Tracking Freelance Earnings: July Income Report From Nicole Dieker

Tracking Freelance Earnings: July Income Report From Nicole Dieker

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?


Filed Under: Blogging, Freelancing


  • Roir Canr says:

    YES YES YES! I’m so glad you’re taking on this personal project. I go crazy if I don’t have something “big” I’m working on on the side. I love the idea too – can’t wait to read it!

  • Amazing Stuff!
    Hey Nicole,
    With an income report its terrific, and I don’t know about this kinds of features in Writing. An innovative and interesting works to store of data and how much earning in month, it’s more appreciable.
    Thanks for sharing and excellent worked and enjoyed to reading this article.

  • Oh my gosh, Nicole, this article is amazing. You have no idea how badly I needed to find this today. I’m a “new” full-time freelancer and I have not tracked my income, my time or any metric consistently yet; mostly because I’m so busy! But that totally goes against the reason I jumped into this line of work in the first place.

    Not that I didn’t expect to work hard (or even long hours), but I did want to at least control when those hours were 🙂

    This is so helpful. I followed you here from your freelancer article on Contently today. So glad I did! Hope the month totals keep growing.

  • Great article. It’s so interesting to hear what assignments other freelance writers are taking on and what they are making per month. Love that you added what actually getting out of the house and networking has done for your career as well.

  • Erleen Ross says:

    Different ways to earn more in given article, it’s tremendous. Thanks for sharing and nice explanation.

  • Gina Horkey says:

    Love your income reports and candidness. You’ve got a great mindset for balance between now and later, as well as current assignments vs. possible connections. I’m dealing with a lot of the same decisions at the moment and enjoy hearing someone else’s take on it all. Keep rocking girl!

  • Hey Nicole,
    One of the impressive and quality content, the reason of the tracking Freelance earnings is the easiest way to get an idea. Thanks for sharing a great article and nice explanation that which track suitable for us.Thumb’s up.

  • I love these reports and I find them especially helpful now that your tips apply to me too. I just quit my FT job to freelance full-time and I’m definitely in the transition period right now and trying to figure out my schedule.

  • Hi Nicole, I enjoy your monthly reports and one thing I’m intrigued about is your spreadsheet and how you keep track of how much you write. I have a spreadsheet that lists each client and how much they owe (and when they pay) and then I have Word docs for the invoices I send out to them all separately. I have no idea of how much I write each month (or how much I work but I’m sure it’s nearly 40 hours a week). My goal is to better track all of that so any advice you have I would appreciate. Right now, off the top of my head I can list 20 stories (I mainly write for publications and a few websites) that I have due by the end of the month. I know it’s good to be busy, but I would like a better way of tracking what the end result is (besides how much I’m bringing in). I also have a few clients I do social media postings for…how do you track that writing? I’m just paid a flat fee each month to keep their pages going.

    • Nicole says:

      I keep evolving my spreadsheet to make it better. I liked time tracking through Toggl; you just click a button to start or stop the timer, although the hard part is remembering to click that button!

      Honestly, maybe the easiest way to time track your work is to get into a routine. Do you work every Wednesday evening, for example? Or do you try to work from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. every day? Or do you work for two hours in the morning after dropping the kids off at school?

      Once you get a routine that works for you, it’s easier to look back and say “okay, I usually work 10 hours or 50 hours or whatever, and I’d like to be working MORE or LESS than that.”

  • YES YES YES! I’m so glad you’re taking on this personal project. I go crazy if I don’t have something “big” I’m working on on the side. I love the idea too – can’t wait to read it!

  • kiwi says:

    You’re doing great!

  • Adam Colwell says:

    This is my first time receiving your column – and thank you for your openness and insights. Five steady years after launching my writing business, I started work this year with a business coach on trade for editing his book. He’s training me on how to best identify and target my market segments that’ll potentially earn the most money for the least amount of time and expense, and it’s a positive work in progress. You mention one huge result that’ll come from this work – and that’s being better prepared for down months. One tip I’ve learned over the past five years is that if I set aside even as little as $50 to $100 a month in an “overflow” fund, it can accumulate and be a welcome friend when factors such as travel eat away at earnings. A little saving can certainly produce peace of mind later, and serenity is a gift all of us can use.

  • Love your income reports; they’re always very motivational! Your Patreon book idea is cool, going to check that out! All the best and safe travels!

  • Hello Nicole,
    This is really an impressive report and I’m happy for your July income. It’s not always easy but I’m sure you’ll only be going forward.

    I also enjoy waking up early in the morning to work, I’ve discovered that I’m usually more productive at that time.

    I’ve been challenging myself to be writing at least, 500 words/day but it’s not easy at all and I’ve not been able to be keeping up with it but after reading your July report now, I’ll be committing more time to doing it. I understand that writing is a gradual process of which the more you write, the more good you become at it.

    Wishing you more amazing reports Nicole, thanks for sharing.


    • Nicole says:

      This is very true. And it keeps going—I look back at what I wrote even a few months ago and I’m surprised at how much I’ve improved since then.

  • Daryl says:

    Hey Nicole!

    Loving this income report. Yes unfortunately freelancing income doesn’t go up every month but hey – is there anything that does? It’s important to realise this fact, how easily and quickly a great month (or week) can turn to a bad one, and to plan for those unexpected occurrences so that when the bad times come you’re fully prepared.

    I think once you’re willing to put in the work and effort, you will be successful!

    To answer your question, my long term goals are:

    1. Successfully transition to full time freelance writer (this is more of a medium term goal)
    2. Write my own fiction novel

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