Balin Brandt is a San Francisco-to-Brooklyn transplant with big ideas about freelancing and how to build a sustainable movement that treats freelancers well. He's also one of the members we featured in our Spring 2011 New York City subway ad campaign.You can find Balin's work at his website.
What I like best about freelancing is the freedom and lack of structure. I like the fluidity to be creative when creativity strikes. It’s a personal choice depending on what you’re comfortable with. If you need structure, you can work 9-5, and you trade that off for freedom.
I’ve had periods where the jobs are dry and it can be scary. As a freelancer, it’s important to have a little bit of structure built in. You need to make sure you have money for a rainy day and that you can pay taxes. There’s a lot of work that happens contract to contract, but these are not billable hours, so you need to put them into your rate.
My advice for a new freelancer is to create some structure for yourself. Make sure you understand the taxes. If you don’t, then hire someone who does. It goes against my personality, but having a budget has been great. It relieves me from having all those numbers in my head. Also, do research on your industry. Find out what the rates are for what you do, where you are, and what your experience is. And then build a way for you not to fail. Otherwise you’ll find yourself falling back on old jobs.
If you’re in tech, make sure you keep your skills really sharp. You’re competing against people who are passionate and who do keep their skills honed. It’s not like you’re working a 9-5 job and can count on doing mediocre work and not getting fired. You really need to differentiate yourself in some way. The way to do that is to keep your skills sharp.
Usually when I freelance I don’t have health insurance. Either it’s too expensive or it’s so crappy that it’ll only cover you if you get hit by a bus. When I first got to New York, I was looking for insurance. I may have been able to find cheaper insurance. But I like supporting a group that’s helping support change. I feel a lot of times people don’t put their money where their mouth is. That’s the WalMart way. That way nothing changes. I feel good about what I’m spending money on and supporting.
It’s frustrating right now because I pay my social security, I pay my taxes, but I don’t always get the support. I feel that if more people become part of the freelance movement, then more people will join the movement, and it’ll be self-replicating. Then maybe the cost of health insurance will come down, and we’ll be able to affect legislative change. If we all come together, we can make sure that we pull ourselves forward, because right now it’s really out of date how we do business.