Ah, that sweet, sweet freelance life. Call us biased, but we tend to think it’s the bee’s knees. The catch? It takes a heck ton more planning and money-managing smarts than the average 9-5 life does.
And since most of us (presumably) aren’t accounting wizards, the prospect of top-notch money management can be pretty daunting.
Fear not, dear reader! You don’t need a degree in accounting to manage your small freelancing business like a boss. And should you hit the big time? Well, that’s another story. But for now, let’s assume you aren’t making hundreds of thousands per month. Yet.
If you’re still thinking about going freelance but haven’t made the jump yet, we highly recommend that you take a look at this guy before reading on. We cover a whole bunch of important insights on transitioning into freelance: how to save, how much to save, how to build a client base, and - well, just go read it already.
All caught up? Good. Sneak a peek at our top tips for managing your money as a freelancer.
- Separate your Personal & Business Funds
Guess what? You’re the business AND the employee now. Know what businesses do? Pay their employees a regular salary (we hope), which is handled separately from the business’ overall funds. Unless they're weirdly trusting, that is.
We digress. Here’s the lowdown: create a new business account where all your freelance cash money is paid into. Pay yourself a set monthly salary, consistently, like what you’d get at a normal job.
- It makes bookkeeping and financial tracking easier, because you won’t have to sort through your business and personal expenses when it comes to tax season
- It helps you save. If you’re just using your freelance income as it arrives in your account, it’s difficult to track growth, plan ahead, and not spend money like a frat bro with daddy’s Amex card.
Here comes the tricky part…
After you’ve created your separate accounts and gotten the whole salary thing waxxed, try (and we mean, really try) to not just take more money from your business account. Otherwise, what’s the point of the whole rigmarole?
Need a raise? Cool! Give yourself one (preferably one that still gives you space to save). And if you do end up overspending? Soz: time to pleb it out for the rest of the month like you would’ve had to with your 9-5 paycheck. Hope you like 2-minute noodles.
- SET ASIDE MONEY FOR TAXES
Look, it was always gonna happen. Freelancers pay 25% tax, but - plot twist - that can be a GOOD thing. If you do it right. But regardless of when it pays off, you need to factor it into your budgeting and fees right now, ‘cause you’ll be needing it.
Here’s the deal
Simply speaking, your 25% tax is what you pay to SARS upfront, based on what you would normally pay over the course of a year (according to your expected freelance income). This happens twice a year, which is why it’s meeega important to stay on top your cash flow at all times.
Most business expenses are tax deductible (hell yeah!) - but you need to track them religiously in order to claim them back, as mentioned in point one. The end result? Chances are that when you file your tax return at the end of the year, you’ll score a sweet stack of cash back. In other words: drinks on you, bro!
But before you even get there? You’ll need to register for small business tax via SARS. We also HIGHLY recommend that you give this episode of The ResourceCast a good listen for key insights on handling your taxes - from an OG tax practitioner, nogal. Trust us. It’s less scary than it seems.
Good to know: Fundi is currently in the process of creating a tax support resource for freelancers (because we’re cool like that), but that’s later - and this is now! Watch this space. Kisses.
- SET A BUSINESS BUDGET
We get it: working from home can be lonely - and the no-brainer solve is often hitting a coffee shop that has other actual humans in it. That’s all good and well, but if your daily coffee shop work sessions usually morph into coffee-mimosa-caviar sessions, well, it all adds up.
Set a business budget for stuff like (basic) coffee shop work sessions, plus all the other costs of running your business: stationary and materials, airtime, monthly laptop repayments, etc.
Sometimes unforeseen stuff arises and you might go slightly over or under your budget. This shouldn’t be too much of an issue if it isn’t a common occurrence. If you’re sticking within the parameters of what you’ve budgeted for, your expenditure should break even over a few months.
- AND WHEN YOUR BUSINESS BUDGET IS DONE…
Combine it with your overall budget, consisting of your adult-ey expenses (rent, house things, RA, blah-di-blah), fun funds (yay, beer), and however much you want to save each month. Based on that, you’ll be able to determine how many hours you’ll need to work each month to reach your goals. Then hit that target, BRO.
- INVEST IN AN INVOICING PROGRAM
Client invoices are kind of like your mom’s bi-weekly guilt trips, in that they never go away. Ever. And guess what? They’re never going to, at least until you retire (or your mom decides to start therapy at the ripe old age of 64. LOL. Imagine.)
Good news! We can help with the invoicing thing. Your mom, not so much.
Investing in a paid, dedicated invoicing system saves you a ton of time and takes the headache out of invoicing. Sure, you can create your own invoices on Microsoft Word or Google Docs, but weigh up the cost of your time versus the cost of a monthly subscription fee. Plus if you’re even half as scatterbrained as we are, having your stuff saved and organised in one place is pretty damn priceless.
Xero is one of the best in the biz and you get a free trial so you can take it for a spin - and no, this is not a sponsored ad. Promsies.
Here’s what you can do with it:.
SEND INVOICES (DUH)
Xero has intuitive invoicing software that helps you invoice faster and more efficiently as soon as you finish the job. Apparently. Try it out and let us know. (Thaaanks.)
Keep your money stuff up to date by categorising and reconciling bank transactions, using suggested matches. Cool!
SORT YOUR VAT ADMIN, QUICKSTICKS
Automatically calculate VAT on transactions, prep returns, and file them directly using SARS e-Filing. Convenience at its finest.
If you do choose to create your invoices from scratch…
We suggest you:
- Create an invoice template
- File it in an invoice folder on Google Drive
- From there, make a copy for each new invoice, rename and number it, and fill it in accordingly
- Download it as a PDF to email to your client
That way, you always have it on hand, can easily make live changes, and it won’t just get lost in the bottomless abyss that is your downloads folder.
- HIRE A BOOKKEEPER
Ja no look, money things just don’t come naturally to everyone. (It’s us. We’re everyone.)
Luckily, some people deal with money stuff for a living. Rough for them. Awesome for us.
Why do you need a bookkeeper?
As a freelancer, you already have tons of stuff to get to - and throwing all the money managing aspects of your business into the mix can be a lot. Plus, if you aren’t super savvy at it, it could end up losing you money. Yuck.
Without proper bookkeeping, some transactions can go unrecorded and be left to pile up until the end of a financial period. Mistakes can be made and important details lost or forgotten (kinda like when you used to klap the jol in your early 20s).
That's where bookkeepers come in. They can lighten the load by taking away the day-to-day recording of receipts, invoices and other transactions.
How do I find the right match?
Whoever you hire will be trusted with the confidential details of your business’ finances, so don’t sommer hire anyone.
The good news: there are tons of bookkeeping businesses, so you'll have plenty of options (unlike when you’re dating in your mid-30’s). You could do your research and contact one directly, or ask your friends, business partners or clients if they have any recommendations.
And that’s it, peeps! We hope you’re now one step closer to living your best boujee self and ordering that extra avo whenever you damn well please (as long as it’s been pre-approved and budgeted for. Obvs).
Need more career advice? Get in touch with Fundi now!