When I first started, I spent all my time driving around gig to gig focused on maximizing earnings to cover the expenses I was hit with when I graduated school. I had a new car, student loans, rent and a boyfriend with expensive taste. I was just trying to keep up and admittedly not doing a great job. When I look back at all the time, energy and money I wasted not only am I embarrassed but I’m a little mad. I wish my program had taught me to invest in the business of what I’d be doing, instead of purely focusing on skill. Hindsight being 20/20, here’s the mistakes I made if you want to learn from them now.
I didn’t get a 401K
To be fair, I had no idea how affordable it was to save for retirement and as a young educated professional I believed two things. One, there would be time to save retirement if the world didn’t burn before I reached retirement age. And two, the weather was getting warmer. Like, a lot warmer.
Had I known that a 401k wouldn’t have been as much of a financial burden as I expected, I would have set one up before even starting. A Self-Employed 401k (also known as a solo, individual or single participant) can be the difference between stability and struggle. Starting in 2022 you can deposit up to $61,000 for the year. I know that number sounds absurd to most of us but when the larger gigs hit, cash gifts arrive or a scratch off makes a few bucks, chipping away at retirement becomes a little more attainable. You can also borrow against this type of 401k in most cases. It’s your money after all. In considering a loan, you’ll most likely have up to 5 years to return the funds unless you purchase your primary residence using the funds in which case you’d have an extension to 30 years.
To learn more about it, head over to Forbes for the breakdown
I didn’t properly track my expenses
I was chucking receipts into my glove department for a year before finding out that I had made a terrible error and would be losing out on a ton of benefits available to me. I was using a debit card to pay for everything which meant no real rewards and no perks based on spending. If I could do it all over again, I would absolutely have opened a business card first. I’d also use their system for tracking expenses to routinely check my categorical spending and analyzing where I could maximize savings. Today, I use a combination of the credit card issuer’s tools, Airtable and in some cases, paper records.
I didn’t pay my taxes
I know. Completely absurd. I didn’t know about sending in quarterly taxes or annual payments. I had no idea how much to take out of my earnings and I just winged it at tax time. The ultimate mistake. My life completely changed when I hired an accountant. The $400/year I was spending on his services saved me thousands in back tax debt, helped me remain accountable to my spending and served to reduce my stress. I can’t even tell you how much time I save every year by working with an accountant. I guarantee you it’s in excess of 30 hours, if I worked those hours, his services would only improve my bottom line again and again.
I didn’t diversify my work
In the beginning, I worked for one agency and gave them my ultimate loyalty. That backfired very quickly when I stopped working with them and had literally nowhere to go. I considered moving to another area. With nothing in my schedule booked, I was horrified at trying to cover the cost of a move along with learning the ropes in a new market and trying to find decent work.
At this realization, I started signing direct clients by visiting offices during the day with a one-sheet containing everything I had to say about myself and a very clear printed rate. I also signed on with a VRS provider, got a job as a lifeguard while waiting for the screening to be processed and barely made it through the summer when I was hired months later. Had I been smarter about it all, I would have started signing direct clients the day I started working. I would do what I do now, which is to block off time in my week specifically for prospecting new business.
I didn’t get the rate I should have
One interpreter told me to go in at $30 and accept $28, so I accepted $27 when the agency told me what they thought of my work. There were so many times during the screening that they would write something down and look at me analytically. We were in a dark room, very uncomfortable and the tapes they used were from the late 90’s. Of course when they corrected signs and told me things as “experts” I should believe, I did. The person who screened me, hadn’t interpreted in years. I didn’t know that. So I accepted the rate they gave me. When I figured it out six months later, I told them I was increasing my rate by a measly fifty cents. They actually fought it.
Now, looking back I realize that I could have waited. I didn’t need to work for them. I didn’t really even want to but it’s what everyone did. I needed to start working and that was my option. I do wish I had gone in with a full portfolio (even if I had to produce some of it) along with points to mention in negotiations. In that specific instance I would have taken the offer home first to ruminate and email back my counter-offer.