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!

How to Set Goals You’ll Actually Keep

(Note: I originally wrote this post last year for GovLoop, but as the year’s end has rolled back around I think it’s still relevant. I’ve adapted it for this blog.)

The new year is a traditional blank slate for most people, but despite our best intentions most of us don’t keep our New Year’s Resolutions much longer than January.

The problem with the usual way of making resolutions is that they’re not often made in the context of our lives. I’m as guilty of that as anyone, so I want to propose a new way: rather than simply picking a goal (“lose weight,” “volunteer more,” “get promoted”), take time to really evaluate your dreams and ambitions, and set goals that are truly in line with your life.

Want to join me?

A note about last year’s goals.

In my post about looking back on 2015, I talked about considering the goals that you didn’t hit. Writing New Year’s Resolutions can seem like a deja vu if every year you put the same goals on it that you failed to hit the year before. Rather, set your goals for 2015 to build on your accomplishments from last year – and give yourself permission to let go of any goals that no longer fit your plans.

OK. Here’s my 3-step plan for setting goals:

Set a theme for 2016

This sounds super cheesy, but I swear it works. How will you evaluate success in 2015? By your career growth? By your side projects? By how much time you’ve spent with your family?

  • For me, 2014 was all about getting work done at all costs. My husband and I had moved to a new city without many friends to distract us, and were both in new work situations. We’ve worked some crazy hours, we’ve worn ourselves out, and we’ve both built tremendous momentum in our jobs. It’s been an exhausting ride, but it’s been worth it.
  • The year 2015 was about harnessing that momentum and taking back time for myself. My theme for 2015 was “Balance and Health,” and I although I haven’t been perfect, I’ve definitely achieved a better sense of balance in my life. I’ve made huge strides in tailoring my freelance client list so that I’m doing the work I want to do, not saying yes to everything that comes across my plate. I’ve been exercising regularly, and making conscious decisions to practice self care, rather than running myself into the ground. (Most of the time.)
  • For 2016, I’m going to stick with the “Balance and Health” goal, since I know I still have lots of work to do in that area. As I ramp up my fiction business, I know I can too easily get carried back into the overtime-stressed-burnout mode of 2014 – so I want to make sure that I’m making each decision with this theme in mind.

This theme is your rubric for making decisions.

When you’re making your goals or deciding what kinds of obligations to take on next year, weigh it against your theme.

One great tool to help you out is a Will-do/Won’t-do List. As you plan for 2016, make yourself a list of possible projects or opportunities you will and won’t do, so that when new opportunities come across your plate you can make a quick decision and move on without regret.

Plan big, but act small

OK, we all know what SMART goals are, right? They’re: Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Realistic, and Time-related. But when most of us write our resolutions, we aim big and vague, writing down things like “I want to get in better shape,” or “I want to spend more time with my family.”

Dream big, but make sure your goals for 2015 are SMART. For example: “I will lose 10 pounds by March by cutting out sugar,” rather than “I want to lose weight.”

Once you’ve got your big goals in place, think about the small daily actions you’ll take to get there. If you want to cut out sugar, like in the above example, maybe start by making a little change. Only allow yourself candy between the hours of 12 and 6, perhaps, or switch to only putting one spoonful of sugar in your morning coffee rather than two. If your goal is to write a novel, set a daily habit of writing 200 words on the bus ride home, or on your lunch break.

If you focus on forming small daily habits, you’ll have a much better chance at achieving your goal than if you try to accomplish it in one fell swoop.

Start preparation

You’ve got until 2016 to turn over a new leaf, right? But what you can do for the next few weeks is to start dreaming so that you’re ready to hit the ground running on January 1st.

Ask for running shoes for the holidays. Start googling alternate careers. Check out a book on gardening from the library. Start a Pinterest board for healthy recipes. Research MBA programs.

You don’t have to make any changes right now, just use the next six to let your imagination run with it. This is a fertile time to let your mind wander, and will help make sure you’re not just throwing goals on your list because think you should.

Is your imagination sparked? What will your theme for 2016 be?

Get In the Habit of Yearly Reflection

(Note: I originally wrote this post last year for GovLoop, but as the year’s end has rolled back around I think it’s still relevant. I’ve adapted it for this blog.)

