By Nicole Dieker
What’s the last thing you do before you end your freelance writing work week?
If you’re like most of us, you’re probably eager to get up from your laptop and do something else — anything else! — for a change.
Instead, it’s worthwhile to do a tiny bit of math before you go.
So stay where you are and tally up two numbers:
Money earned this week
Pieces written this week
For money earned, calculate everything you were able to bill this week. Don’t worry about whether the client has paid you yet — that’s not important for this calculation. If you completed a $50 blog post, add $50 to your tally even if you won’t get paid until next month.
Adding up pieces written is pretty straightforward. Count each individual assignment as a “piece,” whether it’s a 1,500-word long-form essay or a 200-word content mill article.
Got it? Now we’re going to use those two numbers to grow your writing income.
Track the trends
My goal as a freelance writer is to do two things, every week:
- Bring the amount of money I earn UP
- Bring the number of pieces I write DOWN
It should be pretty obvious why I want to increase my income. But why do I want to decrease the number of pieces I write?
Not because I want to do less work, but because I want to do better work.
When I write fewer, better-paying pieces, I get to spend more time on those pieces. I’m also more likely to be working with clients and editors who value my worth.
About a year ago, I was earning $500–$750 a week for anywhere between 25 and 50 individual pieces. I was literally writing 5,000 words per day.
This April, I was able to bill nearly $1,000 for 19 pieces, or about 3,000 words per day. Every week my income fluctuates slightly (my most recent billing as of this writing was $877), but I have been able to show a significant upward trend.
Use the stats to grow your income
Once you start tracking income versus pieces, you’ll notice a few things.
First, you’ll notice just how hard you work for those dang content mills, and how much easier it is when you have higher-value clients.
Second, you’ll be able to pick out which clients are the true keepers, and which ones you want to use as stepping-stones for better opportunities.
These numbers will also give you the most important metric re: growing your writing income: they’ll tell you when it’s time to hustle.
Here’s the secret: the time to hustle for clients isn’t the week when you’re writing 50 content mill pieces for $500. By then, you’re in crisis mode, and you just need to get the job done.
The time to hustle for bigger and better clients is when you’re earning $1,000 for 19 pieces.
Or, if you prefer, the very first week your income starts to drop from its highest point. If you try to bring in one new client or job every time your income dips — even just a little — you’ll set yourself up for continued, sustainable income growth.
How do I hustle for new work? I check the writing job boards for good-paying gigs. I send out pitches to online publications with which I have established relationships. I send out cold pitches to new publications that I know pay well. I also remind my social media followers and my network about my Hire Me page — you’d be surprised at how well that tactic works!
By the end of summer, I hope to only be writing 12-15 pieces per week while billing around $1,000. We’ll see if I can use my own advice to make it happen.
What numbers help you grow your freelance writing income? Tell us in the comments below.
Nicole Dieker is a freelance copywriter and essayist. She writes regularly for The Billfold on the intersection of freelance writing and personal finance. You can hire her, follow her weekly income tracking, or read her published essays at her Tumblr.