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6 Tips for a Fiscally Fit and Successful Freelance Business in 2013

By Caron_Beesley, Contributor
Published: January 24, 2013 Updated: January 24, 2013

Thinking of becoming a freelancer or hoping to make this year’s freelancing more fiscally fruitful than last? Freelancing is a money game and cash flow is king. And while there may be times when your cup runs over, there will no doubt be other times when it looks ominously dry.

To be a successful freelancer—in addition to being good at what you do—you need to be agile, tenacious, a consummate planner and equipped to deal with fiscal downtimes.

Here are some money-saving and business growth strategies that you can use to ensure the fiscal fitness of your freelancing business this year.

Have a Financial Cushion

Every freelancer needs a financial cushion; in fact, you shouldn’t quit your day job unless you have one. It can take up to six months to build your client base and develop consistent income. Instead, start your freelancing activities “on the side” until you are ready to transition to full time business ownership.

How big should your cushion be? Start by factoring in your living expenses for the next six months and allow for any emergencies that may arise. Next, assess what percentage of your income you’ll need to put aside to make your estimated taxes, social security and Medicare payments. Consider setting up a separate bank account and allocate 30-35 percent of every check you receive for work done into that account. This will help you avoid any day-to-day temptation to dip into it while ensuring you have the money to pay your estimated tax requirements when the time comes.

Reduce Your Overheads

Most freelancers can work from home. If you really need social interaction or want to leverage the brainpower of fellow freelancers, consider a co-working space (now available for a low-cost in many cities) or even your local coffee shop. 

Likewise, buy as little as you need. If you’re not commuting anymore, do you really need an expensive 4-wheel-drive SUV or truck in the driveway? Do you really need the latest high-end smartphone or laptop or could a cut-price one do the job just as well? What about computer software—could you cut costs by using a free email service or a low-cost word processing app? What about buying surplus office furniture?

For more lean spending tips, read: 6 Tips to Rein in Spending and Be a Lean Start-Up.

Invest in Good Back-Up and Use it

If there’s one thing that any freelancer can be sure if in their business, it’s that one day your PC will succumb to the dreaded “blue screen of death,” be infected by a virus or taken over by malware. Without an IT department to turn to, you’ll end up throwing cash at an expensive fix and risk losing all your work and business records in the process. Regularly backing up your work, both to a standalone hard drive and to an online location (providers like DropBox, Symantec, and Carbonite offer free or low-cost services) will ensure your data is protected and always accessible. Get more tips here: Finding the Best Backup Option for Your Small Business Data.

Look for Ways to Expand Your Business on the Back of Existing Work

Growing a freelancing business is a challenge. Networking often takes you away from existing work, while developing and nurturing new relationships into profitable clients takes time. Instead, look for to expand your business and earn more money with existing clients, based on the work and track record that you already have. Check out some tips for doing just this in my earlier blog, 5 Ways to Become an Indispensable Freelancer and Earn More Money from Your Clients.

Collaborate with Others

Growing existing business is good, but it’s also important to have multiple streams of income. One option for growing your business this way is to team with complementary businesses. For freelancers, for example, work on building relationships with those who serve your target customers. Photographers could collaborate with wedding planners, or graphic designers could team with marketing consultants.

Don’t Be Afraid to Ditch Unprofitable Clients

Freelancers often price their services at different rates in order to secure business. But if a low-paying client is also your most demanding and tricky client—whether based on the work you are required to do or the nature of the relationship—it might be time to cut your losses, walk away from this type of low-margin work and concentrate on deepening other relationships.

About the Author:

Caron_Beesley
Caron Beesley

Contributor

Caron Beesley is a small business owner, a writer, and marketing communications consultant. Caron works with the SBA.gov team to promote essential government resources that help entrepreneurs and small business owners start-up, grow and succeed. Follow Caron on Twitter: @caronbeesley

Meal and Rest Breaks – What Small Business Employers Need to Know

By Caron_Beesley, Contributor
Published: January 23, 2013

Should you pay employees for rest and meal breaks? Are you even required to offer such breaks?

