Why Your Freelance Earnings Don’t Stack Up to Employed Income

Wow, an almost relevant picture. PublicDomainPictures / Pixabay

When you work for an employer, the amount you earn doesn’t match the amount you take home. If you think back to that terrible, terrible time (don’t worry—we won’t stay there long), you may remember having funds withheld for taxes, Social Security, insurance and other employer-related stuff like parking.

Most freelancers understand that when they transition into self-employment the income their writing brings in can’t just match what they brought home from their last employer. Instead, they have to make more than that in order to cover their own taxes, Social Security and insurance. There’s more to it than that, though, and if you don’t figure that out soon, you’re going to be pulling your feet outta slippers and back into employer-approved stilettos* before you can say, “bankrupt writer.”

Freelancer Income Considerations

  • Your employer paid an extra 6.2 percent for Social Security, on top of what was taken out of your checks. Now you have to earn enough to pay the full 12.4 percent.
  • Your employer might have subsidized your health and other insurance premiums or gotten special group rates. Now you have to find out how much your insurance will be without that assistance.
  • Your employer gave you business supplies. Now you have to buy all your own supplies and equipment, including a chair that’s suitable for gobs of hours of butt time.
  • Your employer handled stuff like liability insurance, property insurance and maybe charged you a teensy amount for a disability policy. Now you’ll need to find your own policies and pay for them. (Find out whether your home insurance company will add special coverage for commercial property—some do.)
  • Your employer might have provided you with sick and vacation time. Now you need to set funds aside each week or month in order to continue paying yourself while you’re off.
  • Your employer might have matched some or all of your retirement contributions. Now you have to set it all aside on your own.
  • Your employer had a budget for marketing and advertising in order to keep the business running. Now it’s all on you, and that takes either money or time—and since you still need to pay yourself during the time you spend marketing, the time will cost money.
  • Your employer handled miscellaneous business expenses like legal fees, educational materials, website hosting, research and development, etc. Now you have to have enough business income to cover these expenses and others you might not be expecting.

It’s so easy for a freelancer to fall into the trap of seeing gross revenue as interchangeable with personal income, but that’s not how businesses run. Your business revenues need to cover more than just your income. They need to cover all the things an employer would cover, because that’s your role now. Hey, they don’t call it self-employment for nothing.

*Or loafers, which would clearly have sabotaged the alliteration.

8 Comments  to   Why Your Freelance Earnings Don’t Stack Up to Employed Income

  1. Excellent post Yo!

    Freelance income and employee salaries are commonly mistaken for being equal comparisons. Instead, as you point out, a freelancer must consider all of the costs an employer paid to an employee to get a direct comparison (of which salary is just one example).

    The last time I dug into the numbers (using salary sites to look at actual employer costs including things like benefits and tax contributions), the actual cost of an employee was around 30-40% more than the salary itself.

    In other words, if a writer has a job paying $60k and they want to leave that job and earn the same amount freelancing, they can’t set a $60k goal as a freelancer and expect to have anywhere near the same standard of living. Instead, they have to earn $78-84k. Or if they wanted to earn the equivalent of a $100k salary, they’d actually have to earn $130-140k as a freelancer.

    Unfortunately the basic math is often overlooked when setting goals, and then freelancers end up disappointed even if they reach them. You’ve given folks a great breakdown of some of the specifics!

    • Yo says:

      Thanks Jenn:) Unlike you, I didn’t learn from digging in and researching like, you know, a smart person would. I learned by making this mistake over and over for the first year or so I was in business. For some reason, I like your way better ;/

  2. Lori says:

    My husband and I just had this conversation. He mentioned how much his actual salary is, not just take-home pay. Then he said, “I hope you’re charging enough.”

    Oh honey, I am. :)

  3. Cathy Miller says:

    This should be required reading for all freelancers starting out. Excellent post, Yo. I really appreciate the way you listed the considerations. When I started, I read about things like taxes, social security, etc. but I don’t recall reading anything that itemized all the other “stuff”. ;-)

    Thanks, Yo.

  4. Jake Poinier says:

    Well put, Yo. I was fortunate enough to have worked at a publishing company that had an open-book policy, and got to see the line-item accounting up close and personal. Benefits were a *huge* consideration with our hiring and firing decisions.

    Another way to think about it: I knew, when I hired a freelancer at $1 a word, we were still able to make money off the deal. When you looked at the spreadsheet, we were basically packaging and selling the content to our clients (in the form of custom and syndicated magazines) for $1.35, and still generating a profit. There’s no way we could have done that by hiring full-time writers. (Besides the fact they’d have been bored out of their skulls…)

    It’s also a good reason to target companies that are successful and profitable, but all y’all already knew that.

  5. Yo says:

    Thanks everyone, glad it resonated. And Jake brings up a great point–I didn’t even add anything about padding for profit in the numbers. It’s a lot to consider!

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