Oh, all while pretending to be on vacation in Arizona, where I’ve been working in the mornings and spending time with family and “relaxing” in the afternoons.
I’m cheerfully telling people how excited I am for the new year, how I’m going to put creativity first in 2022 — and yet.
I’m torn in a half-dozen directions, as usual, with no finish line in sight.
I’m lucky. Most of this chaos is of my own making: client work I’ve said yes to, books I’m excited to write, projects I initiated. I have what Charlie Gilkey calls “Shiny Object Syndrome,” gleefully jumping at new opportunities and filling my plate to bursting without stopping to think how I’ll manage it all.
That said, I can feel myself circling burnout, and I know I need to start working smarter.
I need to take real time off. To close the computer after dinner. To go on walks with my neighbor in the afternoon without stressing that I need to rush back to my desk.
I have no idea how to do that. I’ll let you know if I figure it out.
What’s coming in 2022
All that said, let’s take a look at what I’ve got in the works for you in 2022!
I know! I’ve been talking about these books for ages, and you’ve yet to see more than my short story in CROOKED V.1. 😉
My original goal had been to launch the first Nanshe Chronicles book, Ghost Pirate Gambit, in March. But a few weeks back I learned that the official launch date of my new nonfiction book (see below) will be March 8.
So in order to not divide my metal capacity and marketing-shouting goodwill, I’m pushing back the launch of the Nanshe Chronicles to May. I’ll be putting out all three of the first books one after another in May, June, and July.
I’ll be working with J.S. Arquin (who narrated the Bulari Saga audiobooks) to produce the first three Nanshe Chronicles books — so if you’re an audio listener, you’re in luck! Those will be coming out at the same time as the print and ebooks.
There will indeed be a CROOKED V.2, as I continue on my quest to make sci-fi crime a Thing. I’ll be putting up a call for submissions in January-ish — if you know of anyone who I should ask to contribute, let me know.
I’m also currently working on a couple of stories for sci-fi crime anthologies other people are editing — one about noir detectives, one about the future of crime.
(I’m revisiting the Bulari Saga for the noir one, giving Detective Timo Cho a chance to do what he does best — ask too many questions.)
(Is this the root of my overwhelm problem?)
I’ve got a book with Starla, Mona, and Luc kicking around in my brain. It would take place after the final Bulari Saga book, but act as an entry point into a new series following those crazy kids on their own series of adventures. (If you read the Epilogue you probably guessed I was laying seeds for this)
I also have a fantasy series I’ve been working on off and on for years. It’s been sitting in the metaphorical trunk for years, partly because I was working on other things, partly because it was missing… something.
But a few weeks back I realized what it was missing was a large dash of Killing Eve, and now I’m on fire to write it. Not to mention I’m coming back from a trip to Arizona, which is the landscape that I modeled this fantasy world off of.
As I mentioned above, From Big Idea to Book, my latest nonfiction book, will be out in March. It’s published through Microcosm Publishing, and I’m super excited for it.
Seven years ago this week, I was snowed in, stir crazy, and fighting off the certainty that I’d just made a huge mistake.
And now — sans snow — I’m struggling with that fear again.
(But more on the changes afoot here in a minute.)
That snowy January seven years ago, my husband and I had just moved to Portland, OR. I’d worked my last shift at the Elysian Brewing Company, said goodbye to all our friends, and hung my shingle as a full time freelance copywriter.
I was terrified.
One year earlier, I’d worked my way out of my full time catalog copywriting gig by freelancing on the side until I was too busy to do both.
I’d gone down to part time at the catalog company, then picked up shifts at the Elysian and a local Mexican restaurant (the excellent Fonda La Catrina in Georgetown) to bolster my shaky freelance income.
Working three jobs on top of being a freelance writer was exhausting — and, more critically, it was hindering my ability to grow my freelance business.
But letting go of that steady income?
I couldn’t do it.
Not on my own, at least — not until my husband got a job in Portland, and I had to cut my safety net loose and trust my writing business to support me.
I remember checking my dwindling business bank account, wondering if I’d made a mistake.
“If this doesn’t work, you can always go back to waiting tables,” I’d said to myself.
And I got to work cold-calling potential clients.
A new transition point for this freelance writer
“You can always go back to waiting tables” was my mantra for years.
Every time I lost a client, every time a dream gig fell through, every time I found myself checking a near-empty bank account.
And in seven years, I never did.
My hustle in those early years paid off. As I slowly gathered portfolio clips and confidence, I grew from charging $50 for a blog post to charging $500. I gathered a stable of reliable, well-paying clients I loved to work with. I said no to projects that weren’t a good fit for my goals, or a good use of my time.
In the back of my mind, I’d always known that as long as I kept relying on my waitress shifts for cash, I wouldn’t take the risks and pour enough energy into the freelancing.
Now I’m in a similar period of transition with my fiction business.
A focus on fiction
I’ve been diligently working to write and publish books while still keeping up with the freelance writer hustle, terrified that if I pull the plug on that regular income, my fiction income won’t sustain me.
It can’t — not now, anyway.
But what if I gave it the same full-time energy that nurtured my freelance writer career in those early years?
