How I Fucked Up My 1st Year Freelancing… and How I’m Fixing It

I’ve been thinking a lot about what I’ve done wrong this year and what I need to fix for 2015, especially when it comes to my finances, and I’ve been developing a sort of New Year’s financial resolutions list that I thought I would share with you.

We’ll start with the things I did wrong in 2014.

My 2014 Mistakes

White dude with a headache.

This is what I look like when I think about my finances, except less white. Photo by Brandon Koger. CC BY-NC-SA.

The first domino of my financial downfall this year: my complacency. I quit my full-time job in October 2013 and had about 6 months of savings. Because I still had this savings, I wasn’t trying that hard to pick up writing gigs, researching publications, networking, etc.

My complacency fed into two more mistakes: eating into my emergency savings for monthly expenses (like rent, bills) and the thousands of credit card debt I put myself into because I thought I could still live my carefree lifestyle — eating out, buying books and music, etc.

It wasn’t until my savings ran out that I started to worry a bit and started cutting down my “fun” spending, but I was still running up credit card debt, this time with cell phone bills, gas & electric, and Internet.

My other mistake was not calculating earlier how much I needed to hustle to bring in income, but part of that came from inexperience. I didn’t realize when I started freelancing that my hustling now might not benefit me until next month. Sure, some publications (especially online ones) and businesses need things done LAST/THIS/NEXT WEEK, but most times, there are negotiations, consultations, approvals, etc. between me and the business or within the business itself. So I might not even hear back on a proposal for a couple of weeks.

Those are main mistakes I made. If I keep listing the other mistakes, I’ll just get depressed, so let’s skip to my goals (in order of importance) and what I plan on doing (and what I’ve already implemented) for the new year.

My 2015 Goals

  • Double my freelance income… which sounds crazy but not really if you consider I made shit this year.
  • Pay off as much of my $6000 in credit card debt as I can
  • Start building my savings account
  • Start contributing to retirement
  • Start saving for business purchases
    • Wishlist: AP Stylebook, Writer’s Market, Scratch Magazine subscription
  • Start a club savings for holiday/birthday presents

How am I reaching my goals?

Pretty lights coming down from storm clouds.

The heavenly host coming down to deliver the book that kicked my ass into gear. Photo by Matthew Perkins. CC BY-NC-ND.

Using The Money Book as my guide — I wrote about that book here — I’ve implemented the most important step to reach my goals: my savings percentage spreadsheet. For each payment I receive, whether it’s from my part-time job or from freelancing, I take a pre-determined percentage and transfer it to different savings accounts. I take 25% of my freelance income and move it over to my tax fund, 3% to savings, 7% to credit cards, etc. I have different percentages for my part-time job income because they take out taxes already. The remaining money stays in my checking account and I use it for bills, groceries, rent.

When I pay 2014 taxes, I’ll adjust how much I save in my tax fund for 2015… and actually pay quarterly taxes. I didn’t this year because I wasn’t sure how much I was going to make. Next year, I plan on having a bigger income *crosses fingers* and don’t want to be penalized.

Which leads me to my plan on getting more gigs.

I need at least one big web content or copywriting job a month but I would like 2-3/month. In-between, I would like a pathetic bare minimum of one article a week. Ideally I would have at least one a day, if not more!

How am I getting there? I’m researching, pitching, and bidding every day… while still being selective. On Elance, oDesk, Reddit, and Craigslist, I’m only hitting up bigger web content/copy jobs with higher budgets. For articles, I’m always searching for new blogs and publications (online and print). I’m reading a lot more pubs that I never thought I’d ever read so I can get inspiration for possible articles.

And is it working so far? Kind of. I’m hoping for the snowball effect… once I get a project here and there, I start getting more and more projects.

And like I mentioned earlier… some of these bids I won’t hear from until next month.

What was your first year freelancing like? Did you fuck up as badly as I did?

Or are you thinking of quitting to become a freelancer? Because I can tell you all the things NOT to do when first starting off.