Jackie Lam

Give Yourself Permission to Suck

Lately I’ve been wanting to experiment with different things. Things I feel like I’m late to the game on. Like learning how to play the guitar, write music, make videos, record podcasts. While these things aren’t out of my reach, I know that there are a lot of people who have been at it for a far longer time than I have.

The one thing I have consistently done ever since I was a kid was write. I don’t know if I”m a natural writer persay, although this is something my writing mentor once said to me. The late great Les Plesko, who was an inspiration to all his students, had this amazing memory for all his students’ work. And he was always encouraging, no matter how bad you felt your work was.  I remember writing this email to him expressing my insecurities about being a “real writer,” and here’s his response:

“Yeah well I’m insecure about writing too, and I’ve been at it a little while now. What is a literary person, anyway? Anyhow, when you write, you are always already WRITING FOR REAL, you know what I mean? But in any case, all the above is fairly irrelevant. The FACT is that you are a terrific writer (you’ll just have to take my word for it, but I’ve had a thousand students, literally, so I kind of have a feel for it). So, anyway, just keep writing, okay? Anyway, what’s the other option? Not to? Eventually, you’ll be sorry you didn’t pursue it.

And PS: Every writer starts the same way, that is, not having written before. As far as reading, so, keep reading! Listen, you’re a swell writer; keep going.

And I did keep going. And guess what? I got better at it. And while there’s a lot more to learn, I feel like I am a far more decent writer than I used to be.  

While writing will always be a part of my life, there are other things I would like to try out for size.

For me, it’s able being in touch with the wonder and joy of the world. And yes, we live in terrible times. Perhaps it’s an act of resistance to find the wonder, joy, and pleasure that this world has to offer.

So I am giving myself permission to suck. To get past the fear of being bad at something. Not just to eventually get proficient at it, but to actually enjoy the act of sucking. It’s freeing to try something for the sake of experimentation and leave self-judgment at the door. And in turn, I give you permission to suck. Try it, it’s a lot of fun.

For every one thing I am decent at, there are about 2 million things (or more) that I suck at. The possibilities are limitless at sucking!

Proof That Money Isn’t Everything

So when I decided to take the plunge and pursue freelancing full-time a couple years back, I did so with the intention of having time to work on some personal projects, namely a collection of short stories. Now that I’ve been getting this itch to also write a book to help artists and freelancers with their money, and also to carve time for their creative projects, I have even more reason to scale back on freelance business to focus on these projects. And while I have enough beans saved to take a sabbatical of sorts from freelancing, I haven’t done it. Not yet.

Well, why’s that? In short: I’m scared.

This is something I’ve heard time and again. From some of my favorite money writers and personalities such as Jason Vitug of Phroogal and Kristin Wong of The Wild Wong:


Yes, I’ve decided to be liberal in my use of caps and bold.

Quit yer whining, Jackie. Don’t you know there are greater problems in the world? Debt, poverty, wage inequality. Crazy politicians.

But I wanted to make a point. Even if you had that money in the bank to do whatever it is you damn well pleased. There are obstacles. And a lot of them are internal. Sure, there are external obligations, such as taking care of kids or aging parents. But let’s talk about the internal struggle, shall we?

I grew up in a workaholic family. My mom, uncles and aunts, cousins were all industrious people. When we weren’t working to make money, we were busy at home, cooking, cleaning, fixing up our homes, etc. I just visited a cousin in Orlando who was so exhausted while moving that he fell off the pickup truck.

The biggest cardinal sins were to be lazy and selfish. Make yourself useful!

So naturally, I was a busybody. I was one of those annoying types in high school that was part of 10 clubs and got good grades. But busybody is my go-to. Busyness is a terrible habit. I often find myself losing touch with my values, feel burnt out, stressed, and even more anxious.

It’s hard to say “no,” especially when you are trying to please others. My friend Melanie of Dear Debt just attended the GirlBoss rally, and left with this: Are you doing something just to please others, or are you honoring a value? What are your values?

These habit energies are tough thing to undo. It could take years, or decades. I’m serious. I’m fully aware of my busybody tendencies, and I have to kind of constantly monitor myself. While I am still going to be volunteering and quibbling over how to add value to the work I do, I am going to give myself permission to indulge. Indulge in saying no to social gatherings, to obligations and give myself the okay to work on my creative projects.

Love of Making Money
Money is addictive, like crack. Studies show that when you make money, there’s a part in our brain that activates, similar to taking drugs. Yes, your brain thinks money is a drug.

My good friend Alan has told me, “In 10 years, are you going to look back and say to yourself, ‘Gee, I really wish I worked more?” Nobody thinks that way. And because I try to live a frugal lifestyle, which isn’t hard when you don’t feel deprived and find abundance in your life and take joy in the simple pleasures.

And I’ve never regretted not taking a job. I want to do the best job possible when given an opportunity, but it’s not essential to take on every job? Once again it’s all about value. What is the value for doing something? What’s essential?

Just the confidence that this is the right choice for you. It’s about trusting yourself. There’s the adage, every time you say “no” to something is a “yes” to something else. So you just have to trust in yourself. My fellow freelancing buddy Taryn talks about how just because somebody else wasn’t able to achieve what you want to do, doesn’t mean you can’t carve out your own path to making it work. So be that trailblazer.

I don’t expect to necessarily make a cool million dollars, or write that bestseller. But I am saying “yes” to something I’ve been wanting to do for a very long time. And it will come in handy. Developing the habit to say “yes” to myself, to engage in deep, focused work, and to give myself permission to toll over something I can be proud of.

Inability to Say “No”
It’s far easier to say “no” to the long-term things, like taking on a full-time job or commitment. But it’s the casual commitments that eat up our time. Attend that mixer? Sure. Check out the new watering hole down the street. Let’s do it! I just finished Greg McKeown’s “Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less and he had some great tips on how to gracefully say “no,” such as “You are welcome to X. I am willing to Y” to set boundaries, or “Let me check my calendar and get back to you.”

There will always be fears. If you’re alive and breathing, you’ll be afraid of something. And there’s plenty to be afraid of. I’m not certain I’m even afraid that I won’t get back on the freelancer bandwagon. But you know what? There are a million ways to earn a buck. And you’ll just have to trust yourself and deal with any repercussions, perceived missed opportunities, and the like.