What if I trusted myself to work the fiction hustle as well as I worked the freelance one?
After all. I can always go back to copywriting.
Learning to say no
Of course, there’s a key difference between quitting waiting tables and quitting copywriting: I like copywriting. I find most of the work I do incredibly fulfilling, and love my clients.
Waiting tables, on the other hand? For all that I loved my coworkers, that job gave me stress nightmares almost every night.
In 2020, I started learning to say no to the work that no longer fit my goals, and opening space both for writing fiction, and for more of the work I do want to take on.
Going into 2021, I’ve set myself clear guidelines around the type of work I can say yes to as a freelance writer — and those guidelines are incredibly narrowly defined.
It’s terrifying to say no to money when you don’t have a big project on the horizon.
It’s terrifying to invest weeks and months into writing books on spec, rather than putting those hours under contract to a paying client.
But after seven years of watching my income ebb and flow, after watching myself build a business out of scratch, to succeed past every setback, I know I can do it again.
What I learned in my seventh year as a freelance writer
All that to say, welcome to my seventh annual reflection post. Changes are obviously afoot in Kwakland, and I’d like to talk a bit about how I got through 2020, what I learned along the way, and what I’m taking into 2021.
As always, my goal is to be transparent about my business and my struggles to help out freelancer writers who are earlier on their journeys than I am.
(And if that’s you, I’d love to hear from you! Drop me a line: jessie at jessiekwak.com).
This past year turned me (and many others) from a homebody into hermit. I forgot to leave the house for days. Honestly, I barely left my office.
It was a year of extremes. Some times I was so busy with freelance work I could barely breath. Other times it was crickets, and I used the lull to work on fiction. Some days I was laser focused on my work and goals — other days I could barely manage to find the energy to scroll Twitter and try not to scream.
I was used to working from home as a freelance writer, but I wasn’t used to my husband being constantly at home with me, and our forced co-captivity surfaced some issues we needed to work through. (As well as making our relationship even stronger.)
We all have our 2020 story, and I’m grateful to be in a place where I could weather last year’s storm relatively painlessly.
But, wow. I’m looking forward to the coming vaccine.
As for how COVID-19 impacted my freelance business, it’s hard to say. At the beginning of the pandemic, I took on a couple of COVID-related projects, such as an ebook about pivoting your business during the pandemic for Microsoft.
But as the uncertainty stretched out, marketing budgets froze and projects for Jessie dried up. I still had a few regular clients, but new work just didn’t seem to be coming in.
I used the time to finish the last book in the Bulari Saga and begin planning my next series, the Nanshe Chronicles — but as I watched my bank account drain, I started to worry.
Fortunately, I landed a few big projects at the end of the year that brought my income back up to par with what it had been in 2019. But October and November were probably two of the busiest months of my career, and I was perilously close to burnout by the time December rolled around.
But that’s a freelancer’s life, right?
Income analysis: How I made my living as a freelance writer in 2020
I had some shifts this year, but overall the makeup of my freelance income stayed on par with 2019. As I’ve mentioned in past posts, it’s a bit hard to break down by project since I sometimes do different types of writing for the same client.
The big change is that I had fewer clients overall. Whereas I did work for 16 separate clients in 2019, last year I only billed 10 clients — and two of those were for single projects that took less than a few days to complete.
I spent 2020 slowly shedding clients in an attempt to free up more time to focus on writing fiction. Going into 2021 I have only one monthly blogging client, and an ongoing relationship with one main client that feeds me regular content marketing work.
I’m still open to new work — particularly ghostwriting — but I’m in a position where I can be very choosy about who I work with and how it fits with my goals.
Here’s my income breakdown for 2020:
Content marketing (ebooks and such): 60%
Business blogging – 18%
Ghostwriting – 8.5%
Copywriting (website copy) – 8%
Fiction – 5%
Knitting product copy – 0.5%
Content marketing and ghostwriting are my favorite types of work, so I’m glad to see them making up a good chunk of my income for 2020. I’m also excited that my fiction income held strong at 5% — especially since I had planned to do several big in-person book events that got canceled.
Growing a fiction writing business
I mentioned that I’m paring down my client list to free up time to write fiction. The hope being that by pouring energy into writing and marketing that side of my business this coming year, that income will grow to a level that actually is sustainable.
Currently, my plan for that is to launch a new series (probably in fall of 2021), and re-launch the Bulari Saga with new covers (sometime next month).
My goal is to get these books in front of new fans, but also to double down on my core fans. To that end, I’ve started a Patreon, where I’m documenting my journey of writing the new series (the Nanshe Chronicles), sharing behind-the-scenes information, and posting sneak previews.
I also had a chance to go on the No Shelf Control podcast and talk about the Bulari Saga with authors Lindsey Fairleigh and Lindsey Pogue. It was an incredible amount of fun! (Listen to the interview here.)
A year of Chaos and Creativity
As well as fiction, I’ve been growing the nonfiction book side of my business. From Chaos to Creativity came out at the end of 2019, and I spent part of the summer of 2020 writing a followup book about the writing process.
While I couldn’t travel to do events like I did in 2019, I did have a few fun virtual opportunities come up to talk with people about creativity.
