Every time I run into a freelancer who is trying to make the business side of freelancing work for them, I keep telling them about a few resources available on the web. Being our own boss is cool, but sometimes we need to cover our asses from shady clients (they aren't everywhere, but we've all seem to run into a few). I've been meaning to post on this topic for awhile. And I've actually written this same post a few times to try and get my point across without sounding too cynical or like a sales pitch on certain products. I can turn down the cynicism, but talking about certain free resources is just gonna sound like a sales promo, however I spin it.
Over the past couple of years, a few resources have greatly improved my life (as a freelancer, but also my life as a whole). Being a freelancer, you really need to know how to budget your time, life, and most importantly, your income. No matter what you do, your going to have months where your doing great and getting work all the time, and then your gonna have your dry months. The months where you get a day gig a week, if your lucky. Its just how it is. When we're doing well, we are doing well. When we aren't, we just aren't doing well.
I have to give my sister credit for this one. She introduced me to mint.com. Mint is a free budgeting tool. You put your accounts in and make a monthly budget. My budget fluctuates and this tool helps show me where I'm putting my money and if I need to adjust my budget. I can tell you how much I'm spending every month on things like rent, groceries, metrocards, entertainment, etc. When your income fluctuates from month to month, you can see how something like this would help you to see where all your money is going to. Now, you can do a spreadsheet and figure this all out on your own, but you have to input all the information. Having a budget is something everyone should do, but I think I can easily say that for us freelancers, its vital.
Another great resource is the Freelancers Union. You know you've seen the adds on the subway and have been curious as to what they're all about. They aren't a union in the typical sense. As freelancers, we come from a diverse background of talents. So they aren't going to bargain with a single employer to get you better working conditions. But they are trying to help gain protection from non-payment in a few states and have banded together to get health insurance for individuals at group rates. In that sense, they are a union.
At this moment, the Freelancers Union has 2 really great resources that I think everyone should at least take a look at. The Client Scorecard and the Contract Creator. We've all worked for a client or employer that we wish we could just forget about. But why forget about it and let the next sucker just find out for their own. The Client Scorecard lets you inform the masses about your crappy experience. Or if you had a great experience, let others know. There are a few poll questions, a star rating, and a review box. Its a great way to see if there is a place you would want to work at, or place you should avoid like the plague.
The Contract Creator is really great for all of us who can't afford to have a lawyer write us up a contract and protect us with the correct language. It allows you to put in certain variables and saves out a document to your computer that you can adjust later if you wish. Very user friendly.
I'm always looking for tools to help make my life a little easier. These have just made it possible to tame the madness of freelancing. Yes, I did just plug a few resources. But I actually use them. I'm not gonna tell you about something that I've never touched before. Give these things a try. Might make your life easier. Or you can ignore every word of it.