So I’ve been reading Cal Newport’s “Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World,” where he talks about how the ability to focus deeply on your work is a rare and valuable skill. Especially in our day and age where we veer toward “shallow work,” such as answering emails, tweeting, meetings, and the like. But the ability to work interrupted and free from distraction is not only about having the time to do so, but the discipline.

Newport goes into detail about creating a regiment, setting time aside each day with a designated workspace. Easier said than done, right? And as we all know, managing money has nothing to do with knowing what to do, but having the freakin’ discipline to follow through.

So I’ll be starting off with 20-30 minutes of solid, Internet-free periods of work, followed by an hour, then 90 minutes, and working my way to two hours. I still need to figure out how I’m going to balance my personal projects with my freelance work, since I will still be working part-time, but that’s something that needs to be resolved.

What I am trying to say is that while money is definitely helpful and gives you options, it’s not everything. When you’re ready to do that thing you’ve always wanted to do but didn’t have enough money or time to do, you better have the habits and mindset in place to actually take the plunge.

If you had enough money to do what you really wanted, what would get in your way?

Tools for Self-Employment Folks: So…What’s Really Essential?

As a self-described minimalist freelancer, I’m really reluctant to sign up for new apps and tools to run my freelance business. That’s because I feel like there are only so many things you need. It’s far too easy to get bombarded with the latest apps or tools claiming to save you time and money and the like.

So why get caught up in that madness when you can get by just fine with the bare necessities?

In the last year and a half I’ve been self-employed, I’ve only found I needed to pay for two services: data backup and cloud accounting.

Data Backup
If there’s anything I need to protect, it is all the documents on my computer. Now that I work for myself, there’s no IT person I can call when my computer is on the fritz, and if my documents get wiped out, it’s pretty much over.

Besides saving my documents on the regular on an external hard drive, I use Carbonite, which is pretty simple to install. I haven’t had a data crash thus far (knock on wood). From what I know it doesn’t scramble my data, so if I need to recover my files, they should remain in the same order.

Carbonite came in handy when I switched out my SSD drive last year. Carbonite costs $60 a year (well, $59.99 to be exact), and you can test it out with a free 15-day trial. On occasion I’ll come across a 30% off promotion, which is pretty sweet.

Cloud Accounting Software

Xero the Hero
I’ve been playing around with Xero and the first thing I noticed was their clean interface and easy navigation. If you’ve used Quickbooks in the past, you can convert your files from Quickbooks.

Plus, you’ll be able to integrate with more than 500 apps to help you further streamline your accounting stuffs. I took a gander and you can integrate Xero with apps for time tracking, billing and expenses, inventory, and financial services. And when you invoice through Xero, you can receive payments via Paypal and set up an automatic Paypal bank feed to keep track of transactions.
Xero has also has a separate section for Payroll and Inventory, which is pretty sweet if you have several employees and need to keep careful track of your products. You can also reconcile bank transactions to make sure your records are up to date and accurate.

Right now Xero is offering 30% off your first 6 months. And the pricing is as follows:

Starter: $6.30 for the first 6 months, $9 a month thereafter. You can send 5 invoices and quotes, enter 5 bills, and reconcile 20 bank transactions.

Standard: $21 a month for the first 6 months, $30 a month thereafter. You can enter unlimited invoices and quotes, enter unlimited bills, reconcile unlimited bank transactions, and process payroll for 5 people.

Premium: $49 a month for the first 6 months, $49 a month thereafter. You can enter unlimited invoices and quotes, enter unlimited bills, reconcile unlimited bank transactions, process payroll for 5 people, and handle different currencies.

 You can try Xero out for free for 30 days.

Creating Your Own System Using Free Tools
Now you can certainly create a makeshift system. I have some friends who don’t use many tools and they aren’t really missing out. Of course, it just takes more time and work. If you’re just starting out, you may need to use accounting software just yet.

Here are a few ways on how you can create your own system for invoicing and tracking expenses:

Time tracking: Because I do mainly writing and copyediting and I charge either either hourly or per article, I don’t really need to track my time per project. I still like to track my time, just so I can get a sense of how long things take and I can figure out my bandwidth when new opportunities arise. I am a big fan of Toggl, and use their free version.

Inventory: While I don’t have too much experience keeping track of inventory, there are a few free systems for keeping track of your inventory. You can check out Stockpile, which is 100% free and offers customer support. I think the catch is that the company that created Stockpile is building out other tools that they’ll be charging for. InFlow Inventory also has a free plan.

Tracking assignments: I still use good ‘ole Excel to keep track of my assignments. I include the outlet, assignment name, whether I’ve sent over an invoice, if payment is received, and how much I should sock away for taxes (I’ve heard you should save anywhere from 25-50% for your taxes as a solopreneur, and I save 40%).

Staying on top of deadlines: I use Trello to stay on top of my deadlines for assignments. I’ve also created little cards for each publication I write for with logins, links to editorial guidelines, “pitch banks” with story ideas for each outlet, and other details such as my main contacts, editors’ emails, how and when to invoice, method of payment, and the like.

Tracking expenses: Keeping tabs on your business expenses will save massive headaches come tax time. You can use Expensify, which has a free version, or keep track with an Excel Spreadsheet. I would probably create separate tabs for each month, and organize by date, the amount of the expense, how you paid for it (cash, credit card, debit) and which expense category it falls under.

To figure out which categories are eligible for tax deductions, you can check out a blog post I wrote about the most common tax deductions for freelancers, and Paco of The Hell Yeah Group also has a great post on business expenses that are tax deductible.

Invoicing: You can send free invoices with Invoice Generator. It keeps a history of the invoices you’ve created, which is pretty helpful. I’ve used the free version and have no complaints.

So there you have it. If you want to go barebones with tools and software when you’re going self-employed, it’s definitely doable. You might want to go this route if you’re just starting out and don’t have a lot of beans to spend on running your business.

Disclaimer: This post includes affiliate links to FreshBooks, Carbonite, and Xero. I only endorse and write about products I know and love. 









