Though it might seem as if the most talented writers are great at everything, especially if they have successful freelancing businesses, there are likely a few challenges beneath the surface.
Often, these challenges deal more with the business aspects of freelancing than the writing. Of all the possible struggles freelance writers face, money and math are some of the most common.
I have focused more on words than numbers my entire life. My SAT scores were so out of balance colleges were unsure whether to offer me a full journalism scholarship or demand I enroll in remedial math (that statement is exaggerated, though only slightly, further proving my preference for words over numbers).
My real-life math skills are functional compared to my algebra and trigonometry abilities, but it is still the toughest challenge I face as a self-employed writer. Since real-life math skills include managing money, I’m often faced with budgeting challenges. Due to the unpredictability of freelance income, this is a common issue for many freelance writers, especially those who struggle with math.
So what do you do when your income is inconsistent and your ability to manage the numbers affecting your budget is lacking? Sometimes my solution is to panic, cease spending all money, and work 14 hours a day. Other times I take the opposite approach, ignoring the problem and embarking on a three-day shopping free-for-all. Neither option is ideal.
Is Your Problem Really Math?
First, determine if your problem is math or if there is a bigger issue at play. Create a budget and compare it to your income. If your income is not enough to meet your needs, your problem is less about numbers and more about marketing, growing your client base, and generating income. When income is sufficient and your challenge is managing those numbers, you are a bit closer to business success. You only need to tweak a few things, as opposed to rethinking your entire business.
Reduce Your Math Burden
Next, simplify things so you are “doing math” as little as possible. Calculate your monthly expenses, schedule automated payments for all of your bills from a bill-paying account, and transfer that amount from your business account each month. The bill-paying account ensures your bills get paid on time without your having to do calculations on a regular basis. It cuts down on math mistakes.
It is possible to use a single personal account for bill-paying and other miscellaneous expenses, but that requires your math skills be flawless. I’m offering a solution that reduces the number of times you need to calculate debits from an account and worry about charges clearing and interfering with monthly expenses. For some, the best option is to set up the bill-paying account and use cash for all other personal expenses.
Of course, many freelancers deal with an unpredictable income schedule, so having the money in your bill-paying account on time can be challenging. My suggestion is to get one month ahead. This is a variation of stockpiling three months’ salary for emergencies.
Load up your bill-paying account with one month of bills and forget it is in the account. Work as though everything is occurring in the current month, but know you are safe if a problem should arise. This is not an alternative to the three-month emergency plan and deals strictly with paying bills and avoiding frequent calculations.
Another option is to have someone else handle your money for you. I don’t recommend this option, but it is appropriate for some freelancers. Keep in mind this money management system will likely not be handled by a professional. Your goal is to prevent math mistakes from wreaking havoc on your budget. This is much different than having someone manage your money regarding retirement funds, taxes, and other more complicated issues.
You are also dealing with personal accounts, so you will not want to ask an administrative member of your staff to work on this, unless you happen to work with your spouse or someone else intimately familiar with your personal and professional finances.
There are a lot of systems available for managing money. Some are not appropriate for the unusual needs of freelance writers, but others work across this board. The bill-paying account system might work for some, but not for others. Some might find it tedious or impractical, but it does help those who struggle with numbers.
In an ideal world, freelancers would be whizzes at all aspects of business ownership, but this is not the case. If your strength is words and not numbers, a bill-paying account keeps you out of the red and focused on writing.