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Being creative, becoming self-employed and then making a living with it – is that even possible?

“Yes,” says Tim Heinrich. And provides a free workshop showing people how, first-hand...

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It often takes quite some time for founders and freelancers to really realize that self-employment is anything but simply starting out. The website is finally finished, the business licence is filed neatly in one of the many folders in the newly rented office and the telephone resides ready to go on the fancy new desk. Except that it just doesn't want to ring. And when the first orders and payments finally come in you suddenly realize that the business licence wasn’t such a good idea after all – because now you have to pay business taxes for your free-lance work and should have long since joined the KSK, the Artists’ Social Welfare Fund. So you spend your valuable time grumbling and gathering information, basically starting over from scratch. And while you’re sitting before your dinner of ramen noodles yet again, you ask yourself why nobody taught you this at university.

A somewhat bleak scenario it doesn't even need to come to. To fill these very knowledge gaps, ecce has been taking practice-oriented workshops for creative minds and artists to the Ruhr region universities for several years. On June 19th, 2018, sound designer Tim Heinrich  was at the Bochum SAE Institute  and spoke about many important issues regarding self-employment – and briefly conveyed what is required in the first place for you to be successful with it in the long run. A small insight into the first part of the workshop which will be continued on June 26th:

At the beginning, everyone who is self-employed faces the big question of remuneration: How much do I even need?

Before the start, everyone gets dextrose blocks – for a proper energy supply during the four-hour slalom navigating the most important pillars of self-employment. This is followed by a short introduction and in no time, we find ourselves immersed in the central issue that is always the first to be on everyone’s mind: How much do I even deserve? Tim Heinrich is quick to turn this question right around – because it is rather a question of: How much do I actually need? And then an excel table appears containing the essential cost items of a normal life now being filled in together by the group. Of course, this includes as-pects of basic living expenses such as rent, electricity, health insurance, food and transport, but also leisure activities, holidays and retirement provision. When vices such as smoking are factored in, one participant's calculation provides for an interesting mix of amusement and dismay: After all, he spends a whopping 210 euros a month on cigarettes.

Self-employed people often gravely underestimate their own expenses. But this very awareness is fundamental when calculating fees.

While the list is constantly filling up, an aha effect slowly spreads through the room. And the astonishment can hardly be denied, when it all totals to: roughly 53,000 euros per year to adequately meet all these requirements. A clear message.

But Tim Heinrich obviously isn’t someone who shows his entire hand right away; he enjoys it slowly unfurling its full effect. Because now he scrolls down a bit further to get to the profes-sional expenses: office, equipment, software etc. This added in, the required income is 68,000 euros per year.

With this in mind, an hourly rate of 90 euros no longer sounds that high but absolutely justi-fiable and necessary. Especially if the proportion of paid working hours for self-employed people usually only ranges between 30 and 67 percent, depending on productivity. All of this needs to sink in for a while. But it is very likely that the workshop participants will face fee negotiations with much more self-confidence in the future – which is extremely important for their own positioning.

Registered business or freelancing? What does “pseudo self-employment” entail? And how do I deal with health insurance and retirement provision?

After the mental groundwork has been laid, Tim Heinrich starts a small rally through the many questions of self-employment: Does my job really fall under the obligation to register a business or is it considered freelancing? (The latter is usually more favourable because there is no business tax and it is often possible to join the Artists’ Social Welfare Fund.) When do I run the risk of becoming pseudo self-employed? Statutory or private health insurance? And what options do I have in terms of retirement provision?

Tim Heinrich provides valuable input here, outlines various ways and also points out risks – for example in connection with private health insurance, which can easily become a problem in old age if taken out rashly. With regard to retirement provision, he gives advice that he cannot stress strongly enough: It is better to start small and gradually increase payments than to just put it off. Because here, especially, it can make a huge difference whether you take the first steps at the start of your career or don’t deal with it until the age of 30 or 40 in a fit of eleventh-hour panic. In addition, the workshop participants receive helpful tips on how they can establish purposeful earning opportunities in addition to their core business.    

The framework is set - but how do I get customers now?

To conclude the first part of the workshop, Tim Heinrich moves on to the other big topic which cannot be avoided in self-employment: customer acquisition. This includes not only a well-maintained network of contacts with a personal connection, but ideally also a constant presence through magazine articles, lessons and lectures – all of which simultaneously serve as proof of our own expertise. Afterwards, there are a few tips on event series and contact points in the Ruhr region to get new impulses and to strengthen one’s own network (e.g. Creative Stage Ruhr, Fuckup Nights Ruhrgebiet and the local economic development agencies).

At this point, the participants have heard and seen quite a lot they need to process first. However, the look on everyone’s faces is inspired rather than overwhelmed. This is probably not least due to Tim Heinrich's direct and easily accessible personality which is anything but a dry seminar-room attitude. He illustrates his points in a visual and sometimes rather comical way. The stories he tells relate to many aspects and he doesn’t hesitate to share his own experiences, as well. Only occasionally, things get a bit lurid and a certain subjective touch can probably not be denied. But that's perfectly alright – after all, everyone should think for themselves about what they want to implement in the end and in how much detail.

And the second part of the workshop? On June 26th, negotiation strategies, invoicing, taxes and much more will follow. And there's even more to come.

In the second part of the workshop on June 26th, topics such as negotiation strategies, quotes and invoicing, taxes and much more will follow. The best part is: Spots are still available. Students, artists and creative minds can register here for free. Apart from that, it's worth keeping your eyes open. In cooperation with the universities, ecce regularly brings exciting professionals to the Ruhr-region seminar rooms to shed light on significant aspects of self-employment. In addition, there are numerous events for creative minds, artists and other interested people. Stay informed with the newsletter, have your questions answered via email – and alternatively, you can find all events on Facebook.