How creative freelancers can save some much-needed cash this winter
Freelancers from the Creative Boom community share tips on coping with energy bills and rising prices as the cold nights draw in.
We don't need to tell you about the cost-of-living crisis: we're all living through it right now. But some of us are burying our heads in the sand. Thinking, perhaps, that the government will solve everything for us. Or maybe just not wanting to think about it at all.
And we don't blame you because, ultimately, the global spike in energy prices means that our living standards are going to drop, and we're going to have to make to do with less. It happened in the early 1970s, and it's happening again now. And all the money-saving tips in the world won't stop that from being a reality.
At the same time, taking a proactive approach to cutting our costs and increasing our earnings could make the difference between inflation hurting us a little and hurting us a lot. So as winter approaches, we asked Creative Boom readers for their advice. As ever, they came up trumps. In the article below, we share some of their best ideas.
1. Find a cheaper place to work
Being able to work from a coffee shop or a co-working space is one of the joys of being freelance. But tough times call for tough measures. So it's worth calculating how much you could save by working from home instead.
That said, as winter draws in, you'll be paying more on domestic heating, electricity and so on, which will not be insignificant.
With that in mind, copywriter Patrisha Robertson suggests you: "become a nomad in a workspace. Sit in the morning sun to save on lighting and heating. Move in the afternoon to where the sun may shine. Toques and socks are an indoors must."
If you're new to working from home, ensure you properly expense your domestic heating, lighting and other bills regarding your taxes.
Designer and illustrator Alberto Rodriguez adds that "trying to work at home with more people and paying the bills together could be helpful and also reduces energy waste. Alternatively, try to find any public place to work". For example, in the UK, libraries and museums are specifically preparing to act as 'warm havens' for people struggling to pay their energy bills.
2. Get creative with cutting expenses
While everyone's focused on energy bills right now, it's a good time to really delve into the fine detail of what you spend across the board, especially when it comes to recurring direct debits. "Cut out expenses that you don't need," urges illustrator Amy Lauren. "This might sound obvious, but I genuinely don't need my accounting software anymore because I know how to do most of it now. So I'll be saving about 200 Euros just on that."
This is just the start, though. You're a creative, after all, so it's time to get as creative with saving money as you do on client projects.
"A good tip for me the last year and a bit has been to source stamps from discounted websites," says Anna Hamill, aka And Hope Designs. "This saves me around 20 per cent on postage, and they're beautiful stamps from my childhood as well."
Also, consider whether there's any equipment you don't use anymore, which you could raise money (and open up space) by selling. As well as obvious places like eBay and 'buy and sell' groups on Facebook, think about specialist exchanges such as MPB, the online platform for used photography and videography equipment.
3. Change your software
Tongue firmly in cheek, graphic designer Sarah Fisher suggests you: "Go to 'cancel' your Adobe subscription and accept the discounted offer!" Alternatively, if you only really use one or two Adobe tools, swap your all-apps Creative Cloud subscription for a single-app subscription, or one of the more limited Photography Plans.
Also, check whether you qualify for an Education discount, which can save you serious money. This isn't just for students but also teachers and anyone who works in education, including administrative staff: you just need a school-issued email address.
Perhaps, though, you don't need Adobe at all? For example, we'd suggest you take out a free trial of either Affinity Photo, Designer or Publisher. They're low-cost and subscription-free, and many professionals find them a useable alternative to Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign, respectively. Plus check out our guide to free graphic design resources and you may find replacements to other paid-for subscriptions you're currently in hock for.
As well as cutting costs, find ways to make your money go further. Here's a great example from web designer Mike Hindle. "If you manage your own website and have a hosting package that allows for up to three, five or ten sites, then you can set up multiple new businesses/websites," he points out. "There's no extra cost to do so other than a domain name and your time, and it never hurts to spread your wings a little."
Get organised and put more effort into ensuring clients pay you promptly. Part of that means communicating what you need from them clearly, in advance.
4. Raise your rates
Graphic designer Krists Darzins offers a simple but logical response to the cost of living crisis. "The most important thing is to raise rates big time," he says. "Even 50-100 per cent if possible."
That's always a little scary, and even more so at a time when clients may be struggling themselves. But that's no reason not to at least consider it.
Think about how long it's been since you've raised your rates. Have you grown as a creative since then? Do you offer clients more in the way of skills, ability and experience than you used to? If the answer to any of those questions is yes, there's no reason you shouldn't ask for more. Especially if you compare local rates for your discipline and find out you're undercharging compared to others.
For more advice on this topic, read our articles on How to increase your rates without losing clients, How to price illustration work and our 2022 Graphic Designer Salary Guide.
5. Get paid earlier and more regularly
Another way to boost the amount of cash in your bank account is to improve your cash flow. And that means getting organised and putting more effort into ensuring clients pay you promptly.
Part of that means communicating what you need from them clearly, in advance. "Ensure you have a Policy Agreement in place to share with your clients upfront before starting any project," advises Graphic Designers SA. "This gives clients a full understanding of your design process, making things more seamless for both parties."
It also means asking for money earlier on in the process. "Ask for 50 per cent payment upfront for all projects lasting more than two weeks," recommends illustrator Ari Liloan. "If you need to put in more hours, let them know you need to charge for that."
Also, if you're working internationally, drill into the details to ensure you don't lose too much in the transfer. "Check out payment options with low conversion fees for different currencies, such as Wise," Ari advises.
6. Take on more work
Another obvious way to boost your income is to take on more work. That's the case even if you're already working flat out because it allows you to drop some of your lower-paying or difficult clients and find higher-paying ones to replace them. (For more on that, see our article on How to end things amicably with clients).
So how do you actually get more work? The best approach is usually a mixture of asking existing clients to give you more work and finding new clients. Struggling to do either? Educator and designer Darnell Brown offers the following tips.
"Firstly, reignite past clients," he says. "Check-in, remind them of your value, share your new services, and encourage them to 'buy now' before the holiday rush. Secondly, ask for referrals, request testimonials, survey them, and so on.
"Thirdly, think seasonally. Align and update your work for the upcoming season. Match your offers to the holidays/winter for freshness. Fourthly, become scarce. Create a little FOMO by reminding customers you'll be out of the office a bit this winter. Think 'last chance offers' before you retire older services, etc. Finally, foster loyalty. Reward your VIP clients with exclusives, promote timely content, remember their stories, and dedicate time to them."