What are the best invoicing tools for freelancing?
How do I keep track of my expenses as a freelancer?
How do I keep on top of my accounts as a freelancer?
These are the most common questions I get around finances from freelancers. It can feel overwhelming looking at all the option, and if you’re new you might feel like all the options will be expensive (spoiler: they’re not – some are even free!)
So, I’ve put together some of the most trusted, user-friendly and affordable options for you to start looking at.
Invoicing tools for freelancers
Firstly though, a quick explanation about why you might need an invoicing system. An invoicing system is what you use to send your clients an invoice requesting payment after a project has finished or monthly/weekly. I started out using Freshbooks, which is online. It allowed me to set up invoices quickly and choose to send them automatically at the same time each month if I chose to. It also added on late fees for me if they passed the 30 day payment period without paying. Additionally, I could print out all of my expenses and invoices at the end of the year for my tax return (I now track it all but keep most of the digital ones in a subfolder rather than printing them all).
Other popular options include Crunch, which is slightly pricier but includes an accountancy service, Sage (affil link) probably the most well known and trusted and a great option if you’re looking to grow your business to more than just you in the future, and FreeAgent (affil link), which has some great features like connecting your bank and showing you your cashflow. Many of these offer a free trial if you want to give it a go. Finally, there’s Wave, which is free and the one I currently use.
Many of my freelance friends do it all manually, which works really well for them and it’s free (sadly, I’m not that organised!). You can even find free invoice templates on Google Drive.
Want to know more about finance as a freelancer? Check out these articles.
Welcome to a regular series here at the Freelance Lifestyle, where we take a little peek into the daily life of a freelancer. This week, I’m excited that Emma Drew has given us an insight into her freelance life. I’ve been following Emma’s blog (previously known as From Aldi To Harrods, now EmmaDrew.info) this year and took her excellent free course on new ways to make money, and I love reading her monthly income reports!
Hi Emma Drew, tell us a bit about you
My name is Emma Drew and I live in Cambridgeshire with my husband. I run a popular personal finance blog which helps others to make money, save money and live the life they want. Running the blog is now my full time job!
How long have you been freelancing, and why did you start?
I have been freelancing or earning money online since I was 18, so that’s 10 years now. I started because I needed to supplement my income whilst at university, and heavily focused on it when I graduated into the recession.
Let’s talk about how you start your day – are you an early riser or night owl?
I’m an early riser. If I don’t get up early and start my day off by showering and getting ready to face the day then often I just can’t manage it! I get so much done in the morning whilst my husband sleeps, meaning there’s peace and quiet! I imagine many mums out there must feel the same about their kids!
As soon as it gets dark (in the afternoons in winter) then my brain switches off and I cannot be productive.
Do you have a morning routine before you start work?
I get up and shower immediately, then from there pretty much anything goes! Sometimes I get so engrossed in my work that I don’t stop to eat until lunch time, whereas other days I plan my day whilst I’m having breakfast.
How do you stay motivated? Do you have any techniques?
Staying motivated is my biggest challenge, and I do sometimes give in and just watch Netflix. I do a few things to help me. I look back at how far I’ve come – I actually do a monthly income report on my blog which is really great to look back on. I also look at how others in my niche are doing and get inspired by them. Other times all it takes is a 10 minute walk to get me back into the zone.
What time do you finish for the day?
I try to finish around 5 o’clock – finishing up what I’m doing then tidying up my office. I manage this about half of the time, and the rest of the time I am so passionate about my work that I often have to prise myself away. I do take a break most afternoons to have lunch away from my desk and go swimming or go for a walk.
What’s your favourite thing about freelancing?
I love the variety that every day brings. No two days are the same and I think that is really exciting! Being your own boss with unlimited earning potential is also amazing.
What’s the biggest challenge you find as a freelancer?
Keeping motivated is the biggest challenge I face. When I had a full time job I had to be in the office, but now I’m self-employed it can be really difficult to motivate myself to work when there are some awesome alternatives – like Netflix.
What tools/apps/gadgets could you not live without as a freelancer?
