To earn the coveted Eagle Scout rank, Boy Scouts must complete at least 21 merit badges. A merit badge is an award for completing a required set of tasks in a specific area of study or expertise. For example, all Eagle Scouts must earn the camping, communications, first aid, and personal management. As an Eagle Scout myself, after seeing this list of freelance achievement stickers in the New Yorker, I started to ponder what merit badges for freelancers might help them along their journey. Enjoy this list of merit badges for freelancers and do your best to “earn” them and level up your skills.
One of the most important keys to success in freelancing is schedule management. Mastering this required merit badge for freelancers involves understanding concepts like organization, prioritization, and time management. A freelancer who can’t stay organized, adhere to deadlines, and remain productive won’t hack it in this meritocracy. If you can’t keep on schedule, clients simply won’t hire you back.
Freelancing isn’t like school where you have a set schedule, classmates, and professors to keep you on track. And unlike a traditional employment situation, you don’t have a full-time boss shepherding projects through to completion. It is just up to you to stay motivated, get everything done on time, and keep on schedule. If you can do that, you’ve mastered a key aspect of freelancing.
You may be great at your job, but if you can’t figure out how to invoice and get paid, you will be a very talented, poor, and hungry freelancer. If you want to keep things simple and avoid extra steps and hassles, consider an all-inclusive invoicing and billing platform like Due. You can enter your invoice details and Due takes care of the rest, sending the invoice to your clients and handling payment processing for you.
At the very minimum, you should find a system that allows you to send a professional invoice each month and track payment status. But a high-quality invoice system does a heck of a lot more and makes payments and billing easy on both you and the customer. Also, make it as simple as possible for customers to pay you. You don’t want them to get frustrated and give up!
Taxes for Business Owners
They say there are only two guarantees in life: death and taxes. Hopefully, your freelance business won’t drive you to death, but if you are successful it will certainly lead to taxes. A natural extension of mastering your billing, you should have a well-organized bookkeeping system and always keep track of your income and expenses. I update my books at least once per week, but monthly is plenty for most freelancers.
If you have well-organized and updated books, taxes are not all that tough. You can lean on your books to fill in your Schedule C for a sole proprietorship or LLC or your 1120/1120S as a corporation. I used to hire an accountant, but found some big errors and realized I know my business and money better than anyone else. I have done my own taxes, including my business, for most of the last five years and have never had a problem. Tax for business owners merit badge earned!
My first freelance gig paid a measly $25 for an article, but I was thrilled with that rate at the time. In the years since, however, my rate has skyrocketed. I had a project last year that paid over 320 times as much as my first article! But I didn’t just jump from 5 cents per word to over $1 per word as a writer in a day. It took years of work building my reputation, strategically upgrading clients, and schooling in online business and rate negotiations for that to happen.
One key to commanding a higher rate is being willing to walk away from lower-paying opportunities. I spoke with one potential client after over a year of working together and explained that my new projects were coming in at 3x the rate they were paying. They wouldn’t even give me a small increase, so I walked away. That led to making 3x per hour from new clients that were willing to pay for the value I provide. Note the keyword there: value. If you can prove your value and get paid well for it, you have earned this one from the list of merit badges for freelancers.
If you have worked more than four time zones from home for more than a day, you have this merit badge covered! When I quit my job back in April 2016 for full-time self-employment, I celebrated by spending two weeks in Europe with my wife and then my 6-month-old daughter. I spent much of the day doing tourist stuff around London and Paris, but spent my daughter’s nap times, evenings, and other hours as needed working on client projects.
One of the biggest perks of working for yourself as a freelancer is the ability to work anywhere in the world with an internet connection. While I spend most days working from my home office in California, I have worked in England, France, Canada, and across the United States in the two years since I left my old day job. There’s a big world out there, go and experience it!
You can’t work all the time, which is why Vacation Preparedness makes our list of merit badges for freelancers. While it doesn’t make you money directly, vacation is important for freelancers and every other worker in any type of business. If you don’t get a break here and there, you will burn out and find yourself less productive.
But taking a vacation is the easy part. Any freelancer or small business owner would tell you that getting ready for vacation is the hard part. But once you get your client communications in order, work ahead for the duration of your trip, and put your vacation responder on in your email account, you really can tear yourself away. And it is very much worth it.