It’s the final post in our four-week series on freelancing, where we’ve looked at some of the benefits that freelancing can bring you; how to get started; and, last week, some of the biggest challenges of freelancing. This week, we’re finishing up with an interview focused on managing your money as a freelancer.
Michelle Jackson is a personal finance blogger, whose goal is to empower older Millennial and Gen X women on the topic of money, earning more and entrepreneurship. She had her own bad experience with money when her mum lost her job and Michelle ended up supporting the two of them on just student loans and a part-time job at Starbucks. This led her into the world of personal finance, as she tried to learn more and more to get herself out of a tricky situation.
In the interview, she shares how she never learned how to manage her money properly growing up; she tells us about a mistake she made when she first started out as a freelancer; and she gives her advice on managing your money as a freelancer. Her biggest advice, which I agree with 100%, is to start thinking like an entrepreneur.
Discover the 5Ls model to help you think more broadly about success
In my experience - from my own life and from working with clients over the years - there are five key areas in our lives that need to be balanced in order for us to thrive and live a truly successful life in a more whole and holistic sense: LIVE - Wellness & Wellbeing; LOVE - Relationships & Romance; LEARN - Development & Growth; LEAD - Career & Impact; and LAUGH - Fun & Spontaneity.
Managing your money as a freelancer – with Michelle Jackson
What does ‘success’ mean to you?
I’m really glad that you asked the question because it has been a while since I’ve reflected on that – and for me success is kind of how I’m living now! Before we got on the call, I was sitting out on the patio and I was editing a podcast episode that I’m going to share on my site. Even if I’m working on projects for other people, I can work wherever I’d like. I can wake up at an indecent time or a regular time, or super early. So success for me has been having a say over how my day-to day interactions will go.
I have that opportunity to really spend time with the people that I love and care about – like having breakfast with my mum yesterday when she randomly popped over. Then later on, I spent time with other personal finance bloggers who live here in Colorado and we all went for lunch.
That for me is success. Being able to run my day, live how I want to. Now does it mean I’m not working hard? I work really hard – but it’s worth it for me. It’s very tricky to find jobs that allow you the kind of freedoms that I have.
I was lucky in my old position – I worked at a university – but it was so stressful that towards the end, my hair was falling out. I gained about 30kg and I had a lot of anxiety. I had the long commute and I just felt, “This is not how my life should be. This sucks!” So there were these physical indicators that how I was living and how I was working was not serving me well.
Today, I’m going to do some work and then there are more people to see in town. I’m lucky to live in a town where people visit quite a bit, and we’re going to eat lunch and sit on a patio – and then I’ll do some more work later. It’s great!
Why is money such a tricky area for so many of us?
Well, I actually got into personal finance blogging because I had problems with money, problems that came to a head when my mum lost her job. I was in graduate school at the time, and I was like most people in grad school, just studying, partying. I was also working part-time at Starbucks, as a lot of people do. Then my mum lost her job.
I ended up supporting two people on nine dollars an hour – including the tips. It was nine dollars and my student loans. I already had a bad financial situation, which I wasn’t acknowledging – I was just thinking, “Whatever, I’m living my life!” Then when that happened, it really came to light: “I have a lot of financial issues, and I’ve got to do something about it.”
I had to relearn a lot of habits. I had to become fiscally aware, and these things take time. I started reading other people’s stories and understanding that I wasn’t the only person in this situation. That was very reassuring – because I felt like such a loser!
Quite honestly, I just didn’t have the financial literacy that I needed. When I was growing up, I learned to work hard and be ethical – that was it. I didn’t have conversations about, “Well, you should invest, and this is retirement…” Ironically, my father is actually quite well to do, but my parents are divorced. They weren’t having these conversations at the time that they were married. So I was educated, and I knew certain things, but those money conversations hadn’t happened.
It’s so imperative that we talk about this – even though it’s painful, it’s not fun to talk about money all the time. My goal is really to empower people and say: “You’re not alone. Don’t feel bad, just start from where you are now, and keep on moving.”
What are the specific challenges for freelancers?
The thing with freelancing that I’ve discovered is that you have to be so intentional about making sure that you’re always attracting new clients; that you’re always aware that a client can leave at any given time. You always need to be ‘onboarding’ new clients – you can never let the foot off the gas. I’m of the opinion that most people need probably three times the number of clients that they think they do.
Things change – it could be the season. Depending on what kind of work you do, the time of year could affect the flow of work.