I love using tools and gadgets in my daily life, but when it comes to working I really can’t beat good old pen and paper. I have created a bullet journal to keep track of my daily tasks – there’s something so therapeutic about putting pen to paper and crossing things off a list.
What’s your proudest achievement so far?
Earlier this year I won Best Money Making Blog at the SHOMOs, which is a UK Money Blogger conference. I am passionate about helping others to make money, so this was a fantastic achievement for me, and it meant so much.
What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learnt about making money?
I’ve learned that when you work for yourself, the sky is the limit! It isn’t necessarily about working longer hours – longer hours doesn’t mean more money in your pocket. It is about thinking about ways to work smarter not harder, and generating a passive income.
What has made the biggest impact on your business, financially?
This year I have really nailed affiliate marketing, and I do really well from it. I also know the importance of diversifying your income, so I do a number of side hustles including matched betting, surveys and selling on eBay.
The Big Question – What’s the secret to your success?
There’s no secret, just something that Pat Flynn said which resonated with me. Serve your customers (or your audience) and they will reward you. This has been so true in my business. As long as I am providing my readers with valuable stuff, they will be happy to keep coming back and to purchase products or services I recommend.
Every once in a while, I like to share the freelancing tools, apps and resources that make my freelance life easier, smoother and more professional. This is especially the case now I’m a working mum and time is limited. Here are my favourite freelancing tools of 2016 so far.
There are a couple of affiliate codes below, but I only recommend what I myself love – and in the case of the subscriptions/paid items, I do pay for them myself.
Cloudpress was an Appsumo deal I picked up earlier in the year, and went on to build my coaching website with. It’s one of the best website builders I’ve tried, allowing very quick and easy drag and drop functions to create a professional result.
I’ve been using Teachable for a while now to create and host my Freelance Lifestyle School courses, and I love how they’ve taken on all the suggestions put to them in the Facebook support group to constantly improve. The introduction of drip feed content in particular has been a real bonus. If you’re looking to start out in online courses, these are my recommended provider.
Instapage is another page builder I’ve loved using recently, especially for webinar landing pages. Again, it’s simple to use, free for your first page and works well with WordPress.
One thing I’ve been determined to do this year is get on top of my finances. Receipt Bank has certainly helped on the business front. Every time a receipt lands in my inbox (which is where most of my receipts come, whether they’re hosting and domain bills or Facebook ads), I forward it to my special Receipt Bank email. They then process it, categorise it and add it to my FreeAgent account. Much, much easier than printing them or adding them manually.
I have a real addiction to buying business and self-development books, but rarely find the time to finish them. Blinkist was another Appsumo buy. It takes popular non-fiction books and summarises them into 10-15 minute audio or text summaries. So you can pick up the main takeaways, and then decide if you want to get the full book anyway.
Clear Calm Space Community
It’s been really important for me this year to get to a better state of organisation. At the start of the year I joined Lisa’s Clear Calm Space Community program, and have made big strides in decluttering my home. Lisa tackles a new area each week, and suggests small, daily tasks to chip away at it. I still have a way to go, but it’s amazing the difference removing physical clutter can make to your mental wellbeing.
Also, it means I’m not quite as worried that my son will swallow something he found under the sofa.
Mastering Money Management
While we’re talking about organising, I’ve also been tackling my money disorganisation. During my pregnancy, I was unable to work much due to being really unwell (yup, to all those who say “you’re pregnant not ill”, you can be both!) my accounts slipped and I had to pop a tax bill on a credit card. And then I let it lapse past its 0% period. To be honest, my approach to money needed a big shake up. Joining Jen Turrell’s Mastering Money Management community was the start of pulling my head out of the sand and making some long-term, grown up changes. Jen’s advice is realistic, easy to implement and takes out the fear around money.
What freelancing tools, apps and resources have you found useful so far this year?
