Debt and Freelancing: The Relationship Matters

10 years ago when I was just starting my financial planning practice, we were in debt up to our eyeballs.

We had:

  • 2 vehicle loans
  • 2 student loans
  • 2 mortgages
  • $10k+ in credit card debt (from our recent wedding)
  • And a financed ring

I didn’t even own my wedding ring y’all. Plus, we were still spending outside our means.

Great way to start off a) a marriage and b) a new career as a financial advisor who’s job was to get clients and then teach them how to manage money, right?

As a country we had a negative 2% savings rate, so maybe you can relate.

I was 21, used to paying (or financing) my way through life (I come from a single mom household), but knew I was willing to work hard if nothing else. This is just one way I think our education system fails us in the US…

This was also just two short years prior to The Great Recession. More fun times were to come! 😉

debt-and-freelancing_-the-relationship-mattersWhy do I share all of this?

I’ve been where some of you are.

And while it was (is?) embarrassing, it’s also part of my overall journey, which has led me (in part) to where I am today. So I’ll own it.

The overall experience also taught me how to bootstrap my current business. And that’s priceless, really.

Luckily, we were already well on our way to becoming debt-free prior to me starting my freelance business in 2014. If we hadn’t been, Wade wouldn’t have been able to quit his job the year before.

And I don’t know that changing careers would have even entered my mind as a possibility. I might have resigned myself to accepting my fate as a 9-5’er for the rest of my life.

Boy would that have been sad. 😉

During the rest of this post, I want to explore the relationship between debt and freelancing, why it matters and how you can use each to leverage the other.

The Chicken and the Egg of Debt and Freelancing

Debt and freelancing are a bit like the chicken and the egg.

Being debt-free enables you to confidently make the jump from employment to self-employment (or full-time freelancing). But freelancing on the side of a full-time job (or while raising a family) can also help you to become debt-free.

Regardless, if you have debt (and an inclination to be debt-free) and want to build a successful freelance career, you can use the income from freelancing as a means to accomplishing both goals. In other words, starting a freelancing side hustle NOW can help you to accomplish becoming debt-free and changing careers or building a new business.

If you’re not overly familiar with freelancing, online business or side hustling, you might be wondering how. Check out this five step process to get going.

Step 1: Start a freelance side hustle

If you want to payoff debt, bring extra money into your household and/or change careers, starting a new freelance business can help you accomplish just that.

Not sure what type of freelancing business is right for you?

Consider these free resources:

  1. Become a virtual assistant.
  2. Start freelance writing.
  3. Break into proofreading. <–affiliate link

But virtual assistance work, freelance writing and proofreading are just three of the ways to offer freelance services. If none of these fit the bill for you, consider what other skills or interests you have.

What do you enjoy doing that you could trade for pay? My friend Shannon knits baby hats. My friend Katie teaches sleep training. My friend Leah created a really cool physical product. My friend Diana became an assistant to a really successful realtor in her area.

Still at a loss? This $4 book from my friend Nick Loper <–affiliate link has A TON of ideas to get you started. Odds are there will be at least one that peeks your interest.

2. Find clients (or customers)

Starting a new business is great, but if you don’t have any clients, do you really have a business?

I get asked every day how to find clients. That’s why both of my premium courses are centered around it. The interesting thing is that prospecting methods are pretty agnostic. Yes, they need to be tweaked depending on your unique business, but a writer can use similar methods to a VA or a proofreader or a realtor or a financial advisor.

And there aren’t any secret methods (that I know of). Instead, there’s just a lot of perseverance, patience and hard work. Oh, and you kinda have to put yourself out there too!

3. Save or pay down debt with your earnings

The key here is that you don’t use your newfound income to increase your standard of living.

If making more means you spend more (on nonessential things), then this plan won’t work for you. Instead, you need to keep your expenses minimal and use what you earn to pay down debt or build up a little nest egg to give you a runway if you plan to leave your current day job behind.

4. Raise your rates

Over time, you need to raise your rates.

It’s okay to get start writing for less in order to gain experience, samples and testimonials. I did and I’d do it again in a heartbeat. But you can’t stay there. It’s not sustainable.

So once you hit your minimum rate goal, increase your pricing for new clients. And continue to do so until you’re hearing more no’s than yeses. It may seem scary or a bit uncomfortable at first, but it’s necessary to your long-term success.

Side note: This works for physical products, as well as services!