You might not even like what you do. I do a lot of freelance writing and I’m going to be frank: I do lucrative freelance writing, because I write in the personal finance space, but I don’t love it, as a soulful part of my business.
I’ll give you a story about that. I quit my job and I went to Australia for a couple of months, Australia and Hawaii, because I was burnt out – I already shared how I gained all that weight and my hair was falling out. After that, I thought, “Well, I’m going to go back to America now, and I need money because Australia has been expensive.” So I went back home and I had only a loose idea of how I would make money. I started pitching for clients.
What I ended up doing was editing a book for this person who was in the personal finance space – and I did not negotiate, I just was so thankful for the work. I ended up getting paid 100 dollars for editing a digital book – and it wasn’t a small book! By the end of that project, I was probably getting paid five cents an hour or something. I will never make a mistake like that again.
What are some strategies that can help?
1. Manage your mindset
There’s so much money out there to be had. How proactive are you going to be? How comfortable are you asserting your authority and being comfortable saying, “This is what I bring to the table, and this is what I’m going to ask for”? I think a lot of freelancers, especially in the beginning, are very nervous about all of that. I went through it – it’s a trial by fire. When I first started, I felt, “Well I’m just so thankful for the work that you gave me.”
Now, having a website called Michelle is Money Hungry, that is declaring that I am okay with asking for money so that I can get paid for the experience that I bring to you. I am efficient, I’m fast, I know what I’m doing, and I’m a professional.
2. Always be pitching new clients
When you’re self-employed, you need to be always looking for projects, looking to work with people, and helping them with what they need to do. There’s a lot of pitching, and putting yourself out there.
Identify who your ideal client would be and then reach out directly to the people who you want to help. I do freelance writing, and my ideal clients are typically going to be people in the personal finance space. I like talking about money, so I like writing for them – and they can afford my services.
The way I look at it is that I have paid, pitch, and personal time. Paid stuff always gets done first. You wake up earlier to get your paid stuff done, your client-based work done. You pitch, because you always want to be bringing people in. And then the personal time is when you can focus on developing products to sell.
3. Think like a business
I think that freelancers in 2018, right now, have a huge opportunity to sell what they know. They can sell their knowledge and they can balance out their earnings so that they’re not always doing 100% client-based work. For example, I have a friend who is a prolific freelance writer. Her name is Holly Johnson. She’s making maybe $250,000 a year just with her writing but she now runs a course called Earn More Writing to teach people how they can find lucrative freelance writing gigs.
So it’s not just having multiple clients, it’s having multiple revenue streams. If you’re a copywriter, maybe you do a whole course on copywriting, so that you can make an additional income from that. It doesn’t take a billion people to grow that revenue stream, whether it is with your course or your coaching, whatever it is you decide you can do in addition to any freelancing work that you’re doing. And it gets you away from doing that hourly work.
So right now, I’m developing a course on how people can monetise their podcasts. I’m a podcaster myself, and last year I presented at a conference called Podcast Movement, putting together a panel about how you can monetise a podcast with blogger skills.
4. Learn to love networking
I love networking – I’m a networking ninja, I love meeting people.
When you’re developing your own product, you have to think about who it is that you want to help and then ask enough questions to know what product, tool, or service you can create that they would buy. You can do a survey, and you can observe online, in Facebook groups, and see what your friends and family are struggling with.
For a long time, I was helping people for free. I was getting testimonials and validation that my help and guidance was serving them well. That gave me the confidence to start charging. You’d be surprised at what people will pay!
You can get Michelle’s free resource to help you network in Facebook groups (without pissing off the admins!) on her website: How To Network in Facebook Groups and Make $$
5. What’s one step that people can take today?
The first thing is to understand what your cash flow needs to be: how much you need to exist, taking into account the taxes. So here, 35% would probably be the conservative amount here in the US, this is the amount on top of what you earn.
The second thing is: always be onboarding. You need to have a dedicated day to pitch and market to people so that they know who you are. A lot of people say, “I feel like there’s not enough work.” There’s so much work to be had but you need to be really clear about who you want to work with, how much you want to be paid…
And never work hourly. It puts you into the role of employee versus a contracted person doing a service.
Finally, I’m going to be insistent: start to develop your own products!
Michelle Jackson is a personal finance influencer focused on the financial lives of older Millennial and Gen X women. She is obsessed with online business, passive income, and being unapologetically money hungry – because people who are broke have a hard time helping others. Check out her website and podcast, or follow her on Instagram. When she’s not geeking about money, she’s exploring her home state of Colorado looking for inspiration for her Colorado-based blog and podcast, Square State<.