Morning everyone! A quick post from me today about an upcoming series of posts from my freelancing accountant friend Raj Dhokia. Raj is going to be answering your accounting questions on the blog. I know this is an area lots of you (and I) struggle with, so I’m really excited to read what Raj’s pearls of wisdom are. He really knows his stuff, and as his partner is Elizabeth Sellars of Blognix, Rosalilium and Awesome Wave, he understands the financial woes of anyone running a business online.
So, what questions do you have about accounting? Comment with them below, or email me on email@example.com.
One question I’ve had pop up a few times on the blog recently is regarding working from home expenses when you’re a sole trader. It’s something a lot of freelancers are unsure of. Can we claim our full phone bill? Can we claim for the cost of dedicating a room to my work? Thankfully, FreeAgent have come up with a snazzy little infographic to work out exactly how much you can put through as an expense for each kind of bill.
Do you work from home? Do you know which expenses you should be claiming?
A quick post today, about expenses. Yup, the bane of every freelancer’s life. I don’t want to particularly dwell on this because it’s utterly boring, but it’s also essential.
If you’re new to freelancing, you might be getting your head around the idea of expenses. I’m not going to go into what counts as expenses in this post (that’s a whole other post, and one that I may get an expert in for). There’s a great guide over on the HMRC site though.
So, here are a few tips for storing and tracking your expenses.
Get snappy. I use tools like the Freshbooks app to take a snap of any quick expenses, like train tickets or shop receipts. This is then added to my online accounts, and I pop the expense in my purse to transfer to a box I keep at home, at the end of each week.
Create a folder in your email, and transfer any emails with business expenses to that folder. Print them out each month.
Don’t go paper-free. Yes, I’m fully aware of the environmental impact. But the reality is, I’m going to be printing a huge number of accounts/phone bills etc at the end of each month, so I may as well get them sent to me for free by the banks.
Create a folder with sections for each month. Grab some of those clear pockets, then pop a piece of paper in each one. Once a month or so, I then staple each of the expense docs (tickets, receipts etc) with a quick description of what it was for. Pop the email in there too if relevant, giving each part a number to match them up.
Set time each month to deal with them. An hour should do, unless you do a lot of spending.
What are your top tips for dealing with expenses?
p.s Still confused? Give Rosie from OneManBandAccounting a shout. She has plenty of packages for advising and helping you with your expenses and accounting.
p.p.s There’s a serious lack of attractive accounting software. Get on that, stationery-making types. Not everyone wants to use a dull office binder.
Today we’ve got a guest post from Josh Boyd, a freelance copywriter, who wants to share his tips for saving money as a freelancer so you can enjoy more of the good stuff!
Hurray! You’ve thrown off the shackles of full-time employment and are now reaping the benefits of being able to work in bed while eating Sugar Puffs. You relish in the ability to do your top quality work in your garishly bright pyjamas, while you pity the poor souls going to the office from your window. How foolish they seem now. Unfortunately, this feeling of happiness and sense of superiority will likely be brief and misleading. A few months have passed since you walked out of your old job laughing and mocking your ex-coworkers and the Sugar Puffs have now turned to Morrisons own brand corn flakes (the ones that don’t even come with a cardboard box). You’re also on the powdered milk too. Turns out the work hasn’t come as thick and fast as you’d hoped and all your friends with proper jobs have started to complain about your raggedy clothes. Time to start saving some money, you short-sighted fool.
So, chances are you’re going to want to claim some tax back for those corn flakes as some kind of business expense. Unfortunately, you have pretty much no idea what you’re doing and so you got an accountant. This will have been bleeding you dry and has left you in the sorry cereal state you’re in. There is a much better alternative to this. You should try online accounting instead. It simplifies the whole process massively meaning that even your malnutritioned brain will be able to use it and keep track of everything. You’ll also have much easier access to your accounts and what’s going on too. So, find your trousers with the least holes in, get down to your accountant, fire them and then get online.
You might have decided that your genius deserved it’s own .co.uk website. You guffawed as you saw other freelancers use blogs as their websites. “Unprofessional!” you scoffed as you bought way more bandwidth that you really needed. Time to scale back. Move all your stuff to Tumblr instead. It is completely free and very customisable. You can make a great site with Tumblr, plus you can use it to link up with people who might be interested in your work. If people like your stuff, it’s also very easy to share it with other people who too might appreciate your incredible skills. Plus Tumblr is, like, cool and stuff. Don’t be a square, daddio (and if you’re that fussed about having your own URL, just buy one and have it re-direct to your Tumblr).
