Freelance Writers: Join us for a Quarterly Check-In

Freelance Writers: Join us for a Quarterly Check-In

How has your freelance business gone this year?

Are you earning what you hoped to be earning? Are you analyzing what you’re doing right and what you could do better? Do you have any goals for the next three months?

Believe it or not, we’re already in the second quarter of 2017 — which means it’s time for our first Quarterly Freelance Check-In.

I’ve put together five check-in questions and answered each of them below, and they really helped me clarify what I need to do career-wise in the next three months.

As you read about my challenges and goals, think about your own — because I’m going to ask you the same five questions.

1. How much money did I earn this quarter?

This quarter, I earned $15,070.04 in freelance income, of which $14,555.25 has currently hit my bank account.

These earnings meet my $5,000/month income goal, but just barely.

In the fourth quarter of 2016, I earned over $10K per month thanks to a big, high-paying project. Now that the project has completed, going back to $5K/month is a significant income adjustment.

It wasn’t just the project completion that halved my earnings. One of my clients no longer needed me as a freelancer — it was a budget thing, and we ended on good terms — and I stopped getting monthly Patreon income after I finished the draft of my novel. (If you haven’t yet read the story of how I used crowdfunding platform Patreon to fund the draft of my forthcoming novel, you should.)

So I had some expected income losses as well as some unexpected losses this quarter. I still hit my bottom-level income goal, but I didn’t exceed it. At all.

2. What was the best thing I did for my freelance career this quarter?

I’m deep into production, marketing and promotion for my forthcoming novel, so I’d like to think that the best thing I did for my freelance career this quarter was hold steady.

I knew going into 2017 that I’d spend the first six months hugely focused on my book, which meant that it wouldn’t be a good time to take on a brand-new anchor client.

Building a strong relationship with a new group of editors takes more time and energy than maintaining a strong relationship with your current editors, so I elected to stay focused on my current clients — and on my novel — instead of adding the work of finding and building a relationship with a new client.

3. What was my biggest mistake (or, what am I going to do differently next quarter)?

My biggest mistake was not realizing how much a $5,000/month income might set me back. I’ve lived on $5,000/month before. At one point it was an income stretch goal.

However, things have changed for me in the past few years:

  • I moved from a tiny studio apartment with no kitchen into a one-bedroom apartment, and my rent increased by $320 per month. (I currently pay $995/month in rent.)
  • I got out of credit card debt and never want to get back into it again. Putting items I can’t afford on credit cards is no longer an option.
  • I changed CPAs and now set aside 25 percent of my income for taxes, instead of 20 percent. (I always got huge tax bills at the end of the year when I saved 20 percent, so it’s not like I didn’t need that money for taxes.)
  • I want to put 15 percent of my income in savings, not the 10 percent I had been previously saving.
  • I’ve opened up a Roth IRA and want to make the maximum contribution every year.
  • The basic costs of living have gone up slightly. My health insurance premium, for example, costs $82 more than it did in 2014.

So $5,000/month doesn’t feel like “enough” for me anymore. It feels like the kind of income that is going to prevent me from investing in myself and my career.

4. What do I want to achieve as a freelancer next quarter?

I want to earn more money.

$5,000 per month meets my basic income needs, but it doesn’t allow for a lot of growth, either personal or professional.

With more income I could justify going to more writers’ conferences, for example. I could also save more money, spend more time visiting friends, and buy a new sofa to replace the saggy, uncomfortable Ikea model I currently have in my apartment.

The trick is to balance my income needs with my available work time. Last year, I had a very balanced work schedule and I’d like to maintain that. During the first quarter of 2017, I had a little more space in my workday; the goal for the second quarter of 2017 is to fill just that space — and no more — with the highest-earning projects possible.

I’d like to increase my income by $1,000-$1,500 each month, and I’d like to do it by taking on just two more projects each month. That would give me both the income — and the balance — to live comfortably.

5. What steps am I taking to get there?

I’ve started reaching out to some of my highest-paying clients to either pitch additional articles or express interest in taking on more work. Ideally, these clients will have a few extra pieces I can take on and this problem will be solved.

Right now I’m focusing on clients with whom I’ve already established a relationship, rather than cold-pitching new clients.

If those clients don’t have additional work for me, I’ll reach out to a few clients who have expressed interest in the past, but whom I’ve had to turn down because of time constraints. If those clients don’t have work, then it’s time to reach out to my network and start figuring out who’s hiring.

Now it’s your turn! Are you ready to tackle the check-in questions?

Take the time to think about your own answers — and if you feel comfortable, share them in the comments.

The more specific we get about what we want and how we’re going to go after it, the more likely we are to achieve our freelancing goals.

Filed Under: Freelancing


  • yolly says:

    Knowing the $$$ you earned per month makes me shrink to shame. To date, earning even a fraction of the lowest $$$ range posted here remains a dream, waaaaaa!!!

  • Olga says:

    Wow! What a huge reality check – and wake-up call! Didn’t expect it to be so life-changing when I clicked the article.
    Well, let’s see.

    1) In the first quarter, I have earned $0 from my freelance writing. Here, I’ve said it. I know, it sounds ridiculous, but I got so caught up in my alternative sources of income that I totally didn’t realize that I’ve been slacking royally on a vital part of building a freelance writing business – pitching and establishing relations with editors! Thank you so much, Nicole, for making me realize this!

