Interview: Katy Carlisle


With a freelance career comes the sole responsibility of managing and maintaining your own finances. Sometimes it can help learning from someone who has been there and done it before. IPSE’s Tom Hayward spoke with website designer Katy Carlisle who shares all the financial advice she has learnt since embarking on her freelance journey four years ago.

What were the first steps you took when planning your finances?

There wasn’t much financial planning at the beginning. I never had targets for what I wanted to earn each month; it was just a case of “what do I need to earn to cover the bills, and how do I go about doing it”?

Starting out I didn’t have a portfolio, so I charged a low fee to get some work, add to my portfolio, and build the business.

Have any apps/software helped you manage your finances?

Being a digital person, I didn’t want to do invoices or anything on paper, so I use a piece of accounting software called Wave, and popular apps like Xero and Freshbooks, which were still in their infancy then. It’s free, you can send customised invoices and you can pay online with a credit or debit card – that really speeds up how quickly clients paid me. It’s very convenient.

I also use for my tax returns. It asks you for all the same information HMRC does, but in a human language. It adds in helpful suggestions so that you claim for everything you are allowed to claim for. If you put in a car-related expense, for example, it would ask if you need to claim for road tax. You pay a nominal fee and it is completely legitimised by HMRC.

Where else do you go for financial advice?

I have spent time reading test cases between HMRC and self-employed people, which explain certain rulings. I like understanding the intricacies of it, though I understand that’s not the case for most people. So, if you aren’t as much of a geek, I’d advise getting an accountant - they pay for themselves.

With self-employed income being volatile and fluctuating, how do you budget over a long-period?

I’ve learnt to recognise the patterns and I know that, for me, summer is very quiet financially. September and January are very busy, so I try to make sure before mid-June I have invoiced as much as I possibly can to tide me over until September.

If you’re starting out, talk to someone in your industry and find out their quiet times - then prepare accordingly. A lot of the time you can intuitively work out when it’s likely to be busy; people working in weddings will be busy in summer, personal trainers will be busy in January etc. Invoice at busy periods to tide you over through quiet months.

If you were starting out again, what would you do differently?

I would set myself targets in the first three to six months. That way, rather than being reactive - which I was financially - I would like to be more proactive. Rather than looking at my outgoings over a year; I was just looking at how I was going to pay the bills each month. Now I’d look at outgoings over a year, then work backwards to see what I need to do to get to, or beyond, that point. That’s breaking down how many clients I need, how many people I need to get on my training workshops, how many signed up to my membership services, how many members I need in my Freelance Folk community group etc. Then I have a few different ways of reaching my target.

What is the one piece of financial advice you would give someone starting out?

If you don’t know what you’re doing, get help! You will probably know if you’re someone who delights in working out targets, numbers, spreadsheets and finances. If you’re not that person, then find someone to help who is.

I want to stress that making lots of money isn’t the most important thing for me. If you’re a lifestyle freelancer, then you haven’t gone into this to make millions. There are so many people out there going on about “how I made a six-figure sum overnight using this framework.”

But for a lot of us, we are making enough to get by and it’s a slow but sustainable growth rather than bringing in a tonne of money overnight. I still don’t make loads of money, but I have a better life as a freelancer.

The Wheel Exists

Katy Carlisle helps people to create lovely websites in the Squarespace platform through her business, The Wheel Exists. She also founded the Freelance Folk co-working group. Earlier this year she was named IPSE’s inaugural Ambassador of the Year for all the work she has done for the freelance community in Manchester.

Meet the author

Tom Hayward

Senior Press & PR Officer