Tracking Freelance Earnings: January Income Report

Tracking Freelance Earnings: January Income Report

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:

  1. The number of pieces I write
  2. 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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?

Filed Under: Freelancing
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29 comments

  • Thank you so much for posting this stuff. It’s so encouraging to see that it’s not impossible to make a living freelancing.

    Best of luck reaching your goals 🙂

  • Gaines says:

    I am wondering if you look at either per word or, I think more importantly, per hour earnings. I try to keep track of exactly how much time I spend on each project – research, editing, writing – to get an accurate figure of how much I am making per hour. Since most traditional jobs pay that way, I want to see how I am doing compared to how much I would make if someone was paying me for my time on an hourly basis.

    I keep track of the overall per word earnings also, to make sure that the average increases over time. It is a way to track progress. As you said, I want to make more and earn less.

    • I do keep track of the number of words I write. I also keep track of how much I earn every day, although I don’t yet break it down into per hour. That might be something to look at for a future piece, just to see what the numbers are!

      • Kathy says:

        Great of you to share. I too am interested in knowing how much time your projects take, specifically blog writing jobs.

        Hope you’re vacation was restful.

    • Gaines says:

      I just noticed a glaring mistake in my post. At the end I should have said “I want to make more while working less.” Of course referring to earning more per word.

  • Hi Nicole — it’s great to see this update!

    I’ve tracked these metrics as well. And one trend I always liked to see was that the amount I billed this month exceeded the amount that came in the door.

    That means you have a positive earnings trend — that likely, more money will come in the door next month than this month. When the figures are the opposite — more money came in than you billed — you know there’s a ‘down’ income month coming ahead.

    Clearly, you’ve been able to ramp your writing to a healthy monthly income level. If it were me, my focus at this point would be not on gross income but on cutting *way down* on the number of pieces you have to write to earn that sum.

    This post reminds me of a post I did years ago on how I was regularly billing $5K a month writing about 79 blog posts, for several different clients, most notably the business-news site BNET (part of CBS, sadly now defunct). This sort of large-volume piecework isn’t sustainable, and I soon moved into finding better-paying blog clients and into bigger projects that paid more.

    The first step out of this trap is raising your rates, and going after better-paying clients. I coach writers not to take blogging gigs that are less than $100 a blog post. Even that modest change would greatly reduce the number of posts you had to write to hit your number. Adding more copywriting to your plate would also help.

    Look forward to having that guest post you linked to here in my new e-book of advice for freelance writers, Nicole!

    • Thanks! I’m excited about the e-book too. 🙂 And the idea of preparing for a down income month is something I hadn’t thought of, so thank you.

      As for cutting back on monthly pieces: we’ll see how the year shapes up. As I wrote to another commenter below, right now I really enjoy being a daily shortform blogger, and I’m pretty good at it. People tell me that they visit various websites “just to see what Nicole is thinking about today.” So although I may cut my numbers back a little bit, I don’t want to cut that work out of my career—it’s some of the most fun writing I get to do.

  • Marcy McKay says:

    WOW, Nicole — 87 pieces in one month? That’s some kind of incredible. I’m truly impressed (and a wee bit ashamed on myself).

    I think you’re right. The key is to cut back on the number of pieces and find higher-paying clients. Good things will come to your this year (and beyond) for your generosity in sharing this info with us. Thank you!

    • Alexis Grant says:

      Some great advice here for Nicole! I believe she’s on vacation at the moment, but I’m sure she’ll hop in to chat with y’all when she’s back.

      Alexis Grant, Founder of The Write Life

    • Hi! I am just back from vacation today. 🙂

      I agree—in an ideal world, I would be cutting back on pieces as the year goes on. However, the blogging world is built around writing a lot of short pieces at fast turnarounds, and that is something that I do very well. So although I would like to see the number of pieces I write drop a little bit as I get higher-priced jobs, I’m hesitant to leave my wheelhouse of daily blog posts. We’ll see what the year brings!

  • Corina says:

    Thank you Nicole for being so opened. I always believed I can earn more with my freelance work and reading your post gives me hope and motivation.
    I also squeeze the work for two weeks in one. Just before Christmas I received a writing assignment from one my clients and I stood up late (and I don´t mean midnight, but later) to finish it before New Year. And I did! I loved the adrenaline.

    Good luck in reaching your goals!

  • MaryBeth Matzek says:

    Thanks again for sharing. I unfortunately don’t get many vacations and I always wind up taking my laptop along. That being said, when we went out East last summer for 10 days, I told my regular clients I would be gone and would be able to do some work but not much & it may take me longer to respond to emails, but like you I also worked ahead a lot too.

  • Tracy L says:

    Thanks for sharing, I look forward to following this series. One question I have is this: how much are you working? Are you basing your goals on a 40-hour work week or are you just working whatever it takes to hit your financial goal? I am so impressed that you wrote 87 pieces in a month! Not sure I could do that as I am a slow but steady writer.

  • Oh, you make me want to set aside novels and go back to freelancing! Those days were so much fun and the reward came more frequently. This is a great post that states the facts and I love it. Thanks for sharing.

    As for the vacation issue, I too have to plan ahead, usually for when I’m speaking out of town. My newsletters go out every Friday (have been for 15 years with only two misses in that time), so when I will be gone for part of the week, I have to plan ahead. When I’m on a speaking circuit, it’s maddening and exhausting. I feel your pain. But I only know how to do what you do….work it doubly so ahead of time so I don’t fall behind.

  • Veronique says:

    Wow Nicole, impressive and inspiring! I was having trouble focusing but your piece challenged me. Thank you and I know you’ll probably surpass 60K this year.

  • Sam says:

    Nicole, you are incredible! I am in awe of your courage and self confidence. My path is different than yours, but you are an inspiring breath of fresh air.

  • M. Neumann says:

    Thanks for opening your books for everyone to see, and I’m glad you took a vacation.
    Could you please give at least a rough estimate of your total word count for January? Or for future months? Best of luck in reaching your goals this year!

  • Gina Horkey says:

    Love these posts:-) I track my daily income “billed” these days and then add it up for the week, which is really motivating to me. I also track income rec’d, expenses, etc and keep a monthly PNL. Thanks for sharing!!

  • Thank you so much for this detailed description of your goals and earnings. Interestingly, my translation business works in very similar ways!

  • scribette says:

    Do you have any advice for new freelance writers about where to start looking for work?

  • Sarah says:

    This is awesome and extremely encouraging. Thank you for sharing!!

    I am also a personal finance writer and blogger. I love it – while I’m busy all the time, I wouldn’t trade this job for anything. My income is significantly lower than yours ($1000-$1500 per month on average) and I’m working on getting more clients and boosting my income. I’m like you though – slow and steady wins the race and I would rather focus on getting quality clients rather than busting my butt writing hundreds of low-paying pieces.

    Wishing you the best of luck!! Happy to be following along!

  • tipmoon says:

    Nice article. This Inspired me to be a part of the Freelancer and earn money. Thank u so much….

  • Jodi says:

    I am just now getting my feet wet in freelancing, but I am not pursuing the blog writing so much as journalistic articles. What say you: starting local and working regional and national, can a $50K annual income be reached? It seems as if your focus on blogging might be a strategic one? I estimate that articles will garner from $100 to $1000 per piece, depending upon length and pay per word. I’m literally fresh in the field with only two articles to my name. What are your predictions?

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