Brigid Schulte, author of Overwhelmed: Work, Love, And Play When No One Has The Time uses the word “time confetti” to describe the harried mishmash of time in modern life. Our days are sliced to ribbons by hordes of overlapping responsibilities, our constant connectivity to work allows it to seep into our personal lives, and the demands of our families seep into our work days. And any free time we manage to find? It gets contaminated by planning or worrying about what will come next, or what we’re forgetting to do.

Sound familiar? It certainly does to me.

The ability to plan and reflect on our lives has become increasingly difficult, which is why so many of us complain of being constantly overwhelmed, and rushing headlong through life.

The year’s end is a traditional time for reflection, but although most of us probably make the obligatory list of resolutions, most of us don’t take the time to truly, deeply reflect.

Part of the reason is that it’s hard to find the time. Between year-end work sprints, holiday parties, family visits, and the usual chaos of everyday life, it’s tough to carve out as much time as a true period of reflection takes.

But here’s the problem: If you’re never taking time to reflect on how your previous year went, how can you expect next year to go any differently?

  • You promised yourself that 2015 would be year you wrote that novel, but it never got written. Why will 2016 be any different?
  • You swore you’d quit your dead-end job and start making a living at your passion project in 2015 – but you’re still punching the clock and hating it. Why should 2016 be a better year?
  • You promised yourself you’d start taking care of your health, but you’re still in as rough shape as you were this time last year. What’s to change next year?

Part of making your dreams and aspirations actually take shape is to understand what factors are standing in your way.

  • If you want to be happier, it helps to understand what has been making you unhappy.
  • If you want to have more time, it helps to understand where you’re spending the time you have.
  • If you want to have better relationships, it helps to understand what relationship habits you’ve been in.

If you want to have a healthy, happy, amazing 2016, it helps to understand just what happened in 2015.

To do it, I want you to schedule an entire afternoon to yourself in the next few weeks – no distractions, no obligations, no excuses. You can take more time than an afternoon, if you want. I have a friend who takes a weekend vacation by herself every year on her birthday in order to reflect on her life and examine her goals.

In the time leading up to your Afternoon of Reflection, grab a fresh notebook or Word document (notebook is better, because no internet), and start jotting down notes as they come to you. Then, when you actually sit down to reflect you’ll have a head start and can dive in deeper.

In a season of celebration and giving, make this the gift you give to yourself.

Here are some topics to get you started.

Celebrate yourself

Think back through your year. What goals did you achieve? What personal or professional milestones did you pass? Maybe you were too busy to celebrate at the time, or maybe it didn’t seem to be that big of a deal. But this is your time to remember those achievements. Take the time to list your accomplishments, and to do something fun to celebrate them. I can think of several for myself this year that I’ve completely rushed past without acknowledging!

Your first assignment – leave a comment with a goal you achieved this year, AND how you plan to celebrate it.

Celebrate others

You’re not the only one rushing through life without celebrating your accomplishments. Think about your friends, family, and coworkers. Did any of them meet a goal or do something huge that they haven’t gotten recognition for? Take a moment to help them celebrate it, or to spread the word (such as writing a note praising their accomplishment to a supervisor, if appropriate). Who made your year a little brighter? Who helped you out? Celebrate these people’s positive influence in your life with a heartfelt “thank you.”

Start a list, but don’t let yourself get caught up in the enormity of it. Just send an email today, take someone out to coffee tomorrow, and work your way slowly through your list.

Consider your time

How did you spend your time last year? Probably a mix of at work, at home, and on other duties. Think back through your biggest time commitments, and evaluate what you liked or disliked about each. What did you love doing the most in 2015? When where you happiest? What times were the most stressful, frustrating, or dark? What can you do to shift that balance for next year? What could you have done differently this year?

Get specific – don’t just say “I liked spending time with my partner,” rather, list out your favorite moments and remember how they made you feel. Remember to list out the hard moments, too, and try to understand what you learned from them.

Consider your regrets

This is a tough question, but it’s not meant to get you into a funk. Think about the frustrations of last year. What opportunities (both professional and personal) did you pass up? What do you wish you’d spent more time doing? Less time doing? What words do you wish you could take back? What words do you wish you’d said? What fears or procrastinations held you back?