5. Diversify or scale your business

By this point, you should be well on your way to a full client load that pays you a decent rate and making serious headway towards your debt repayment or nest egg savings goals.

Now it’s time to take your business to the next level by either diversifying it or scaling it. But how?

If I were starting a freelance business today…

Basically, if I were starting a freelance business today, I’d start by figuring out my goals.

Do I want to leave work behind and change careers? Do I just want to start a side hustle to pay down debt or do something special like take a trip? Or all of the above?

Then I would take stock of my current situation. What’s keeping me from realizing my ultimate goals? Is it debt? Not having a runway? Or something else?

If debt is a part of your equation, consider how the relationship between debt and freelancing affects your unique situation. And then put a plan in place to get rid of it. Because it’s really just weighing you down and getting in your way, right?

Lastly, I would use the five steps outlined above (figuring out which type of freelancing biz to start, find clients, use my newfound earnings to attack debt or save, raise my rates and diversify or scale my business) to realize my ultimate goal of leaving work behind.

17 thoughts on “Debt and Freelancing: The Relationship Matters”

  1. Great post and now I need to put it into action! I’ve filed bankruptcy and my financial life is still a mess. I want to freelance to get out of debt and then to eventually make that my full time job.

  2. Getting out of debt has been a life changer for us. There is so much freedom to explore and cultivate potential job opportunities or businesses. Both my kids make good, no GREAT money in acting, voice-over and print. If I had debt and had to work in a cubicle I could not do that. I’ve been able to start a business and not be driven by debt telling me what to do. I can’t say enough how being debt free has changed our financial and entrepreneurial lives.

  3. Great article Gina. Freelancing is a great way to get out of debt or build your savings. I’ve started putting everything I earn from side hustles into a savings account and it’s making a difference – just wish I started earlier! But better late than never, right?

  4. Thank you Gina for your advice. I really want to getting started, but struggling on putting a plan in place on how to get started. I have ready your blogs and they have been incredibly helpful. I too am interested in writing as a side job initially to help pay of debt. I know the bones to start, but I struggle with what I should write about.

  5. Wow!
    Your article is splendid ,you’ve just mentioned my case.Right away lam putting in the last line to kick start my FREELANCE WRITING career. Thanks

  6. This hit home Gina. I’m in debt and desperately wanting to get out has guided my decision to go freelance. I’m very excited and hopeful for the future. Truly appreciate your guidance!

  7. Gina-

    Great article. I’m glad decided to read this before logging into the admin area of the Freelance writing website I’m developing!

    Your story and steps definitely resonated with me and my situation. I have been doing some side hustles for writing and researching on Fiverr but I’m tired of the poor pay and the attitude that I have to give the world for a net of $4 (on the base gig).

    I’ve had some great clients on the platform but its time to eat my fear and up my game and get better clients.

    I’ve been enjoying your book with Sally Miller – Make Money As A Freelance Writer: 7 Simple Steps to Start Your Freelance Writing Business and Earn Your First $1,000 and am working to apply some of the lessons there.

    Your story and work is inspiring! Keep doing good stuff!

    • Thanks so much Michael – glad to hear you’re enjoying the book and ready to take things to the next level! I’m here cheering you on – you’re worth more than $4 an article!!

  8. I’ve been doing this freelance writing thing for awhile now. At first I used it as filler cash. Never making enough to consider what I was making a profit. Now my husband got a raise doing the job he loves (he’s a sushi chef) and I got an increased rate from a client I’ve managed to hold onto for a year. My husband and I are finally paying off our debts, because we can afford to with just his paycheck alone and I’m going to start using my freelance income to make my site 100% my own instead of being stuck with the free wordpress blog option, because I couldn’t afford the small yearly $100 pittance. If all goes as planned February will be the start of my own site that I can place ads on and do whatever I want with. I know it is just what I need to increase my sales and start really breaking down the debt. In all honesty our debt is nothing. We have my student loans, a $2900 credit card bill, some miscellaneous medical bills and bank fees plus a few loans we owe to friends/family. Total our debt amounts to $40,000 maybe. We also recently lost our vehicle so their is the consideration of buying a new one especially since without it we have no way to transport our 16 month old. I love your blog Gina it always inspires and gives me knew ideas, plus you share the same name as my Nana who I love, she is my favorite person and every time I get an update from you I instantly get to think of my favorite person in the world. She runs her own Real Estate Agency as a broker, she was doing the work at home thing before it was cool.

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