The first one was in May (remember May?) when I got a chance to chat with Lydia Rogue from Microcosm Publishing about pandemic productivity, and how to be gentle with yourself. (You can watch it here.)
The second amazing opportunity was with Joanna Penn of The Creative Penn podcast. (Listen here.) I’ve been a longtime fan of Joanna’s podcast, so it was a complete thrill to get to come on the show!
Finally, I was invited to give a presentation on productivity for writers at the virtual Willamette Writer’s Conference in August. There’s no recording of the event, but it was an incredible honor to get a chance to speak with everyone there — and the organizers even managed to build in some networking time where I made some new friends. (Difficult to do over Zoom!)
What’s coming up in 2021?
2020 gave us all a bit of whiplash. And I don’t think I’m alone in my newfound reluctance to make big plans at the moment.
But my main goal is to double down on fiction, refining my process and focusing my time in order to grow this part of my business like it deserves. If you want to stay up to date on that, join my newsletter.
Enough about me now. I’d love to know — what are your plans for 2021? How did your 2020 go?
Leave me a note in the comments.
And here’s to a fresh start and an amazing new year!
(Welcome to my annual post about what I learned as a freelance writer this year!)
Six years! Six years of working full time as a freelance writer, folks. I can barely believe it — it doesn’t seem like that long ago I was trying to figure out how to even find a client.
Lately when I’m feeling frustrated with life, my husband likes to remind me that I literally made my own job, and have been doing it successfully for longer than I’ve worked anywhere else.
And I’m like, right. That is pretty badass.
I’m saying that not to brag. Because the reason I write these yearly wrap-up posts (you can read about Year 5 (2018), Year 4 (2017), Year 3 (2016), Year 2 (2015) and Year 1 (2014)) are because I hope to inspire writers who are a step or two behind me. And if that’s you, I want you to know that it’s entirely possible to build a freelance writing career from scratch — and have it be sustainable.
One thing about freelancing is that it can feel like you’re stuck on a treadmill — always running, but never actually making progress. That’s one reason I love these yearly check-ins! They’re an opportunity for me to take a deep breath and remind myself just how far I’ve actually come.
So without further ado, here are my lessons and successes from my 6th year as a freelance writer.
2019: A year of books!
In last year’s post, I mentioned that 2018 had been a year of writing books and stocking them up for release. The result? This year I put out six books:
And because I got the rights back, I re-released my first novel, Shifting Borders, as From Earth and Bone
It was a wild ride! Along with learning the ins and outs of marketing all these books and going on a mini book tours to support From Chaos to Creativity, I also kept writing. I turned in the fourth Bulari Saga book (Heat Death) last week, and am already hard at work on the fifth and last Bulari Saga book (Kill Shot).
The more I write, the faster I get. Plus, my husband and I have been developing a system where he beta reads the books and offers me feedback as I go, which has been crucial in helping me spot big problems early on. Even as the later Bulari Saga books have gotten more complicated, working more closely with him as a beta reader has reduced my writing time.
One of the biggest things I learned is that writing the next book is the best marketing you can do. I’m looking forward to finishing the Bulari Saga so I can do more with marketing it as a complete series.
2019: A year of making my business work for me
I had a few really low points in the last year.
I quit my desk job to freelance 7 years ago because I wanted more freedom, but owning your own business can sometimes feel like a trap. I wasn’t traveling like I’d wanted to do. I was working weekends and evenings. I was scrambling to balance freelance work with fiction, and didn’t have time for any of the hobbies that used to bring me joy — like sewing or drawing.
I hit a wall this summer, and so for the latter part of the year I really worked on reining that in. I said no to more things, and let myself off the hook when it came to keeping up with personal projects. I kept reminding myself to take small steps and enjoy life, rather than barreling through it.
After all, what’s the point in owning your own business if it’s just going to stifle you? Wouldn’t you be better off working for someone else?
Practically, I gave myself permission to take time off. I stopped scheduling my days so rigidly, and started letting myself work on the things that sparked my interest.
The result was that I would get way more done, because I was doing what I felt like working on in the moment, rather than forcing myself to do something I wasn’t inspired to do yet.
Obviously, I still have to meet deadlines — so part of finding joy in my work again was saying no to work that doesn’t spark my interest. I dropped a couple of clients that had become sources of stress for me due either to the type of work I was doing, or the pay rate being too low, and doubled down on work I enjoy.
I also gave myself permission not to worry so much about money. After 6 years of freelancing full time, I know that work comes in cycles. For example, in two months, I billed nearly a third of my total income for last year — which meant when things slowed down afterward, I felt comfortable taking that time to work on my fiction instead of doing my usual “freak out about never having work again” dance.
That required trust, and at times it was terrifying. But the freelance cycle is the freelance cycle, and over the years I’ve built systems to help me weather the ebb and flow through savings and recurring income.
This patience and kindness towards myself is an energy I really want to take with me into the next year. Instead of burning myself out for my business, I want to shape my business into something that works for me.
Basically, I’m going to be a better boss to myself.
Because if I’m going to hate my boss, I might as well work for someone else, right?
