Tracking Freelance Earnings: February Income Report From Nicole Dieker

Tracking Freelance Earnings: February Income Report From Nicole Dieker

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 take a look at February’s numbers:

Completed Pieces: 63

Work Billed: $4,980.00

Earnings Received: $4,357.96

Remember how I wrote, at the beginning of this project, that I was going to set myself the goal of earning $5,000 per month by summer 2015?

I may hit that goal a lot sooner than I thought.

February’s billed work came in at just under $5,000, and that was despite taking the first full week of February off to go on vacation. I put in late nights in January to bill $6,000.80, thinking I would only bill around $4,000 in February. Turns out I underestimated myself.

These earnings are higher than I expected because of the new client I picked up at the end of January. Sometimes that’s all it takes: one new client, and I’m looking at steady earnings of around $1,400 a week.

That’s right where I want to be, financially. This month, I earned $79.05 per piece on average — up from last month’s average of $68.97 per piece — with my per-piece earnings ranging from $300 on the high end to $50 on the low end.

Saying hello to one client means saying goodbye to another

In January, my low-end piece was $15.84 for 396 words. When I got my new client at the end of January, I decided to gracefully end my relationship with the $15.84 client, who was at that point my lowest-paying client.

I had been working with that client for about a year, and we had a good working relationship, but I knew it was time to move on and put more effort into higher-paying pieces. So I wrote a short “resignation email” announcing my intention to move on and giving two weeks notice, which seemed appropriate. The client responded with good wishes and suggested I keep in touch if I was interested in taking on more work in the future.

I’ve said goodbye to a few clients as I’ve moved up in my freelance career, and it is always nerve-wracking. I always have this fear in the back of my mind that if I quit working with Client A on Monday, I’ll wake up Tuesday morning to find that Clients B, C and D have all decided to fire me and I should have stuck with Client A when I had the chance!

However, in this case saying goodbye to this client was the smart financial decision. It opened up room in my schedule to pick up higher paying assignments with my new client, and it felt like a step forward in my career.

Counting my words

Since some of you asked about word count, I tallied it up: In February, I wrote nearly 48,000 words, not counting revisions or tweaks to articles. This means I’m running at just over 10 cents a word, on average.

None of my current clients calculate my rates on a per-word basis though, and very few of them even give me word count requirements. At this point I know what any given client’s piece should “feel like”, lengthwise: A piece for The Write Life should be between 700 and 900 words, for example, and a Boing Boing piece can be anywhere between 1,500 and 3,000.

I could try to “game the system” by keeping my pieces as short as possible, but that’s not the point. I’m not trying to get the highest per-word rate, I’m trying to write the best pieces possible for each client, so I can keep them happy, improve my skills and eventually land higher-paying work.

Where’s the rest of the money?

I billed $6,000.80 in January, but only $4,357.96 hit my bank account in February. Where, you might ask, is the rest of the money?

This is a good question with a complicated answer. First of all, there is not a direct month-to-month correlation between money billed and money earned. Some clients pay on 60-day cycles, for example, and others pay when the piece is published, which could be months after the final draft was approved.

Secondly, it sometimes takes a few days for Paypal transfers and automatic deposits to process through the bank. I had $1,082.30 hit my bank account on March 4, and some of that was January billing money that arrived just a little too late to be counted for February.

All in all, I’m not worried about payments that haven’t come in yet. I keep track of every client who owes me money, mark the payments off as they arrive, message clients if payments don’t arrive as expected, and trust a steady stream of money will continue to trickle my way.

I’m excited to watch that steady stream of money grow as we move into March. If I continue this trend of billing around $1,400 per week, I’ll end March with around $5,600 in billed work. That sounds like a great way to wrap up my freelancing year’s first quarter, and prepare to pay my first chunk of 2015 estimated taxes! More on that next month.

This could make for a great conversation in the comments: When do you know it’s time to “say goodbye” to a client? Do you give two weeks’ notice? Do you find that saying goodbye to a client opens up a new stage in your freelancing career?