How to Manage the “Dark Side” of Freelancing (aka Downsides)

So the other day a fellow freelancer shared this post on the dark side of the gig economy.

Naturally, I was curious. What was this “dark side” of the gig economy? Were there child labor slaves working at Uber? A conglomerate comprised of side hustlers funneling water from drought-stricken areas?

Nope, it turned out the post was about a recent study that reveals a huge discrepancy from the overwhelmingly positive portrayal of freelancing and negative comments on freelancing floating on social media.

And there’s no doubt there’s a litany of content floating on the Interwebs on how amazing freelancing is, where you have freedom to be a digital nomad, live life on your own terms as a #girlboss, ad nauseam.  I’ve been suckered into reading those articles, too.

And according to a recent survey commissioned by Freelancers Union and Upwork, while 79% of freelancers say that freelancing is better than working a traditional job, only 37% of freelancers who freelanced on the side would consider freelancing full-time. Why’s that? Well, there are plenty of reasons, such as financial instability, lack of benefits and insurance, and fear of failure.

The downsides of freelancing and self-employment definitely need to be addressed.  

First things first. Know that:

Freelancing Is a Preference. It’s Not Perfection.

This is something I realized early on. Being self-employed is sold to you as this ideal. But it’s not. There are moments when you find yourself hitting your head against the wall, and being a #girlboss is a hell of a lot more work than having a 9-5.

And freelancing isn’t for everyone. There are people who resort to freelancing out of pure necessity. And the growth of the independent workforce isn’t always made up of people who took the leap because their business was booming, or from choice. It could stem from the fact that hours were cut off from their job, they were let go, or full-time jobs in their field were becoming more scarce. 

You have to do what’s best for you at certain points in your life. And that may mean returning to a full-time job, or juggling freelance with a part-time gig. 

And while some people are more well-prepared than others to launch into freelancing, you can definitely develop those skills and traits to help you be successful.

Here are some of the downside of freelancing and tips on how to best manage these downsides:

Income that Fluctuates Like a Bipolar Mofo
Besides variable income, you’ll also need to deal with ponying up for your own health insurance, pay for self-employment taxes, and save for sick days and vacation. Here are some ways you can beef up your income and prevent getting hit hard from the perils of fluctuating income:

Seek retainer clients
This isn’t really for those who are independent contractors with 1-year gigs, or those who work on a single project for a period of time, but rather for those who are employed in creative industries, such as writing, marketing, or being a virtual assistant.

Have a robust emergency fund…
You can never have enough of an emergency fund. While the recommended amount is generally 3-6 months, I say if you can swing it, try to have 1 year saved up. I know, easier said than done. I can go into detail in a later post on easy ways to save for an emergency freelancer fund later.


…And a baby emergency fund

I had talked about having a “mama and baby emergency fund,” and a baby emergency fund can be anywhere from 1-2 months of your barebones expenses.

Try to stay one month ahead of your expenses
Umm.seriously? Really? Okay, this one’s a toughie. But if you can manage to have all the income you need for the following month, you won’t have to be on pins and needles, waiting for that paycheck to roll in from an employer. I think I also can afford to be a little more lax with when I invoice, although I do my best to stay on such matters. One thing you can do is save your extra beans in a separate savings account or with an app such as Digit.

Come up with a system that works—and stick to It
I’m huge on automating. I don’t really budget, because I feel fairly confident in knowing roughly how much I spend on average in a given month. But if you want to track your spending, there are a ton of budgeting tools out there, like Mint.com and Level Money.

If you want to just create savings goals and automate them, you can try out Digit or Qapital. My friend Kristin has written a handy post on Qapital and how you can use it to automatically save money.

So my system may be complicated to some, but I have:

+ A business account where I deposit my earnings
+ A main checking account for my personal expenses
+ A long-term savings account for my short-term goals and freelancer taxes
+ A second checking account, one for groceries and household items
+ A third checking account, one for eating out and entertainment, aka “partytime” 

I also have a few retirement accounts, an HSA. For small savings goals I use Digit and just started playing around with Qapital for some saving goals. I know it seems like a lot to keep track of, but I automate everything and check in on it every so often to make sure there’s nothing suspicious going on.

Coming up with a system that works for you does take time. There’s no real shortcut. But the fun part is that there are bunch of tools sprouting up that can help you build out your system.

Dealing with Loneliness and Isolation
Yes, this is definitely a toughie. Sometimes my friends are in between jobs, or I organize work parties (aka coworking meetups) with a few buddies. But you can definitely deal with this in a bunch of ways.

Build your tribe. It doesn’t have to be in-person, especially if you live somewhere where there isn’t a vibrant freelancer community. I’m fortunate to live in Los Angeles, where, for better or for worse, not having a 9-5 is the norm.

Network.  In L.A. you can meet fellow freelancers at coworking meetups. I also am the L.A. organizer for Freelance Fridays, which is a free global coworking event for creatives and entrepreneurs. There’s also Built in L.A. events as well as Built in L.A. events in big cities in the U.S.

I’ve found great groups to ask questions, share my concerns and qualms on Facebook Groups such as The Freelancer’s Club by Careful Cents, Earn More Writing, and CloudPeeps.

Volunteer. You can stay connected with others through volunteering. Check out VolunteerMatch or Idealist.org to find organizations, or do a quick search on Facebook to link up with orgs that match your interests. I volunteer feeding the homeless, and it really is a lot of fun.

Managing Anxiety and Depression
I’ve long had to deal with anxiety, and when you freelance, anxiety can definitely be exacerbated and heightened when you freelance. You do have more you’re responsible for and more to worry about.

Self-care is crucial, as well as keeping a schedule. Life-work balance may go out the window at times, but you’ll need to stay productive. I try to meditate and exercise every day. While I don’t always manage to do this, I try to squeeze in mini-sessions. For instance, 10 minutes of stretching and resistance, or 10 minutes of meditation.

Things Can’t  Be 100% Awesome Time
This is a general rule of thumb in life. And when you’re freelancing, when things are awesome, you’ll get a thrill at working for yourself. And when they’re not, well, you will need to know that’s just part of the path you’re on. Having a backup plan can help, and just being aware that, yes, you’ll have slow months.

