How much I earn (and spend) as a freelancer

This post has been a long time coming. I've always tried to be transparent about my business planning and rates, but I've had a tendency to skirt around the elephant in the room and have never talked how much I actually earn.

There is a reason for this, and I'll be totally upfront about it. I was embarrassed. 

Nowadays, you can't move on Facebook for glamorous blonde bloggers wanting to tell you the secrets of how they made a six figure income (in exchange for you contributing to their six figure income, of course). I'm sure many of these people are legit and have genuinely earned their success, but here's the problem: they are a minority, but because they are in our faces on social media, through newsletters and in the press, it seems like they are everywhere. 

This builds up a falsely skewed view of what you "should" be earning as a freelancer or small business owner; a view that is further reinforced by the fact that almost nobody talks about what they earn unless they're really successful. So the only time you hear people quoting their income, chances are it's waaaaay beyond what you're earning. This then makes you feel super inadequate. 

The other issue is that income figures quoted by the people who are successful don't necessarily reflect all the years that it took them to build up to this point.

You tend to hear less about how they had to move back in with their parents or work part time in a second job when they were starting out. All the sacrifices, mistakes and 80 hour weeks that led them to the end result aren't mentioned quite so often. 

I'm aware that I probably come across as quite successful in my own little way. I've been freelancing for four years now, all my clients come from recommendations, I have like a billion side projects and run a growing freelance community, for which I've won an award and been featured in national press (achieving one of my life goals of being in the Guardian).

If you didn't know any better, you'd maybe assume I was doing pretty well financially. My income this year was most I've ever earned (although that's because I was a teacher and then worked for non-profits, so the bar was hardly set very high). I wouldn't say I crushed my half year goal, but I did exceed it by the grand sum of £1.03. So if you had to guess how much I earned last year, I suspect it would be higher than the actual amount.  

Another reason why I've not wanted to share how much I earn before this point is that I've been wary of well-meaning people then feeling like they need to tell me how to run my business 'properly' to maximise my profits.

Of course I have absolutely nothing against people who set up their own businesses with the primary goal of making more money. But that's not me! For example, I'm now at the point where I generally don't do any client work on Fridays, and keep this day free for side projects.

Could I earn more if I didn't do this, and focused solely on client work? Absolutely. Would I be as happy? Definitely not. I suffer from anxiety, and I'm very aware that my mental health begins to suffer when I'm working really long days (or weeks). It's been much better since I've been self employed because I can manage my time and rearrange my schedule when needed. So in effect I probably only work part time. I've just started tracking my time again using Toggl so I can get a clearer picture on how many hours I do actually spend on the different parts of my business each week. 

Outside of work, I don't tend to spend that much on clothes or beauty products and a lot of my socialising is through work (for example with Freelance Folk). I've also been lucky to have a partner with a sensible job who was happy for me to contribute a bit less to the joint finances when needed. He's now handed in his notice and so we'll both be freelance in three months. Eek! What could possibly go wrong? 

Having said all this, there are certainly ways in which I could have been a bit more strategic with my finances without having to compromise on my values or my wellbeing. This is the first year that I've actually had income goals, and I've started to be more proactive about diversifying my income. At the start of the financial year I was also putting more expenses on my business credit card than I'd have liked; but since January I've not used it at all. 

Previously, my approach was much more reactive and I didn't especially track my progress; if I had money to contribute towards the mortgage and bills, that was a win for me. And I'm not proud of this, but I've done my tax return on the last weekend in January for the last three years. Nowadays, thankfully, I'm keeping on top of my finances and know from month to month where I'm up to. It's much nicer and I would recommend it! 

So without further ado, here's what I earned and spent over the last two years. Rarrgh this is scary!

I've broken it down into categories and you can hover over (or tap if you're reading on a phone) the chart segments to see the actual amount in each category. The figures are slightly skewed as the expenses include all the costs for my car whereas of course part of that is personal use. The expenses don't include the costs of using my home as an office, as the figures relate purely to what I've spent via my work business bank account.

In 2017-18 I also bought a new computer so that was a bit of an investment. I then spilled gin on it and had to pay even more to get it repaired. Sad face. 

If you're thinking about going freelance and feeling a bit panicked because you'd need to earn more than these amounts, I just want to emphasise that a lot of this was by choice. It is very much possible to make more of a profit (especially if you don't spend lots of energy on side projects that generate very little money). 

Income 2016-17: £19,060.27

Expenses 2016-17: £8,275.56

 

Income 2017-18: £23,559.64

Expenses 2017-18: £10,920.16

 

How does this compare with my targets?

My highest ever salary was £21,883 and so my target for the year was £21,884, and I also set myself a stretch goal of £25,000. And I'm really happy that I exceeded my minimum target by over £1,500. Yay! However, this doesn't take into account the fact that my expenditure is quite high, so next year my stretch goal is to make a profit of £21,884. 

I'm planning to do this by finding ways to reduce my business spending (I'm looking at you, coffee shops) as well as increasing my income. I'm hoping to run more workshops, and I've also updated the services that I offer so I'm covering my costs more when I create websites for clients, but also offering lower cost options for people who want to go down the DIY route and just need a little extra support. 

A few people have asked me about the finance tools that I use as a freelancer.

As you know, I love nothing more than nerding out about apps and software, so here are the services that I use to help me manage my finances. 

Wave

This is the accounting software that I use. It's free (we like free) and allows you to send branded invoices to clients, upload photos of your receipts from your phone and create reports to get an overview of your business finances. 

Coconut

These are the new kids on the block, creating a business banking app designed especially for freelancers. You can categorise transactions right within the app, and see a live tax estimate as you progress throughout the year. Currently it's available for sole traders on iPhones, with the Android version in the pipeline later this year. 

SimpleTax

This service allows you to submit your tax return to HMRC but all the sections and questions are in human language. 

Toggl

Not technically a finance app but using this free time tracker helps you to get clear on how you're spending your time, which can be invaluable when deciding how much to charge.