Don't fear the famine! Surviving the freelance financial challenge

May 08, 2019

This is a sponsored post from Joust, the first financial services company animated by and focused on the unique needs of freelancers. What if your bank admired your passion and respected your work? And what if it could guarantee you got paid? PayArmour, a revolutionary new solution from Joust, takes the hassle out of invoicing clients and protects you against client nonpayment.

Self-employment is not a plague of locusts, it’s a voluntary financial state and you have some control over the timing. What measures you can you take now to make the hardscrabble phase a little bit softer? Preparing your finances and preparing your mindset go hand-and hand in making the leap.

For me entrepreneurship was a strong pull, but up until a few years ago, self-imposed reasons held me back. I was at a relatively stable point in my life, at least by outward measures. I had a fatalistic notion stuck in my head about my then-job being “what I was good at.” I argued with myself that I didn’t have the bandwidth. I asked myself, “Who am I to think I could?” I wondered if my personal finances could handle the change.

Then I had a specific vision, some momentum, and it was time.

To break in you need to be willing to be broke. You need to get scrappy and creative. Did I have all my ducks in row? Hell no. Get a few and start moving forward. Here are some good ducklings to rally.

Line up your credit

The timing on this matters a lot. You want to apply for credit while you still have a high credit score and a low debt-to-income ratio. Get the high limits and the low rates now, long before you need them. If you have high-APR debt, look for ways to pay it off or refinance. You’re going to be burning through funds, so give yourself a nice long runway for success.

Check the penalties and rates on your bank’s overdraft program. In all likelihood they are very high. You may dip into that, so consider switching to a less punitive account.

Student loans are good credit. If your professional ambitions align with higher education — or if part-time will qualify — academia could buy you time to ramp up.

Identify your clients

Knowing your market can create the momentum that makes the leap possible. Have you found a need you can reach? Can you take your book of business with you as you transition from employee to sole proprietor?

Income will slow your monthly burn, giving you all the more time. Clients, gigs, contracts, and assignments are supposed to equate with income, but sometimes they don’t. Trust your gut on this and don’t take questionable or shady clients out of desperation. The stakes for late or nonpayments are too high. For Joust, this was our proverbial “problem to solve for” that prompted us to develop our PayArmour invoicing guarantee based on a type of service large banks routinely offer large corporate clients.

Slash expenses

Channel your inner Marie Kondo: What expensive clutter, literally or figuratively, can you eliminate from your monthly budget? The answers will be different for everyone. To spark some ideas:

  • Downgrade from the fancy gym to the cheap one.
  • Sell the snowboarding equipment on Craiglist.
  • Reasonable public transit options? Yes, I sold my Lexus and took the bus.
  • Room for a roommate? Could you find a long-term housesitting situation? If you own real estate, how about AirBnB-ing it while you live out your #technomad #vanlife fantasy?
  • Student loans, the flip side: if you have a high monthly payment, see about putting it into forbearance.

A lot of small things, in aggregate, can reduce the monthly burn. Cut anything that is not core to your basic functioning and morale.

Get buy-in

If you’re taking loved ones along on this ride, their support makes a huge difference. I’m lucky to have someone right there with me, but I’ve had startup team members with less than supportive spouses and I could feel the drag indirectly. What personal decision you might need to make, only you can answer, but be aware that the psychological and family dynamics matter. Maybe it’s having a vote of confidence from the parent who is also bankrolling you? Maybe it means hiring housecleaners is non-negotiable? Maybe in two years, when your dream has taken flight, it’ll be his/her turn to quit the soul-crushing corporate job?

Work the system

There are all sorts of systems out there. Which can you tap? For me, as a U.S. military veteran, there were organizations eager to help me network. There are resources for women, people of color, and various other identity categories. What’s your background or what sort of world are you entering? Find the affinities. Look at universities, community colleges, and philanthropic organizations. Are there grants you could apply for?

What federal or state program — from SBA loans to getting on Medicaid — could help you out? Use the government infrastructure. If a recent lay-off prompted your decision, some state unemployment programs let you focus on starting your own business while you collect benefits.

The freelance plan is your first job, but you may need a “second job” of sorts. I wrote my first business plan during my downtime as a prison guard. It was miserable, and I don’t recommend that exactly, but there are slacker jobs out there, say hotel security or office temp, where you could be hustling your own hustle on their clock.

Coming back around to credit and debt, if you end up over your head, don’t accept it as a given. Financial institutions really don’t want to send you into collections. Approach your lender sooner rather than later, let them know you’re going through difficulties, and see what they can work out for you in terms of deferring or reducing payments. Don’t be ashamed. If anything err on the side of painting the worst possible picture. If you can swallow your pride, it will ease the pressure.

Hang in there until you hit the feast phase. It’s all cyclical, and that comes with a new set of problems that I’ll talk about in my next column. Until then keep working your plan.

Lamine Zarrad

Lamine Zarrad is the founder & CEO of Joust, leading the mission of financial inclusion and eroding systemic barriers to fair banking and payments.