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How my business credit cards set me free

When I started using cards for my freelance writing business, I got more organized, earned rewards and improved my work-life balance

Summary

As my freelance business grew, I realized I wasn’t keeping up with my bookkeeping in a timely way and didn’t have much interest in learning how to do it. Then, I got my first business credit card, and it helped me spend less of my free time tracking all of my expenses.

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When I first started my freelance writing business in 2007, I wasn’t sure how long I’d be running it. I had left corporate America and was freelancing so I could replace the salary from my job while raising the first three of my four children, who were all under the age of four at the time.

As a result, I didn’t spend a lot of time on what you might call “operations” – things like accounting, invoicing and securing credit. I figured the most important part of running my business was getting some assignments. Once money was flowing in, then I’d take care of the rest.

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As I started getting assignments, I would work on the “business” side. Some days, it was marketing by putting up a Facebook business page or working on my website. Other times, it was sending invoices and entering them into an Excel spreadsheet. It wasn’t the most organized system, but it seemed to be working just fine, given how small my business was.

Then, perhaps a year into freelancing, I got a letter from one of my clients. They had sent me a large check – something like $4,500 – that I hadn’t cashed six months before. I hadn’t even noticed. Somehow, it had slipped through the cracks in my spreadsheet system.

That was a wake-up call. I decided that even if I didn’t stick with freelancing forever, I needed to run my operations like a business. I signed up for FreshBooks accounting software and started keeping track of my invoices and payments there. I opened a business bank account, to keep my business and personal finance separate.

See related: How to manage your company’s finances with a business credit card

Why I started using business credit cards

As my business grew, I realized I wasn’t keeping up with my bookkeeping in a timely way and didn’t have much interest in learning bookkeeping. I found a bookkeeper and then, when the bookkeeper got too busy to keep up with my books, I switched to a bookkeeping service that had a team. If one person got too busy, they’d bring in another.

One thing both the original bookkeeper and the bookkeeping service recommended was getting a business credit card. They said it would be easier to keep track of every expense if I kept them all in one place. I didn’t need to make many purchases as a freelance writer, but if it would make things easier and more organized, why not?

Over time, I applied for two more business credit cards because they had better interest rates and, in one case, had a rewards points program I liked, so now I have three.

Generally, I try to keep my balances as low as possible, but during periods where clients are paying me more slowly than usual, I use my main business credit card for routine business purchases, to make sure I have enough cash on hand.

When I need to make a big purchase, like a computer, I’ll put it on the card that has the best rewards for that type of purchase. My bookkeeper has set things up to “pull in” the transactions from the accounting software, so everything is automated.

See related: 10 things to know about business credit cards

Bottom line

It took some time to get set up and to start using business credit cards. But every year at tax time, I realize it was worth it. My books and records are always organized, and I don’t have to spend hours digging through shoeboxes of receipts – almost everything is recorded on my business credit card statements.

That’s a good thing, because in the Northeast, where I live, the weather starts getting warmer in April, and my family looks forward to canoeing. Instead of hunching over my accounting software, entering yet another transaction from a crumpled-up receipt on a beautiful Saturday afternoon, I’m free to enjoy the work-life balance I was looking for when I went freelance.

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