Marketing yourself can be a difficult task, especially when you start out. For some reason, people just aren’t drawn to your impeccable work through unprecedented word of mouth spread. The few jobs you have done so far has, as of yet, failed to cause panic among prospective clients to hire you. There are a few ways to get free publicity. One of the best is to find a blog dedicated to your field and attempt to get an article posted on there which outlines some thoughts from your incredible mind. You’ll be unlikely to get paid for this, but suck it up and enjoy the chance for more people to discover you.
Decrease your outgoings enough and you’ll be back on the Sugar Puffs within no time. One day, with enough work, you might even reach Lucky Charms levels.
This week, the lovely Leanne has written a guest post on the feast/famine cycle of freelancing – something that a few people have asked about recently. Read on for some useful advice on how to deal with the up and down financial situation of working for yourself.
There’s nothing quite like being able to work for yourself. It’s liberating to know you’re your own boss and it offers a kind of freedom like nothing else can—yes, it may be hard work but you get to reap the rewards of success, but it isn’t without its issues. There’s one aspect of freelancing that doesn’t always get the attention it deserves yet can be tough to get accustomed to, and that’s the feast/famine cycle.
Think freelancing means you’re going to be rolling in cash month in, month out? Sorry to burst your bubble, but it’s time to think again. Yes, your earnings can technically be limitless—you’re free to work as much as you want and can set whatever rates you see fit—but it isn’t always that easy. You have to actually get the work in for it to all come together, and unfortunately it doesn’t always go according to plan.
It doesn’t matter how effective your marketing efforts are or how many steady clients you have, you can never tell what’s around the corner. You don’t have the luxury of having a fixed income each month which means you need to be prepared for the fact that some months will be better than others—in fact, some months you could have so much cash coming in you don’t know what to do with whilst others you’ll be scraping the pennies together.
And don’t think it’s an issue that only the novice freelancer can face. Yes, it’s always going to take a while to build up a solid foundation but even the most experienced of freelancers can face the dreaded famine from time to time, and that means you need to take precautions. So just what can you do to keep things on an even keel? Well, here are a few tips to bear in mind:
Save for a rainy day. You need to get into the habit of saving straight away. It can be tempting to treat yourself when those first few invoices start coming in, and whilst you need to celebrate you also need to start putting a bit of cash away, just in case. You never know when times could get tough, after all…
Don’t be cocky with money. When times are good it’s easy to start getting a bit reckless. You might shop in slightly more expensive places, go to pricier restaurants or simply treat yourself more often, and whilst you deserve a bit of luxury you need to stay sensible. Yes, you want to bask in your success, but that invoice you just got paid? It could be the last one you get for a while, so don’t get cocky.
Don’t get complacent. You’ve got a steady income, a solid base of clients and plenty of projects to keep you going, so you hold off on the marketing and let yourself relax for a bit. But what about when those projects reach their conclusion? What if clients decide they don’t need your services anymore? It can be a huge jolt back to reality and can put a serious dent in your income, so always keep up with your marketing efforts and keep a lookout for new income streams.
Remember the tax man! Ok, the tax man may not be high on your Christmas card list, but that doesn’t mean you can forget about him. He’s reviled for a reason—don’t pay your tax and you’ll suffer the consequences, and don’t leave it too late to start thinking about saving. You may not be getting money automatically taken out of your paycheque but you should treat it in the same way, so make sure to save a bit back each month (ideally in a separate savings account so you can keep track of things) because there’s nothing worse than knowing you’ve got to raise thousands of pounds out of nowhere.
It’s all about being sensible. Going freelance can give you huge amounts of freedom but it needs more dedication, commitment and perhaps even common sense than any other way of working, so the rule to remember is this—enjoy the feast, but prepare for the famine!