Client analysis: How I make my living as a freelance writer
Every year, I sit down with my sales reports and figure out where my income came from, and use that to shape a path for the next year.
This year, I saw some really cool shifts.
Content marketing/ghostwriting: 54%
Business blogging: 24%
SEO/website copy: 16%
Book sales/royalties: 4.5%
Knitting product copy: 0.5%
Every year I end up breaking things down different ways, sorry, but this year I found that 54% of my income came from my favorite type of work: story-based content marketing and ghostwriting.
That means reported articles, ebooks, case studies, ghostwritten blog posts, etc. (All of the ghostwriting I did in 2019 was blogging.)
It’s hard to get really granular, since I have several clients where I do multiple types of projects — but since I like them all, I grouped them into the top category.
The second category, business blogging, made up about a quarter of my income. This includes white labeled posts that rely less on interviews/storytelling, and are instead more straightforward content.
Website copy went down to 16% from 25% last year, which is great because it’s really not my favorite work. All of this year’s website writing income came from one client who’s been great to me over the years, but the work isn’t super engaging. I parted ways with them about halfway through the year in order to focus on another client who was giving me much more interesting work.
But my most exciting stat? Book income.
Last year, my book writing income was 1% of my total. This year, it’s 4.5%. Having more books in the market definitely helped that, as did having a traditionally published book come out, so I could count on the publisher’s reach and distribution to help get in front of more readers.
And knitting product copy is kind of ridiculous to put as its separate thing, but I just find it such an amusing data point — people will pay you to write all sort of things if you just look for it!
What’s ahead for 2020?
Fiction-wise, I plan to release the last two Bulari Saga books. Heat Death is already scheduled to come out March 24th (you can pre-order it here), and I’m hoping for a summer release for Kill Shot.
I’m not quite ready to talk about the next series I’m working on, but suffice it to say I’m REALLY excited about it!
As for my freelancing business, I’m going to lean more into ghostwriting, and ultimately stop saying yes to any projects that don’t bring me joy. That will free up space for the really fun work I want to do, as well as writing books in the downtime.
Five years ago, I would have loved to say no to boring projects — but I needed to pay the rent and I’d take what I could get.
This year, I’ve built a business that attracts amazing clients, and I get more inquiries than I can possibly say yes to. Being able to say no to boring work is a privilege, but it’s also the result of 6 years of hustling.
So here’s to an amazing 2020!
It’s going to be the year my business becomes a source of joy and energy rather than a hustle and a drain.
Because I definitely can’t afford to burn out — I’m way too unemployable at this point. 🙂
What are your 2019 takeaways and 2020 goals? Le’ve ’em in the comments.
I’ve had a few people ask about my to-do list/productivity system recently, so I decided to write an in-depth post about it.
It’s basically an Evernote notebook that I set up based on David Allen’s Getting Things Done method – essentially, a digital version of his series of folders and notes. In it, I plan out my tasks for the week and keep track of all the bigger picture projects I have going on in my life.
As a bonus, because it’s in Evernote, I can link to other notes and subfolders within the program.
(I love Evernote.)
For a long time I struggled to find a system that was flexible enough to accommodate my ever-changing workload, digital enough to travel with me, and convenient enough that I’d actually use it.
Enter my Evernote Productivity System.
This system works particularly well for me because I feel more at ease when I know exactly what’s going on in my day/week. Will it work for you? Maybe, maybe not. If you like to have minute-by-minute control of your day and never lose track of your tasks, it just might. If you prefer to roll with the punches and work on whatever you feel like at the moment, maybe not.
Either way, it doesn’t hurt to check it out. Even just reading this post might inspire you to think differently about your own to-do management system.
If this sounds vaguely interesting to you, here’s the post:
I’ve been wanting to experiment more with publishing on Medium, and since I was recently invited to join the Writers on Writing publication I decided to make this my first topic. I have to say I love formatting posts in the Medium ecosystem – it’s very pretty. I haven’t tried actually drafting anything there yet, since I don’t trust my drafts not to disappear. I’ll stick to Scrivener there, thank you very much.
Anyway, I hope you enjoy the post! If you end up using all or any of this system, I’d love to hear about it.
How do you to-do? I love learning from other people’s productivity systems. Let me know how you structure your day in the comments!
(Fun fact!: 500,000 Venezuelan bolivares used to be worth about $300 USD. It is now worth $0 USD because they reissued their currency. Change your unstable currencies in the airport *before* you fly home, kids!)
I like to set a theme for each year — particularly for my freelance writing business. This year’s theme? Pruning back the wrong opportunities, and investing in my business.
Of course, I’ve been investing in my business all along. I joined the Freelance Writers Den. I took classes with people like Carol Tice and Ed Gandia. I invested in the software and tools, like Freshbooks and a properly-functioning laptop, I needed to run my business effectively. But this year, I’m actively seeking out investment opportunities I know will help my business grow.
Most of those things do cost money, but I just want to say this off the bat: You don’t need to have a lot of money to start investing in your business.
But owning a writing business is no different than owning any other type of business — you need to be constantly investing profits and energy back into it if you want to see real growth.