Freelancing is an Exercise in Practicing Patience
You’re not going to land amazing clients at the same time overnight. Nope. It definitely takes time to seek out opportunities, build rapport, and the like. Or if you’re trying to come up with a new way to make money or find clients, you may need to toss a bunch of things against a wall and see what sticks. I’m dealing with this right now, and little ventures I’m trying out for the first time feels like a waiting game.

But knowing exactly what the downsides of freelancing are, you’ll be able to better manage them.

Set Your Estimated Taxes on Autopilot

By Argel Sabillo, Levee

Freelancers are all hustling to do one job: Make money. They are balancing the creative process with client expectations—the last thing on their minds is paying taxes. Consequently, many freelancers ignore the fact they are required to pay estimated taxes four times a year until tax time comes around and the tax bill adds up to thousands of dollars.

Avoid the headache and make your money work for you. Put your quarterly estimated taxes on autopilot so you can focus more on the creative side of your business.

Here’s how in three simple steps:

1. Find out if you even have to pay.
According to the IRS, if you earn self-employment income and your tax bill is going to be $1,000 or more, then you have to make estimated tax payments. Easy translation—if you profited over $7,100 in freelance income this year, then you are required to pay.

There is one exception. If you had $0 tax bill last year, are a U.S. citizen or resident for the whole year, and your prior tax year covered a 12-month period, then you’re off the hook from making quarterly estimated tax payments this year.

2. Estimate what you owe.
The IRS requires that you pay at least the 100 percent of last year’s tax bill or 90 percent of this year’s tax bill—the lower of the two—and evenly spread those payments over four quarters in order to avoid the underpayment penalty.

There are three ways to estimate your tax bill and they vary in accuracy.

You can set aside 25-35 percent of your freelance income toward estimated taxes in a separate bank account. If you underpaid your taxes, you’ll have a few hundred to cover it. If you overpaid, you’ll get a nice refund. You can then adjust for the next year until you save the right amount.

A little more precisely, you can estimate how much profit you expect to earn for the year and calculate your estimated income and self-employment taxes based on this number. Divide it by four and then pay an even amount quarterly. These payments might not reflect your actual earnings each quarter, but should be close to the end-of-year total.

Here’s an example. Say your annual freelance profit is $90,000 (column 3). Your annual tax bill is $26,776 (column 4). Your estimated tax bill would have been four equal payments of $6,692 (column 5).

Table 1-A.

Quarterly Profit Annual Profit Annual Tax Quarterly Tax Bill Running Total
1st Quarter $22,500 $90,000 $26,766 $6,692 $6,692
2nd Quarter $22,500 $90,000 $26,766 $6,692 $13,384
3rd Quarter $22,500 $90,000 $26,766 $6,692 $20,076
4th Quarter $22,500 $90,000 $26,766 $6,690 $26,766
Total $90,000        


Meanwhile, there’s a more complex and accurate strategy. Calculate your estimated tax bill every quarter based on your freelance earnings and expenses every month. Freelancers know — it’s feast for famine, and this strategy is ideal for uneven income streams.

Here’s how it works. Say your freelance profit is still $90,000 (column 2), but the range fluctuated between $60,000 and $100,000 (column 3). As a result, your estimated annual tax bill (column 4) and your quarterly estimated tax bill (column 5) also fluctuated. But the estimated taxes you owe (column 6) still add up to your final tax bill of $26,766.

Table 1-B.

Quarterly Profit Annual Profit Annual Tax Quarterly Tax Bill Running Total
1st Quarter $15,000 $60,000 $15,557 $3,889 $3,889
2nd Quarter $25,000 $80,000 $23,029 $7,625 $11,515
3rd Quarter $35,000 $100,000 $30,502 $11,362 $22,877
4th Quarter $15,000 $90,000 $26,766 $3,890 $26,766
Total $90,000        

Why take the complex approach? You get to keep more of your money in the first quarter.  To do this, you have to be diligent with
tracking your income and expenses.

If you aren’t using a tax app like Levee to automatically calculate your estimated taxes, you can use Form 1040-ES to calculate your bill manually using the moderate and complex approach.

3. Know how to pay.

You can pay the old-school way by sending a certified mail of Form 1040-ES along with a check or money order to the IRS. Or you can pay easily online through their payment portal, EFTPS. If you’re making equal payments and don’t want to miss the deadline, you can even set the payment dates to automatically debit your bank account. Here’s the important tax deadlines:

For the period Due date
1st Quarter Jan 1 – Mar 31 April 15th
2nd Quarter Apr 1 – May 31 June 15th
3rd Quarter Jun 1 – Aug 31 September 15th
4th Quarter Sep 1 – Dec 31 January 15th (following year)

You can also pay via mobile by downloading the
IRS2GO app.

Keep in mind that these tips are only for taking care of your federal tax bill. You have to take care of your tax bill with the state government where you do business. You can find links to your state’s tax office here.

So in three easy steps—made even easier by an app like Levee—you can put your quarterly estimated taxes on cruise control, make paying taxes a breeze, and keep more of your money. Download Levee now to start automating and get the first month free. 

How Freelancers Can Help Each Other Make More Money

As I’ll be focusing on friendship this month, I’ve been thinking a lot about how freelancers can help each other out, particularly with raking in more moola. During my first full year of freelancing, my friends have been my bedrock. They’ve been there to commiserate about everything from assignments from hell to stressful times.

We also have a lot of fun. We get together to cowork and enjoy cheap eats at happy hour. And guess what? We’ve also helped each other boost our income.

Here are some ways freelancers can help each other make more money:


Refer Fellow Freelancers
If I feel as if they’re a solid fit, I’ve referred writers to publications I write for and they’ve also done so in kind. If you see a job opportunity that is up a friend’s alley, pass it along to them. It doesn’t take too much time to write a quick email and a few kind words about your freelancing colleague. I have a freelancer friend who created a spreadsheet to log her friends’ different types of expertise, in case a gig comes her way that she’s not a good fit for.

