Any Experience with Freelancing and Collecting Unemployment?
I’m wondering if any of you have had experience with receiving unemployment and being “self employed.” I could really use some guidance here if anyone has some past experience.
I am currently unemployed and considering taking a shot at freelancing at some point if I do not find full time work as a Product Designer or Graphic Designer after my unemployment runs out. With the exception of some smaller projects for friends and family, I have not actively sought out clients before and conducted myself solely as a freelancer so this is all new to me.
I currently live in Wisconsin and there Unemployment website says almost nothing about self employment and collecting unemployment. The only thing I could find was this in a FAQ page:
“Will I continue to be eligible for unemployment insurance benefits if I start my own business?”
“If you become self-employed an investigation will be conducted to determine whether or not you are willing to seek and remain available for full-time, dayshift work.”
- One of my biggest questions right now is how do I claim freelance projects right now while I am unemployed if I start to get some infrequent ones coming in?
- And congruently -
- When do I or (more importantly) the government consider me truly "self-employed"?
I guess at this point I want to just "get my toes wet" before I dive into it. I wouldn't entirely say at this point that I really feel completely prepared nor do I have all the resources I need to pursue a career as a dedicated freelancer. As it has been said many times, people either freelance because they want the freedom to dictate who they work for and how, or they can't find full time work elsewhere and do it out of necessity. I definitely fall into the later category. However a couple good clients and some decent assignments could change that.
I may also take a crack at doing freelance Graphic Design for print. I have done business cards, post cards, magazine ads, post correction for photography, and catalog lay outs in the past so I may look for work in that realm. This is where I'm more concerned about unemployment. If it's a $400 or $600 job here and there infrequently then I'd probably wish to continue to collect unemployment in the hopes that I find a full time Product Design job. On the other hand, if I start making a couple thousand dollars a month and I felt that I could continue to build a decent client base I'd stick with freelancing.
Recently I've been talking to a friend of mine who is also in a similar situation and lives in WI. He's looking for active work but he’s also been taking active steps to setup his own IT Consultant Business. He said he has been waiting for over 4 months for them to determine his eligibility and send him any kind of payment! He said they told him, "Your unemployment entitlement has yet to be established." Even though multiple agents on the phone have told him he’s entitled to benefits, the "manual adjustment department," just needs to approve his claims...but that department is apparently 10,000 claims behind!
So I’m pretty scared of the idea that clicking “self employed” on my benefits claim will basically hog tie me with red tape and suspend my benefits until they further determine my eligibility. To date I’ve only recently finished one project for the business of a family friend, and it only amounts to $700. If I apply the unemployment’s “Partial Wage Formula” that they use for determining your benefits if you were working a part time job, then I would stand to loose $400 of my regular weekly benefits. Basically, I’d make $300 off the $700 I am billing for, and possibly muck up my eligibility. I’m honestly about ready to tell them “don’t pay me until I understand how this effects my unemployment.”
Again I want to state that I’m not trying to commit some type of fraud or cheat the government, I just want to make sure that I’m making an informed and conscious decision about how this effects my Unemployment. In all likelihood when I “reach the end of my rope” with unemployment benefits I’ll be ready and willing to accept the idea of taking a part time job at Starbucks or in Retail, etc and focus on freelancing in my spare time. I just don’t want to draw my focus away from looking for full time work if in the end all I manage to do is spend the next 3 or 4 months trying to find new clients and only receive sporadic income. Hell maybe things could take off and I could make $5,000 in a month, or maybe I could make $300 one week and earn nothing for the rest of the month. I’d rather do that when I’m READY to accept those consequences. Right now my preference is still to find full time work.
Do you believe that your friend is caught in the backlog because he is trying to run a business on the side, or is it because there's a backlog, period? It's not exactly clear here.
Because laws about claiming unemployment vary by state, you probably need to discuss this with someone locally. I can imagine your reluctance to discuss with the unemployment counselor assigned to you--how about going to SCORE (the Small Business Administration's advisory service), or calling the state unemployment hotline?
My interpretation of the comment in the FAQ is that if you are freelancing a little while you look for a full time job then it's not a problem with unemployment. Unemployment is not a reward for being fired, but a system to tide you over until you can right yourself and find a new job. Once you decide to form your own company instead of looking for work, you have, in essence, found your next job.
If you're only thinking about this now, here are some ideas to consider:
remain a sole proprietorship for the time being, rather than incorporating. This will let you test the waters without signaling to your unemployment counselor that your in the process of establishing a business.
just as you document the time you spend looking for a job, document the time you spend working on your business plans. This would be one way to establish how serious you are about either prospect.
it usually takes 3-5 years to get a business out of startup and to the point where it can sustain itself--and you. A solid grounding will go a long way toward making this a shorter period. Perhaps, as you're working out the details of your unemployment eligibility, you can investigate such things as need, markets, work on your portfolio etc --all things that would benefit your presentation to a potential employer.