Hi! If you’re new to this column: I’m tracking my freelance income every month and sharing it with all of you.
This is my third year of public income tracking, and my first year sharing my income with The Write Life.
Let’s start with the numbers for January…
Completed Pieces: 87
Work Billed: $6,000.80
Earnings Received: $2,522.40
When I track my freelance earnings, I look at two key metrics:
- The number of pieces I write
- The value of those pieces
As I wrote for Make a Living Writing last year, tracking these two numbers, week by week and month by month, was one of the key ways I built my freelance career. My goal each month is to increase the amount of money I earn while simultaneously decreasing the number of pieces I write.
Tracking these numbers publicly has also helped me find ways to earn more. There’s nothing like knowing people are looking at your earnings to inspire you to hustle for more work — you don’t want that number to look small, after all! I can’t tell you how many weeks I’ve written “just one more piece” because I wanted to have a nice big number to report online.
How I track my freelance income
When I break down my earnings, any completed item counts as a “piece.” A 200-word copywriting job is a “piece,” as is a 3,000-word researched article. When you do your own tracking, you may want to subdivide your work into additional categories to reflect these differences, but I am less interested in tracking word count than I am in tracking what I call “piece value.”
The value of a completed piece is the dollar figure I write on the invoice. So for January 2015, I will invoice for $6,000.80 worth of work. Some of these invoices are already written, and some will be written soon — it all depends on each client’s individual invoicing schedule.
It’s interesting to look at additional metrics like average earnings per piece. This month, I earned $68.97 per piece on average, with my per-piece earnings ranging from $300 on the high end to $15.84 on the low end. The majority of my clients pay me $50 or more per piece.
This is the first year I am also tracking actual monthly earnings received. I always tick off a box when a client pays an invoice, and follow up with clients whose invoices go unpaid, but I hadn’t been tracking how much money actually came into my bank account every month. Instead, I’d just check my bank account every week or so, think “yup, there’s money in it,” and get back to writing.
When you take a look at these numbers, for example, you can see that although I completed more than $6,000 worth of work this month, only $2,522 hit my bank account. Why? Two reasons:
- My pay is delayed. In general, I get paid for December’s work in January, and so on. I was only able to complete $3,323.63 worth of work in December because it was a holiday month. Many of my clients took the end of December off, which was good because it meant I wasn’t trying to complete work in the middle of Christmas dinner, but it also meant that I didn’t earn as much as usual.
- A big invoice is outstanding. One of my invoices that was due in January did not get paid. It was an honest mistake by the client, and the client immediately took steps to start the payment process on the missed invoice, but it’s important to keep in mind that just because you are owed money doesn’t mean you will always get it on time!
Thoughts on my January freelance earnings
As you may remember from my first Tracking Freelance Earnings column, I set myself the goal of increasing my monthly income to an average of $5,000 every month:
I’m earning around $4,500 a month now, and I’d like to push it to at least $5,000 a month by summer 2015. If I average $5,000 per month over 2015, I’ll earn $60,000 for the year, which would be incredible.
This month, I was able to complete $6,000 worth of work. Why is this number so high? Because I went on vacation for the first week of February, and I spent the last half of January “working ahead” to cover the week I’d be gone.
I’m expecting February earnings to be a little lower because I completed some of February’s scheduled work during the last two weeks of January. I’m not too worried, though: if I invoice $6,000 in January and $4,000 in February, it will still average out to $5,000 a month.
Why am I not going to start trying to earn $6,000 every month, since I proved I could do it? Because I am exhausted. Completing three weeks’ worth of work in two weeks has left me baggy-eyed, sleep-deprived and ready for that vacation.
I’d like to boost my earnings to $6,000 a month eventually, but I’d rather do it by getting higher-paying clients than by working until midnight every day.
And about those higher-paying clients: In my last column, I wrote that I wanted to get “at least one more really solid client” to bring my monthly income to that desired $5,000 a month goal. I landed this client on January 22, just a couple of weeks after that public declaration.
Like many of my best clients, I got this client through a referral: a current client publication recommended me to another publication, and an editor there contacted me about a regular blogging gig.
What types of assignments I covered this month
This month, all of my income came from blogging and writing articles. Right now, I write about three major topics:
- Personal finance (with, I like to say, an emphasis on the personal)
- Freelancing, including both this column and my Ask A Freelancer column
- Pop culture
More than half of my 87 pieces were written for The Billfold, and one of the pieces that got the most traction this month was an Are You Gifted And/Or Talented? quiz at SparkLife. I loved taking Teen Magazine quizzes when I was younger, and I’m delighted that now I get to be the person writing them.
I didn’t do any copywriting work this month, and although I could have sought some out, I feel like I completed enough work as it is! I’m ending January satisfied with my income, happy with my new client, and very, very ready to take a nap.
How do you handle “working ahead” before a vacation? Do you try to squeeze three weeks of work into two, or do you have another way of handling your workload?