Be Transparent with Your Rates
This is crucial. The thing with freelancing is that rates can vary wildly. It’s not like being, say, a doctor or lawyer where there are standard rates and you can get legit numbers on how much you should get paid for things. And while there are some databases on freelancer rates such as the one from the Editorial Freelancers Association, but they’re super general. How much you get paid can depend on whether it’s a corporate client or a startup, how much experience you have underneath your belt, and your niche.

As I mainly write about money, I can’t compare the rates for writing for a fashion blog to say, an investment company. Any freelancer will tell you there’s really nothing worse than lowballing yourself. My fellow personal finance writing friends and I shoot the hay about what certain clients pay, how much to charge for X words, and so forth. There’s so much to consider when negotiating rates and it really helps you have friends who disclose what they know about rates and to give you their recommendations.

Don’t Lowball Yourself
Sure, we all have weak moments. We might have had a shitty month, and could use the money. But when you lowball yourself, you’re hurting fellow freelancers who work in your field. Think of it this way: if freelancing can be compared as a produce stand, and there are a bunch of oranges, which all look pretty similar.

Hire Fellow Freelancers
When building your business, you can hire fellow freelancers as virtual assistants (VAs), and to lend a hand with proofreading, researching, photography, and graphic design. I’ve hired my friends to design my business cards, help with photo research, and do fact-checking. This supports the gig economy, and help your friends sustain themselves.

Create an Anti-Feast or Famine Collective Work Group
This is an idea I’ve had for a while and have yet to implement. Along with hiring fellow freelancers, the gist is to help your freelancer friends get through the periods of famine. The concept is pretty simple: if you are slammed with work, and could use help with research, fact-checking, outlining and what have you, then you reach out to the group of fellow freelancers to see who is available.

You then suss out the details, such as the going rate, scope of the “helper assignment,” and how many hours you think it will roughly take. That way your periods of famine potentially won’t be as awful as it could be.

Give Them a Shoutout on Social Media
Share their posts, spread the word about a talk they’re giving or ecourse they’re creating. There’s nothing more powerful than what others say about you. It costs absolutely nothing to spread the love on social media. You can also buy their shit and vouch for its quality.

What are some ways you can help fellow freelancers earn more money?


Photo credit: Alexis Brown / Unsplash

The Conversation That Helped Me Turn Down a $96,000 a Year Job

Illustration by Viet Vu

When I was in between jobs a few years ago, I was scurrying around like a crazed rat that had lost its way in a maze. The week after I had been let go from a one-year contract job as a personal finance writer for an insurance company, I met with a bunch of different recruiters at creative job agencies around town.

And when I landed a job interview to basically proofread web articles for an investment firm downtown, I didn’t really know how I felt about it. The contract job (read: no benefits) would last anywhere from 6 to 18 months. The rate was definitely right: $44 and hour, plus $2 an hour for “parking fees.” So I did the math, and a full-time, $46 an hour gig roughly equaled $96,000 a year. Umm..certainly nothing to balk at.

I landed an interview, and an acquaintance who currently worked there and was kind enough to give me great pointers. Right after the interview the recruiter gave me a call to ask how it went.

“Good, I think.”
She asked, “If they offered you a job, would you take it?”
I replied, “I don’t know.”
I could tell she was disappointed in my response, but it was an honest answer.

At that point, I had landed a lot of great job leads for personal finance publications. Writing about money was something I had always wanted to do. I was in talks with about four different places, and in the “courtship phase,” so to speak. So again, nothing was for sure.

About an hour after the interview, I received a call from the recruiter that they wanted to offer me the gig. Of course, she needed an answer as soon as possible. Naturally, I equaled dollar signs to her. I asked if I could have the weekend to think about it.

I got zero sleep for practically two days. I asked my good friends what they thought. Some of them couldn’t imagine why I wouldn’t take it. “Wow, that’s a lot of money.” “You could save up and then take a year off if you really wanted to.” Another good friend asked had some really great advice. She asked me what I was scared of doing the most, and to run with that. My friends were well-meaning, but their words of advice were started to feel like a bunch of bees buzzing around my head. I knew the decision had to ultimately come from me.

Here’s the thing: I initially accepted the offer. It seemed like the practical thing to do. And wouldn’t you be crazy for turning down that sort of money?

That weekend, I met up with my friend Tricia. Her brother from Canada was in town, and we met up her Tricia’s husband Andy for dinner in Echo Park. Andrew was also freelancing at the time, and interested in what I was up to.

I told him about the job I was offered. Telling someone how much I was offered felt insane. Andy asked me a bunch of sound, practical questions that really shed some insight. By the end of our convo, I had changed my mind about accepting the contract job. I didn’t want to take it anymore.

Here’s what he asked:

How many clients do you have now?
I had three clients, and after FinCon, was in the “courtship phase” with about 4 clients at the time. But nothing was set in stone, which was pretty nerve wracking.

How long can you live off your savings?
I had a decent amount saved. Since I am such a frugal person and have been saving my beans since my first job after college, I could comfortably live off my savings for about a year. If I was going to barebones about it, I had enough to get by for about a year and a half.

This played a major part in my decision-making. If I had looming debt and no savings, I would’ve taken the job in a heartbeat. But because I had a cushion of savings, I could weather any potential storms.

How much are you making a month freelancing?
Income-wise, I had a great month the month prior. One of my clients requested more content from me, and I netted $6,000 from just one of my existing clients.

I would be making about $8,000 a month with the contract gig. The $2,000 difference didn’t seem that large. And I felt that if I really tried, I could make $8,000 in a single month on my own. No having to drop buckets of money toward

If you’re thinking about being a full-time freelancer, I suggest raking in at least half of what you’re making at your day job. You definitely need some anchor clients when you’re starting out. Plus, it takes a while to figure out your “productivity flow,” how much time it takes to complete certain assignments, and the scope of projects.

How excited are you about the actual job itself?
I felt confident in my abilities to do the job, but as far as day-in, day-out satisfaction and growth, there was nothing. Besides learning about that particular company’s organizational structure, and perhaps a bit more about investing, I knew I had a cap on learning—and earning potential. Although I was scared to, my gut was telling me that I would just be delaying what I really wanted to be doing.

