When money gets tight for any reason, it’s a natural instinct for any freelancer to rush to find more clients and work. But as I’ve learned from experience, this can create new problems. Instead, why not look at quick ways to cut your freelancing costs and make your business more profitable in any situation?
Securing new projects in a rush can require hefty discounting, and going beyond your capacity to deliver quality work. And if you’re not keeping an eye on your expenses, all that extra effort might make little difference to your bank balance.
But reducing your freelance outgoings will not only reduce some of the pressure on your finances. It also means your time immediately becomes more valuable, without raising your rates. And it’s often down to quick and simple steps which just get neglected because we’re busy focusing on other tasks.
You don’t have to try and tackle all the cost-cutting options in one go. Rather than overwhelming yourself with a massive list to get through, just pick one or two tasks each month, and you’ll still be in a better financial position.
Don’t neglect your budgets, balances and invoicing
As a self-employed business owner, you should be keeping a regular check on your budgeting, bank balances, and invoices to ensure that everything is on track. But it’s easy to let this slip, especially if you’re anxious about your financial situation.
The importance of overseeing your income and outgoings applies even if you have the support of accountants or bookkeepers. Being your own boss means you’re ultimately responsible, and the sooner you spot a missed invoice, unusual activity on your accounts, or unnecessary expenses, the easier they will be to sort out.
It’s also worth regularly reviewing any business loans or debts, and checking whether it makes more financial sense to pay them off early if possible.
Put some dedicated time into your schedule, question anything you don’t understand, and think of the extra cash you’ll have as a result.
Ditch those unwanted subscriptions and recurring payments
How much money are you wasting each month on products and services you don’t use or need any more? Or that could be paused if they’re not required at the moment?
It’s easy to let recurring payments and subscriptions run in the background, especially if they’re relatively small amounts. But depending on your freelancing rates, £10 or £20 per month could mean working an extra day or two each year. And software subscriptions can often be much more than that.
Before you click cancel, it’s always worth checking whether you could move to a cheaper plan, and that you’re making the most of the subscriptions you keep. For example, you might have signed up for IPSE membership to get an insurance discount or attend an event, and not realised there are also savings on everyday products and services, business templates and helplines also included.
Switching services can seem like a major hassle, but it’s often easier than you might think. And if you cancel a subscription and need it again in the future, you’ll often be able to get a new user discount, anyway.
Consider refurbished, recycled or shared equipment
You don’t have to skimp on quality to save money on hardware and equipment for your freelancing business. Choosing refurbished or recycled products will help reduce waste and help the environment, as well as your bank balance. And if you have the time, furniture and other items can frequently be found for free through Facebook groups and online free ads.
Many major brands have official outlets for returned and refurbished products, which means you often still get guarantees and warranties for your purchase.
Waiting for sales can be a good idea, but check to make sure the price really has been reduced. And plan your purchases, to avoid picking up those impulse buys simply because they’re on offer.
If you need larger, more expensive hardware for your freelancing, then don’t rule out renting until you’re bringing in enough work to justify owning equipment outright. And if you have a good relationship with other freelancers and businesses, why not think about a shared purchase and ownership?
Free software can be good software
It’s easy to assume you need to pay a hefty amount for industry-standard software to run your business. But free, open-source projects are not only viable in their own right, but they’re generally compatible with the formats used by the paid alternatives.
Longstanding examples including office software (Apache OpenOffice or LibreOffice), photo editing (GIMP) or video and 3D creation (Blender). They’re often maintained by volunteer communities, so don’t be put off by websites and user interfaces which might be a little homegrown at times.
The trade-off is that you’ll need to be more proactive about finding help and information if you have problems installing the software or completing specific tasks. But there are support groups and forums filled with helpful people, so the information is generally available somewhere.
Don’t overlook local resources
I probably don’t need to suggest coffee shops and cafes for company without the cost of shared offices or co-working spaces.
But what about checking your local library before spending money on business books? There are also initiatives to support small businesses, and other facilities which could be useful. What about local community groups, including repair shops, hackspaces and other people who might have equipment or space you could access?
Don’t assume you need to be in a big city to find useful resources in your area. You might be surprised to discover how much is happening even in smaller, rural locations. Or be inspired to start something yourself.
Low-cost freelance networking
When you’re discovering your local resources, there are bound to be a range of events and networking opportunities for freelancers taking place in your area. And they’re a great way to build business relationships, especially if you’re just starting out and a bit nervous about meeting new people or public speaking.
Not every meetup will be worth sticking with, but it’s fairly low commitment to pop along for two or three events to get a proper feel for each one. And many large industry events started as a small gathering in a coffee shop or pub, so who knows what you might be part of.
Bigger conferences and trade shows can be hugely valuable, but why not see if other local freelancers might want to share travel or accommodation to cut costs? Even just swapping some messages before you arrive means some people to chat with when you get there.
Make the most of working remotely
If you freelance mainly from a home office, then saving on household costs can benefit you personally as well as professionally. But why not make more of the flexibility that comes with self-employment?
Meal planning and batch cooking can save time as well as money. And you might be able to save on childcare, or consider doing without a car if you rarely use it.
It also gives you the chance to pause and question whether in-person meetings are really required, especially as the pandemic forced many businesses to embrace online alternatives. You’ll need to consider each situation individually, as it can be better to meet face-to-face for some projects, especially if large budgets and high levels of trust are involved. But don’t be afraid to question whether every trip is actually worth the time and effort for everyone involved.
Professional advice and outsourcing can save you money
It might seem strange to suggest freelancers can cut costs by spending money. But some advice and support from a financial professional can make a big difference to your profit margins.
Accountants can save you time and money by reviewing your expenses, tax allowances, and suggesting grants or other funding that you might have missed. And if you really struggle with managing your finances, hiring a bookkeeper for an hour or two each week might free up a day or more of your own time for more client work. Which should more than cover the cost.
Ultimately, the most important tip for any freelancer or self-employed person is to overcome any financial anxiety or fear. Even if you make an honest mistake or two along the way, it’s rare that it will cause any serious issues. And there’s a lot of useful information available for free, including dedicated IPSE advice sections on self-employed financial wellbeing and tax. Or get support and tips from people who have experienced similar situations in groups like Creative Freelancers UK.
Just taking the first few steps can reduce your financial anxiety and stress. Which means you can focus on delivering your best work, and getting the most from freelancing.