7 strategies to boost your freelance income
Published: June 20, 2002
|7 strategies for boosting your freelance income|
How much can you earn as a freelance writer? There aren't many hard numbers to go by, but one study conducted by the National Writers Union found that the average freelancer made only $4,000 from his or her writing, and a mere 16 percent of full-time freelancers made more than $30,000 a year.
If that sounds depressing, take heart--plenty of self-employed writers make double that and more. How? By finding higher-paying markets for their work, developing relationships with editors and other clients, working more efficiently and reusing their research. If you want to boost your bottom line, try these simple steps:
Set financial goals. You may set goals for yourself as a writer-to be published in a major magazine, say, or to finish your novel--but have you also set financial goals? Consider the work you currently are doing and how much time you spend writing, and pick a dollar amount to aim for. Then break that down into monthly, weekly and daily goals.
For example, say I want to make $60,000 freelancing full time. That number might seem daunting, but when I break it down (assuming I work 240 days--five days a week, with four weeks off for holidays and vacations), it comes to $5,000 a month or $250 a day. Instead of trying to make $60,000, I focus on producing $250 worth of work each day--and then I track my progress. As long as I meet my daily goals, I'll achieve my annual income goal, as well.
Aim higher. It doesn't take exceptional math skills to realize that writers who are paid more for stories are going to make more money than writers who are paid less. That means you need to start targeting higher-paying markets, if you're not doing so already. There's nothing wrong with writing for smaller publications that pay less, especially when you're inexperienced and need to build your portfolio. But as you gain experience, you should start going after work that pays better. If you spend all of your time working on stories that bring in only minimal income, you won't have time to pitch the larger, better-paying markets. Make it a goal to average more for the stories you write over time, regardless of the markets you're working for.
Think in hours, not words. Many freelancers are paid per word for their work. This figure, multiplied by word count, tells you how much you'll make for writing the story--but it may not tell you whether it's worth the effort. The real question is how much time the story will take--divide the assignment amount by the number of hours you put into it to get your hourly rate for the piece.
For example, if I'm offered a 1,000-word story for a national magazine that pays $1.50 per word, but I spend 40 hours researching and writing the query, researching the story, writing the piece, doing a revision or two, submitting my backup material and answering additional questions from the editor, my rate will be only $37.50 per hour. Compare that to a 1,000-word piece for a smaller magazine that pays only 50 cents per word, yet requires minimal research and only 5 hours to finish. That's $100 per hour--and a much better use of my time.
Ask for more. Get more money for the work you're already doing and you'll wind up making more. Don't be afraid to ask for more when an editor offers you an assignment, and be prepared to back up your request. Is the topic one that will take significant time to research? Is the editor requesting a quick turnaround that will require you to work over the weekend to complete the piece? Have you done a good job on past stories that you can point to? Remind the editor of your abilities as you request a better rate, and don't worry that you'll lose the assignment--in more than five years of freelancing, I have never had an editor pull a story because I asked for more. (I have had editors say, "Sorry, that's the most I can offer," leaving me to decide whether the piece was worth the money.)
Develop regular clients. There's an old business axiom that says 80 percent of your work will come from 20 percent of your customers. I've found this to be true for freelancing, too, and it's one of the reasons I'm such a big believer in the importance of developing relationships with editors and other clients. First, it's much easier to get work from an editor you've worked with before (assuming you did a good job, of course). Second, you're more likely to get more money because editors usually pay their regular contributors a higher rate than "one-shot" writers. Finally, when you build a relationship with an editor, he or she will often come to you with ideas. Tell the editors you've worked with that you'd like to write for them again, and follow up at regular intervals with ideas, or touch base to keep your name in front of them.
Think beyond one-time stories. Rather than looking at a story as a one-shot piece, look for ways to resell your research and work--in other words, think beyond a one-story/one-sale mindset. Come up with multiple angles to pitch to multiple markets, and see how many stories you can spin from the same basic concept. Find markets that will buy reprints and resell your work. Sell reprint rights to articles. Look for new ideas or updates on topics you're covered before. The more mileage you get out of your research and work, the more you'll make from it, too.
Set new goals. Finally, revisit your goals at least once a year. Are they reasonable--challenging but not impossible? It's a good idea to review where you are in your career, the types of writing you're doing (and the types you want to do), the amount of time you have to devote to writing, and other priorities that will help you set new goals. Ultimately, the money you make is only one aspect of the satisfaction you'll get from freelancing--but that doesn't mean it should be ignored. The time you spend focusing on ways to increase your income pays off.