Want to learn how Nicole has come this far in her freelance career? Check out her past income reports for The Write Life:

Filed Under: Blogging


  • Sarah says:

    Congratulations, Nicole, on such a high-earning month!! That’s fantastic and very encouraging!! I’m currently averaging about $1200/month and am looking to hit $2500/month shortly.

    Perfect timing on bringing up saying goodbye to a client. I’ve been with a client for almost 2 1/2 years now, but they are also my lowest-paying client. While I can work fast and have a high hourly rate with them, the topics are no longer in my niche and I’ve been debating moving on from them for quite some time. This post may have been the push I need to free up some time to pursue higher-paying gigs.


    • Nicole says:

      You are very welcome! The $1,200/$2,500 month range is great because you know that your freelance career is working, at least—and all you have to do from this point is continue to get better-paying clients and assignments. (So easy, ha ha!)

  • Dale says:

    Glad I stumbled across this. Took me a while but I realized I recognized you from Contently.

    You’re doing awesome Nicole, very inspiring 🙂

  • Evan Jensen says:

    Your freelancing success and approach to producing the best work possible with every piece is awesome. Thanks for sharing.

    Question: How do you track your earnings? Do you use a certain software program or web-based service? I get paid a couple of different ways from clients, and don’t have a good system in place to track income and billed work.

    • Nicole says:

      I use a spreadsheet that I made myself. I’ve looked at finance-tracking software programs and apps, but I like being able to customize and track the metrics that are important to me.

      Basically I make one row for every piece I write. Then the columns are: client, title, word count, piece value, deadline, date completed, invoiced, and paid.

      Hope that is helpful!

    • Evan — we also have an upcoming post on different writing spreadsheets, in case you’d like to see another example or two.

      TWL Assistant Editor

  • kate says:

    This is so inspiring. I just started my freelance career a little over a month ago and am overwhelmed as to where to focus. Can you give any tips, i.e. is there a resource you would particularly recommend for where to get clients?

    • Nicole says:

      At this point nearly all of my clients are recurring, and I got my newest client through a referral from a current client. I could answer your question a little bit better if I knew what types of clients you were looking for: copywriting, article writing, blogging, PR…??? Thanks!

      • kate says:

        I worked in house as a copywriter for many years, but I’d like to get away from selling and instead move toward content-based work. I’d like to learn about blogging and article writing. Also, I’m a fiction writer at heart and I also am looking to get some short stories sold to magazines!

        • Nicole says:

          Got it. There are plenty of opportunities to pitch blogs and websites, so my advice in that case is to start pitching. Make sure you take a little time to read the blog/website before you pitch, so you understand its goals and its readers, as well as the types of pieces it publishes.

          Look for sites that pay their writers. The Write Life has plenty of resources on how to find these sites. Also, pitch your favorite blogs/sites, especially if you are already an active commenter or community member. It’s all about who you know, after all—and you’ll be more likely to land a pitch if the editor already has some idea of who you are.

          Start small and slowly work your way up the ladder. Read the comments and engage with your commenters; that’ll boost overall engagement, which will make your posts look better to future clients. The secret to blog success isn’t just writing a great post—it’s writing a post that sparks a great conversation.

          As for short stories to magazines: pitch those as well, but be aware that they’ll probably pay less well than other writing markets. Most people who write short stories do so as a “side gig” to their other writing gig.

          Best of luck! Let me know if you have other questions.

  • Nicole, I really look forward to reading these posts. I wanted to ask–and sorry if you already said this and I missed it–are you typically putting in 40 hour weeks, or a lot more than that? Thanks!

  • Marcy McKay says:

    Congrats again, Nicole. This is so EXCITING. I think you’re wise to not game the system. Giving your best for your clients will pay off in the long run, rather than trying to write the shortest piece possible to satisfy your client. Give your all now and life will pay you back later!

  • Charles says:

    Hi Nicole,

    Your report is really inspiring. I love that you say you’re not trying to game the system by writing as few words as possible. Number of words is just a feature. What you say is that you bring them value, the best pieces possible, and this is a benefit.
    I believe this is a key to grow and work for high-paying clients.

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