We all need rest and meals during work hours and the law stipulates standards for these breaks, including whether your employees should be paid for them. Here’s what you need to know:

Federal Wage and Hour Laws

Under the Fair Labor Standards Act of the U.S. Department of Labor, non-exempt employees can take short breaks (although it’s not mandatory). A short break is typically considered to be 20 minutes or less, and employees must be paid for these as hours worked. When it comes to meal breaks, anything more than 30 minutes does not generally need to be compensated as work time (although again, meal breaks aren’t required under federal law). But here’s the caveat – if your employee does any kind of work during that meal break, such as answering email or taking a business phone call, then you must pay them for that break.

Bathroom breaks, which are required under the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, are excluded from the definition of rest breaks.

To avoid any legal hassles, be sure you communicate your break policy to employees. For example, employers have been known to come under the spotlight for permitting certain workers to take frequent (paid) cigarette breaks, while other employees do not. If employees are taking unauthorized breaks, or unauthorized extensions of authorized breaks, you are not required to count the unauthorized time as hours worked (so long as the terms of what is authorized/unauthorized have been expressly communicated to employees).

State Wage and Hour Laws

Even though meal and rest breaks aren’t required under federal law, some states do impose mandatory breaks for employees in specific industries after a certain amount of hours worked. For example, in California, a meal break must be provided no later than the end of the employee’s fifth hour of work. So giving employees the option of skipping lunch to get out of work early is breaking the law.

Generally, state laws stipulate a 30-minute paid meal break. For laws in your state, check this consolidated breakdown of state meal break requirements and rest break laws from the Department of Labor. You can also refer to your individual state labor office.

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About the Author:

Caron_Beesley
Caron Beesley

Contributor

Caron Beesley is a small business owner, a writer, and marketing communications consultant. Caron works with the SBA.gov team to promote essential government resources that help entrepreneurs and small business owners start-up, grow and succeed. Follow Caron on Twitter: @caronbeesley

Business Loans – What Lenders Look for and Tips for Winning Them Over

By Caron_Beesley, Contributor
Published: January 22, 2013 Updated: July 14, 2016

Securing small business financing can be challenging. Whether you are just starting out or looking to grow, banks and lending institutions can be rigorous in their lending review practices.

For example, businesses with few assets to their name may find it hard to secure a traditional loan. Other business owners may not be able to provide the reassurance that lenders seek to alleviate their concerns that your business may fail and the loan won’t get repaid. So when you approach a lender, it’s just as important to understand the basis on which loans are made as it is to stack up your financials and business plan.

So what are lenders looking for in a potential loan applicant? Here’s what you need to know.

Loan Applicants Need to Check off Several Boxes

What are loan officers looking for when approached about a loan? Here are some basic “must-haves” that the ideal candidate might be expected to evidence:

  • That you have sufficient assets, financial reserves and personal collateral to endure business fluctuations (and still pay off your loan)
  • As an existing business owner, you’ll need to show that you have solid cash flow, sufficient to repay the loan
  • New businesses need to evidence that they have a track record of profitability and success in a  similar business endeavor

Let’s face it, that’s a tricky list for any prospective or existing small business! So what are your options? Proving your creditworthiness is still possible, with some planning and preparation.

How to Prove Your Creditworthiness

Bankers need to make money, and while they may have an ideal candidate in mind, even they have to compromise­—this is where your opportunity lies. The trick is to demonstrate, using other means, that you are a creditworthy business owner. For example, if you are new to this business, can you show success in managing a similar business another field (even if you weren’t the owner)? Perhaps you’ve owned or managed a profitable business in a different industry? Lending officers might be more agreeable to your application if you can show that you supplement your own experience with that of someone who also has success in the field.

Putting yourself in the lender’s shoes is a good starting point. It’s much like a job interview, where you form an understanding of the type of candidate the employer is looking for and prepare your application and anticipate questions accordingly. Ask yourself: “Why should this lender think my business can succeed where others have failed?” and have a thorough answer prepared, plus a detailed explanation of how the money will be used and your plan for paying it off.

