Flying solo: The financial side of Freelancing

So far, I’ve been amazed (and a little unprepared) for all the tiny and not-so-tiny things it takes to start even a low-overhead, one-person enterprise like mine. In the past two or so months, I’ve had to:

1)   Research and buy a new printer and scanner (Wireless or manual? Laser or inkjet?) I started out with a laser printer, but it didn’t have all the features I needed, so returned it for a cheaper ink jet model that is doing the job nicely.

2)   Figure out a billing system  (Should I trust Paypal?) I’m trying it, and for now, I love the ability to send an invoice and have the money in my account minutes later. So much nicer than waiting for a check in the mail.

3)   Come up with a way of tracking my earnings (currently, I’m using a low-tech word doc, but I plan to upgrade to a system in Excel that my husband uses for his business).

4)   Order business cards (Score! Vistaprint offers some great designs and deals. I got 250 super-sleek cards for $14!)

5) Get used to scheduling my own time (I’ve had to switch from my trusty paper calendar that sat on my desk for years to using the calendar in my iPhone. The first few weeks I was making tons of mistakes–Oops, meant to schedule that phone call for January 22nd but clicked on February 22nd, instead!–but I’m getting the hang of it).

Turns out that going solo also requires a fast upgrade to my financial IQ. I’ve spent years on autopilot, saving the max to my 401K but basically living without a budget and not thinking too much about what I earned. (Lucky, I know.) Now, I have to pay attention to what I’m pulling in every month, and address the really scary question: How much do I need to earn to maintain my lifestyle in famously expensive New York City?

After tallying up my basic costs—mortgage, co-op fees, Cobra (expensive!), my goal for this first year is to earn $100,000. That’s significantly less than what I was making at my magazine gig, but if I’m cautious, that should allow me to cover major expenses with enough left to contribute to my 401k and pay taxes.

If I fall short, I’m willing to tap into my severance for now and even lean on my (newish) husband a bit for things like vacations and dinners out. (More on that later) I’m also being proactive by taking a one-night seminar with financial planner and Dailyworth contributor Galia Gichon on upping your money confidence. (Can’t hurt!)

I may discover that to have a fun life and save for retirement, I need to adjust my numbers. I may discover that I’m not cut out to work solo at all. (How will I be able to survive without a tech team when my computer crashes?)

But I’m hopeful that I’ll discover that flying solo is freeing, that I can earn a good living and have more time to live well, too.