Freelancing: how to not go bust

I left university and jumped straight into being a freelancer. But I soon learned from experience that this probably wasn’t the best idea. I’d decided to stay in Manchester after graduation but, six months in, I’d run out of money and had to get any job I could to see me through. Eventually I moved back in with my parents in Sheffield, and spent a year solely working on my illustrations. By then, I’d saved up enough money to be able to rent my own place.

Getting the financial side of freelancing sorted is a big headache, but it has to be done. I sought professional help from an accountant, which I’d definitely recommend doing. As well as keeping your financial affairs above board, they can help minimise your tax bill by telling you what you can claim in expenses and equipment when working from home. Accountants’ costs vary, but many offer a free initial consultation.

Companies all have different methods of processing payments, and even if your invoice asks for payment within 30 days, it won’t necessarily happen. If the job is large, I’ll ask for at least a 30 per cent deposit. It’s money in the bank for me, but it also shows that you have the trust of the client.

Having an agent makes invoicing easier, as they handle that whole side. Clients do have to pay the agency before I get paid, but all the money I’m owed has come in on time, so it’s not made that much of a difference to my cashflow. A few agents have a bad reputation for keeping the money back, but I’m lucky to be with a good one.

I’ve always been a bit of a saver, and now I put 20 per cent of whatever comes in straight into a separate bank account to save for tax. I also pay as many of my bills as possible monthly, to help keep track of everything. My general rule is that you should work out your monthly outgoings, and then try to earn enough to double that. During that year after I graduated I realised how much you depend on money to live, which has made me much more careful about what I spend it on, but also encouraged me to push for more.

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