Take time to learn the lesson in your regrets. Some things may have been out of your control, but others may hold important lessons to help you live better in the future.

Consider the goals you missed

Was 2015 definitely going to be the year you changed careers, wrote that screenplay, started a business, or ran a marathon? Did you not, in fact, do that?

Rather than simply saying, “Well, then 2016 is the year I’ll finally do X,” take a moment to really examine why you didn’t accomplish the goal this year. Did life get in the way? Did you forget about it? Did you go in a different direction? Is it a goal you feel obligated to do, but don’t actually want to do?

Don’t simply transfer goals from one year’s to do list to the next without truly thinking about it. Then, decide either to let it go and be at peace, or to double down in 2016 and actually accomplish it.

Make a list of what you want to leave behind

Along with goals that aren’t aligned with you anymore, make a list of hurtful emotions, unhealthy relationships, bad habits, and anything else that you’d like to leave behind in 2016.

All these lists and considerations will help you hone in on your goals for 2016, and form the basis for a great year. I’ll talk about how to turn them into action steps and goals in my next post.

Dealing with overwhelm

I’ve been thinking a lot about how to deal with overwhelm.

Some days, I can feel myself skirting up against the cliff that is total burnout, only to shift myself back on course at the last minute with a weekend off with friends, or taking a long bike ride in the middle of the afternoon.

As my freelance business picks up, I’ve also come up against some pretty pressing deadlines in my fiction biz – which means that my usual strategy of dropping the fiction to accommodate client projects won’t work.

A very regimented productivity and scheduling system allows me to make it all work pretty seamlessly, and, guys, I’m now taking weekends off from client work – an amazing novelty after my first 18 months as a freelance writer!

But overwhelm is still a constant companion, always hanging out in the wings and ready to pounce.

Since it’s been on my mind, I’ve been writing about it a lot recently on GovLoop.

I don’t feel like I have a complete solution just yet, but I do feel like I’m circling closer to one.

How I deal with overwhelm

Step 1. Write down EVERYTHING I need to deal with – from ‘hem the curtains’ to your most pressing deadline. Just get it out of my head. This in the absolute first step – otherwise I get so stressed out by the sheer load of things that I won’t be able to concentrate and accomplish what I need to.

Step 2. Take my most pressing deadlines and prioritize them – by work load, by due date, whatever.

Step 3. Figure out which ones are negotiable. Are any of these projects less pressing than others? If I need to push things back, I talk to those clients and see if I can create a more realistic deadline for myself. This is a last resort for me, since I hate hate HATE missing deadlines, but if I know a client won’t have time to look at it for a few days anyway I’ll sometimes ask for an extension. I’ve found most people are pretty understanding.

Step 4. Understand which items are urgent-must-be-done-today (like write a blog post for a client, or respond to an email), and which are important to my life’s work, but could be put off until tomorrow (like write 1000 words).

Step 5. Schedule those important things to happen first, because I know I’ll always find time for the urgent things. But I won’t always make time for the important ones if I don’t do it first thing. (If I’m on the edge of overwhelm, however, I’ll scrap Step 5 in favor of Step 6.)

Step 6 (optional). Figure out which things are causing the most amount of stress and anxiety. Do them first, even if they’re completely not related to your real priorities. For me, they’re often things like “clean the kitchen” or “pay these bills” or “rearrange the office and figure out what smells like rotting bananas.”

I set a timer for 30 minutes and sprint through as many of these items as I can, and when the timer goes off, I take a deep breath and try to assess if I’m still as stressed out by life, the universe, and everything. If doing the dishes has made me feel better, I go back to Step 5 and try to tackle actual work that needs to be done.


How do you deal with being overwhelmed? I know I’m not alone as a writer who’s day job is also writing. How do you figure out what needs to get done first, and how do you make sure your most important work actually happens?

Advice for new freelance writers

I am so behind the times on this,

but Carol Tice of Make a Living Writing and the Freelance Writer’s Den has a new ebook out:

Start Here: 40 Freelance Writers Share How They Find Clients, Stay Motivated and Earn Well Today

It’s a collection of blog posts from Make a Living Writing, all by new freelancers and the lessons they’ve learned while getting started – including an essay by me!

