How to set your own monthly income as a freelancer

If there’s one thing I wish I’d known from the start, it would be how to set my monthly income. But a huge part of freelancing is learning as you go. What’s helpful these days is that there are more freelancers than ever and they’re sharing their experiences so others can learn from them.

See, when you’re a freelancer, you are responsible for more things than when you were a salaried employee. For instance, taxes and health insurance. These things are often easy to deal with if you’re an employee. But when you run your own business, it’s a different story.

Fact of the matter is, managing your finances is not that easy. As you grow as an entrepreneur, you’ll soon realize there’s a lot more to consider when crunching numbers for your monthly income. After all, you are paying yourself. Your math should be on point! Here are some things to consider to help you start off.

Evaluate your lifestyle

Your lifestyle says a lot about your spending. Do you like quiet afternoons at home with your cats or do you usually go shopping? Do you love ordering in and trying new restaurants or do you love to cook? These things may not seem important but when you’re not expecting a steady paycheck every month, you’ll have to be more mindful of your lifestyle. When you’re paying yourself, make sure you can accommodate the kind of lifestyle you live.

Don’t forget the essentials too! Things like health insurance, mortgage, car loans… everything you have to pay on a monthly basis. Your desired monthly income is not just about having a number that covers the basics. It must cover the essentials too.

Know how many hours you’d like to work

When I started freelancing, I didn’t care how many hours I worked. Even when things were getting stable, the hours worked didn’t matter. I didn’t realize I was working more than 40 hours a week until burnout happened. And that wasn’t pretty!

I cannot stress enough how important it is to know how many hours you’d like to work. If you only want to work 30 hours a week and from studying your lifestyle, you estimate that you need $5,000 per month, you can do the math from there. You can study your rates and set better boundaries to separate work from personal.

Get clear about your other business expenses

At the onset, you’d probably be doing everything by yourself—finding clients, building your social media, doing the work itself, building your portfolio, tracking invoices, basically all of it. But sooner than you think, you will need to hire someone. Growth happens when you begin to accept the fact that you can’t do it all alone forever.

You will have to pay the people you hire, thus your business should make enough money to cover their rates. Get clear on what type of people your business truly needs. Know which parts you need help with and which parts you can still manage to do by yourself.

And then move to other business expenses like internet service, backup devices, cloud storage, any and all apps and software you need to use. List them out and their corresponding monthly prices. When you’re clear with all your business expenses, you can adjust your monthly income accordingly. And, of course, you can adjust your rates accordingly too.

Be honest with your level of skills

This may be a hard pill to swallow but we’re here for the tough conversations too! If you badly want to be a writer but you know you’re not that good enough to build a business off of it, it takes courage to be honest with that. Admitting to ourselves what we lack or where we need to improve is not always easy. Oftentimes, our pride and ego will get in the way. Know what you’re good at and know the level of your skills.

If you don’t think you can charge $500 a blog post, then don’t. Charge $100 or $50. Keep at it for a while, learn from your editors, and grow from there. If you’re a writer who wants to offer SEO services but you don’t know anything about SEO, consider enrolling in a course. When you see the need for things like courses, you can adjust your income for the next months to cater to these expenses.

Always prepare for rainy days

When you’re a freelancer, you may feel like there’s less financial stability. This is why you must always prepare for the rainy days. Have a savings fund for small expenses like courses, gadget updates, month-long vacations if you’re like me—someone who constantly needs recharging and unwinding. Your savings account is your go-to place as a source of money for months when you don’t have a lot of client work. This savings fund should have at least six months’ worth of your monthly income.

And then have a separate emergency fund, ideally another six months’ worth of your monthly income. This would be for big, unprecedented expenses like hospitalization or perhaps a major home repair after a bad storm. Set aside a particular amount for your savings and emergency fund and save up on a monthly basis.

When you’re setting your own monthly income as a freelancer, you need to look at it as payment to yourself. Don’t just say “my monthly bills are $4,000 total so I just need to make $4,000 and I’m good.” There are many other expenses that you need to prepare for as you grow your business. If you’re not a fan of scrutinizing your finances, as a creative entrepreneur you must learn to like it. Only then will you be able to balance the number of hours you want to work, the money you need to make, and the rates you need to charge.

Tammy Danan

Tammy Danan is a storyteller who reports on environmental and social issues. She also covers productivity, creative pursuits, and the future of work. Her words have appeared in VICE, Audubon.org, ZEKE Magazine, Shutterstock, Toggl, among others. You may find her on Instagram @SlowFreelancing.