting long distances may be tiring.  One option would be to find a part-time job that pays benefits, including retirement.  Industries that offer these packages may be in education, hospitality, and some customer service jobs.

Getting the Money and Keeping It

You can open an Individual Retirement Account (IRA) at almost any bank or financial institution.  On average, it costs nothing to open but prospective account holders should read the fine print before proceeding.  For instance, it may be better to open a mutual fund or CD if finances are still a little shaky.  

Overall, it may be best to talk to a pro bono financial advisor or credit counselor about realistic long-term planning goals.  No one wants to open an account, then withdraw the funds shortly after.  As long as there's a plan to grow your money, it's better than useless online shopping.  Treating yourself once in a while is OK.

Wednesday, September 22, 2021

I'm a Freelancer and I'm F*cked (for now anyway)

Real truth here.  Last month, I got overly excited because this thing went into remission and was also feeling myself because I had a nice bank account.  It was a combination of leftover stimulus, financial aid, and just basic budgeting when I can.

So I go and do the most fun thing I can think of at the moment.  Pay down some credit cards.

How Can I Go Wrong?

Problem was I didn't pay attention to the billing cycle and got dinged big time. The good thing is that I don't have to deal with payments for a while.

While that one was my bad, I got hit twice more to make up for my overzealous behavior last month (I went to Whole Paycheck Foods twice in one month).  

Working for (Literally) Nothing

For many years, I've written for content companies as a way to get fast cash or when I'm between clients.  Lately, my chronic illness can't handle an intense client relationship, even though I miss the cash flow.  So, I sign up to do a job, get a few pennies, and work on other less stressful projects.

When one well-known and reputable company switched from PayPal to Payoneer, things were never the same.  The constant emails about paperwork I completed months ago.  And not only did they not pay me but they refuse to acknowledge there's a problem.  These people owe me for several jobs and have been reported to the state and federal consumer agencies.

Rest Your Eyes

Another bad I made was sending off my savings bond without the proper documentation.  Thank goodness it's not going to mature any further but I think there's just been too much on my mind lately.

So, sorry for this rant but this has been on my mind for the past couple of weeks.  The lesson here: never get too busy to cross the T's and dot the I's.

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Today is Online Learning Day

This has been a hot topic for most parents out there but I also run across career-changers or college students who either love or hate online learning.  The reason for my putting up (another short and late) post is that many freelancers may be considering going back to school or getting a certification so that they can get paid on time...all the damn time.  Or so we hope anyway.

Many people have positive accounts to share about how online learning has helped them or their families get an education that may not have been available through the traditional method.  Read their stories here.

If you're like me, you've run across a number of online learning prospects that sound great on paper but may or may not be a fit for us personally.  While there are many options to explore and gain something from, there are also some questions regarding these new learning institutions.  Here are some that I base on personal experience- 

  • Why do some teachers use precious time to talk about themselves when it's a new class that may get canceled for good due to low enrollment?
  • Why do MOOC courses receive college credit when there's no real interaction between instructor and student?
  • Why is it that you can learn more from low/no-cost webinars than a for-credit college course?
  • What does it REALLY mean when you earn a continuing education certificate from a college or university?  Can you make it work or is it a waste of time and money?
Unfortunately, my experience runs the gamut and the only thing that helps me is reading online reviews like Rate My Professor or even Yelp.  The best way to know whether a course is any good is to research and not get sucked into things like the low price or enticing copy written to boost your spirits about signing up.

For fast answers written in everyday language, Goodwill has a website that teaches everything from 3-D printing to web design basics.  While some topics are common sense, bookmarking this site can help when you need an HTML refresher or are wondering if the college you're interested in is really a diploma mill

Wednesday, September 8, 2021

Freelancers, Do You Know Your Worth or Pay Bills Instead?


I think you know where I'm going with this.  Do you stick by your skills, knowledge, and ability to go above and beyond, or are you satisfied with receiving crumbs?  We all know that even the perfect skillset is no good without clients but should you shortchange yourself just to satisfy them?  As the competition for jobs is going to intensify in the coming weeks, there's a lot to consider in the current state of freelancing.

My Recent Freelancing Horror

Ted Cruz may not have liked me last week because I had a flashback to my early days of freelancing.  Last month, I applied to be a content writer for a third party through a writing service.  The process was thorough but fairly easy and though I was told I'd be contacted in the next two weeks, it was closer to a month when I heard back.

Long story short (and I'm sure it's a familiar one to veteran freelancers), this client wanted to pay me an already low rate for test articles but that rate would be slashed by nearly half once I was accepted.  Now, this would take place after submitting FOUR test articles and I'd be blessed to write a minimum of 7K words monthly.  Assuming things went well, I'd be making less than $300 a month to start.

Do the Math Before Signing On

While rent in my area starts at around $1200 for a studio, there's something I remember about this type of client.  They're very picky, spend a lot of time on details, and overall a waste of time.  When I worked through oDesk, they were also slow-paying and we all know how that works.

