Why You’re Not a Better Freelancer

Posted: March 29th, 2010

Photo by Dave Jones (Flickr)

Photo by Dave Jones (Flickr)

These days, with all the information out there to help you with freelancing, it should be no problem at all to become successful in a short period of time.

You would think so at least.

Actually, freelancers are lucky to have a wide range of resources available to them. I’d say you’ve been hiding under a rock if you haven’t visited the massive archives at Freelance Folder or Freelance Switch yet. If you followed all the advice in their posts, you are virtually guaranteed success.

The problem is that freelancers have to work. There is that income thing, you know, and learning doesn’t exactly pay the bills. Working and learning is similar to holding a job while attending night classes. You have to work overtime to get both done and sacrifice your free time and even sleep in the process.

In other words, it’s not easy. But here’s a question for you. Are you putting in that overtime to learn on top of your freelance work?

If  I hear a ‘no’, don’t worry. You’re not alone. In fact, these are the likely scenarios when it comes to improving as a freelancer:

  • No time. You have your project deadlines to worry about or you’re working your butt off looking for clients.
  • You have some “game-changing” articles bookmarked collecting dust, still waiting around to get to them (see above).
  • You’ve tried some of that advice out there, but eventually fall back into your old habits.

The truth is we can balance our work and learning without severely cutting into our our precious free time and sleep. All it takes is a more organized approach in four easy steps.

  1. Realize that you won’t get to everything you read. There is simply too much information out there for a freelancer to use. Plus new information is constantly outdating the old. Just be selective and pick out those articles you want to concentrate on the most.
  2. Pick one or two topics a week you want to work on; something that won’t take more than a few hours a week. Remember, you don’t have all the time in the world to learn everything.
  3. Evaluate what you just learned. Is it working for you and is something that will make you better down the road? Then keep doing it!
  4. Repeat the above with new articles.

Sound simple? Well it is actually. We’re not going to learn everything in a single day, nor week. Just taking baby steps to apply what you read and learn, though, adds up over time. Before you know it, you’ll begin to see results that may surprise you.

The Week In Freelance: March 26th

Posted: March 26th, 2010

Some Tax Help For All You (U.S.) Freelancers

Posted: March 10th, 2010

Photo by Andrew Whalley (Flicker)

Photo by Andrew Whalley (Flicker)

For those freelancers in the States, there’s a little over a month left to go search out those receipts and get your tax returns filed on time. Plenty of time but, if you have been freelancing a while, you then know that the sooner done, the better.

No, freelancers don’t have the option of filling out that one-page 1040-EZ form either. So say hello to the “long form” 1040. I recently received the 1040 form with instructions by mail, too, just the other day which contains about 200 pages of forms and IRS business jargon.

Fun reading.

Good thing there is a lot of tax information available that specifically apply to freelancers. These have helped me out quite a bit and will help you get the most out of your deductions and reduce your tax liability. Or in other words, save you some cash you can use to replace that broken desk chair.

Filing The Tax Returns

The best option is to utilize a tax service such as H & R Block and have a professional accountant help you out with your returns for a nominal fee. A tax professional will be able to identify deductions that passed you by, and end up saving you more on taxes than the fees of their service. Not to mention, your risk of an audit is drastically reduced.

If you decide to go on your own, there are plenty of online tax services which make this task easy. Did you know, though, that, if your adjusted gross income (income minus expense and other deductions) is $57,000 or less, you can use a number of services for free?

If you qualify, the IRS website has a list of “Free File” websites to do your taxes. I personally recommend TurboTax since it’s incredibly easy to use and includes a check to reduce your chances of an audit.

Tax Deductions

It is almost guaranteed that there are deductions you can take that you probably haven’t considered. Did you know even PayPal fees are one of them? Check out these for a comprehensive list:

  • Freelance Switch: A list of ten common (yet not-so-known) freelancing related tax deductions.
  • WiseBread: Talk about a big list… 101 tax deductions for freelancers and bloggers.
  • ProBlogger: There is a list of 46 deductions here, some of which overlap the above but will round out the possibilities.

The “Making Work Pay” Tax Credit

Every freelancer in the U.S. is eligible for a credit of 6.2% of his or her earned income, up to $400. All that has to be done is to file a Schedule M along with your return. For more information on this credit, visit the About.com page.

Other Tax Resources

For any other questions, advice or general curiosity in dealing with taxes, the following are very helpful in getting the answers you need.

  • TaxGirl: A blog dedicated to just taxes with very informative articles. Try a search for any topic which you have questions on.
  • H & R Block “Get It Right”: A community forum where you can look up tax questions by other users or you can ask a tax professional one of your own.
  • Turbo Tax: Handy tax calculators plus comprehensive guides to taxes.
  • IRS Self-Employed Tax Center: Normally I try to avoid anything IRS related, but there is great information on anything tax related for freelancers here.

Do You Have Other Suggestions?

Have any other tax tips not mentioned here? Leave a comment below and let us freelancers know!

