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It's time to ponder our financial security. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Working as a freelancer is the dream of many a cubicle-dweller, but it isn't always as easy as it looks. One of the top risks is financial stability: As a freelancer, your income is almost certainly variable, and sometimes verges on the wildly unpredictable. 

Without financial control, your dream of freelancing can quickly implode. To make sure that doesn't happen, try to implement these three key elements of financial security.

1. Figure out your number
Ask yourself this question: how much do you need to earn per hour?

If you don't have a number in mind, you need to figure it out. Your "number" is essentially the amount you need to earn per revenue-generating hour (that is, actually writing, building a client's website, etc.); it will be the foundation of any rate quotes you give from here on out. 

One of the easiest ways to do this is to start with a target annual salary, recognizing that a portion of that amount will go to taxes and any overhead. Depending on your situation and income, you might want to budget anywhere from 25% to 35% of your yearly salary for this. Lop that straight off the top of your target to see what the net salary comes to. 

Next, you'll want to translate your target annual salary into an hourly rate. If you want to sleep, take some vacation time, or pursue a life outside of work, you won't work 52 weeks per year. Some people plan for 48 weeks, others less or more. Also, keep in mind that between email, lead generation, and various administrative tasks, you won't spend eight hours per day on actual revenue-generating activities. It might be four or six -- look at how you spend your time to date to figure this out.

From here, you can calculate your number. The process might look something like this: 

Hours Per Day

8

       

Productive Hours Per Day

6

       

Days Per Week

5

       

Weeks Per Year

48

       

Productive Hours Per Year

1,440

       
           

Target Salary

$50,000.00

$75,000.00

$100,000.00

$125,000.00

$150,000.00

Required Hourly Rate

$34.72

$52.08

$69.44

$86.81

$104.17

It's good to have two numbers: a "bare minimum" figure that will ensure you're eating, and a "preferred" figure that will give you the lifestyle you want. These figures will provide a benchmark rate to aim for in charging clients or deciding between projects. 

2. Think in terms of salary
I don't use the term "salary" by accident. When your income varies from one month to the next, you should always think in terms of salary. That's because all freelancers have flush periods when they want to take lavish weekend trips to Vegas and periods where they walk around ashen-faced trying to figure out how to make the rent. 

Setting a salary helps ensure you don't end up in the latter category. 

One common piece of advice is to place all your income into a savings or business account, from which you pay yourself a set amount on a regular schedule. The benefit of this method is that you never actually touch all your income, which makes it possible to accumulate extra in good months -- and hold yourself over in bad. 

Of course, this can be problematic if you're not earning enough to cover basic expenses. While it helps to keep your income bar as low as possible through budgeting and thriftiness, there's only so far you'll be willing (or able) to go. 

So what else can you do? 

3. Invest in earning more
If your services are commanding the hourly rate you want, that's fantastic. Enjoy it and keep pushing -- you're doing something right, and there's nothing stopping you from going even further. 

However, if you aren't making what you need or want, it's time to take a good hard look at why. Maybe you need to build more experience, learn some negotiating tactics, or reposition your business to target more lucrative customers. Maybe you'll need to take on some higher-paying work that you're not so excited about in order to finance your beloved but unprofitable projects. 

Whether it's more education in your field, training in business development and negotiations, additional time pursuing new customers, or a renewed focus on marketing, take the time to invest in yourself and in your business. You won't regret it. 

Similarly, as a freelancer, the benefits of diversified income cannot be overstated. When your customers decide your services aren't needed anymore the effects can be swift -- and brutal. 

Just as you diversify your investments, diversify your income sources. It's advisable to have a target allocation of income per client, which not only helps identify the importance (read: scariness) of each relationship in context, but gives you added incentive to pursue new customers. 

Just remember to pursue them at your target rate, and you'll be even happier for it!  

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