My post, How One Freelance Writer Broke Into Her Dream Niches is all about my strategy to break into new niches by strategically leveraging the experience I already have.

There’s a lot of information out there from old hat freelancers who’ve been doing this forever – and while I think that’s helpful, it’s way more inspiring to me to read about how people at my level are making things work.

You can read my full post at the link above – and if you’d like more of the same advice, I highly recommend you buy the ebook. It’s only $3.99, and you can get it by scrolling down.


Start Here: 40 Freelance Writers Share How They Find Clients, Stay Motivated and Earn Well Today

40_freelancewriters_ebook_cover_200x300

Start Here: 40 Freelance Writers Share brings together the best success stories featured on the Make a Living Writing blog over the past three years – including one by yours truly!

This e-book brings you more than 150 pages of advice from over 40 freelance writers, most of whom are new to the field. It’s a compendium of practical tips on how to find those first gigs, move up to great-paying clients, negotiate a better deal, use social media to find clients, and much more.

P.S. When you purchase Start Here: 40 Freelance Writers Share, I’ll send you a bundle of all three popular e-book formats with your purchase — PDF, Mobi and ePub. Read, use, and enjoy on the device of your choice.

Just $3.99!

Add to Cart


The Zen of a Writer’s Finances: Cheating the Feast or Famine Cycle

Am I kidding? “Writer’s finances” and “zen” in the same sentence?

For most writers I know, talking about the financials of how we make a living is completely antithetical to feeling calm and zen-like. There’s the stress of finding paying gigs. Of selling stories. Of late checks. Of deadbeat clients.

Things are messy and complicated, and far too close to the edge of total ruin than most of us would like to admit.

Maybe you’ve already seen this Salon article about writers who are sponsored by their well-off partners. If not, give it a read. It’s thoughtful – and thought-provoking.

I’m not pointing you there to start a bitchfest about how we can’t all have rich partners or parents to support our writing habits (although in my case having a second income has made my transition to freelancing loads easier than it would have been otherwise). Rather, I think the author, Ann Bauer, has a good point.

Writers don’t talk often enough about the money side of our art.

We get jealous of the 6-figure incomes of freelancers who now make most of their salary selling informational products. We assume Nebula and Hugo winners must be living the high life of leisurely writing days broken only by trips to the bank to deposit royalty checks. We think if only we can break into the Huffington Post we’ll be rich (they don’t pay, people!).

But here’s the thing.

I LOVE talking about money.

I’m that person in our relationship who likes to budget down to the cent and figure out income and expense. I run numbers constantly. I really like sitting down with my husband to talk about our budget. I read blogs about interest rates. I was ecstatic when our bank (BECU) came out with a new money management tool that ran automatic reports! And had color-coded budgets!

My husband used to think I obsessed about our finances in order to stress myself out, but it’s really not that. I do it because it’s a comfort to know exactly what’s going on.

Today I’m sharing my obsession with my writing business finances with you, in the hopes that it’ll help someone else who’s just getting started see how I do things. I’m constantly tinkering, so if you have any advice to share, please please please leave it in the comments!

C’mon, writers! Let’s talk about money!

Part 1: Setting Up Your Finances

I’m not going to lie – it’s a feast or famine out there. I’ve had horrible lean stretches that would have had me on the street if I didn’t have the luxury of a husband with a (mostly) steady paycheck, or a squirreled-away savings account for the low times.

But even though that feast or famine cycle is never going to change, I’ve tried to set myself up to weather it as best as I can.

1. Budget, budget, budget

If you’re going to live on a variable income, you absolutely need to know your budget. I’m not talking about using an envelope system or anything like that – though you certainly can if you want to. I’m talking about being honest about where you’re spending your money every month.

Because I track our spending, I know exactly which payments we can stop, luxuries we can scrimp on, and items we can sell off (*ahembikes*) if we need extra help on the rent this month.

Part of budgeting is figuring out where you can cut back to take the stress off. It’s knowing what you have to pay, and what you’re paying out of preference. It’s knowing that eating beans and rice instead of going out a few nights a week means $400 less a month that you have to drum up in client work.