Your bill collectors/landlords don't care about your good intentions, what happened, or anything that doesn't directly benefit them.  So these days, I'd rather cut them off at the early stages rather than haggle over money or other issues that impact performance.  It took dealing with an unreasonable (we did a lot of things he was responsible for on paper) landlord and roommate that had me trapped in this vicious cycle.  It takes a good-paying job (and crazy budgeting) to be set free, which I eventually got before getting sick.

Have a Reasonable Progression Plan

However, you may have a low-paying but reliable client you can count on for paying bills or luxuries.  Then there's the introductory rate business model a lot of new freelancers use to meet new clients or prospects.  While neither of these is a bad thing, two factors are necessary for this to work - 1) Have money in the bank to cover at least three months of expenses, and 2) Establish a deadline for introductory rates, don't make it a permanent thing.

A lot of people complain about how tough it is to be a freelancer these days.  While this is true, it doesn't mean you can't survive.  The difference is how you package yourself and letting prospects know that you mean business from the first contact.  I've had many Skype interviews with small (and some medium-sized) operators and often they have interesting perceptions about what they think freelancers of a certain niche do every day.

If You Believe You're Important, So Will They

Even if you're binge-watching Netflix or Cartoon Network in between jobs, it doesn't mean you can't be firm about rates or what you're willing to deal with while working with a client.  If you feel things are too loose (which can affect your pay), don't hesitate to get it in writing before starting.  It's a good idea to design your own work-for-hire forms when getting started anyway.

In the meantime, you can also look out for these beware (and possibly run) scenarios - 

1. There's a lot of talking in the beginning.  Discussing your qualifications or what they want is one thing but if the conversation gets into a lot of 'what-if' (usually negative) scenarios, then you may want to create a plus/minus inventory list before going further.

2. The rate is unusually low/they want free work.  Unfortunately, these go hand-in-hand.  A good client is often satisfied with a strong portfolio or profile and a brief interview.  A bad client normally wants a lot of time discussing the project (on your time), to pay as little as possible (and this may take longer than originally stated), and you may have to jump through several hoops just to receive decent feedback.  This type of relationship never works, no matter how hard you work.

3.  Nothing is in writing.  While email messages can hold up in some cases, these may not be enough when it comes to overseas clients that are slow-paying or leave you high and dry. Having a paper trail can tell you more about the client and it can protect both in the case of a discrepancy.  If the client refuses to complete any forms presented to them, consider this a major warning sign...and a possible blessing in disguise.

Friday, September 3, 2021

Build Your Online Profile with a Movie About...YOU!

This is a short post/week because of a project I just completed and the fact that I'm going back to the drawing board on another.  The former was a short movie featuring a family member that I'm pretty proud of but you can do this easily with a number of free/low-cost apps.  Making professional-quality videos at home may fall under presentations, animation software, or graphic design programs.  While I have some previous experience in this area, I can answer some questions you may have.

What if I Have Little Knowledge?

Programs like Animaker allow you to click-and-drag/drop while previewing how certain objects will look. By doing a search for the best animation software for beginners, you can see a basic rundown of features as well as costs.  When creating a video for promotional purposes, it's best to keep the time short anyway.  Shorter videos are easier to edit and once you find compatible software, you can add on elements and features as you please.

What Type of Content Should I Create?

Though you may envision yourself as a superhero, it may be best to steer clear of fantasy images (unless that's part of your brand).  What you create is entirely up to you but it helps to be unique as possible.  The above video may inspire some ideas for content.  I suppose the best rule of thumb is to create something that's memorable yet relevant.

What About My Office Suite Software?

Yes, Google Drive and Microsoft Office are free and already paid for, respectively but the selection is limited.  However, these are good places to get your feet wet and learn about basics, such as colors and layout.  If you were to visit the Microsoft Store, you may find an add-on that will help you add that special touch to your finished product.

Anything Else I Should Note?

If you have a FB account and you begin doing searches for products, you will be flooded with offers that sound a little too good to be true.  For instance, to subscribe by the month may cost $10 or $20 but the FB offer states the same program is sold as a $67 download.  All I can say is read the comments and you'll see why you may want to throw caution to the wind.

Also, Blender may be a part of the list of recommended animation programs for beginners.  As someone who once worked as a graphic artist, I can tell you that while it's reputable and free, user-friendly it is NOT.  A few reviewers share my sentiment and while it's quite the teaching tool for someone looking to be an animator without the high tuition, it's not for the novice who's in a rush.

And while it may go without saying, free anything online is seldom without obligation.  Though I'm currently having some FB security issues, programs like Canva may want your other social media account info.  While I've been using Canva for a couple of years with no problems, some may not like the watermark that lets everyone know you're on a freebie account.  This comes with a lot of free accounts and if you load onto YouTube, there are some creator tools that will allow you to crop any logo or other images you don't want.