As a freelancer, I oftentimes take on assignments and work with clients because there’s a chance to grow or learn in some way. Maybe I’m working with a top-notch editor that could really expand my skillset, and push me to be a better writer. Or for publication that is open to hearing a fresh spin or or some of my weird ideas (I have many of those, by the way).

And because I write every day, anywhere from 3-6 hours during the workweek, I’m a stronger—and more prolific—writer.

What do you want to do ultimately?
I’ve long been curious about freelancing. I know that a lot of people turn to freelancing because their hours are reduced at their jobs, or they get laid off. But this is something I had long fantasized about.

Andy suggested I do freelance. He said that I could be proofreading articles 40 hours a week for the next year, or lay the groundwork for my freelance writing business. And you know what? He was 100 percent right.
While I didn’t net six figures in my first year as a full-time freelancer, I didn’t starve, either. I actually netted more money in my first 10 months than what I was making at my old day job. And I worked less hours, which was pretty awesome. Plus I was able to hang out with my friends and family, and travel more. And there’s zero doubt in my mind that I made the right decision.

We respond to numbers. You see the words “six-figure salary” and the first words that pop in your head are like “whoa,” or “I want that.” But of course, you don’t know how many hours someone may put on the job to rake in that much dough, or if they’re running their own business, how much they had to put in to get that sort of return. (Case in point: Stefanie O’Connell’s business expenses for generating a six-figure income in 2016. I admire Stefanie for your savvy business prowess and transparency to her readers. Yeoch).

But there’s a lot that goes into making a big decision that goes beyond your salary and benefits (which are obviously both very important things to factor in). For me, having some clients in place, an idea of what you want to focus on, and having an emergency fund, are key.

If you’re seriously considering taking the leap into full-time freelancing, what are you biggest qualms about doing so?

My First Full Year in the Hustle: Freelancer Wins and Fails

Illustration by Viet Vu

This marks my first full-year as a freelancer. And while it definitely wasn’t always easy, I managed to get through it. There were times when I suffered massive anxiety and thought about getting a job at See’s Candies (my teen dream job, no joke). But the truth was, I was doing fine. I was landing clients, worked my butt off, which eventually led to netting a pretty solid income.

What’s funny is that a lot of my more seasoned freelancer friends tell me that the first year making a go on on your own is the hardest. And while I politely nod in agreement, I can’t help but wonder, “What could possibly change the second year? And in the third?” To be honest, I am not even sure if I feel that much more confident. Obviously, there will always be unknowns, and that will never change. That being said, looking back I learned a lot about myself, upped my freelancer game, and have set things in place to make it a bit easier for 2017.

If life can be neatly compartmentalized and labeled as such, here are some of my top wins and fails this year:

Win #1: Making more money than at my old day job. While this wasn’t necessarily a goal of mine, I was curious as to how much money I could earn going solo. Despite working less and having a few slow months in the spring, I managed to net more income my first 10 months of the year than what I was making in an entire year at my old day job and working less hours overall. I decided to “take it easy” the last few months, only to discover how much of an fretful workaholic I am.

Of course, I will need to factor in expenses that are a part of being self-employed (i.e., self-employment tax, health insurance, business expenses), but it feels pretty awesome to know that I can pull off making money on my own.

Income goals are great; they make sure you are able to eat, and that you can sock away some money toward all the fun and cool things you want to do. I try not to tie too much of my identity into my income. Knowing that your income can fluctuate wildly has kept me most grateful and humble.

The question I get asked the most is “how can I get started making money as a freelance writer?” and in the new year am excited to share how I make money writing, and tips on beefing up your income.

I’ve also grown a lot as a writer. I’m now spend about 4-5 hours a day writing, and as writing is a muscle and a craft, I feel as if I’ve learned a lot, from SEO keyword best practices to branding guidelines. Plus, I’ve been on editorial teams with some super talented editors and content strategists. I’ve learned a lot from working with different people with different editorial backgrounds. And to boot, my writing portfolio is definitely more robust than it was a year ago.

Win #2: Learning to work in different locales.
While not a huge traveler, I’ve been able to see more of the world than I have in previous years because I didn’t have just 2 weeks of paid vacation. Of course, any time I took off from work was unpaid, but being the Cheapster that I am, I made it work.

Whether it’s been at a McDonald’s in Joshua Tree, a train en route to Chicago, or a coffee shop in Honolulu, I’ve tried out different schedules in different time zones to get my work done. I’ve had to do the 2/6 schedule, meaning I work 2 hours, then take the rest of the day off, to stay afloat.

Win #3: Coming up with a solid budgeting system.
After experimenting with different systems, I’ve figured that the percentage method is what works best for me. This has helped me make sure I have my monthly bases covered, and that my other money goals are slowly chugging along. I am a firm believer—in fact, I know—that creative types can totally conquer handling their moola.
I’ve been able to invest on the regular in stocks with Vanguard and the Acorns app, and sock away money in both a Roth IRA and SEP IRA fund.

I also opened an health-savings account. My friend Kate over at Cashville Skyline has written a great post on how HSAs provide a triple-tax benefit. Plus, it’s nice to have money in case unexpected medical bills creep up.

Top Win:
Realizing how much I really need a community. Whether it’s reaching out to a fellow freelance writer to talk about rates, or meeting up with pals for a work party, I need people. My friends have kept me anchored when I was stressed to the balls and provided help when most needed. I’ve been able to meet some great people through Freelancer Union’s local Spark events, and through Freelance Friday meetups in Los Angeles.

In 2017, I would like to focus on community. How to build a community online, and sharing info and resources with freelancers and artists in person and digitally. I’m super stoked to figure out ways on how we can help each other stay sane, grow, and learn.

Fail #1: Not spending enough time on personal projects. Ah, the eternal struggle persists. Part of the reason I decided to do this whole crazy freelance thing was to make more time for my creative stuffs. You know, live the life of someone who could wake up and really focus on improving their craft.

Well, that was an idealized notion that vanished in two seconds flat.

Besides getting a Cheapsters ‘zine out with the tremendous help of my dear cousin Viet and making some headway on some short stories, I didn’t spend as much time as I would like to on creative projects.

