Personal Finance

Make your time count: Three tips for managing freelance finances

(Image credit: InvestmentZen, via Flickr)

The on-demand economy is booming, driven by ride-sharing, peer-to-peer rental, project-based job platforms and the ease of e-commerce. There are unprecedented income opportunities for freelancers but this work comes with a host of new challenges – many of which are all too familiar for me and my family – like co-mingled and confusing business expenses, quarterly and year-end tax headaches, and a general lack of visibility into your ‘real income’.

My brother and uncle are entrepreneurs, and I’ve seen how they have setup their businesses starting at day one. Having the ability to track earnings, expenses, and taxes automatically are keys to success and always top of mind. Getting better insights into their financials, including net income and tax obligations throughout the year is also increasingly important.

For those who are considering hitting out on their own this year, or the increasingly popular ‘side hustle’, here are my three tips to maximize your financial success.

1)    Don’t mix business and personal. I know firsthand the temptation of co-mingling your personal and business finances, whether it’s using your personal credit card for your freelance expenses or keeping your finances together in one bank account, but there are important legal, tax and financial reasons for keeping your finances separate. Self-employed workers often struggle to keep track of their finances without the luxury of an employer helping them manage tax or CPF contributions, and many have no visibility into their real earnings and income. Separating your finances will help you keep a closer pulse on the health of your business and prevent any unpleasant surprises when you find out how much you owe come tax time. 

2)   Ditch the shoebox. Our research shows that a large number of self-employed and freelancers are keeping track of their finances on paper and a fair proportion of on-demand economy professionals say that difficulty managing finances has the biggest potential to put them out of business. This is deeply concerning to me and points to a major financial literacy gap among this demographic. Part of feeling confident about your freelance business and its future is understanding the more in-depth financial aspects. Using cloud financial management software to track expenses, mileage and invoices all in one place can help you find more tax deductions and save thousands in taxes.

3)    Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Just because you’re self-employed, doesn’t mean that you’re on your own. Working with an accounting professional can help you create the building blocks for your financial future and make sure you’re not missing out on deductions. Building a close relationship with someone you trust early on can foster a value-added relationship, where they aren’t just doing your bookkeeping but giving you strategic insights on how you can set yourself up for long-term success. Whether you’re working towards quitting your day job to freelance fulltime, expanding your client base, or achieving profitability, if you’re direct about your goals and open to guidance, a strategic advisor can be a critical resource to help you realize them.

As someone from a family of entrepreneurs and someone who has spent the greater part of my career working to advance entrepreneurship, I’m thrilled to see a growing number of people taking control of their own future and leveraging the technology available to them to shape their careers and support their families. If you’re one of the many Singaporeans who will enter this economy in 2017, be bold; be diligent; be well-organized. You’ve got this.

Shirin Anne Wan Bio

Intuit - Shirin 01

Shirin Anne Wan is the Head of Customer Care for QuickBooks Asia Pacific, with more than 15 years of experience in customer service, customer care, operations and service excellence. Based in Singapore, Shirin has served in her role with Intuit as member of the APAC leadership team since 2013. Previously, she worked for Citi in customer experience management.

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