Are you a freelancer who’s ever found themselves frantically searching for their next assignment, feeling the weight of financial uncertainty pressing down? You’re not alone. The rollercoaster ride of irregular income is a shared experience for many freelancers. It can be terrifying and can feel like the end of the world. But it’s not. In this article, we’ll share stories, lessons learned, and practical tips from experienced freelancers who have weathered these storms.
Don’t Suffer Alone; Learn from Others
One of the most reassuring aspects of freelancing is knowing you’re not alone in your struggles. There are communities of freelancers out there who understand what you’re going through. Consider joining “Freelancers in Belgium” on Facebook, where you can connect with peers and find support when times get tough.
Let’s take a look at a few real-life stories from freelancers who’ve faced financial challenges:
“Aim for a secure customer base”– Elsa, Content marketer
- In May 2020 I had a revenue of … 800 euros. 🤡 I panicked and considered applying for a job at the local supermarket as well because I did that as a student job during college. Thankfully I didn’t and things picked up slowly again the month after, but it made me change to having a few bigger, regular clients to rely on and not just occasional smaller assignments.
“Value your time and charge accordingly”– Michael, IT professional
- I wasn’t self-employed for that long and did not understand the value of my own time yet. I had a baby on the way and was working on websites from home. I would keep working on projects, even if they were long over budget. I wasn’t happy with my own performance and felt guilty towards the customer. I wanted to do better, so I kept spending time on it. Some customers caught on and abused this. They kept demanding more and more for the same price. The situation changed when I started consulting, so I used time for money instead of value for money because I was losing money on the fixed-price projects. I only learned the value of time when I had to pay others (employees of other freelancers) for the work.
“Use a crisis to learn new skills that make you more valuable in the market.”– Jenny Bjorklof, founder Freelancers in Belgium
- (One of) my situation(s): During the first lockdown COVID I had 6 months of events (my livelihood back then) planned and saw my agenda wiped out in a split moment. I actually applied for a job in a supermarket because I figured that would be a secure job. I didn’t get the job but I learned to organise virtual events.
“Diversify your client base, don’t depend solely on a single client”– Mila, Communication Coach
- During the lockdown, I delivered my first child and 2 days later found out that my husband was laid off. Being self-employed, I had to start working immediately to provide for my family. I immediately started reaching out to more clients and luckily for me, I had enough work to take care of the bills. That’s also the moment, I realised as a freelancer, you cannot just rely on one client and need to strive hard to build new relationships and maintain them too!
“Life always happens. Make sure to have an emergency fund. “– Jolien, Communications Specialist
- September 2022, my father decided to pursue euthanasia. He had been ill for many years and he was done with life. As an only child with a mother who was living in complete denial, I had to take over, everything. Plan everything before he died, without my father speaking of it, watch him die, prepare the funeral and take care of my mother – as I still am today. 5 months without income, as I was not able to “perform” at interviews, even worse, I lost good connections and did everything wrong. In the end, I worked for a company in an unpleasant environment for me, but I needed the money! Today, I have another mission, in a very nice environment but I don’t work at my fullest capacity. I am looking for a new opportunity as an employee – I lost my trust in freelancing and am totally out of balance! I hope to restore it soon.
“Look for opportunities beyond your normal geographical areas, sectors and tasks. And don’t give up “– Annica, Pharma Consultant
- My sector (pharma a bit, mainly biotech) is currently going through a storm. The economic challenges have changed investor behaviour meaning investors do not want to invest money anymore in insecure businesses which is a threat to all biotech companies in Belgium (and there are many). The number of vacancies is significantly reducing especially vacancies for seniors like me (I often get to hear I’m overqualified) and in my domain of expertise. So it takes longer and longer to find a new assignment/job, and you need more and more money to cover these periods while the fees have been under pressure for many years already. I, therefore, started applying abroad (but own citizens are always more likely to get the job), in other sectors ( to hear that I don’t have the right profile) and applied for different types of jobs that interest me (but again with the risk to hearing that I don’t have the right profile).
Flattening the Financial Rollercoaster
So, how can freelancers protect themselves from financial instability? Here are some actionable tips:
- Increase Your Rate: Professionalize your services and negotiate higher rates.
- Prospect and Market: Continue marketing even when you’re busy.
- Track Expenses: Use tools like YNAB to monitor your finances.
- Optimize Taxes: Explore deductible expenses in this comprehensive list by our community partner Accountable.
- Save Money: Build an emergency fund to cover 3-6 months of expenses.
- Diversify Income: Invest in stocks, real estate, or other income sources.
- Secure Yourself: Get health insurance, guaranteed income, and liability insurance.
- Build a Pension: Plan for your retirement.
- Secure Contracts: Use favourable payment terms and contracts.
- Network: Connect with other professionals. Here is a list of places freelancers in Belgium can network.
- Stay Informed: Keep up with industry developments.
- Develop Skills: Continuously improve your skillset to stay valuable in the market.
Instead of succumbing to worry during financially challenging times, use the stories and advice shared here to empower yourself. Freelancing has its ups and downs, but with the right strategies, support, and a commitment to self-improvement, you can navigate the irregular income rollercoaster and emerge stronger on the other side. So, take a deep breath, connect with fellow freelancers, and get ready to conquer your financial challenges.
Facebook group Freelancers in Belgium