1. Invest in the right tools
Unlike starting a restaurant, starting a writing business doesn’t require much capital. You can turn in decent work using just an ancient laptop with spotty Wi-Fi, but as you establish yourself it’s worth investing in proper tools — for your own sanity if nothing else!
Consider the tools you need to do your job well and hassle-free: a new laptop, a good desk, software (like Freshbooks and Dragon Dictation), a high-quality monitor, a standing desk, an ergonomic chair….
These things don’t need to be expensive, but you need to be able to count on your tools.
2. Invest in your education
One of the best ways to grow your business is by increasing your skills. Whether you’re interested in picking up a new type of project — like case studies or white papers — or breaking into a new industry, seek out courses, podcasts, blogs, and webinars. Some of these resources may be paid, others may just require an investment of time.
3. Invest in a long-term side project
One way to invest in your business is by taking time to work on a personal project that will pay off long-term dividends. (These dividends don’t always have to be monetary.) One copywriter friend is currently taking time from her busy client schedule to create a webinar that she hopes will net her bigger and better projects. My side projects are my novels, and this blog.
Invest in your future by building something today that will support you tomorrow.
4. Invest in professional conferences
Attending a professional conference is a good way to not only learning new skills and meet new people, it’s also a good way to demonstrate to potential clients that you’re serious about your business.
In this recent High Income Business Writing podcast with Ed Gandia, Jennifer Gregory talks about some of the connections she made by attending Content Marketing World last year. It’s a really inspiring story about putting yourself out there, and treating your business as a business.
After listening to that podcast, I signed up for Digital Summit PDX next month. I’d been on the fence, but decided to take the leap and get serious about networking with other professionals in my field.
(If you’re going to be there, hit me up! I’d love to meet for coffee/happy hour.)
5. Invest in quality peer networks
What kind of people do you want to be surrounded by? Seek out those people, and invest in building relationships with them.
Since we’ve moved to Portland I’ve been developing an amazing network of writer friends. Some of these have been chance encounters — like the two science fiction writers who introduced themselves to me in a coffee shop because they noticed I was using Scrivener. But much of this networks has been built by me deliberately saying yes to as many opportunities as I can. Being proactive in asking people out for coffee. Attending readings and introducing myself to people at the table beside me. Going to meet-up groups and networking events.
I’m lucky in that Portland has a very interconnected speculative fiction writing community, but even if your town doesn’t have a good writing community, you can seek out these relationships online. I’ve spoken before about my freelance writing accountability group. I’ve never met these women in person, but they’ve become a core part of my freelance business.
6. Invest in professional memberships
As part of creating your personal network, it can be beneficial to fork over some dough for a reputable professional membership. Maybe you could join a trade organization, or, like I did when I was first starting out, join a paid forum like the Freelance Writers Den. The quality of the networking you’ll find in these organizations is often much more professional than what you may find in less formal organizations or forums.
7. Invest in professional touches
If you want to be seen as a pro, you need to look like a pro. Get professional business cards. Invest in a solid website. Get some nice headshots. None of these things need to cost you a ton of money. Try bartering with a friend who’s a photographer or website designer. Or opt for pre-designed business cards on Vistaprint.
As your business grows, revisit your initial marketing collateral from time to time to see if you can step it up. I’ve always done my own website design, for example, but this year I finally invested in a professional theme for this site. It still required work on my end, but it was approximately 1,000,000 less hours of my own time that went into it. I consider that $40 well spent!
8. Invest in your personal growth
This one is a bit more nebulous. It’s important to remember that you, a human, are at the center of your writing business. If you’re not taking care of your personal stuff your business will suffer.
Hire a business coach. Go to a therapist. Pick up a self-help book or two. Start meditating. Get out and walk every morning. Spend time with your family. Deal with your childhood trauma. Invest in your relationship with your partner.
You’re both your best boss and your best employee — take care of yourself.
9. Invest in a financial buffer
At the beginning of 2015, I was completely stressed out about money. I had enough to pay my half of the bills — most of the time — but I didn’t feel stable. I kept working my way up the pay scale with every new gig I picked up, though, and by the end of 2015 I had given myself a raise and had three months worth of business expenses saved up in my business’ savings account.
Talk about a stress-reliever.
To me, one of the most important things in running a freelance business is financial stability. That’s what keeps you from saying yes to jobs that aren’t right for you or getting trapped by clients you hate working for. It’s what lets you sleep at night, even if you just lost a big client or have a surprise bill come due.
So while you’re shelling out for courses, a new laptop, and a ticket to Content Marketing World, be sure to be putting a portion of your money aside for savings, too. Your future self will thank you
What are some ways you’ve invested in your business? I’d love to hear about them – leave a comment!
If you read the comments you’ll see that a lot of people missed Janelle’s point – which is that the freelance life is sold with a lot of fluffy words and romance, and that those romantic ideas tend to place higher value on a lifestyle which often comes with unexamined privilege. Her point is that when we romanticize “living your passion” and call entrepreneurs “courageous”, we’re putting them on a pedestal they (we – I’ll put myself in that category) don’t deserve.
I love this line:
I am no more brave than the migrant worker picking your strawberries to send remittances to family in their home country. I am no more courageous than the recently-graduated millennial who works in a cubicle 9 hours a day to pay off massive student loans. I am no more of a boss than the working class mother with three jobs who feeds her children.