2. Pay yourself a set salary

The best thing I ever did for my finances was to set up a business checking account. I deposit every writing-related check into that account, I transfer 35% of the amount into a separate savings account for taxes, and then I pay myself a set salary on the 1st and 15th every month.

This does two things:

First, it lets you budget your personal life, knowing that you’ll be receiving a set paycheck twice a month. Especially once you’ve built up a buffer, setting up your finances this way smooths out your income. Now, even though your client may be late on their check, you’re not late on your rent.

Second, it puts any surplus out of reach. If you had a great month, let your business treat yourself to a nice dinner or buy you a bonus bottle of Deschutes anniversary ale – after all, you’re your own boss, and you should treat yourself when you’ve done a good job. But don’t be tempted to spend that extra cash, because when next month is slim pickings you’ll have nothing to draw on for your salary.

My business account is as sacred as a company credit card. Would you buy groceries or go to a movie on your company’s dime? No way in hell. Set up an automatic transfer for your salary, then treat your business account like it’s your boss’s money. Because it is.

3. Build up recurring work

The best peace of mind you can have is a recurring base of income. Whether that’s a job waiting tables, a steady blogging client or two, or regular income from published books, this is crucial to smoothing out the feast or famine cycle.

Right now I have a pretty standard base I can rely on every month, thanks to several clients who give me regular work. Without them, each month would be a nail-biter of a blank slate. With them, I know at least I’ve got groceries covered if everything else is crickets.

What I’m working on at this point is building up a regular passive income, as well. I get regular beer money from my bike crafting ebook, and I plan to publish several novels this year that I can hopefully start to build on. I have no illusions that I’ll make it rich yet, but each drop of water helps, right?

Part 2: Getting Clients To Pay You

Cool. You’ve got things figured out on your end, right? Now how do you get clients to pay?

That can be tough. As I write this, I’ve invoiced more for January than I have for each of the last 6 months – but I still can’t pay my own salary for February 1st because 90% of those invoices are still outstanding. Ideally, I’d have a buffer built up so that it wouldn’t matter, but I just don’t at this point. (No judging, right?)

So how do you get your hard-earned money?

None of the invoices I mentioned above are overdue – just some clients take a while to get the paychecks cut. Weeks and weeks and weeks. All you can do is sit and wait.

But once they become overdue? The instant I see in Freshbooks that they’re past the 30-day terms (which is written on my invoice, as well as in my contract), I email my contact to gently remind them that I haven’t seen the cash.

I recently heard someone say he puts clause in his contract that the copyright doesn’t transfer to the client until he gets paid in full. I haven’t tried this yet, but it’s totally brilliant, and I’ll definitely be adding that in for the future.

Getting paid:

1. If they’re regular clients, and you regularly get paid…

Just ask what happened this time.

Most of my client contacts aren’t in charge of payroll, so making sure I get paid is pretty far down on their list of priorities. They probably forwarded my invoice on and accounts payable missed it. Or they forgot to forward it on, because they were too excited about the new blog post series I turned in.

Whatever the reason, once I’ve brought it to their attention that I haven’t been paid yet, they’re generally a) mortified, and b) quick to take care of it.

If you’re having issues with a regular but otherwise awesome client, ask your contact for the accounts payable person. That way you can contact them directly about payment holdups, and keep your relationship with your primary contact free from money troubles.

2. If they’re new clients…

Assume the best and shoot them a followup email. Ideally with new clients I try to get a deposit up front, but unless they seem like total skeezeballs during our initial interactions, I generally assume my clients are good-yet-absentminded people. I’ve yet to be proven wrong. (Knock on wood.)

As a general rule, you should get half up front with new clients. If they balk at that, you should probably balk at putting in an entire project’s worth of work for free. They don’t trust you? Don’t trust them.

3. If you’re having problems with payment every time…

Get out of that relationship!

Please don’t work for people who don’t have their financial shit together. If they seem sketchy and are holding up paying you, fire them and find another client. If you have to hunt down your payment every single time, drop ’em like a rattlesnake before you get bit in the ass.

I used to have a friend who waited tables at a restaurant, and would literally run to the bank each payday to deposit the check, because if he was one of the last on the payroll to do so, his paycheck would most likely bounce. Isn’t that insane?

