The Financially Independent, Retire Early (FIRE) lifestyles are some of the trendiest in the financial world at the moment. It’s easy to see why: Who wouldn’t want to enjoy an early retirement or at least the option to take the day off whenever one pleases?
At the same time, more people than ever are freelancing, enjoying the independence it affords them. But for those who have jumped head first into freelancing, is it possible to achieve financial independence while retiring early?
There are a few different variations of the term “FIRE,” with the two most commonly used being “leanFIRE” and “fatFIRE.” The goal is reaching the point in your financial life where you don’t have to worry about money anymore, and thus can retire early and do whatever your heart desires!
Freelancing, long a simple side-hustle, has evolved into becoming a requirement for many people to be able to work full time. Here’s how you can navigate your way through this intersection of finance and freelance.
The supply and demand of freelancing
The first part of the FIRE lifestyle is being Financially Independent, meaning that you have enough money saved up so that you don’t have to be dependent on an employer. Freelancing can be much more relaxing as an occupation, but in order to reach FIRE – that is, retiring early – it can become much more demanding. You need to find the perfect balance of consistent work and pay in order to have consistent success.
Freelancing fits the value of living “independently” and sustainably – as long as you don’t try too hard to max your hourly rate. If clients feel like they’re getting a good deal, they’ll give you as much work as they want. Of course, you want to get paid your full value – it’s a case of supply and demand until you find the perfect amount of steady work and value. Don’t be afraid to experiment until you find the sweet spot. When the demand is too high – meaning that you don’t have enough time to finish everything – you can raise your price until you get to the point where you maximize your time.
Full-time freelancing can throw you curveballs for meeting certain financial benchmarks. This also goes counter to being independent, as you will need to supplement your income through other means when life throws you one of its curveballs.
To reach your target number you have two options: Freelance full time, which will most likely take a while, or work a healthy paying full-time job while supplementing it with freelancing in order to get to the target number earlier. Often times, full-time freelancing requires “overtime” because a successful freelancer should always be prospecting, or hustling for new business.
Beyond thinking of supply and demand there are several other general tips that freelancers can use in order to aim for a FIRE lifestyle. Freelancers have the luxury of not having to report to a central location Monday to Friday and thus are able to live wherever they want. This opens up a plethora of options for saving money: Move into a low-rent city or country where your dollar goes much further. Learn how to spend more wisely by cooking yourself and limiting your nights out. While it may sound naive to do so, it’s essential if you want to eventually live the FIRE lifestyle.
Prospect, prospect, and prospect
In order to get to FIRE through freelancing, you need to always be looking to increase your client profile. Freelancers looking to FIRE need to be booked up to capacity most if not all of the time. Always be on the lookout for high quality clients – employ marketing systems to get your name out there, impress your prospects, and form a relationship with new clients that provides steady income. It’s important that you deliver great work to your existing clients so that they trust you to do a job in a timely manner.
Even when living a “semi FIRE” lifestyle with part-time freelancing, getting clients is time consuming. You always have to allocate time to prospecting – this is non negotiable. If you’re good, clients will send more work your way, decreasing your freedom. Therefore, see if you can build up a portfolio of clients who are long-term comfortable with just 5 hours or so per week.
No matter how busy you are, you have to focus on getting new clients. If you don’t like marketing and sales, learn to love them. Predictably, attracting clients is the single most important element to a freelancer’s financial independence and ability to retire early.
Lastly, it’s essential that you invest smartly. Typically, people can’t retire until their investment account supports enough cash to meet their lifestyle goals, whether through interest or through a safe savings withdrawal rate (SWR), which is typically around 3-4%.
Freelancing is a great way to live freely without the responsibilities of a traditional workplace. However, most freelancers can do better in terms of actual annual net income haul by working a full-time job. Therefore, freelancing is a path to tasting the “FIRE” lifestyle without necessarily being there financially. In order to maximize income, you either need to get really good at sales and marketing and accept it as something that needs to be happening 24/7 or find full-time employment.