Someone told me recently that I work harder than anyone they know. I fervently disagreed. Yes, I’m dedicated to my job. Yes, I go above and beyond. Yes, I’m willing to put in the extra hours and to make sacrifices to work for my future and grow my business. But I’m hardly the hardest worker I know.
Jorge was of my favorite chefs at a restaurant I once worked at. He was so fast and efficient that he could feed an entire restaurant by himself, and he was always smiling. Plus, he made the best food. He had a wife and a super cute kid, and Jorge worked two jobs – often in the same day – to support them. Once when he mentioned he’d started a third job I asked him when his days off were. He thought for a moment, then told me, “Tuesday evenings.”
Jorge works way, way harder than me.
I work hard, but I don’t work as hard as my grandpa did or my father does out on the farm. I don’t work as hard as my mom does with her elementary school students, doing lesson plans every evening and getting to school before sunrise every morning.
I didn’t quit my day job because I was courageous. I quit it because I couldn’t stand sitting at a desk anymore. I didn’t so much take a leap of faith from a stable platform I was afraid to leave, I made a smart, calculated play to get out of a place I’d begun to feel trapped by.
I haven’t worked odd jobs and traveled because I was brave, I did it because I’m apparently allergic to consistent work. It hasn’t been courageous, it’s been fun-scary-stupid-fun.
And it’s been possible in a large part because I had a safety net.
That’s another point Janelle makes in her piece. It’s sexier to talk about the courage of an entrepreneur than to talk about the safety net that makes that courage possible.
The friend who shared this article originally on Facebook found it depressing – and I think that’s part of the reason people tend to focus on the courage than the logistics. No one wants to hear that the only way I was able to quit my day job was because I’d worked every night and every weekend for 6 months on freelance projects until I built up a tiny nest egg, then I went back to waiting tables four days a week to support myself while I grew my freelance business. I had a supportive partner, but I still had to pay my half of the bills – the bicycle industry isn’t the most lucrative field.
Not having kids made this easier – I could work crazy hours and pick up weekend doubles without worrying about childcare. I could do my freelance work in the middle of the day without having to work around naptimes. And when I finally quit waiting tables, my partner and I could afford to take a temporary cut in my paycheck because we didn’t have a third mouth to feed.
The ability to tolerate the risk of starting a freelance business is part privilege – you have to have a safety net, whether that’s savings, a side gig, a supportive partner, whatever – but it’s also part temperament.
What a lot of people miss in their romantic idea of freelancing is that you are literally starting your own business.
Friends tell me how much they would like to be able to spend all day writing – but when I explain I actually spend most of my day as Bookkeeper, Marketer, Sales, Dishwasher, Accounts Payable, Webmaster, and Customer Service Representative, they brush it off. “At least you’re doing what you love!”
And I am. But I love being a business owner and wearing all those hats. If you don’t have the discipline and business sense to be your own best boss and your own best employee, to deliver on time every time, and to keep doing it day after day (even on weekends if necessary), even when it all feels like you’re not moving forward at all…. Maybe freelancing’s not for you.
And that’s OK.
If you’re stuck on the idea that quitting your day job to follow your passion is romantic, then, yes, Janelle’s article is depressing. For me, though, I found it honest.
Freelancing is difficult, and it’s not for everybody. But the same could be said of any profession.
You have to follow your passion, yes, but you also have to find the life that’s right for you.
Whatever you do, just go into it with your eyes open and don’t let yourself get sold by flowery language. You’re smarter than that.
About four months ago I finally bit the bullet and threw down the $150 for a copy of Dragon Dictation by Nuance.
It seemed like every writing podcast I listened to was extolling the virtues of using dictation software.
I was going to write 5,000 words an hour.
I was going to be 1000% more productive.
I would never have wrist pain again.
I was going to lose weight, and probably live longer.
It sounds like a lot to ask from a speech-to-text program, and if you’re anything like me, you’re probably as skeptical as I was as I typed in my credit card information. Would using Dragon Dictation really cause a magical unicorn to appear in my office and put rainbows in my coffee every morning?
(No. The answer to that is no. Sorry.)
Well, I’ve been using Dragon fairly regularly since I bought it – both for my freelance writing and for fiction – and I have some thoughts to share.
First up, dictation is pretty rad. But it has its challenges.
All the things that people say about dictation are fairly true. It does make you more productive, and reduces the physical strain of typing. You can use it while you’re out on walks. I’ve dictated blog posts and scenes from my novel while cooking dinner.
There’s also quite a big learning curve, and sometimes Dragon becomes infested by gremlins that are incredibly frustrating.
(Gremlins, but no unicorns? Get your priorities straight, Nuance.)
Nonfiction vs. Fiction
Because I’m using dictation for both freelance copywriting and for fiction, I’m basically having two different experiences with it.
When it comes to my freelance work, dictating is faster. I can definitely speak faster than I type and so long as the dictation software gets it right the first time, it saves me time. Because my freelance client work is mostly fairly analytical – I’m writing about things like adaptive learning software and sales CRM software – I’m finding it fairly easy just to gather my thoughts and say what I want to say.