Why’s that? Well, money is a huge motivator. That being said, the times when I had a lull, I was so anxious about finding work that I didn’t allow myself to just relax and work on other stuff.

So this next year I would like to devote more time on my creative projects. I think 15 minutes 6 days a week is totally doable. Perhaps right before I start my work, or in the afternoons.  I can definitely bump it up as I get deeper into my projects. Here’s what I would like to work on:

+This blog! (woot.)
+ (Not so) super secret book series to help artists with their $$$$. More details to come!
+ Fiction: Short stories in particular
+ Music: Learn basic audio engineering, improve my guitar skills
+ Random art projects

I know. It’s a lot. And I need to seriously sit down and allocate time to specific projects. But it is a wish list! But wise person said if you get a wish out into the cosmos, the universe has a way of conspiring to make it happen. That might just as well be a bunch of mumbo jumbo!

Fail #2: Not having a freelancer contract. We all know how getting a freelancer contract can help you earn and save more money, but it also is there to protect you. I learned the hard way when a client changed the author of a blog post I wrote to his name. Having only signed an NDA before working with this client, it wasn’t clear who owned the rights. As a result we parted ways—and not amicably, either.

In hindsight, having a freelancer contract I could give to clients when I first work with them could have totally prevented this from happening. Womp. So in the new year I plan on having my own contract, to make sure all bases are covered.

Fail #3: Not getting enough sleep. Seriously. I’ve been struggling with insomnia and sleeping problems for a long time, and freelancing has only made it worse. There have been countless times when I’ve sacrificed sleep, waking up at 3 or 4 a.m. so I can hit all my deadlines. No bueno. Am gonna really try to improve this in the new year, and get my Zzzs!

!!!Top Fail!!!
Lack of work/life balance. Well, it’s weird. In some ways I’ve had more free time, but the crazy ebbs and flows of freelancing, really created a lot of unnecessary stress and anxiety. As Carrie Smith of Careful Cents says, you either need to embrace the craziness,  or try to find a way to strike that ideal balance.

Although I am generally an anxious person, I’m stoked to see how the new year shapes up!

What were your major freelancing wins and fails this year?

*This post may contain affiliate links. I only give shout outs to products that I use, love, and can get behind.


Freelancing Out of Necessity? Here’s Your Ultimate Game Plan

Illustration by Viet Vu

Freelancing can be pretty freakin’ awesome. But it can also suck hard, too. Having just hit my 15-month mark as full-time freelancer, I’ve realized how crucial it is to keep things together—and how easily things can fall apart. Freelancing is a funky hybrid of sorts. One one hand, you have have the freedom and flexibility to choose your clients (ideally), to create a schedule that jives best with your productivity style, and work pretty much anywhere there’s reliable wi-fi. On the other hand, you need to stay super organized, and bear the responsibility of footing the bill for your own health insurance and retirement. Oh, and then there is the anxiety and stress that comes with income that fluctuates month to month.

Freelancing is oftentimes depicted as a choice, something A-types and hustlers do on their own accord. But what if you were given a gentle nudge—or were straight-up forced—into freelancing? In 2015, while I had long wanted to try out the freelance life for myself, I took a baby step from leaving my full-time job with benefits at a job I liked and accepted a one-year contract position. However, about two months into it I was given the pink slip. They were overstaffed and so had to let me go. Initially I was in shock, but two days later I was on the plane to FinCon, a conference for money nerds and personal finance content creators. And lo and behold, I landed a bunch of leads at their Freelancer’s Marketplace.

My leads, along with a robust f*ck-off fund and a super helpful talk I had with my friend Andrew prompted me to not accept a near 6-figure contract position at an investment firm. That was almost half of what I was used to raking in a year. The job would’ve been fine, except that it was putting off what I really wanted to do—freelance! It was incredibly scary, and to be honest, still is. But I found that it has all been worth it. I was able to make more in the first 10 months of the year than I had at my old full-time job.  

But what if you’re not as prepared? If you’re freelancing out of necessity, either because you were laid off or had your hours drastically reduced, how can you best manage? Here are some pointers on how you can make up for that lost income, and land “bridge gigs” that could potentially lead to your next job?

Tap into overlooked pockets of savings
Yes, the 3-6 month emergency fund is something we could all use. But seriously, most of us barely have a couple of hundred bucks to our name. I highly recommend couch scrounging, breaking piggy banks, and trying to find little pockets where money might be. This includes bank accounts you had opened long ago with a few dollars in it.

Moving forward, seriously work on boosting your savings, either by starting off with a few hundred dollars, then a buffer fund that can cover a month’s worth of your basic expenses. I absolutely love Digit, and since I signed up this past March, have saved nearly $3,000. How Digit works is that it uses an algorithm to automatically save money for you. I am super lazy, so love how effortless it is. You can use that money to put toward your emergency fund.

Boost your earnings by doing what’s easiest
I’m all about doing what’s easiest. I had been working in publishing and communications for about 9 years when I was nudged into freelance, I was moonlighting for about 6 years, writing personal finance articles, copyediting art magazines, children’s books, and writing copy for websites. I also was petsitting and test proctoring at a local university. So I reached out to my network and got whatever gigs were easiest for me at time.

And while I don’t really do as much copyediting as I used to, I still work at my old job at a publisher about 6 months of the year for about 10-15 hours a week, and I consider them an anchor client. And guess what? I still petsit and test proctor on occasion. Those are both gigs where I get paid to sit on my bum and work on my freelance.

Get your feelers out there, and take on whatever side hustles are easiest for you. If you love to drive and have a reliable ride, sign up to be a rideshare driver, or if you are an ace at repairing your bike, then offering fix-up workshops. Sell your junk on sites like eBay or decluttr, get paid on sites such as Swagbucks, or take advantage of referral codes and cashback offers.

The key is to make money quickly so you don’t have to  needlessly tap into your credit cards. You really don’t want to hurt your credit, so don’t spend more than you need to. Once you get your bearings, you can spend more time raking in cash in ways you really want to.

