Propelling yourself into a successful freelance writing career demands a significant investment of your time and resources. I know I speak for all of us when I say learning to be a better businessperson often comes with a steep learning curve. I first dipped my toe into the freelance waters nearly a decade ago, but I’m still learning and discovering better ways to stay profitable, find better clients, and grow my small business.
Unfortunately, the responsibilities and expectations of life outside of my writing career often have a pesky way of preventing me from handling certain issues on my plate. I know I can’t be the only one who tends to tackle the more enjoyable challenges first! Over the course of the past three months, I’ve made a couple of changes that have made a great impact on my business.
Without further ado, here are the five single best decisions I’ve made as a freelance writer in 2015:
1. I No Longer Use My SSN
Oh sure, I still have a social security number and I’ll certainly be using it in when I submit my tax return on April 15th. What I’m no longer doing is giving my SSN out to every person who asks for it. With the risk of identity theft ever rising, I know how important it is to safeguard this 10 digit number, but nearly every company or individual I accept payments from needs my number to fulfill their tax obligations—or do they?
The short answer is no, none of your clients, partners, or affiliates need your SSN. Instead, they need your tax ID number, and those are available in numerous forms. A social security number is one form of tax ID, but so is an employer identification number, better known as an EIN. EINs are a necessity if you have employees, but they’re also great for any sole proprietor who wants to be prudent.
If you’re behind the curve too, don’t despair. Hop over to the IRS website and get your EIN today! In case you were wondering, it’s free to do so.
Disclaimer: I’ve gotta say it, just in case: I’m no lawyer and I am not qualified to give legal advice. If you need assistance, contact a licensed attorney in your local area.
2. My Business Income and Personal Expenses are Now Separate
This simple key is really Freelancing 101, but I know I can’t be the only person who has taken his sweet time separating business and personal banking transactions. It’s really easy for freelance writers to overlook business bank accounts, particularly if you’re not working with hundreds of different clients and can’t justify the added expense.
In the past, I’ve worked pretty heavily through freelance platforms like oDesk, where all of your earnings feed into your account balance. Even if I worked with a dozen clients in any given week, I would still only have one transaction on my bank statement, clearly marked oDesk. I treated those transactions like paychecks and didn’t see the need for a dedicated business account.
This approach works in the short term, but things get sticky come tax season if you haven’t clearly documented your expenses and kept fastidious records. Going through my records for 2014 was enough to convince me that my transition to separate accounts was well overdue.
Still not ready for a paid business checking account? I detailed the various reasons to consider a business account in a recent post, where I extol the benefits of PayPal as a viable alternative (You can even cash checks with PayPal, though it’s not technically a “bank account). I’ve also started using the new Intuit QuickBooks Self-Employed tool this year, which allows you to classify transactions within the same accounts separately. The tool also automatically estimates quarterly tax payments—hello, yes please!
3. I No Longer Receive Mail at Home
While much of my life has gone digital, the business world still relies on stamps and envelopes for plenty of important documents. From credit card statements to tax paperwork, I receive a dizzying number of sensitive mailings each week. I also use my address on contracts, correspondence with certain clients, and a number of my promotional materials for my business services.
Using my apartment’s mailing address for these purposes poses two distinct problems. Firstly, I don’t want to give my personal address to any Tom, Dick, or Harry I might encounter through the web. Second, and perhaps more importantly, my life is pretty mobile. I spent five years living in Europe (London & Paris) before relocating to New York, which has been home for nearly three years. In the course of those eight years, I’ve had seven different mailing addresses. And, I’ll be moving apartments again this spring! I moved to my current apartment in 2013, and although I filed all the paperwork with my local post office, not a SINGLE piece of mail was forwarded from my last address.
There’s a really easy solution for this problem: it’s called a P.O. Box. The USPS even offers something called street addressing now, which allows you to receive parcels from carriers like UPS and FedEx at the post office! Best of all, a full year’s subscription (in the middle of Manhattan, no less!) costs less than $100. Plenty of third-party companies also offer business mailboxes, but I’ve yet to find one more affordable than a USPS box.
4. I No Longer Give Out my Phone Number
I’m a chronic call screener, thanks in no small part to the exhausting number of calls I receive. From telemarketers to spammers, credit card companies, and survey takers, I find myself fielding countless calls on a daily basis. Even when I receive legitimate business calls, I’m not always available to speak to a client, particularly when we’re located in different time zones. Rather than always letting calls go to voicemail, I began using a business line earlier this year. I can choose if and when to answer the phone and no longer miss personal calls because I mistakenly assumed an incoming caller was a telemarketer.
There are plenty of services that offer VOIP phone numbers, including RingCentral, which I currently use when contracting with one of my clients. Looking to save your dollars? Try Google Voice, the service I rely on for my business calls. You can get a free number as part of your Google Apps subscription or simply sign up with your Gmail account.
5. I Joined Social Media
I know this is hardly a revolutionary point, but I decided to create professional profiles on social media networks, instead of relying on my long-established personal accounts. Why is that, you may ask? Well, for one, creating professional accounts means I can connect with a highly-targeted audience. High school classmates, friendly acquaintances, and my next door neighbor might think I have an interesting job, but that doesn’t mean they’re interested in the content I share via networks like Twitter, Facebook, and Google+. Furthermore, I want to build an audience that likes to engage with me, and it’s hard to spark a discussion when none of the participants are interested in the subject matter at hand.
As an added bonus, a clearly defined professional profile may make it easier to land gigs. I’ve used Twitter to respond to a few different job ads in the past, but perhaps I could have gained even more traction if I’d been interacting with the right influencers to begin with.
What are the best decisions you’ve made for your writing business this year? Do you have any freelance writing tips for maximizing your digital prowess?