My freelance clients are pretty specialized, so there’s always a bit of a learning curve for the Dragon dictation software to pick up new industry jargon and terms. I’ve found it’s pretty good, but when it comes to proper names – like my clients’ company names – I’ve had a hell of a time training it to type certain things. In that case, I just develop shorthand and then use the find and replace function during the editing process.
The other aspect that I’ve found dictation software to be helpful in is transcribing interviews. If you’ve ever tried to transcribe an interview and you’re not a pro at it, you know that it sucks. You spend a lot of time tabbing back and forth between your document and your audio file, rewinding, typing, rewinding, typing….
Previously, I had budgeted at least twice the amount of time as the interview itself in order to transcribe it. So that meant a 30 minute interview would take me an hour to transcribe.
Now, with the dictation software, I just put on my headphones, play the audio file, and speak along with the person that I’m interviewing. I still have to rewind from time to time, but it normally only takes me about five minutes longer then the interview itself. It’s become a huge timesaver.
Using dictation with freelancing is been really great, but I’m not having is easy time using it for fiction. It slows me down in ways I, frankly, expected it to.
What I mean is this. Sometimes it seems like when I’m writing fiction, my best work pours straight out of my fingertips, bypassing my brain and thought process altogether. (You know what I mean, right?) When I’m dictating, I think a lot more about what I’m trying to say, and have a tough time getting into that creative fugue state.
In a recent podcast, Joanna Penn talks about her experience dictating the first draft of her latest novel. She’s just been getting started with Dragon, too, and I resonated with her observation that dictating produces a poorer quality first draft than she’s used to.
But I also think that learning to write fiction via dictation is just something that will take time. Some days it seems to work, and some days it doesn’t. I don’t think I’ll ever completely stop typing up first drafts, but I am committed to getting better at first drafting by dictation.
Why bother with dictation?
For me, dictation has two main benefits.
The first is that I can often the get first draft done faster then if I type it out – with my freelance work at least. I don’t have to wait for my typing skills to catch up with my thoughts – especially when I’m typing a lot of jargony technical words that I may end up getting my fingers twisted around. I haven’t found it to be a timesaver in my fiction yet, but in freelancing – and in blogging – it does save me time.
The second benefit is increased activity. I dictated the first draft of this blog post while out on a walk. I’d been staring at a computer all day long, and was starting to get what I call “screen sickness” – that slightly nauseous, glazed feeling when you’ve been staring at a screen too long.
In the middle of particularly busy days it can be really hard to get myself out and go for a walk. I’m already behind my schedule by an hour today, and I know I’m not going to check everything off the list – do I really have time to go wander around an hour?
(This is the subject for totally different blog post, but the answer is a resounding yes. If you want to live a healthy, happy life you don’t not have time to go for a walk.)
But, with dictation, I can take a walk without falling even farther behind. On a brisk stroll through my nearby neighborhood rose garden, I can get a fairly serviceable first draft blog post of 1500 words.
Yeah, I may sound a little odd as I’m walking by people speaking punctuation, but hey, it’s Portland. I could be on a unicycle playing bagpipes.
Here’s a devils advocate thought for a moment, though: sure, it’s good for my body to go walk around, but I’m really giving myself a break if I’m forcing my brain to continue composing first draft materials as I walk? Would I be better served by leaving my phone and headphones at home, and letting my mind wander aimlessly?
Maybe. But that’s a luxury for a week less busy.
It’s just not not just walks in the park speaking into a headset though. When I’m dictating straight into my computer, it gives me more freedom of motion, as well. If I set up my computer up on my standing desk (a.k.a. my dresser), and use a Bluetooth headset, then I’m not tethered in one spot through the tips of my fingers. Instead, I can paced back and forth, do squats, dance around, etc.
What equipment do you need?
Beyond the software, I haven’t bought any other fancy equipment – and my results have been pretty good. I’m considering purchasing a better headset that’s really designed for noise canceling, etc., because if I was able to improve the software’s accuracy even more, it would save me even more time. As it is, I think the software is about 90 to 95% accurate for me.
Right I’m using either those white Apple headphones that come with every Apple product, or one of those dorky Bluetooth headset by Jabra, which I bought for about $20. The plug-in headset seems to be a bit more accurate, and from my research it looks like you have to spend quite a bit on a Bluetooth headset for it to match the quality. I’ve tried just using my laptop’s internal speakers, as well, and I find that accuracy rates goes down.
Hey, wait. Doesn’t my Mac come with dictation software already?
Yeah, yeah it does. And although it’s fairly decent, it was frustrating enough to me that I decided to drop the money on Dragon Dictation.
And I’m happy I did.
The Mac’s native software doesn’t have as robust an ability to correct mistakes or navigate through your text. Also, it doesn’t learn in quite the same way that Dragon Dictation does. Dragon will take things that you commonly correct into account, and can be trained both by you speaking, and by feeding it chunks of text that you’ve written with all of your industry jargon, etc. in it.
Also, the ability to dictate things while I’m walking and have it translate audio file has been really helpful – that’s a feature Mac’s native dictation didn’t have.
