Even at the best of times, being a freelancer has its hurdles. Freedom and autonomy inevitably come at the expense of stability and job security. Freelancers often experience paroxysms of guilt every time they book a holiday, and often work their way through periods of sickness and fatigue.
During these economically turbulent times, however, the lot of a freelancer has become even more challenging. The spiralling cost of living affects all households, but for freelancers it adds yet another element of instability and insecurity to a career that is already rife with both.
As well as facing surging energy costs that are barely cushioned by government support, many freelancers have seen costs rising throughout their supply chains, as well as in their personal household budgets. With that in mind, we thought it might be pertinent to share some practical tips that could help freelancers to navigate the current cost of living crisis.
When faced with spiralling living costs, many freelancers’ first instinct is to say, ‘I’ll just take on more work.’ But we’d advise caution when pursuing this path. Taking on more work or more clients may actually be counterproductive. Especially if you currently have a full workload.
Even if you are able to muster the time and energy needed to take on additional work, it may take a significant toll for a fairly negligible monetary gain. Working evenings and/or weekends to bring in more money can result in serious fatigue. This, in turn, may lead to a decline in the quality of your work, or an increase in mistakes being made or appointments being missed. All of these will inevitably compromise the personal brand that you have worked so hard to establish.
Before you consider taking on more freelance work, think about some ways in which you can not only save money but increase your income and improve your cash flow. So you can ameliorate the rising cost of living without burning yourself out.
Political turmoil, geopolitical conflicts and the fallout of Brexit and COVID have resulted in huge increases in energy costs that households cannot fail to have noticed. Since many freelancers work from home, their rising household energy bills will inevitably impact on their operating costs.
So, how can freelancers use less energy and drive down their bills?
First of all, it’s important to ensure that you receive all the government support available to you. As well as the £400 non-repayable discount on energy bills across winter 2022/2023, there is additional support available for freelancers who are amongst the most vulnerable. For instance:
Unfortunately, as domestic energy users, freelancers are not entitled to the support extended to small businesses using business energy tariffs.
Most UK households use gas central heating. However, if you use an economy 7 storage heater and have an appropriate tariff for it, this has the potential for further savings.
Freelancers typically use a lot of digital devices including laptops, tablets, digital cameras and of course smartphones. Charging these during daytime hours can be expensive. However, on an economy 7 tariff, your electricity will be much cheaper during your region’s allotted 7 hours overnight (typically between 12am and 7am). Depending on your tariff, you could save as much as 50% per night on charging costs between these hours.
During your working hours, it may be tempting to crank up the thermostat to stay warm and cosy. However, in the current climate this may result in a significant surge in energy costs. Instead of warming up your home, focus on warming yourself.
Throwing on a jumper, putting a hot water bottle on your lap and getting your hands around a steaming cup of tea are all cost-effective ways to keep yourself warm and cosy while you work.
If you aren’t in the habit of bleeding your radiators twice a year, your radiators may not be working as efficiently as they could. Over time, your radiators can fill with pockets of air that prevent warm water from circulating around them properly. This can be prevented by bleeding your radiators every six months.
The key to navigating the cost of living crisis is cutting down unnecessary expenses. This includes any undue tax liability that you unwittingly assume by not claiming all of the expenses that you have accrued through the year. A 2019 study by Freeagent suggests that UK freelancers routinely fail to claim around £24 million in expenses every year.
If you have an accountant, they can help to clarify what can and cannot be claimed as an expense. If you do not have an accountant, HMRC has a fairly comprehensive guide to expenses for freelancers.
But a lack of understanding of what expenses can and cannot be claimed is only part of the problem. Another significant part is failing to accurately record and report expenses.
If you’re still stuffing receipts into a fat envelope and adding them up on a monthly or quarterly basis, this is a reliable recipe for accounting errors and inaccuracies. Instead, try and get into the habit of photographing physical paper receipts and logging them with an app like ReceiptBank, as well as taking screenshots of any digital receipts you accrue when buying items for your freelancing work.
Getting through the current cost of living crisis isn’t just about saving money. It’s also about cash flow. Like all SMEs, freelancers face a never-ending battle when it comes to keeping their cash flow harmonious.
Freelancers generally issue an invoice upon completion of a project, with payment due within 30 days of receipt. While these are fairly typical payment terms, they can lead to a lull in cash flow during financially trying times.
Freelancers can get paid faster by:
Finally, don’t be afraid to let go of clients who are consistently late paying or whose payments you constantly have to chase. They inevitably create more stress and administrative hassle than they’re worth.
Finally, many freelancers feel uncomfortable when it comes to raising their rates in line with inflation. They may worry about alienating their clients, losing business or creating opportunities for competing freelancers.
But the truth is that unless you raise your prices, you will inevitably face a real-terms reduction in revenue and a further squeeze on your profit margins. Needless to say, this is simply not sustainable. What’s more, your clients will likely have had to do the same for their clients and understand that you will face increasing costs in your own supply chain. If you have put in the work on your value proposition, your clients will continue to perceive your worth.
That said, there’s a right way and a wrong way to increase your prices.
Announce your price increase to all clients via email at least 30 days prior to changing your prices. Ensure that you keep any price increases roughly in line with inflation, and ensure that you clearly explain your reasons for increasing your prices.
These are perilous times. But as long as you are vigilant when it comes to your expenses, mindful of unnecessary spending and continue to charge what you are worth, you will be able to emerge on the other side stronger and more agile.
We’re always interested in getting to know new freelance talent. We offer a dynamic range of copywriting services and rely on a broad pool of talent to deliver excellence to our clientele. If you’d like to write for us, we’d be delighted to hear from you.