Create different streams of income
For 27-year-old Tyler Philbrook, a personal finance blogger who runs I am the Future Me, he looked toward several side hustles when his job as a pharmacy tech was cut from 36-40 hours to 28 hours a week. While he had already started side hustling as a freelance writer, he also began to drive for Lyft and Uber, and made money on Amazon through their Fulfillment by Amazon program. He’s currently making $2,000 a month from Amazon, $200 a month freelance writing, and a few hundred a month as a rideshare driver. What’s amazing is he is making more money selling on Amazon than at his day job.

Ideally, you should have been working on your different streams of income by side hustling well before you have to turn to freelancing, Philbrook recommends. “If that’s not possible, don’t freak out. It’s not the end of the world; it  just will be slightly more difficult at first,” says Philbrook. 

Keep an open mind
Okay, so maybe you’re at Point A and what you ultimately want to do is at Point Z. I’ve learned that piecemealing your way to what you want to do is a great approach. So in other words, go from Point A to B, and take it from there. It ultimately took me 10 years and hopefully it won’t take you that long, but by figuring out what I enjoyed the most at each job, then trying to do more of it at my next job, all while building up my skills in my off time. I will get more into detail about this in a later post, but be open to opportunities, taking on new skills, and most important, grow where you’re planted.

Ease up on yourself
This ish takes time. Even though I had started side hustling and building out my client base long before I took the leap to freelancing full-time, I didn’t start really getting into the swing of things and writing for some of the new clients 1-2 months later. And depending on where you’re at, it could take longer. So be patient with yourself, and keep at it.

While you may be freelancing due to less-than-ideal circumstances, by pulling your skills and resources together, you can make this freelance thing work. While it may require more work and grit than a day job, it can be far more rewarding. And you may learn that you’re actually cut out for self-employment after all.

Disclosure: I do get some monies if you sign up via my link for Digit, so if want to check it out and support the blog, I’d be much obliged.

How Creative People Can Kick Butt at Managing Money

Illustration by Viet Vu

You just might be scratching your head. Creative people? Good with money? Let’s be clear about one thing: Just because you may put other things above making money: pursuing your personal projects, taking time off to make art, investing in classes and supplies, doesn’t automatically mean you suck at managing your money, or don’t care about having money. We’ve long associated that being passionate about something as an all-or-none mentality, that we have to completely eschew money and the pursuit of it as to not dilute our creative aspirations.

Artists have a money stigma. You are stinking rich as a result of 1. Being mega successful, or 2. Born into wealth. The rest of us are toiling away, starving for our passions. Otherwise we run the risk of the worst thing we could be as artists: sellouts.

I think that’s a bunch of bull.

We can all agree that money is a great tool to help you reach your goals in life. It’s not something to despise. It doesn’t make you corrupt or greedy or evil. It just amplifies who you already are. And the more of it you have, the better.

Artists are notoriously known for being bad at money matters, and that may be more due to circumstance. It can be tough to budget when you:

1) Have issues getting paid in the first place,
2) Your money fluctuates like a mofo from month to month.

A lot of people feel as if managing their money can be boring and tedious, I’ve found that it can be an extension of your creativity. As someone who was obsessed with money from a young age, having a good relationship with your money is a process that evolves and grows as you do.

Here’s how creative people can go about being the best money managers:

Know that rules are meant to be broken
There are plenty of approaches, methods, and rules to managing your money, from the 50/30/20 rule to the zero-sum budget and reverse budget, where you save first and then spend as you please.

For me, I used to spend a bunch of time poking around the Internet to learn about basic budgeting principles and systems. I’ve tried Excel sheets, the 50-30-20 rule, as a sort of template. The further I trekked along, the more I figured out my personal spending habits, and adopted a style.

With managing your money, you can learn from the trial and errors of those who have been in the ring, then do some experimenting on your own. From my year of freelancing full-time, I’ve found that paying myself a monthly salary, putting my money in different buckets to help keep me loosely keep track of my spending, then based on percentage, allocate whatever’s left over toward my different short- and long-term goals, works best for me.

I’m not an expert in personal finance nor will I ever claim to be. But what I can claim is that I am super obsessed with taming the money beast and have worked hard at it. For instance, trying to come up with a personalized budget. Since I don’t find much value and monitoring every single transaction,  I’ve spent a bit of time devising a system and process that works best for me, then operate on auto-pilot 80% of the time. I just make it easier for me to save than not to. It takes time to come up with your personal budgeting style, but once you do, you’ll be able to make serious headway.

The same goes for when you learn a new craft, such as writing fiction, composing a song, learning basic graphic design principles, and so forth. It’s only after you learn the rules that you can break them, and come up with your new style. Gain inspiration and insights from the greats, then adopt them to your own goals.

Treat growing your money into a game 
The rules of financial wellness are simple: spend less, earn more, and invest the rest. Now implementing them? That’s an entirely different story. By approaching wealth-building as the ultimate game, you’ll stay interested. More important, you’ll have fun. What expenses can you cut back on? How can you be the ultimate side hustler?

When I was in high school, I had a friend who was really into Calculus. I didn’t get it. The subject bored me to tears. My friend told me this: You have to work through the tough stuff. Only after that it starts to get fun. And of course, it’s only after you see results (i.e., I actually have some money in my rainy day fund? Or, the ultimate trip to Japan is going to happen next year!) that it gets awesome.

The same goes for frugality. I’ve turned frugality into a game. How many uses can I come up with, say, baking soda? How I do without X? How far can I stretch a dollar? Once you realize that you don’t need that much stuff, and how much time and mental energy you waste buying useless junk, you can focus on what really matters.

What matters most to me? Time. I’m a time hog. The more time I have to myself to think, wander, work on my own projects, and do whatever it is that I please, the happier I am.

Be in tune with your values and goals 
Self-exploration is a huge part of having a good relationship with money, and it takes time. For instance, you’ll want to know what your spending triggers are, what areas you tend to slack off, what you value the most, and how to align your spending with what’s most important to you. This is a lifelong process, and you’ll never be 100 percent done. The deeper understanding you have about yourself, the better equipped you’ll be to tackle any money struggles and hit financial wins.

Yes, all this sounds like a lot of work, and at first it is. But once you get the hang of it, it starts to get fun (or at least less painful).

Creative folks: What have you done to kick butt at managing your money?