Top Ten Reasons For Freelancers To Return To Their Old Job

Posted: March 8th, 2010

At some point or another, freelancers contemplate going back to the jobs they left, having missed the security of steady paychecks. Did you know there are other reasons, you may not have heard of, for making a beeline to that now coveted job? Yep, these are true.

10. The need to contend for the employee-of-the-month title.

9. Freelancing plus the side gig at the Burger King wasn’t working out as you hoped.

8. Thought your old boss was actually kinda cool.

7. Access to the free coffee machine again.

6. Hourly wages rock!

5. Get to hear jokes again from the fat, smelly guy in the next cubicle.

4. You could use some new stolen software anyway.

3. You can finally stop eating ramen and raid the stale donuts and leftover birthday cake around the office.

2. Get back those medical benefits then get that nasty tumor thing looked at.

1. They wouldn’t survive a day without me anyway.

7 Things You Can Do Today To Be A Better Freelancer

Posted: March 1st, 2010

Photo by Keraoc (Flickr)

Photo by Keraoc (Flickr)

Every freelancer could use a tip or two to become a little better in their careers. I know this isn’t the only list out there but I compiled my own of seven tips that have really helped me out personally and wished I learned a lot earlier. Oh well, live and learn.

1. Follow and interact with other freelancers in your field on Twitter.

After being on Twitter for about a year, I’ve come to realize one thing. There is always someone that knows how to do what you are doing, but a thousand times better. That’s not to say you aren’t good at what you do, but there are some really savvy freelancers out there who will amaze you with the work they do.

Those exact same users are more than willing to share their “secrets” if you follow and tune in. Make an effort to seek out and follow other freelancers in your field, check out their websites and other work and don’t hesitate to strike up conversational tweets.

Sure, not all will respond but the majority on Twitter are sociable. After all, that’s what it is about.

2. Limit your free time on the internet.

Yes, freelancers need to email, use Twitter and other social media, check their readers and visit blogs every day. When you add up all the time you spend on the internet related to freelancing, though, does it make sense to spend any free time you do have surfing around?

OK, we do have to keep up with our news, sports and whatnot. Try this out your next work day though:

  • Make a log and record the times you are on the internet throughout the day. Then add up this time.
  • Does this number surprise you? Could some of this time be better spent, say, outside in the sun?
  • Can you really go without visiting those websites, games, etc. or reduce the time to a half hour or hour most a day?

Personally, I found a new hobby during my internet reduction… reading. Beats eye strain I say.

3. Record all your business related expenses using Outright.

At the start of this year I ran into an online accounting app, called Outright, that records all your expenses and  categorizes them for taxes. It is free, easy to use, and can be used in a number of currencies. Plus, it will keep you from scrambling to find those receipts come tax time.

Trust me on this one because I’m currently having brainstorm sessions to recall those expenses and find those receipts from last year that I need for my taxes this year.

4. Learn and apply something new each month.

I’m sure I share this situation with other freelancers but, when I’m busy and have a steady line of projects lined up, I have a tendency to complete them as quickly as possible. What’s the problem with this you ask?

While we are trying to be efficient, by finishing a project quickly to move on to the next project, we usually stick to only what we know when completing our projects. Over time, our knowledge grows stale and it becomes harder to grow in our fields and as freelancers.

Now, I’m not saying each and every project must be unique and has to be developed from new ideas. You can develop your skills further, though, just by setting aside a half hour to an hour a day to learn something new in your field or a new skill entirely. Then slowly incorporate this new knowledge into your new projects.

5. Blog

I can’t say enough on what blogging has done to my freelance career but I can say that if it has this effect on me, then it can for you too.  Here’s what it has done for me:

  • It’s a creative outlet that clears my head so I can focus on work.
  • I have to put into practice what I write. Being a hypocrite doesn’t bode well with me.
  • It’s empowering to know people read what I have to say.
  • Sometimes I forget my own advice so I check back here for it.

6. Have daily work goals.

I tried a bit of psychology on myself to see if it would improve my productivity. To my surprise, I was gullible enough to fall for it, but it worked out. Here’s the skinny:

  • Each workday, write out your task list. Go a step further, though, and write, specifically, everything has to be done in detail for each task.
  • Give yourself a time limit to do it all.
  • Give yourself a little reward if you complete the list, say, an import beer or a pizza (or both).
  • If you easily complete your tasks in the time you set, set the bar higher the next day with more tasks.

What I noticed was that on the days where the tasks weren’t completed, I would work harder the next day and complete the tasks I set out. This eventually becomes a habit which is the real purpose of this.

7. Work on a personal project.

Every freelancer has some kind of idea for a new app or novel, so why not start it.

Now.

Don’t worry if it will be a success or not. That’s not the point. Your passion in your career will grow with any personal project you do. Not only that but you may learn a thing or two along the way which only helps in your career.

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What are tips you have to be a better freelancer… right now? Share one a comment below.