Freelancing can be a life of freedom, of sampling from many plates, and of feast or famine. There are no sure bets in freelancing. Like anything, it comes with a set of positives and negatives, but one thing is for certain – if freelancing is the path you’d like to take, you’ve got to prepare for best results.

Longtime freelancer Nick Girard has shared some valuable tips to help you get started as a freelancer on a good note and hedge your bets for success at a sometimes uncertain career path.

Save Up

Scrimping and saving when you’ve got a steady job will set the stage for the times when a job ends abruptly, and you aren’t yet sure what comes next. Life’s not cheap, and you’ll want to make sure you’ve got enough to cover your costs even if you don’t have money coming in. While you’re saving, hang onto those new “cheap living” skills you’ve cultivated and use them to stay ahead of the game.

SLR Lounge editorial tips to live by:

  • Never carry a credit card balance but don’t be afraid to use a credit card with rewards that fit your freelancer lifestyle.
  • Buying a used car is better than leasing or buying new.
  • Used gear can save you thousands as a photographer.
  • Cooking at home (vs eating out) can save you thousands of dollars each year.
  • Be careful and cautious with any kind of debt.
  • Research what you can and cannot write off in your taxes.

Act Like A Business


Before you even get started, get all of your business ducks in a row. Set up banking and credit accounts just for your business finances and get (and use) accounting software.  Also remember to acquire business insurance – some jobs will require it.

Don’t overlook the importance of an ironclad contract to protect you from being stiffed for pay or otherwise taken advantage of. You can find or purchase contracts online, but it’s still a good idea to have a lawyer look them over. It will likely cost you something, but it can pay for itself if you ever need to use it to recoup after a breach.

Save Some More

When you’re employed, you file some documents at the beginning of employment and relax as your taxes are deducted from your income automatically. Not so when you’re a freelancer (at least in the US). What’s more, freelancers don’t reap savings in employer-matched contributions to funds like Social Security. That’s all you!  Make sure you understand the laws in your area and plan accordingly!

Don’t get caught owing money you don’t have when tax time comes. Set aside 20-30% of your income in a business savings account and if you’re lucky, you might have a little left over after you pay. Even if you don’t have extra money, you won’t be panicking and figuring out how to set up a payment plan with the IRS, which is nice.   When you price your work, remember that 20-30% immediately disappears and take that into account.


SLR Lounge Editorial Tip:

Shop around for the highest interest savings account available and be vigilant about transferring money in.  An extra 1%-2%, compounded daily, monthly, or annually, can add up to a significant amount at the end of each year.

Freelancing Youtube Video

With these tips in mind, your freelance career will start on a much more solid foundation than if you’d just decided to jump in and wing it. Check the video below to hear more from Nick.

SLR Lounge Editorial Tip

Try to find a job or two that offers fairly consistent work and flexible time, even if those jobs come at lower hourly rates than you normally expect.  These jobs can help you fill in the gaps in between your higher paying jobs.  For example, let’s say that you normally charge $50/hour for your photography services.  If you find a job that averages around $25/hour, then it might make sense, depending on how booked you are for your $50/hour rate, to take the $25/hour gig if it offers flexibility and consistent work.  Often times, freelancers get stuck on a set rate without considering consistency and flexibility, leading them to get paid a higher average rate but make less money at the end of each year.

Original article by Holly Roa.  Modified by editorial staff on 10.21.2020 to include more information and tips.