Tracking Freelance Earnings: December Income Report From Nicole Dieker

Tracking Freelance Writing Earnings
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How was your 2015 freelancing year? Did you land a new client? Hit a financial goal? Write something you were truly proud of?

For those of you who have been following me all year, it’s time to take a look at my numbers and what I consider my biggest freelancing accomplishments. It’s also time to start planning my 2016 freelancing goals, including my goals for this column!

Here are December’s numbers:

Completed pieces: 55

Work billed: $4,328

Earnings received: $7,492.26

I wrote a little over 40,000 words in December, completing 55 pieces with an average per-piece earning of $79. My highest earning piece was $944.

A lot of publications take time off over the holiday season, and I was able to plan a full week away from work — which also meant my December earnings were lower than my $5,000 monthly income goal. I didn’t mind, though, because my year-end earnings received totaled $63,571.12 — $3,500 more than my $60,000 goal.

In other words: I beat the freelance income goal I set for 2015.

How I achieved my goal

If you’ve been following my Tracking Freelance Earnings columns since the beginning, you might remember that in my first column, I listed my 2014 freelance earnings as $43,059.02.

In 2015, I increased my freelance earnings by $20,000. That’s the kind of raise you rarely get in a so-called “real job!”

How’d I do it? It comes down to two basic components:

I set the goal

Freelancing is different from other types of jobs because it doesn’t have specific boundaries. I can take on as many or as few pieces as I want — my only limit is the number of hours per day I am willing and able to work!

So, when I decided at the beginning of 2015 that I wanted to earn $5,000 a month from my writing, I made a commitment to myself — and to you — that I would actively work to take on enough pieces to hit that goal. If I lost an income source (and I did), I would find another one. If I didn’t have enough work to fill out the month, I’d start hustling for more.

It’s important to note I didn’t hit my $5,000 goal every month. Setting a goal doesn’t guarantee it will happen. Sometimes your regular clients won’t have the budget to assign you an extra piece, and sometimes the pitch you send out will get turned down. (If every pitch you send out gets turned down, make sure to read my other Write Life column, Pitch Fix.)

But since I was working to earn at least $5,000, that meant some months I earned $4,000 and some months I earned $6,000. It averaged out to a successful freelancing year, even though I didn’t always hit my monthly goal.

I had the freelancing background to achieve the goal

I had two years of full-time freelancing experience before I set my 2015 income goal. I didn’t go from $0 to $60,000; I went from $35,000 to $43,000 to $63,000. If I hadn’t already had two years of building my skills and growing my network, I wouldn’t have been able to achieve this goal.  

I also picked a monthly income goal close to what I was already earning; by the end of 2014 I was regularly earning around $4,500 per month, so I decided to see if I could bump that up to $5,000.

This goal was a stretch for me, but it was also a realistic stretch. If you want to set your own income goal for 2016, it’s important to choose a realistic stretch goal of your own, such as:

  • Taking your highest monthly earnings from 2015 and trying to match those earnings every month in 2016
  • Finding one new higher-paying client every three months
  • Sending out one new pitch per week

Whatever 2016 goal you choose, make sure it’s just achievable enough that it doesn’t feel impossible. Then stretch yourself to make it happen. As you work towards your goal, you’ll probably start meeting other writers, editors and clients who can help you achieve it even faster. That’s what happened to me.

My biggest freelancing accomplishments

Hitting my freelance income goal was a huge accomplishment for me this year, but it’s not the only thing I’m proud of. Here are some of my 2015 highlights:

  • Writing the comedy piece “The Economics of Neko Atsume” at The Billfold, which received enormous positive response when I published it in June and gets a steady stream of new readers every day
  • Taking on additional writing and editorial responsibilities at The Billfold and being part of the team as The Billfold partnered with Medium
  • Writing “10 Mistakes That’ll Ruin Your Freelancing Career,” one of the three most popular pieces of 2015 at The Freelancer
  • Launching Pitch Fix at The Write Life
  • Providing financial advice to high school students at SparkLife
  • Funding the first draft of my novel The Biographies of Ordinary People through Patreon
  • Landing my first $1-per-word client
  • Earning enough money to move out of a studio apartment (with no kitchen) and into a one-bedroom
  • Successfully renegotiating many of my freelance rates for 2016

I’m still working to improve my writing and connect with my audiences, but I’m happy with the work I’ve done this year.

Goals for 2016

This year, I’d like to maintain my $60,000 freelancing income. It would be nice if I grew my income, and I wouldn’t be surprised if I hit $65K this year, but I don’t expect another $20,000 jump.

Instead, I want to focus on working reasonable hours. I’ve written before about the struggle to keep my workweek around 40 hours, and I want to make it a priority in 2016. Now that I feel like I’m earning enough, I can start to put the rest of my life back in balance.

I also want to continue to build connections and new client relationships. A freelance career is an ever-changing thing, which means I always need to be working towards finding that next big job. If I want to keep my earnings constant and work fewer hours, I also need to land higher-paying assignments. That’s how it works.

Finally, I want to build this column into a collaboration. I’m going to continue sharing my monthly income with you, but we’ve had a whole year of hearing about me. What about you?

I’d love to interview some of you about your monthly earnings, as well as your freelance goals and what you do to achieve them. If you’re interested in being part of a future Tracking Freelance Earnings column, email me at dieker.nicole@gmail.com.

Here’s to a new year!

Did you achieve your 2015 freelancing goals? Write something you’re especially proud of? Share your accomplishments in the comments!

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Nicole Dieker is a freelance copywriter and essayist. She writes regularly for The Billfold on the intersection of freelance writing and personal finance, and her work has also appeared in The Toast, Yearbook Office, and Boing Boing.... .

Nicole Dieker | @hellothefuture

Nicole Dieker

Comments

  1. I didn’t set any specific goals in mind for 2015. However, I’m looking at transitioning from part time to full time freelancing this year – fingers crossed! In an effort to achieve my goals this year I’ve written out a month by month plan of what I’d like to achieve for the rest of the year. I also hope to start publishing my income reports from next month so you can look out for those!

  2. Hi Nicole and thank you for these awesome details. They are both daunting and inspiring! My accomplishment is that I got my very first article published at the end of 2015! I would love to do more in the coming year. My biggest challenge is squeezing in time to write around a full-time job and 4 active teens/kids. I have a goal to utilize my mornings better. Do you recommend having a website for my freelance work? I feel like that might be a good next step for me.

    • I do recommend starting a website, or at least setting up an online portfolio at a site like Contently. Having a site where potential clients can view your best work is essential.

  3. Thanks for another awesome and inspiring income post. Wishing you a great 2016!

  4. Thanks for sharing these income reports Nicole! I appreciate your honesty and your advice. Seeing all that you accomplish is a nice reminder that one day I can get there too. Good luck with your 2016 goals!

  5. Hello Nicole! I just wanted to let you know that you inspired me big time. I will surely follow all your entries. Thanks!

  6. I enjoy your posts and find this in particular to be beneficial as I launch my freelance career. It’s so encouraging to hear a success story!

  7. Hi Nicole,

    Yesterday, I decided that I would like to do some research on how to get started in a career of freelance writing. I spent hours on the net reading different posts from many different sites, all filled with various advice, but I must tell you, the information you provided is some of the best! I’ve started a new bookmark folder with quite a few pieces that you have written to use as future reference guides to get started.

    Thank you for your straight forward and honest information. I think I got this…

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