You can guarantee that if this restaurant didn’t have enough cash on hand to make payroll – EVER – they didn’t have other basic shit together.

Don’t work for people like that.

Whew. That was way longer than I thought it would be. If you’re still reading, I’d love to hear from you. How do you deal with the financial uncertainty of making a living as a writer?

Adopting a Business Mindset About Your Writing

[Note: I lost all the comments on this post in a website transfer. Sorry, guys!]

I’ve always been a goal-oriented person.

I like to list them on paper and plan out the steps I need to take to reach them. I like to create numbers and metrics for myself. I love weekly check-ins, where I can hold myself accountable for the things I’m doing – in fact, I like it so much that I’m a part of two separate business accountability groups that meet weekly to talk about our goals (virtually).

Let me just say that I know this is kind of weird, in that way of people who geek out on spreadsheets, or use color-coded markers to write their to do lists.

I’ve always been a writer of goals, but it’s only recently that I’ve tried to also be a speaker of goals. You know, to tell other people what I plan to do, so that they can ask me how I’m doing, and hold me accountable along the way.

It’s actually quite scary, but you know what? It’s incredibly motivating.

So if you’ll indulge me this post, I’d like to make you, the people of the internet, my accountability buddies. Feel free to hit me up on Twitter if you get a wild hare, or shoot me an email to ask how things are going along the way. I’ve got a lot planned for this year, and although much of it is related to my freelance business, I’ve got some awesome fiction projects coming your way, too.

My 2015 goals

Focus my niche for freelancing

My scattershot marketing approach of 2014 netted me clients in a wide array of fields, and this is the year to build on them. It turns out the majority of my clients are B2B, so while I don’t quite feel like I’m in a place to specialize by industry, I do intend to specialize by type.

As I research projects for each current client, I keep a notebook where I list any other company in their niche that looks interesting. So while my inbound inquiries continue to be all over the board, my outbound prospecting for 2015 will build a lot on my current clients’ industries:

  • EdTech
  • Restaurant/retail
  • Hospitality
  • Apparel

To reflect that, I grouped my experience by industry on my B2B copywriting website.

Raise my rates

I started low-but-livable as a freelance copywriter, and as I’m gaining more experience I think it’s reasonable to expect to double my freelance rates by the end of the year. How? Through a combination of raising rates with current clients, screening new clients who can afford higher rates, and increasing how quickly I write.

Besides the fact that it’ll be nice to have some extra cash, my main reason for wanting to raise rates is to free up time spent on low-paying work so I can use that time to accomplish my next big goal of 2015:

Build passive income streams

I still sell a few copies of my e-book Crafting with Inner Tubes, a Bicitoro craft guide, every month – despite the fact that it’s ill-advertised, and I hardly ever blog at Bicitoro.com these days. I plan to publish another craft guide in the next few months, teaching people to create custom wool jerseys like I used to sell on Etsy.

My additional passive income stream will come from fiction, which leads to my next goal:

Publish three novels

After publishing zero novels in the first 31 years of my life, I plan to publish three in this, my 32nd year. When I first started writing, novels were intensely laborious creatures which required years of incubation, a messily meandering writing process, and dozens of rewrites-from-scratch. If you’d told me five years ago that I’d feel confident of publishing – let alone writing – three novels in a year, I’d have said you were crazy.

But yet, here I am.

Two novels are already in the pipeline to be published:

I plan to self-publish the last novel, which I’ll be ready to talk about more this summer. It’s a story that I’ve been mulling around for years, and the characters are starting to chomp at the bit for their turn on the stage.

Because I never know when to quit, I’m also setting myself a tentative goal to self-publish a few novellas set in the Bike Caper universe, since I’m having a lot of fun creating character backstory. Client work and these novels are priority, though, so we’ll see what I end up having room for.

How I’ll accomplish my goals

Goals are great, but they mean nothing without a plan to accomplish them.

I’ve written several posts for GovLoop’s blog lately on the topic, so I won’t rehash the General Theories of Goal Keeping in this post – but here they are if you want to check them out:

What I want to talk about here is how I’ll specifically take these four 2015 goals and break them down into bite-sized habits that will let me achieve them. (If you want to learn more about creating good goal-supporting habits, listen to Podcast #21 of the International Freelancers Academy, with Ed Gandia and James Clear.)

