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Chapter
3

Build your income goals

Whether it’s building your own agency or consulting business, or just making enough to enjoy a flexible schedule while doing more of what you love, it’s important to have goals. Once you have a clear income goal in mind, you can calculate your break-even number. 

While a goal can be a great guidepost to help you understand how much to charge, it shouldn’t be a ceiling. You shouldn’t limit yourself to how much you can earn — and understand you’re in it for the long haul. 

Setting your annual salary goal

Creating a freelance annual salary goal is sort of like researching salaries while job hunting — you’ll want to establish a range that fits in with your expenses, lifestyle, and financial goals. You’ll want to go over the internal and external factors — and the tangible cost of those factors — that affect your income goal, and develop an annual number that works for you. You’ve already estimated your annual expenses, but looking at other factors is important, too. ‍

Factors to consider 

The cost of living in your location 

A freelancer living in New York City will typically need more to live on than one living in Boise, Idaho. Understanding your location and the average living costs will help you know how much you need to earn to get by. If you’re moving to a new location and aren’t sure about living costs, you can do average salary and cost of living research in your area — there are typically plenty of resources that list out things like average rent, grocery expenses, and salaries:

Your industry & experience 

Some industries and clients will pay more than others — understanding your specific niche and how much clients in your industry charge will give you a better understanding of what your income goal can and should be. For example, let’s say you’re a copywriter who writes highly-technical blog posts for machine learning companies. Because this is a highly-specialized industry and you’re offering a service that not many other freelancers can, you may be able to charge more for your services. 

Your level of expertise and experience will also factor into your income goals. If you’re a seasoned freelancer with quite a few years in your field, you could stretch your income goal higher than if you were new to the field and looking to find new clients. 

Upcoming long-term financial goals or obligations 

Maybe you’re planning on buying a home in the next few years or are thinking about growing your family. These are the kinds of financial events you should keep in mind when determining your income goal. In the same way that you researched potential new expenses in the previous section, this is a good time to research the costs involved in childcare, home renovations, property taxes, and any other potential expenses related to your goals, and to factor them in. Determine how much you need to put aside annually to reach any of your goals, taking into account how much time you have to save and how much you already have saved. For example, if you’re planning on buying a home in five years, and you need $50,000 for the down payment and already have $20,000 saved, you’ll need to save roughly $500 each month, or $6,000 annually. This figure can easily be baked into your overall income goal.‍

If you have any family members or loved ones who are dependent on you 

If you have kids, an elderly relative, or another person who’s financially dependent on you, factor that into your income goal. While it’s not always easy to predict the cost of care, go through your average expenses to get a rough estimate of how much it costs. You’ll then add that number to your overall income goal. 

If you have built-up savings to cover any gaps in income 

If you already have a year's worth of expenses saved up, you may be able to aim for a lower income goal and focus on building a solid client base or expanding your skillset. In other words, you have the bandwidth to take a few financial risks if you so choose. In some cases, you may be pursuing a freelance career simply to work less — and if you have money saved up in the bank, you may be able to do just that. 

If you’re freelancing to replace full-time employment income

If you’re solely relying on your freelance income to survive, you may need to set a higher and more stringent income goal than if you’re freelancing on the side to pad your income. As a full-time freelancer, you have to factor in benefits that you would get as a full-time worker, like retirement savings or health insurance (we’ll get to those in a later step). 

Once you have an annual income goal in mind, you can work backward to calculate how many hours you need to work to reach that goal. Be ambitious — don’t limit yourself to thinking you can only make as much as a full-time worker in your industry. Your unique skills and ability to get onboarded and utilized faster than a full-time worker positions you to charge more than a company would pay a full-time worker.  

Let’s figure out your income goal together

Here’s an exercise to get the wheel turning. Use your workbook to complete the exercise.‍

  1. First, carry over your average annual expenses you calculated in the last step. 

  2. Then, work on your other income requirements based on the factors you just identified.‍

For example, let’s say your monthly average expenses are $4,000/month, and you live in a major metropolitan city and have over five years’ worth of experience in a niche industry that’s quickly growing. What's more, you have a savings goal of $500/month that you want to put toward buying a home. An additional factor you’re considering is that you’re planning on growing your family and have calculated that average childcare costs are around $2,000 a month.‍

Your base income would be around $48,000 (your average monthly expenses multiplied by 12), with an additional $6,000 added to your savings goals for a total of $54,000. 

Next, take into account those other factors and you may want to consider — aka the $2,000 monthly childcare costs — stretching your income goal to something like $78,000 to fully take into account the cost of living, your industry, and your expertise. 

So you have your number and you’re good to go, right? Not quite. There are a few other things to factor into your hourly wage, including taxes, billable hours, and other lifestyle adjustments. We’ll get into those in the next few steps.

Keep in mind your income goal is just that — a goal. 

‍In order to survive as a full-time freelancer, there is a minimum income you need to make (typically your annual expenses). Your income goal is oftentimes above that because that goal encourages you to work towards expanding your business. If you don’t hit your freelance goal in the first year, you can always adjust it or revisit your rates. Your income goal is designed to be flexible — attainable enough to motivate you but not so high you’ll get frustrated and burned out. 

Recap 

  • You considered a variety of factors that correlate to your income goals.

  • You added in your income goals to your annual expenses.

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