How to Plan for Freelance-Writing Success in 2017

How to Plan for Freelance-Writing Success in 2017

When do you start planning for the next calendar year?

We’re getting ready for the fourth quarter of 2016, which means it’s time to think about where my freelance career might be in 2017 — and the work I need to do now to prepare myself for the year to come.

Here are my numbers for August:

Completed pieces: 67

Work billed: $8,449.91

Income received: $8,553.89

I wrote a little over 44,000 words this month, although that number is starting to make less sense to me as a metric because half of my workload is now longform writing that involves multiple drafts and revisions – and I only track the words I turn in on the first draft, not the words I add/delete/revise.

So that’s a metric I’m going to want to rethink for 2017. Is it worth it to keep a running count of the number of words I write every month? If so, do I need to start tracking the number of words I add or change during revisions?

I like keeping a word count because it’s a useful metric for clients. Saying that you write 44K words a month establishes that you’re producing content at a certain level, and it also implies that you can turn around a lot of assignments quickly. I also like being able to say I write the equivalent of a short novel every month.  

But if my workload is changing, the way I track word count needs to change as well.

Upgrading my bookkeeping

My word-count system isn’t the only thing that needs to change for 2017. Ever since I’ve started freelancing, I’ve kept my books via a series of handcrafted spreadsheets — and I’m at the point where I want to invest in a better tool.

Right now, I spend a lot of time setting up spreadsheets, making sure my formulas are correct, typing in numbers, tracking paid and unpaid invoices, and comparing all of this against the money that goes into my bank account — not to mention the hours I spend trying to figure out why I’ve made an error! I’d like to outsource this to an online system, in the hopes that it will streamline not only my day-to-day income management but also my quarterly and yearly taxes.

I know that The Write Life recommends both FreshBooks and Harvest, so it might be time to start exploring small business software and see what tool I want to use in 2017.

Planning for 2017’s workload

When I started freelancing, I thought it was a huge deal to have assignments booked two weeks in advance. As you might remember from last month’s earnings report, I currently have assignments booked through the end of 2016.

This means I need to start thinking now about what might happen in January 2017, when those assignments end.

I’m guessing that my current clients will continue to offer me new assignments, and that we’ll probably start discussing those assignments at the end of the year — which will be an ideal time for me to open a conversation about renegotiating rates. (I try to have this conversation annually, usually in early December.)

If something happens and I don’t have enough work to fill my time, I have a list of clients I’ve written for who have expressed interest in working with me on future projects. I’ll reach out to them to see if they’re still interested.

I’ve also been saving money to make sure I have an income buffer in case I see a drop in my workload. I just met my three-month emergency-fund goal, so I have enough money to go three months without earning any income — although I hope that won’t be the case.

The big question is whether I want to change anything about my workload for 2017. I’m happy with my current clients and the assignments I’m completing; the work is interesting, I get to work with great people, and I’m getting it all done in 40-hour weeks.

I’d like to keep this balance for as long as I can, which means I’m not thinking about changing my workload as much as I’m thinking about how to sustain it — and in my mind, that means doing the best work I can and maintaining those good client relationships. That’ll set me up for the rest of the year and give me a good foundation for whatever comes next.

Three questions for this month: Have you started thinking about 2017? How do you track word count on assignments, especially when several rounds of revisions are involved? Also: what’s your favorite bookkeeping software?

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Filed Under: Freelancing


  • Roslyn Lash says:

    I’m a Accredited Financial Counselor and I’ve been featured in several articles and my articles have been picked up by several national publications. However, I’m looking to get into the freelance arena. Your article was very helpful and informative! Thank you for sharing your experiences and expertise!!

  • Mdu Result says:


    I’ve been reading your blog lately and love the content!

    Right now I’m focusing on building up my portfolio, as well as connecting with other freelance writers.

  • Erin Sturm says:

    Awesome! Thanks for sharing.

    I’d also recommend 17hats. I’ve been using it for two years and it has all of the features that you talked about in your spreadsheeets. I’ve used Harvest in the past and it’s pretty good too.

  • Gina Horkey says:

    I have started thinking about 2017 – so far my goals include, “work less.” 😉 Not super tangible, huh?

    Great work Nicole – remember when your goal was to just hit $5k consistently? Double that is in sight!

  • Duke Stewart says:

    I certainly haven’t thought about it yet but will now, after reading your insightful and detailed article. Shew, $8k in earnings from writing? I’ve gotta learn from you!

  • Awesome article! Great idea for getting a jumpstart on the new year!

  • Sandy says:

    Thank you for sharing! It’s so refreshing to come across successful freelancers who are still kicking it old school (thousands of spreadsheets!). I’ve considered using programs like Asana and Trello from a productivity perspective, and I’m still on the fence with the accounting side of things. Let us know what you end up choosing.

  • msgsnd says:

    Thank you for the wonderful practical advice June. Being organised is not just good for business, it also reflects in the writing as well. Thanks for sharing your guidance. Best wishes! ?

  • Darryl Ast says:

    That was an awesome post. I was goimg to ask you, how do you keep so organize, but then you said about using spreadsheets, that is what I am using also. Anyways, fatastic post. I leaened a lot

  • Nicole your articles are easily my favorite ones on this site. I’ve been freelancing for a month now and have one constant client under my belt (a sports website that is only paying a penny a word, but its easy and I can churn out the game previews in about 15 minutes), but I know it won’t happen overnight. You’re articles always give me a breath of fresh air and more motivation to keep working at it. 🙂

  • To answer your first question, I started thinking about 2017 back in June. My end-of-year review is one of my favorite times of the year. Not only do I get to take a walk down memory lane for the past 12 months, I get to celebrate my victories, both big and small. I also love the idea of creating new goals for the year ahead.

    For the second question, I have to say that I don’t track word count. I get a little jolt when I look at my Contently portfolio and see how many words all of my pieces add up to, but so far I haven’t found word count to be a necessary metric. I also don’t know how I would keep track of all that, since it’s not like I write and I’m done. I delete and add, and just the idea of trying to track all those words makes me break out in a rash.

    Question number three has an easy and enthusiastic answer: Freshbooks! I started using it at the beginning of the year, and I haven’t looked back. The software is well organized and intuitive. Love it!

  • I absolutely agree with each and every point here. Great piece

  • Wow, hope your 2017 is as successful as your 2016 is turning out to be. I’m happy to see you’ve got 3 months of expenses put away. That buffer zone gives you the peace of mind that a bad month won’t set you back too far.

  • Meryl says:

    You’re such a good planner for your future! In 2017, I want to be more forward thinking!

  • Suertz says:

    This is awesome. I wish you all the success for 2017 and beyond.

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