Tracking Freelance Earnings: July Income Report From Nicole Dieker

by | Aug 11, 2015 | Blogging, Freelancing | 23 comments

Hi! If you’re new to this column: I track my freelance income every month and share 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.

Do you ever think about your writing legacy? What you want to give the world, in addition to all of your paid freelancing assignments?

This month, I took a look at my goals and started using Patreon to help me achieve a personal writing dream.

But first, the monthly roundup:

Completed Pieces: 72

Work Billed: $5,034.50

Earnings Received: $5,239.17

Last month, I got a big new client and earned $5,808. This month wasn’t quite as profitable as the last. I earned $800 less than I did in June, writing 53,600 words with an average per-piece earning of $69.

The one big gain that carried over from June was my new dollar-a-word client. This meant that although July’s lowest-paying piece was still $35, the highest-paying piece was $882.

I also have a confession to make: in June, I reported writing 50 pieces, because that was the number that appeared at the bottom of my freelancing spreadsheet (which I describe in more detail in April’s income report). When I add new work to my freelancing spreadsheet, I hit “insert row” and, usually, the sum function in the cell below adds this row to its tally. However, there was an error in the function and several rows weren’t included in the sum. The actual June writing count is 76 pieces.

I have now added “double-check all spreadsheet sum functions” to my end-of-month processes. I have a lot of these types of checks written for myself to help me improve my work, from “double-check all name spellings” to “AP style update: write out state names.” I often put a sticky note right on my laptop, if I make the same error repeatedly.

What about you? Do you have a system for tracking your mistakes and preventing them in the future?

Freelancing is not a roller coaster that only goes up

In John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars, Augustus Waters quips, “I’m on a roller coaster that only goes up.” The joke, of course, is that no roller coaster (or life) only goes up; at some point, you have to go down again.

Freelancing is the same way. You have to be prepared for down months, even if your freelance career has an overall upward trajectory.

One of the reasons I earned less in July was because I took a week “off” to travel to Los Angeles and San Diego and put on a show with some of my friends. I read short fiction, there was music and I got to do a live interview with Bobak Ferdowsi (aka NASA’s “Mohawk Guy”).

I put the word “off” in quotes because I continued to complete freelance work as I traveled, but I focused my efforts on shorter posts that did not require a lot of research and could be completed in an hour. And yes, that showed up in my earnings. Traveling always means taking an income hit, even if you work on the plane.

I’m going to take some more time “off” in August, to be a guest at a convention called Intervention that focuses on online creativity and collaboration. This is the sixth year I’ve been an Intervention guest, and every year I grow my career by attending the convention — and, I hope, help other people grow theirs.

Attending this event also means that I only expect to earn a little over $5,000 in August. Even though I’ll be turning in freelance pieces as I travel, I know I’ll lose money because of this trip. I’ve already had to turn down one assignment because I knew I couldn’t complete it while attending the convention. That won’t affect my relationship with this client — I’ve never had a client react negatively to my turning down an assignment — but it will affect my bottom line.

However, experiences like Intervention tend to open up opportunities I could never get by staying home. I was introduced to Boing Boing founder Mark Frauenfelder at Intervention 2013, for example, and began writing for Boing Boing soon afterwards. That type of connection is worth much more than any single freelance writing assignment.

Borrowing from the roller-coaster metaphor again: I am happy to take occasional income hits if it means getting to meet new editors or interview NASA engineers in front of a packed audience. The income line may go down, but the opportunities give my career the momentum it needs to climb the next hill.

Working fewer hours, but keeping Overflow Night

In March, I tracked my freelance hours for all of you and discovered that I had a 50-hour workweek.

In July, I tracked my hours again; this time, I had a 40-hour workweek. This has been pretty consistent for the past month, and I am very happy to get my evenings back.

What’s changed? Well, last month I wrote about tweaking my routine to get up — and out of my pajamas — earlier. Waking up earlier makes me more efficient throughout the day, and it also helps me end my workday earlier.

I bet you night owls are shaking your heads right now, so let me just say this: it isn’t about when you wake up. It’s about figuring out what schedule works for you, and removing the roadblocks from your workday.

In my case, I needed to remove the huge roadblock of staying in my pajamas until 1 or 2 p.m. and then stopping my workflow to take care of the business of showering and getting dressed. Now, I get to use that time for writing.

Lastly, just so you don’t think I am a magic freelancer who always quits working at 5:30 p.m.: I still have the occasional “Overflow Night” where I sit down with all of my unfinished tasks and power through until 10 or 11 p.m. It’s inescapable, no matter how efficient I am. How about you?

Thinking about my writing legacy, and starting a Patreon

I’ve been thinking a lot about my writing legacy — that is, the body of work I hope to complete over the course of my career.

Since I write primarily for online news sites and blogs, nearly everything I write is designed to be read and digested quickly. According to my Contently profile, I’ve written over 900 stories for 32 different publications — and only a small percentage of those stories are still read today.

So I decided to write a bigger story. At the end of July, I launched a Patreon to fund the writing of my novel The Biographies of Ordinary People.

This is a novel I’ve been thinking about and drafting for years. You can read the first three chapters, and I’m making the entire novel available for free online as I write it. The crowdfunding part helps pay for the cost of writing the novel, since every hour I spend on the book is an hour I can’t spend on freelance client work, and to see if there’s an audience to support this story.

After all, writing is about sharing stories with a supportive and interested audience, whether you’re writing books or blog posts. I hope that people connect with this novel, and that it becomes something I can include as part of my long-term body of written work.

What about you? At the end of your career, what do you hope to have completed? Are you taking steps to get there? I look forward to reading your thoughts and stories in the comments.

What are your long-term writing goals? What do you do when you have a down month, and how do you keep moving forward? How do you identify — and fix — mistakes and roadblocks?