by Rebecca Curl
Though the idea of freelancing emphasizes freedom from the corporate grind, leading an independent career often results in increased financial stress. The phrase “I put the ‘free’ in freelance” often comes to my mind when I find myself sifting through job postings, and I can’t help but wonder if financial success can truly be had by the independent spirits around the globe. Those who receive a consistent paycheck find it easier to plan their financial futures, while those of us who freelance often find ourselves scraping together our last pennies just to make ends meet.
Fellow freelancers Andy Johnson and Ryan Battles experienced these stresses first-hand. Shortly after jumping into self-employment by starting his own web design business, Johnson realized the need to know more than just his specific craft; he was now responsible for running all aspects of his business. He was able to find plenty of great tools for communication and project management, but had little success finding financial and invoicing tools to meet his needs. He also outgrew his makeshift home office and began looking into a coworking space near his home in Columbus, Ohio. By coincidence, he signed up to begin working at a coworking space called The Sandbox on the same day as Battles, his soon-to-be co-founder.
It was from their own financial planning frustrations that their invoicing app Harpoon was born. Though various invoicing and financial planning aps are out there, the unique financial stresses faced by freelancers aren’t often addressed by them. Harpoon allows freelancers to do more than just create invoices; it has its users set a yearly revenue goal for their business and then provides them with a viable plan to achieve that goal.
Their choice of company name evokes the weapon-like tool of the fisherman who, rather than wait to make a catch, goes on the offensive.
Johnson knew from experience that many freelancers do not have a specific goal for their income each year. He saw this as part of the reason why freelancers have a hard time; without creating a specific, measurable amount to strive toward, it can be hard to stay motivated and hard to know what success looks like. By being exposed to the daily challenges faced by their fellow coworkers, and having lived them as well, Johnson and Battles are keeping Harpoon tailored to the needs of freelancers by building new features and refining existing ones.
Johnson himself is full of advice on finance for freelancers. “A successful business not only needs to pay for itself, but it needs to profit. If you’re producing quality work and taking good care of your clients, most of them will gladly pay you more to ensure you’ll be around for the long run,” he said. It’s all too common for artists and independents to often undersell themselves, so he recommends that fellow freelancers who feel stuck in their current financial situation should not be afraid to raise their rates.
He also suggests getting together with other freelancers in a group or a shared workspace so you can bounce ideas off of each other. “Success seems to generate success, so find others that are in the same boat. Share and learn,” he said. “As a freelancer, coworking was a big key to my business’s success. Between the referrals and collaboration, I always had more than enough work to meet my needs and then some. You could say Harpoon is a product of our coworking experience.”
It also provided a way to discover the unique perspectives and skills of each of his business partners, including the third member of the team, Tom Jaeger of Saratoga Springs, NY.
“Tom is a wizard with development technologies. Ryan has a skilled passion for marketing. And I get to put my product design chops to work for the company. It’s an ideal balance that allows each of us to focus on what we love doing,” Johnson said.
Currently, Harpoon is for freelancers of all stripes, from consultants to photographers. The team is in the process of releasing some companion tools, including the free Yearly Revenue Goal Calculator to help freelancers determine how much money their business should be making each year. The app is available for free download and comes with a 14-day trial at harpoonapp.com.
For more on companies, organizations and projects created by people who cowork, check out our series Made by Coworking.