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What I Learned In My 2nd Year As A Full-Time Writer

My most popular post on this blog was last year’s look back at being a full-time writer in 2014. My goal in writing that post – and this one – is to share my story with others who are just dipping their toes into making a living with their writing. And, of course, others like me who are managing to make it pay the bills, but aren’t at “guru” status just yet. 🙂

At the end of every year, I like to do a client analysis that helps me get a grasp on where I’m spending my time, and what are the most worthwhile projects. The surprising thing I discovered was that the bulk of my good clients are in the B2B software-as-a-service niche. In other words, I write for companies that sell cloud-based software to other companies.

I wouldn’t have been able to tell you what that meant two years ago, and now it’s my biggest niche – such is the way of freelancing!

And now that I know that, it will help me say no to anything that’s not in that industry. In the last few months I’ve already dropped five smaller clients who weren’t in that niche.

How I made a living writing in 2015

(Again, I’m not going to throw out any specific numbers, but I’m going to be as transparent as possible about this journey. Feel free to get in touch if you have any questions for me!)

The exciting thing about looking at my finances at the end of this year was that in this second year, my paycheck* from my freelance business is now more than that of my desk copywriting job!

Plus, have enough saved up in my business saving to cover 3 months worth of my salary and biz expenses. That’s allowed me to invest some extra money (and time) in writing and producing fiction this year.

*To see what I mean about “paycheck,” check out this post on how I work my freelance finances.

What kinds of writing work paid my bills?

Here’s where my income came from in 2015:

  • Website copy (through agencies): 37%
  • Business blogging: 25%
  • Website copy (long-term client): 20%
  • Content marketing projects*: 16%
  • Ghost writing: 5%
  • Misc. business marketing collateral**: 3%
  • Social media management: 3%
  • Product copy: 2%
  • Magazine articles: 1.5%
  • Fiction: 0.5%

* I separated out my ongoing clients for whom I do a variety of content marketing (including blogging) from those for whom I only blog.

** These were all one-off pieces for clients that didn’t turn into ongoing content marketing work, and so I separated it out.

*** I just added that up, and it adds up to 112%. Because I’m that rad.

What this tells me:

  • I’m less reliant on one income stream. Last year, 57% of my income came from a single client. That client’s still around, but their contribution is now only 20% (and I’m doing about the same amount of work for them, so that tells you something!). A major goal of mine last year was to be less reliant on a single client, so I did well there.
  • I made more from Fiction than last year. Last year, Fiction represented only 0.1% of my total income. Now, 0.5% isn’t anything to write home about, but it is an increase! Next year, I’d like to increase that number by a more substantial amount – and I’m poised to do it, with one novel out already, and several more in the pipeline.
  • Blogging actually paid a lot of my bills. Another thing I anticipate changing in 2016 is the Business Blogging category. I separated it out from Content Marketing to differentiate between clients that I do a variety of work for, and those that I only blog for. I actually dropped almost all of my “just blogging” clients at the end of November, and in 2016 I’ll be concentrating on growing that Content Marketing category. Seeing just how big a percentage of my income came from only blogging gives me pause about that decision, but I think in the long run this will be better for business. Onward!
  • Those one-off projects aren’t worth it. For weighing in at only 3% of my total income, those random one-off marketing projects just aren’t worth the time onboarding a brand new client.
  • I’m not a magazine writer. A lot of the content marketing work I do for ongoing clients is similar to magazine writing – I do interviews, work with an editor, provide snazzy quotes and interesting angles – but it also pays better with less hassle. 2016 is probably the time to stop taking low-paying article assignments and focus on business clients.

Where I found my clients*

Outbound (11):

  • I answered a job ad: 5
  • Met at a networking event: 2
  • Already a friend: 1
  • I sent a cold pitch: 2
  • Saw my ad on Ravelry: 1

Inbound (13):

  • Referred by another client: 7 (3 from the same client. Thanks, Melanie!)
  • Saw my writing on another site: 4
  • Found me on LinkedIn: 2

(* These are all people I worked with this year, though not necessarily are all new clients from this year)

Takeaways:

Start building a reputation, and you won’t have to work your tail off marketing.

These numbers don’t show one trend – that most of my outbound marketing efforts took place earlier in the year. I haven’t checked a job board, sent a cold pitch, or gone to a networking event since probably…. Actually, all but one of those clients in the Outbound list are carry-forwards from last year. And the one new client is someone I met at WorldCon, a sci-fi/fantasy convention that only loosely falls in the category of “networking event.”

Keyword the hell out of your LinkedIn page.

My biggest source of inbound prospects has been through LinkedIn, although as of posting this only 2 have become clients. I wrote about what I did to spiff up my profile last year, so you can head there if you’re curious.

Referrals and bylines help.

Referrals were my biggest total source of new clients – which is a good reason to keep your clients happy! I was also pleasantly surprised 4(!) times this year when someone emailed me to say they saw my writing on X Site, and would I pretty please also write for them?

My second biggest source of clients was job boards.

There are some gems out there in all the crud that clogs up the job boards. Don’t waste time going after things you’re not right for, and focus on the good boards.

Overall, this has been a good year.

Although I still stumble into regular periods of overwhelm and anxiety, has managed to find a better balance than I had my first year freelancing. I’ve been able to travel more with my husband, taking overnight trips with him throughout Oregon (he’s a sales rep in the state).

I’ve found more time for writing fiction – and it’s not always after dinner when my brain is already bleary from staring at the computer screen all day.

I sometimes take weekends off, even.

My big takeaway at the end of the year is that stress is a killer. I’ve started to become better at recognizing the warning signs of burnout before it comes – although I don’t think I’m always very good at avoiding it.

I also haven’t been very good at saying no to new projects, which is led to some pretty rough periods of overworking myself. In my first year of freelancing, this seemed inevitable – after all, I needed to make ends meet. But in the second year, when I had enough clients who are paying me well enough that I didn’t have to say yes to every tiny project that came across my plate, I still had a hard time saying no.

Doing this client analysis has been a good way for me to hone in on my priorities:

Say “Yes” to more ongoing opportunities in B2B software, say “No” to one-off projects, magazine writing, and anything that’s not in my niche.

Honing my focus will free up a lot of extra administrative time, which I can use to grow that Fiction category from a measly 0.5% into something a bit more substantial!

How was your 2015?

I’d love to hear how things are going with you, both in business and creatively. Leave me a comment or drop me a line!

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