These are taxing times.
It’s currently that perennial ferocious few weeks freelancers – in the media and elsewhere – know and dread far too well.
Now is all about furiously finding, sorting and logging those carelessly scattered receipts and invoices from last year in time for the impending Revenue assessment deadline of October 31st (or November 13th if you do it online…doesn’t everyone?).
Which is all well and good if you’re not stupidly busy and have the necessary hours to spare; but it’s a major pain in the ass if it has to be done at the end of a few long working days or over a valuable free weekend.
Having to look after all your own tax affairs – or paying someone else to do it – is just one of the things you have to consider when choosing – if indeed you’re lucky enough to get a choice – between a salaried job or going it alone.
I’ve always been a freelancer – I mean, would you offer me an actual real job? Exactly – so can only offer my own very limited perspective on the pros and cons of both options, but from here it looks like in an ideal world it comes down to two things: flexibility or security.
Neither is to be sniffed at, of course, and which option rocks your boat at any particular time will depend on various combinations of your character and circumstances.
For instance, if you’re the type of person who likes a regular and predictable routine, knowing where you’re likely to be for the next while and when exactly that cheque will repeatedly pop into your bank account then step away from the freelancing option now.
Mind, I’d also suggest stepping away from most jobs in the increasingly chaotic media business, but that’s another story.
And we all know that secure isn’t really all that secure anymore.
On the other hand, if the thought of going to the same workplace every day, seeing the same faces week in, month out, doing whatever jobs your position entails and slowly moving up the promotion ladder fills you with dread and apprehension, then a steady salaried position is probably not for you.
If so, kiss employer pensions and health insurance, paid holidays, sick leave and a whole bunch of other benefits goodbye.
But say hello to being your own boss and deciding when and on what you work. In theory.
Of course we all know it’s not an ideal world.
There may well have been a time back in the day when you could actually decide if you wanted to freelance or not; and then the type of work you wanted to do. I’m sure some people still do.
But I imagine most of us end up doing it by default; and often gratefully taking whatever work is going.
And good for you if you’re offered a full-time job but it’s becoming an increasingly rare phenomenon.
Hell, finding any job now is an achievement.
For instance, my first proper media gig was 25 years ago presenting Head 2 Toe on RTÉ ONE from 1989 to 1994. But I never had a contract for more than the eight months of each of those five seasons.
Sometimes we were only given an initial contract up until Christmas and then a second til the end of each run at Easter.
Either way, what I did with my four months off in between each series was entirely my own business.
For someone who’d ducked and dived since leaving college a few years before – and who’s still ducking and diving all these years later – this wasn’t really a problem.
Some summers I was busy – in 1991, for instance, I finished on Head 2 Toe on a Friday, started on Arts Express the following Monday; two months later I finished Arts Express on a Friday and started on Green Pages the following Monday; two months later I finished Green Pages on a Friday and started back on Head 2 Toe the following Tuesday (Monday was a bank holiday, innit?).
Such back-to-back, break-free scheduling, however, was, unfortunately or otherwise, a personal one-off.
Other summers I was quiet…or at least quieter – there was always a few small things that cropped up.
And Head 2 Toe paid well enough that I never panicked. I was lucky.
On the other hand, there were quiet periods during my 11 years in London between 1998 and 2009 where I had to borrow from family or friends to pay my rent.
I got through it, but at times it was a close call. Again, I was lucky.
But as you’re increasingly likely, whether by choice or accident, to find yourself a freelancer, a few words of advice: be nice to work with; be helpful; be reliable; and if possible, be brilliant.
Now, excuse me while I finish these damn tax returns.
Excellent post, Pat. Camus once said: “The only really committed artist is he who, without refusing to take part in the combat, at least refuses to join the regular armies and remains a freelance.”
In fairness, Camus also said, “I would rather live my life as if there is a God and die to find out there isn’t, than live as if there isn’t and to die to find out that there is,” so he’s not entirely reliable. 😉
Great post Pat.. Going it alone on a tax return is always better than towing the line. http://vimeo.com/m/21078897
Wise words Pat, freelancing is great and the only choice for many Film and TV workers. Challenging but rewarding way to earn a living, but isn’t it great to do what you love?
Love what you do, but get somebody else to do your taxes, money well spent.
When it’s good, it’s brilliant; when it’s not, jeez…. 🙂
You say you were ‘lucky’?. I wouldn’t be too well up on the work of the great philosophers but allow me quote you the words of a player… a golf player that no-one can agree on to be exact, who made famous the phrase “the harder I practice, the luckier I get”
Sure. Still doesn’t mean for a million different reasons I wasn’t lucky (a la the previous post). You can increase the odds in your favour but you can’t guarantee outcomes, especially when it’s other feckers’ decisions you’re relying on.
Stressed reading this. Have freelanced for only a short period and remember well the panic of sorting through receipts etc. solidarity my friend!
Get into the habit of keeping all receipts, bills and invoices in the same place…well, that’s the theory anyway.
i come out in hives at the mere mention of tax. It’s hard enough to find the receipts never mind make any sense of them so I pay some poor (By poor I mean unfortunate) accountant behind a desk somewhere to give me the bad news. It’s the alternative to jail given my numeracy skills. The bad news howver is never quite as distressing as getting a monthly pay packet and seeing how much has been stolen before I’ve had the chance to get down to shoes r us. Despite the risks I say freelance all the way 🙂
Personally I don’t mind doing the data-inputting legwork – why pay someone for something I can do myself? – but it’s always worth the expense of having someone else deal with the nice people at Revenue.
Bring the noize!