    2) The best thing I did for my freelance writing career was reviving my lifestyle blog. This has not generated me any income yet, but it is an important part of building my brand, and I feel grateful for making myself post regularly. Also, I did submit to a number of opportunities and made a few connections that might pay off later on.

    3) My biggest and most embarrassing mistake was, well, not submitting enough. I’ve lost focus, and it understandably impeded my progress.

    4) In the next (current) quarter I want to take on at least three new clients and start generating income from writing again.

    5) I have applied to a few freelance writing positions, and I also have publications in mind that I am going to pitch. I am going to continue building my blog, which I am also going to rebrand and move to a more modern platform. Also, I have put together my portfolio (using, yay! Thank you for the inspiration, Nicole!), updated my resume and have applied to be LinkedIn Pro.

    Once again, thank you so much, Nicole, for this invaluable call for action! After I read this, I was like, where did the time go, and what the heck have I been doing all this time? I mean I’ve been doing a lot of things to make money and was still building my portfolio, but, embarrassing as it is, I wasn’t making enough effort to combine the two. Your article came in just when I needed it most.

    • Nicole says:

      You are very welcome! I love Contently, hope it works well for you too! And yes—we all need to keep pitching and establishing relationships with editors. 😀

  • Anitra Budd says:

    Thanks so much for this article, Nicole! It was a really eye-opening exercise. Here are my answers:

    1. So far I’ve booked just over $33K for the year and grossed $12K this past quarter. So, depending on how you look at it, I either earned $11,000 each month or $4,000. Funnily enough, I thought this would be the most cut-and-dried question, but it really got me thinking about how I set income goals. I tend to think about how much I want to make in a given year, but after reading your article, I think I’ll try breaking that number into monthly and/or quarterly targets. I like that this method gives you more manageable goals to shoot for!
    2. The best thing I did for my career was let go of a couple of clients, for various reasons (slow payments; didn’t pay as well as other, newer clients, etc.) I have a terrible time saying no, even when I’ve got cold, hard numbers staring me in the face, so this felt like a big victory.

    3. Biggest mistake: Taking on projects that raised red flags, either because of the timing, the client, or the work itself. In every instance my fears were confirmed, and I was left kicking myself. All the projects worked out in the end, but years were taken off my life in the process. So while I’m making progress on the “just say no” front, I still have a ways to go.

    4. Next quarter I’d like to do something I’ve avoided like the plague: pitch an article. Since I started freelancing full-time, I’ve always had writing work. This is of course fantastic, but it’s also given me the perfect excuse to avoid pitching work proactively—it’s been easy to say, “I’m too busy” when what I really mean is “I’m scared of rejection.” I like the idea of making it a goal to get X number of rejections rather than getting published, so I might aim for, say, at least two rejections. Maybe.

    5. I have a running list of article ideas with notes and one article that’s pretty much fleshed out. I’ve started thinking about potential outlets to pitch, but I haven’t dug up contact info or submission guidelines yet, so that’s probably the next step. That and trying to get over the fear sweats. ?

    • Nicole says:

      You can do it! The more you pitch, the more you get rejected—but the more you get accepted, too!

      Also, I am super-impressed by your hustle, and your ability to identify when you need to let go of clients!

  • This post is very inspirational. Okay, I’ll try to answer all of them.

    1.Pennies ($100+)
    2.The best thing I did regarding my freelance writing business is to join LinkedIn & to create a homepage for my website that showcases the content writing services I do and who I am to my readers
    3.Didn’t follow-up the client I’ve worked with so my payment has been snatched. (But I created a process now so that the money will be perfectly undergo a simple transaction)
    4.Write 30,000+ words and earn $2,500-$3,000
    5.I’ll soak my feet on LinkedIn more to connect with awesome professionals and to be as professional when talking to potential clients.

    All the Best,
    Jan Limark | Brotherly Creative

  • Nicole is great about sharing the numbers that measure her progress toward her goals, and I hope it’s been helpful to a lot of freelancers out there.

    I’m not as brave about sharing my financials on the internet, but one bit of advice I am willing to share is this:

    Try to think of yourself and your business as separate entities, even if you are operating as a sole proprietor rather than, for example, as the owner of an LLC. As you set goals for revenue, think of expenses in terms of what the business needs, and what you personally need.

    For example, the business may need a new computer while you need new tires for your car. The business has to pay taxes and pay for its share of tax prep. (I actually gave my tax preparer two checks for the different parts of the fee, the personal share drawn on my personal account and the business share drawn on my business account.)

    I find that being able to think of them separately allows me to be clear on whether the business itself is viable and on whether I am able to draw enough from it to support me. Those are not the same question.

    I wish success to everyone building a freelance business, whether you are primarily an author like Nicole or primarily an editor like me.

    Trish O’Connor
    Epiclesis Consulting LLC
    Freelance Editorial Services and Writer’s Resources

    • Theresa Taylor says:

      I’m new to AWAI in Jan. I love this idea of checking in. My one goal was to get a client by March. And I did! Yay! I haven’t submitted the project yet, so I don’t know anything else, but the hardest thing for me is putting myself out there, so I feel good. Thanks so much for your putting yourself out there, so we can connect.

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