Is dictation always super magical?
No. Sometimes Dragon makes me want to throw my laptop through the wall.
Sometimes I’ll say something totally innocuous, and because the software for some reason thought that I said “Capitalize Grand Canyon”, the cursor starts scrolling madly through my document trying to find the phrase Grand Canyon – which of course, is nowhere to be found.
I haven’t figured out a way to stop this in mid-run, which means that I just have to wait it out – extremely frustrating if I’m in the middle of Deep Important Thoughts and the document is large. With Scrivener, I can just close out of the program and restart it. In Pages, however, you’re screwed until the curser gets all the way to wherever it’s going.
Nuance’s support is pretty non-existent, too. I’ve sent them a few support tickets when I had problems, and I’ve never once gotten a response. Googling solutions to specific problems normally revealed other people asking the same questions in forums – usually to be told that there is no solution to that problem. The software is constantly being updated, though, and it sounds like Dragon is getting better with every iteration.
Is dictation for you?
I don’t know. I can’t answer that for you. And, of course, purchasing Dragon is a big chunk of cash to plop down. If you’re curious to try dictation out and you have a Mac, you can always experiment with the native dictation program. Here’s how to set it up.
(Sorry, I don’t know anything about PCs.)
You might, like me, get addicted and want to pay for something better. Or you might figure it’s not for you.
Either way, Dragon offers a 30-day money back deal, so you can always give it a shot and see what you think.
Have you used dictation software? What did you think? I’d love to hear about your experiences in the comments.
(*Disclaimer: Nuance didn’t give me one red cent to write about this – I’m just sharing my personal experiences.)
On Thursday, I fired up my computer at 8 AM to get on Skype.
I’m normally working that early already – or at least putting the kettle on and checking email – but I try to avoid conversating with the outside world until later in the day.
Thursday, I didn’t have a choice. It was already 11am Stephanie’s time and 6 PM Ayelet’s time in Israel. Plus, we had a special occasion to celebrate: our two-year “Grupoversary”.
Although we’ve never met in person, Stephanie and Ayelet have become an important part of my life over the last two years – they’re my freelance writing accountability partners. Every week, I check in about goals that I have for my freelancing business, my fiction writing business, and my health. (Crucial, since it’s easy to get wrapped up in work and forget to take care of our bodies!)
Over the last year we’ve not only challenged ourselves to try new marketing tactics and take on bigger clients, but also to start running and try Zumba. We’ve shared prospecting tips and healthy easy recipes. We supported each other goals to work on our websites, and to get better sleep. We’ve cheered on each other’s weekly to-do lists, and also gently suggested that maybe we should knock a few items off and go for a nice walk instead.
This group isn’t the only one that I check in with weekly.
I’m also a member of the Trifecta, a group started over three years ago with two old friends. It started one weekend when two of us who lived in Seattle rode our bikes up to Cowichan Bay, Vancouver Island, to visit our third friend. We sight-saw and caught up with each other, but we also spent the whole weekend talking about our plans for self-employment.
I was ready to stop working full-time as a copywriter and start freelancing. Nalisha was ready to quit a job she hated and make a living from her art. Andrea was already making money as a knitting pattern designer, but she wanted to grow her business into a real living.
We made a pact to check in with goals once a week, and we’ve done it ever since – for three years. In fact, next week will be our annual Trifecta retreat, where we’ll get together for another long weekend of wine, bikes, and serious talks about our business goals for the next year.
These two “groupoverseries” in the same month have gotten me thinking about just how important accountability groups have been to me over the last few years.
Between these two groups, I’ve seen my business grow. I can’t tell you how important it is to have a group of trusted people to bounce ideas off of. To ask: am I crazy for thinking this? would you buy this product? what would you charge for this kind of writing? how should I approach this client? is this story any good?
If you’re like most of us, you probably made some New Year’s resolutions. And if you’re like most of us, if you want to increase your chances of completing your New Year’s resolutions – whether personally or for business – you need accountability.
There have been so many times over the last three years when I followed through on a goal purely because I had told one or another of my accountability groups that I would. It was enough motivation just knowing that I would have to say: no, I never reached out to that client that I wanted to get; no, I didn’t prioritize my health this week no; I was too afraid to send that email to a clients to raise my rates.
How do you find your own accountability group?
You may know people already in real life who would make good accountability partners.
Or, you may want to try a specialized forum to meet new people. (My freelance accountability group met in the Freelance Writer’s Den when Ayelet posted that she was looking to start an accountability group to focus on health.)
Or, maybe you can think of several people in your industry who seem to be on the same level as you, and who you’ve liked meeting in the past. Try sending out an email asking if they’d be interested. You’d be surprised at how many people are looking for something like this – and all it takes is an email or a phone call. The worst that could happen is they say no, and you continue being colleagues.
Or, you may just want to start posting about your goals on your blog and create accountability for yourself that way. That’s one thing I really admire about writer Emily June Street – she’s always courageously sharing her goals and how she did every month.
However you find accountability, I encourage you to make that a goal this month.
Do you already have an accountability group? How has it helped you with your goals?
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.
* 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*
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
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)
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!
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.
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. Butdon’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.
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?