Tracking Freelance Earnings: May Income Report From Nicole Dieker

by | Jun 8, 2015 | Freelancing | 17 comments

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.

How often do you stop and take stock of how far you’ve come as a freelancer, and where you’re headed?

Last month, I focused on taking stock… and now I’m thinking about where I need to go in the future. Having a good handle on how much I’m earning goes a long way toward helping me make those decisions, so let’s have a look at my income for May.

This month, I met my $5,000/month income goal — whoohoo! — but only received $3,300 in client payments. I also found myself with a snowballing workload. In both cases, I’m planning to solve the problem with a renewed focus on regular contributor gigs and reassessment of how many one-off client assignments I should take on.

First, let’s take a look at the data: In May, I wrote 57,000 words and had an average per-piece earning of $67. My highest-paid piece was $300, and my lowest-earning piece was $35.

Completed Pieces: 80

Work Billed: $5,336.25

Earnings Received: $3,383.05

Wow. Although I continued to hit my goal of earning $5,000 a month, only $3,000 got deposited into my bank account. A lot of the work I completed in the past two months won’t get paid until June, and even though I’m expecting a big payday by the end of this month, I still feel a little strapped for cash right now.

I don’t know how your freelance payments usually arrive, but my regular clients tend to pay either on the 15th or the 30th of the month. When I write a one-off piece for a client, it pays around 30 days after the article is published, but there can sometimes be a three-month lag between final draft submission and article publication.

So that means you occasionally get months like this May, where you only get paid for a portion of what you bill. The money will still land in my bank account — I’ve only had one instance in my entire freelance career where a client hasn’t paid for the work, and in that case I was able to sell the piece to someone else — but it might take a few months to arrive.

A new regular contributor gig

On the positive side, I added a new regular contributor gig to my roster in May, for JoCo Cruise. This is the geek-themed music and comedy cruise I wrote about in my February income report when I described how I rearranged my entire workload to go on vacation.

I’ve been on that cruise four times, so when the cruise team invited me to blog for their website, I was thrilled. More than thrilled. There may have been some jumping up and down involved.

Last month one of our commenters asked about how much writing I do “for love” and how much writing I do “for money,” and with this client, I get paid to write about something I love.

These are the best gigs of all, but they’re also sometimes the hardest; when I’m emotionally invested in a subject, I’m more likely to second-guess myself or overthink my work because I’m so determined to find the perfect way of communicating my emotions. It’s much easier to whip off a quick piece about a goat farm essay contest, and I’d like to think that the ideal freelance career would have a balance between these shorter, easier jobs and the more emotionally involved ones.

The client snowball effect

The Matthew Effect applies as much to freelancing as anything else; if you’re a highly visible freelancer, clients contact you to offer gigs, and if you’re not a highly visible freelancer, you have to contact potential clients and ask for work.

This means that the more freelance work I complete, the more clients contact me to offer new jobs. It also means that I’m now at client saturation, and have started referring new clients to other talented freelancers I know.

If you’re at the point where you’re getting more client requests than you can handle, don’t just say no; say “no, but I can recommend another freelancer.” That way, you help spread the wealth, and you never know who might recommend you in return. This is how freelancers get jobs that aren’t publicly visible on job boards. Networking is a huge part of the freelancing business.

Because I’m at capacity, one of my big projects for June is to figure out how to reduce my workload. I have a lot of contributor gigs and plenty of one-off assignments for new clients, and my workday just gets longer and longer. In March, reducing my workload wasn’t a priority. This month, it is my top priority.

How am I going to cut back? Well, I’m not going to cut any of my regular contributor gigs, since those are both the most rewarding and also provide the closest thing I get to guaranteed recurring income. Instead, I’m going to be a lot pickier about my one-off assignments.

These assignments tend to take up an excessive amount of my workload, often because each one-off piece comes with a brand new editorial team and a new set of expectations to learn. (Don’t underestimate the value of working with the same editor for over a year. Things go so much faster that way.)

One-off assignments also, as I noted above, tend to have a several-month lag time between final draft and payment.

So for June, I have to tell myself: no one-off assignments for new clients unless it’s a dream job.

How will I know if it’s a dream job? If the idea of taking on this assignment makes me jump up and down, I’m in. If not, I’ll refer the client to another talented freelancer.

What would you consider a freelancing dream job? Also, do you feel like there’s a difference between the writing you do “for love” and the writing you do “for money?”

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