At the end of every quarter I’m going to conduct an analysis of my time tracking, income and clients and projects. I use Toggl to track my time, and it is particularly helpful to let me know how much I am earning per hour for projects in which I’m paid per word or per project. It also tells me how much time it takes me to do certain types of projects, instead of just guessing. That is valuable information the next time I create a similar proposal and set a project rate for a potential client.
In the first quarter of 2021, I worked an average of 23 hours per week. I actually wanted to increase that, which I did. In Q2 I worked an average of 28 hours a week. This includes paid work, administrative work, networking and marketing.
I also made sure to take a vacation. Once I was fully vaccinated, I drove to Indiana to visit my parents. Unfortunately, because the vacation wasn’t planned out way in advance like I usually do, I still had deadlines I had to meet. I ended up working a few hours on average each day for the week I was there, which none of us liked. I decided to leave a few days early because I was eager to have a completely work-free, email-free staycation at my house. So, when I got home, I took four days completely off work, followed by a few easier work days.
That time with my parents and then time off completely from work at home rejuvenated me. In fact, I felt like I worked a lot of hours in May and not so many in June. However, when I looked at my time tracking for the two months, I actually worked more hours per week in June than the weeks when I felt frenzied and overwhelmed in May. In June, one week I worked 32 hours and another week I worked almost 35 hours.
I think this is a really important finding—I felt less stress, less overwhelmed and more on task after taking off just four days at home, even though I was working more hours. It is so critical to take time off each week and take real vacations or staycations. I see too many freelancers who don’t take even those little breaks. That is a recipe for burnout.
I am planning to visit my parents later this summer. This time, I have strategically planned when I will go. I chose a time that has fewer deadlines, and I am purposefully not taking projects that I will have to work on at that time.
I also made a lot more money in Q2. You might attribute that to me working more, but I think it was the reverse. I got more work; therefore, I had to work more to do that work. I had a very lean March for me, and then April through June were really strong months. May was my best month of the year.
I haven’t spent a lot of time on marketing recently, and July and August are looking a little lean right now. I have a monthly income goal that I try to meet, and I haven’t quite met that yet for my July and August planning.
I like to know that that income goal is possible a few months out. I don’t like to work week to week. So, July is really going to be a time that I need to do some marketing and networking and letting my current editors know that I am available for new projects and writing assignments.
I want to mention a project I briefly mentioned in a previous episode. It’s an example of a new client that pays less than the per-word rate I normally accept. But I accepted the work for a couple of reasons: I wanted to work for this client and their topic, and it sounded like it would be more consistent work, if not that lucrative.
Because I track my time religiously, I know that although this is below my typical per-word rate that I made over $100 an hour on the projects I’ve done for them. Having the ability to work fast and knowing the subject matter earned me that higher hourly rate.
I want to talk a bit more about how I get clients, what type of marketing I do and what I mean by referrals, which I have said is my No. 1 way to get clients. (See episode #65 of Deliberate Freelancer from July of 2020.)
Recently in the Freelance Content Marketing Writer Facebook group, people were talking about how their 2021 was going so far in terms of clients and income. My friend Holly Leber Simmons followed that thread up with another great thread about how people were getting work and what type of work that was.
With Holly’s permission, I am going to answer some of her questions here:
Question 1: What ongoing or anchor projects do you have? Who is the client, what are you doing, how are you paid (retainer, hourly, per word, per project), how much time do you spend a week? How did you land the client?
My anchor clients have shifted a lot in the past year during the pandemic, and I’m looking for even steadier anchor clients. My anchor clients tend to be newsletters or magazines for which I’m the managing editor. These are rarely monthly publications. They’re usually bimonthly or quarterly, and I typically get paid per issue, not a monthly retainer.
My time for a magazine varies widely from week to week. We are typically working on two issues at a time, so I might be writing or editing for one magazine while planning out and assigning articles for that same magazine’s next issue. Besides my one local newsletter client, my magazines are from membership associations.
I landed most of my managing editing gigs through referrals and job boards. I’ll break that down more: my local newsletter client I landed after seeing their job ad on a membership association job board. One of the magazines I work on is with one of my best friends; we used to be employees together and she has since hired me on a variety of projects. Another magazine was through a woman I know because of our common work connections. We stay in touch on Twitter and LinkedIn, and when she heard about this magazine opening, she connected me directly with the editor on LinkedIn and I followed up. Another magazine in the past I landed because a fellow freelancer spotted the ad on a job board and forwarded it to me.
The lesson here is NETWORKING! By keeping in touch with previous co-workers and chatting with people in my industry on social media AND letting people know specifically the type of work I’m looking for—Hey, did you know I’m also a managing editor?!—people send me job ads. These are job boards that I’m not always privy to, so referrals have been key.
Another question from Holly:
How much of your work is rolling income, i.e., not an anchor client or retainer? What are some one-off or repeat—but not consistent—projects you have done? How are you finding the work?
One-off work for me is mostly writing for membership associations and/or about health care. A lot of those clients I got through my career working at membership associations as an employee. That built my network, and I get a lot of referrals from association people. For example, I used to work at a public health association, and now because of those connections I write for three different types of public health associations.
This all comes back to your network and checking in with people. I’m also really honest about when I have availability and am specific about what I can help with. As a freelancer, what are you looking for? How can you help? Put that out on there on LinkedIn and send that out in letters of introduction.
Question #3 from Holly:
How much time per week do you spend on marketing and networking? How much time per week do you spend on client work?
In Q2 I spent nearly 30 hours networking and marketing, so that looks like 10 hours a month. However, that’s misleading because in reality most of that time was spent in April at about 19 hours, leaving only about six hours in May and three hours in June. Now, I was also on vacation and then a staycation for the first couple of days of June, and I took it a little easier as I headed toward July. So, it’s probably no coincidence that I don’t have a ton of work lined up for July and August.
That shows that I need to do a little more networking and marketing now and in each month. For me that means talking about my availability and what I do on LinkedIn; sharing articles I’ve written on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn; interacting with editors on LinkedIn and Twitter; and reaching out one-on-one to my current editors and letting them know I’m available for work.
Another good question from Holly:
How’s your mental health? Are you running yourself into the ground?
I’m really glad Holly asked this one because I see a lot of people who say they make six figures or more who might be running themselves ragged. I see freelancers on social media who talk about working most weekends for hours at a time and also feeling exhausted all the time. Sometimes they are the same people who talk about never taking a vacation or time off.
Everyone needs to take time off. You heard me earlier talk about how I actually worked more hours in June than I did in May, but I felt so much better and was definitely more productive in June. Even just four days helps.
So, what did I learn from this analysis of Q2? I’ve reiterated to myself that I definitely need to take time off when I’m feeling overwhelmed, even for a long weekend at home. I feel really good about working 28 hours a week and the hourly rates I’m earning for a variety of projects.
As for July and Q3, I want to both increase and be more strategic about my marketing and reaching out to potential clients and current clients. I want to land another anchor client or two.
Biz Bite: Say no to extraneous meetings and phone calls.
The Bookshelf: “When the Stars Go Dark” by Paula McLain
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Episode #94 of Deliberate Freelancer: My Time Tracking Audit for Q1—I Need a Better Schedule
Episode #65 of Deliberate Freelancer: The No. 1 Way I Find New Clients
Episode #93 of Deliberate Freelancer: Renew Your Business Now for Post-Pandemic Life