Step Back and Prepare

Key to this preparation is a solid business plan, good personal and business credit, and some expert help. The following SBA resources and tools can help guide you down this preparation path:

  • Build a Business Plan Online Tool – Putting pen to paper to write a business plan isn’t the easiest of tasks. Check out this new tool from SBA that guides small business owners through the process of creating a basic, downloadable business plan—and offers pointers on essential elements like cash flow and financial projections. The great thing about this tool is you can build a plan in smaller bites, save your progress and return at your leisure.
  • Clean Up Your Credit – Business credit is an asset and considered an economic resource that makes up the financial foundation of a company. Lenders look for assets. SBA guest blogger Marco Carbajo blogs regularly about how to build your business and personal credit to help secure financing. Check out his article, How To Build Business Credit For Your Start Up, and view more of Marco’s articles here (you’ll need to log into the SBA Community to follow this link).
  • Consult an Expert – Whether you need help finding the right loan for your business or a guiding hand that can help you through the application process, don’t feel that you have to go it alone. Local Small Business Development Centers, Women’s Business Centers, and SCORE (a mentoring organization for small businesses) can help you through the process. Find one of these groups in your community.

Can’t Get a Business Loan? Consider Alternative Financing from SBA Loan Programs

If you or your lender decides that you aren’t the right candidate for a traditional business loan, you still have options. Consider an SBA Loan Program. The SBA doesn’t lend businesses money; instead, these programs take the risk away from the banks and encourage them to make loans to small business owners by guaranteeing part of the loan.

Check out these additional online learning resources that can help you navigate the SBA loan process:

  • How to Prepare a Loan Package
  • Video interviews with successful entrepreneurs who share the lessons they've learned about owning a small business and securing an SBA loan

About the Author:

Caron_Beesley
Caron Beesley

Contributor

Caron Beesley is a small business owner, a writer, and marketing communications consultant. Caron works with the SBA.gov team to promote essential government resources that help entrepreneurs and small business owners start-up, grow and succeed. Follow Caron on Twitter: @caronbeesley

Why Your Business Needs to Get a DUNs Number

By Marco Carbajo, Guest Blogger
Published: January 10, 2013

Did you know that a DUNS number is the most widely used number for identifying companies in the United States?

Did you also know that suppliers and creditors alike pull a Dun and Bradstreet (D&B) credit check on your business when you apply for credit?

Part of establishing a creditworthy company includes establishing positive credit ratings with major business credit reporting agencies such as D&B. If you are serious about establishing credit for your business, then the first thing to do is get listed in D&B’s database and set up your company’s credit file.

When you apply for a DUNs Number with D&B, the Data Universal Numbering System issues a nine-digit number that is unique to your company. This DUNs number is used to create your business credit file, similar to how your social security number is used to identify your personal credit reports.

To obtain your DUNs number, first enter your legal business name, city, and state in the search box on the D&B website and click on the search tab. This will verify if your company is already listed with D&B and has been issued a DUNS number.

You’ll see a list of possible matches, but click on the tab only if you believe there is a match to your company name. Doing so requires that you verify specific information about your business.

Once you gain authorization, D&B provides you access to your files via iUpdate, where you can review, update, correct and add company information. If your company does not show up in the search results, then most likely you do not have a DUNs Number.

The next step is to apply for one.

It is important to note that once you apply for a DUNS Number at no charge, your file will be created. But it will be considered an incomplete file (marketing file) if you have no trade references reporting. If this is the case, you can either add trade references to your file by enrolling in a monitoring program or you can apply for credit and wait for a supplier to report your company’s payment activity.

Remember, once you obtain your DUNS Number, the next step is to start establishing business credit by adding positive trade references to your file. This only happens when you start making purchases with creditors that report payment activity.

With more than 500,000 suppliers in the U.S. and less than 6,000 that actually report to the business, credit agencies don’t get caught up in the mistake of applying for credit with non-reporting creditors when your chief aim is to build your company’s credit file.

Ultimately, a creditworthy profile will help creditors, lenders and suppliers assess the creditworthiness of your company when you apply for credit.

About the Author:

Marco Carbajo
Marco Carbajo

Guest Blogger

Marco Carbajo is a business credit expert, author, speaker, and founder of the Business Credit Insiders Circle. He is a business credit blogger for Dun and Bradstreet Credibility Corp, the SBA.gov Community, About.com and All Business.com. His articles and blog; Business Credit Blogger.com, have been featured in 'Fox Small Business','American Express Small Business', 'Business Week', 'The Washington Post', 'The New York Times', 'The San Francisco Tribune',‘Alltop’, and ‘Entrepreneur Connect’.

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