Stepping out on your own and freelancing is a huge step, but there's a lot you should think about before you take that leap. One thing worth considering are the startup costs associated with working on your own. They're potentially a big deal, and some of them you might not expect.
Whether you're going to be a consultant, a freelance developer or a writer, you may think you can just hole up at home in front of your computer and run your business. That's true to an extent, but there are other costs you should remember to budget for. If you prepare for them before you strike it out on your own, you can avoid being blindsided by them when you're already stretched thin financially.
Outfit Your Home Office
You don't have to outfit your home workspace like the palatial corner office you never had, but you will need some things that you may not have considered if you've only ever worked in an office someoe else has paid for. Working from the couch or the bed may be fine occasionally, but when it's time to take a video call from a client or do some serious work, nestled up in your blankets and pillows isn't the place you want to be. You need a decent desk, useful peripherals, and the right tools for your job. For example, you need a good office chair.
One of my surprise expenses when I was a full-time freelancer was the sudden need for a multifunction printer/scanner/copier. I had contracts to sign and documents to scan and archive -- things I used to borrow the company machine to do at work. Suddenly, I needed my own gear, and it had to last the long haul -- which means your purchase should be carefully considered and your dollars well invested. That applies to everything you buy for your home office.
Do make yourself comfortable, but don't throw your money away. Consider the costs of setting up your home office with the tools you may have taken for granted at a corporate office. There's no mailroom and no supply closet or IT department with spare keyboards and mice when you work for yourself. It's all up yo you, and investing in those supplies earlier rather than when you need them can save you money. (They'll also be deductible business expenses.)
Buy The Software You'll Need To Do Your Work
Depending on what you plan to do, you'll need more than just office equipment: You'll need tools. For those of us who work with technology, that often comes down to software and peripherals, and that stuff can get expensive if someone else isn't paying the bills (and while it's tax-deductible, you won't feel the benefit of that immediately).
You can try to stick to free options (if you're a writer, Google Docs and Drive are great tools for document creation and management, for instance). However, specialised tools like code editors, professional design tools, web and application hosting services, and accounting or financial software all cost money. Brace yourself for the costs in advance, and save the receipts.
Watch Out For Higher Household Costs
Everyone likes the idea of working from home, but one thing often overlooked is that you have to pay the increase in heating, cooling, power, and other household costs associated with someone being there all the time. Most of us leave home in the morning and return in the evening, which gives us a break on energy costs. When you're inside all day, sucking down power and keeping the temperature comfortable enough for you to work, that's a change you'll see on your electric and gas bill at the end of the month. Personally, I didn't realise how much power I actually used until I was home all day with lights on and computers running. At my old job, I would have put them all to sleep, turned out the lights, adjusted the thermostat, and headed to work.
Expect your supermarket bills to head up too. When I gave up a job that had free coffee, drinks, and a cafeteria, I found myself buying more coffee and food at home to make my own meals every day. (Conversely, you may be less tempted to waste money eating out every day.)
Consider A Coworking Space
If you have a little cash to throw around, consider joining a coworking space and renting a desk or office. We've discussed the pros and cons of coworking in the past -- it isn't for everyone, but it can help you build a routine, find people to collaborate with, and clearly distinguish personal and business costs.
Coworking spaces cost money though, and you'll have to budget for them. Still, the benefits can be great. If you're the type who wouldn't mind an office environment if it were on your terms, look into one. The food, kitchens, and coffee are benefits, but don't forget that many offer you and your clients places to meet, space for you to network with or bounce ideas off of other people -- often freelancers or entrepreneurs themselves -- phone lines for business calls, and studios for video shooting or podcasts.
Budget For A Good Accountant
While you can try and do the job yourself, it's often easier to take your taxes to an accountant and have them help you with your deductions and future tax planning. Don't overlook that -- and don't skimp on a financial professional who can help you manage it.
After all, you're the HR department when you work for yourself, which means no one's going to put money to the side for superannuation and emergency savings unless you do. A good accountant can help you choose the best vehicles for the money you will be making, and help you refine your budget so you don't forget to save for emergencies and dry spells -- not to mention your financial future.
When Things Get Serious, Consider a Lawyer
Many freelancers don't bother with this -- and honestly, I didn't when I was freelancing full-time. However, if you're starting a business or have ideas, trademarks, or copyrights you need to protect, it may make sense to hire a legal professional well versed in business law and relevant issues. When Destroy Today's Jonnie Hallman stopped by to talk about his experiences, he made a convincing case for hiring a lawyer -- someone who can handle all of your client contracts, speak legally to your best interests, defend you in case another business decides to make your life miserable, and guide you through any relevant legal hurdles.
Prepare Before You Quit Your Day Job
These costs can turn up at different stages of the freelancing process, but it's best to prepare for as many of them as possible in advance. If you have a steady, full-time gig, freelancing before you quit your job is the way to go. It gives you the flexibility to save up that "extra" cash as a safety net before you take the plunge. We've gone into detail about how to start your side project without quitting your day job if you need help making both ends meet.
The earlier you prepare and set the money aside for costs like these, the easier your life will be when it comes to tax time, or you have a client that needs you to use some specific piece of software but won't pay for your licence. You can't prepare for everything, but a little forethought goes a long way -- and gives you the freedom to focus on doing what you're best at.