My career has changed significantly since this time last year — and my tracking systems need to change as well. This month, let’s look at my freelance tracking spreadsheet to see how I’m adjusting it as my career evolves.
First, the numbers for March:
Completed pieces: 74
Work billed: $5,763.08
Earnings received: $6,307.33
I wrote a little over 52,000 words in March, with an average per-piece earning of $77. However, I don’t think “average per-piece earning” is a good metric for tracking my work anymore.
At this point, my earnings are divided into three categories:
- Work performed as a writer and editor at The Billfold, which takes about 40 percent of my freelancing time and includes both longer essays and articles as well as a number of short pieces. In March, 65 of my 74 completed pieces were for The Billfold.
- Longform research and writing projects that take about 40 percent of my freelancing time. My article The Best Online Personal Loans at The Simple Dollar, for example, took more than 30 hours of research plus writing and revisions.
- Shorter pieces (like this one!) for a variety of clients. These take about 10 percent of my freelancing time, with 10 percent of my time left over for admin.
At this point in my career, my work is so disparate that I can’t compare something like The Best Online Personal Loans to a Billfold Monday Check-In post. So I want to phase out the idea of per-piece earnings as a metric of success, and look instead at two larger metrics:
- Did I meet my $5,000 monthly earnings goal?
- Was my workload manageable?
Here’s how I’m thinking about these metrics going forward.
Prorating my assignments to accurately track earnings
As I mentioned in February’s update, I have a number of projects that take longer than a month to complete. What I’ve started doing is prorating these assignments into weekly earnings over the length of the project, so I can keep track of whether I’m on target to meet my $5,000 monthly earnings goal.
For example: Let’s say a project pays $1,500 and the final draft is scheduled five weeks out. Let’s also say the project starts on Monday, April 11 and the final draft is due on Friday, May 13.
Here’s what my freelance tracking spreadsheet typically looks like (with the earnings column redacted):
For the next five weeks, I’d add one more line item to the spreadsheet, labeled “Prorated [Project Name].” I’d then add $300 to the “earned” column to represent the prorated amount I earned that week.
This way, I can accurately track my project earnings over time, even though I won’t be able to bill the entire $1,500 until the project is completed. I can also accurately gauge whether I’m earning $5,000 every month, even if part of those earnings are associated with a project I won’t complete until the following month.
This prorating method also helps me plan my freelancing schedule. If I have a five-week project, I should complete roughly 20 percent of the work during Week One, and so on.
Planning project time into my workload
The spreadsheet example I showed you above is from April of last year, when nearly all of my articles could be started and finished on the same day.
Now that I’m working on longer projects, I need to schedule fewer short pieces and more uninterrupted project time — and I need to add that project time directly into my freelance-tracking spreadsheet.
Here’s a mockup of what this April’s spreadsheet looks like:
In this example, I need to complete two pieces for The Billfold (that’s what P1 and P2 stand for, and I’ll replace those cells with the pieces’ titles when they’re done) and then I need to WORK on a KlientBoost project. I won’t finish that KlientBoost project on April 7, but blocking off the time ensures I won’t schedule anything else for the afternoon.
Planning WORK time also helps me keep my workload manageable. Right now, all of April and half of May are completely booked with The Billfold, large projects, and my recurring monthly articles.
If another client approached me, I could say with confidence that my schedule was full — because I’d already filled in all of the work and I’d confirmed I was earning at least $5,000 a month, prorated over the length of my larger projects.
In March, I also set aside Monday afternoons as “overflow time.” I could use those afternoons to work on a revision that took longer than expected, do administrative work I’d been putting off, or pick up one quick assignment that was too good to turn down. Scheduling overflow time worked out really well, so I’m keeping it up for April.
I should warn you: Despite all of this planning work and the overflow afternoons, I still spend about one day a week working on freelance assignments “after hours.” Sometimes it’s because something is unexpectedly added to my workload, but often it’s because I want to spend more time with an essay or a project.
This means I’m still not blocking enough time off for writing; as my career continues to evolve, I’ll want to schedule even more WORK time so I can give every post and project the attention it needs.
Still, I am for the most part hitting my metrics: I’m earning $5,000 a month, and I’ve got a manageable workload. It feels like freelance success to me.
How often do you re-evaluate your metrics and your tracking systems? Has what defines “success” changed since you started freelancing?