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.