Focus my freelancing niche: Like I said, I’ve already developed the habit of jotting down similar prospects when I’m doing research for one of my current clients. That’s resulted in several hundred intriguing prospects, and it’s definitely a habit I intend to continue. I also need to get in the habit of actually prospecting them, however. I generally shift modes around lunch time, from highly-focused to puttering. My plan is to take advantage of that puttering to send a letter of introduction to just one of the prospects on that list – which means I need to set aside about an hour each week to sit down and qualify a list.

Raise my rates: I tend to be timid about asking for what I want, thinking that I’d rather just go without than inconvenience someone else. This isn’t just a problem in business – it’s created frustrations in my friendships, family, and marriage at times, too. So in 2015, I’d like to build the habit of asking for what I need on a daily basis. Getting used to asking for small things – like a back rub, someone to turn their music down, or for help finding something in the grocery store – will make it easier to ask for what I need when I’m negotiating with a client.

Build passive income, and publish three novels: I’m lumping these, since they’re essentially the same goal. I’ve been developing the habit of waking up and writing 300 words first thing before I do my daily exercise and then get into my client work. That’s been pretty successful so far, but if I’m planning to publish three novels and two novellas this year, I’ll need to add in some longer bursts of writing. If I write 300 words/day for 365 days, that’s 109,500 first-draft words – but I’m hoping to hit a count of about 250,000 published words this year. I do plan to set aside larger blocks of time throughout the week for pure fiction writing, but I also plan to increase my daily morning word count to 500.

Resources

I hope you found this post inspiring, and that you’ll check in at some point this year to keep me accountable. If you’re feeling inspired to become more business-minded about your creative projects, here are some resources you should check out:

Inspired? What are your creative goals for 2015? Leave them in the comments, and we’ll help keep you accountable, too.

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

[Note: I lost all the wonderful comments on this post in a website transfer. Sorry, guys!]

I was inspired to do this post by Joanna Penn of The Creative Penn, who always does a year-end post on her business goals and accomplishments. Mostly this post is meant to create accountability and a place for reflection for me, but I also offer it publicly in the spirit of helping other writers out.

There’s so much writing advice out there, and so much of it is fantastic – but it doesn’t all apply to writers who are just getting out the starting gate. Or it doesn’t all apply to people who want to combine a career in freelance copywriting and fiction. I thought it would be helpful for other beginning freelance writers and novelists to see what my experience has been like.

I’m not going to throw out any specific numbers, but I do want to be as transparent as possible. Feel free to shoot me an email or leave a comment if you have any questions.

How I made a living as a full-time writer

OK, so I’ll be the first to admit that this first year of freelancing wasn’t exactly a living. I haven’t entirely crunched the numbers yet, but I believe that – after taxes – I made approximately half what I did working at a desk copywriting job.

This would be disappointing to me if a) it wasn’t expected, and b) I wasn’t about to launch into 2015 with WAY more momentum than I had at the beginning of last year.

Two related things at the beginning of 2014 launched me into full-time freelancing before I felt financially ready to take the plunge: we moved to Portland from Seattle, and so I quit my safety-cushion waitress job. Without a side job I had no way to pick up the slack in my burgeoning freelance business, shifting more of our financial burden onto my husband’s job.

The plus side? This year I’ve had endless amounts of time to work on my business – and a burning drive not to be a “kept woman” really honed my focus.

What kinds of writing work paid my bills?

Here’s where my income came from in 2014 (rough numbers, since I still don’t have everything for December):

  • Ongoing web copy for Main Client: 57%
  • Business blogging: 20%
  • Product copywriting: 15%
  • Business marketing: 4%
  • Misc. projects: 3%
  • Magazine articles: 1.5%
  • Fiction: 0.1%

Yikes – most of my income comes from a single client.

What this breakdown shows me is that I’m relying on one single client for almost 60% of my income – which is a terrifying prospect, and something I’ve been keenly aware of as their business has gone through its own dips. I’ve been on a major marketing push to try diversify my income, but as I go into the new year I’ll definitely be focusing on growing other clients to mitigate the risk of my main client drying up.

Most of my client work was ongoing

The great thing this breakdown doesn’t show is that most of my income comes from sources that are ongoing, like blogging and the web copy work I do for my main client. That means that I know roughly how much I’m going to make each month as a base salary, and any extra one-off projects I can land go on top of that. This model is fantastic for peace of mind.

My fiction sales barely covered my husband’s most recent Powell’s bill

As you can see, my fiction writing is currently the least lucrative thing I do. This year has been mainly about building my freelance business, so although I’ve taken some time for my fiction I’ve kept myself pretty focused on paying the bills. Again, as I go into 2015 I hope to feel more stable in my freelance income, so I can take more time to write and publish fiction. It’s my hope that next year the Fiction column of my income breakdown will be a bit more substantial.

Where I found my clients

I just scanned down through my Freshbooks client report, and here’s the breakdown of where my clients came from:

  • I answered a job ad: 6
  • I sent a cold pitch: 4
  • Referred to me by a client: 3
  • Already a friend: 3
  • Found me on LinkedIn: 2
  • Saw my ad on Ravelry: 2

I’m also in conversation with several other clients right now:

  • Found me on LinkedIn: 2
  • Met at a networking event: 1
  • I answered a job ad: 1

You can still find some decent clients on job ads

Sure, there’s a ton of shit out there on Craigslist advertising “great exposure” for writers who want to work for pennies, but there’s some good clients lurking there as well. My two best clients came when I answered a job ad – including the one that paid 60% of my income this year. (I’ve been writing for them for nearly two years in total.)

The trick is to know where to look for job ads. Don’t spend hours scouring Craigslist. Instead, learn to quickly sift through the chaff, and don’t bother applying for something unless you’re pretty perfect for it.

Here are the jobs boards I check regularly.

LinkedIn is your friend

In the last few months I’ve gotten 2-3 decent leads a month from potential clients that found my LinkedIn profile. They’ve all been local to Portland, and have been split 50/50 between recruiters from staffing agencies and solo business owners.

I’ve spiffed up my profile quite a bit over the last year, adding in visuals to my profile and tons of keywords in my job titles and descriptions. An anecdote to prove that’s helping: prior to about 3 months ago I didn’t have much B2B copywriting experience, but I wanted to break into that niche. I changed my description to say I work with B2B retail companies, and now nearly every inquiry has been from a B2B company.

Here are some tips on how to up your LinkedIn profile from a blog post I wrote for GovLoop.

Other writers should also be your friends

Something these numbers don’t show is that three of the job ads I successfully applied for were sent my way by other writers. One came through a writer I met in the Freelance Writer’s Den, one I met through Be A Freelance Blogger’s forum, and one I know through the Portland cycling community.

I’ve referred work to other writers twice this year – once when I left a client who couldn’t afford me after I raised my rates, and once when I had a client ask me about a type of work I wasn’t interested in doing.

My point? Other writers aren’t your competition. There’s a TON of work out there, and it literally pays to get to know others in your industry.

But you still need to put in the elbow grease

The second larges sources of new gigs for me was cold pitching potential prospects. At the end of 12 full months of freelancing I’m to a point where people are coming to me, but I’m still sending out letters of introduction and phoning up prospects – because that’s how I’m going to keep moving up.

My advice to writers who want to make a living:

The wheels turn slowly. I’ve found that it can take up to six months from a client’s initial contact with me to the point that I do a project for them. If you’re wanting to break into freelance writing, make sure you have a safety net – ideally income saved up to cover your first six months of expenses, or a part-time job to pick up the slack. Or, a fabulous partner who believes in you, if you get caught in a spot like I was.

People hear about you in random ways. Marketing is like sowing seeds – but not like putting a seed in the garden, marking the spot, and watching it grow. No. Marketing is like scattering a bunch of seeds in your garden, only to have them eaten by birds who fly throughout the neighborhood and shit them out in other people’s yards. What I’m saying is that you have to keep sowing those seeds, and don’t be surprised at the random places you’ll find them growing.

Just start. Don’t worry about getting your website perfect, don’t worry that your LinkedIn profile is barren, don’t worry that you sound like a moron on the phone (I still do), don’t spend a whole week polishing a cover letter. JUST START. It’s way better to bumble through things as you go than to never start because you’re procrastinating yourself with perfection.