You can’t hit what you can’t see.
· 7 min read
In 2003 when I began freelancing, my primary goal was to earn a little extra money to help make ends meet. I was a single mom of four, ‘borrowing from Peter to pay Paul’ every single month.
In fact, some months, I had to borrow from my mom (Linda), after paying Paul, so I could put food on the table.
I’m definitely no stranger to being broke month after month. There were weeks where even though I worked full-time, I had enough money for diapers OR tampons and I needed both. I couldn’t just quit my job without a guarantee of significant income or at least the potential of it.
I truly felt trapped.
So, I started freelancing as a side hustle. I didn’t know what I was doing initially and those willing to tell me, were charging more than I could afford to invest back then.
The free or low-cost courses I did take, told me what to do, but didn’t really tell me how to do it. So I had to teach myself through free tutorials, loads of research, and trial and error. I took any writing or writing related job even when it paid very little. Throwing spaghetti and hoping it stuck.
You name it, I’ve written about it at some point. I spent almost a decade of trial and error on the UpWork (then Odesk) hamster wheel. I hope to save you that decade or at least most of it.
Today, my freelance writing is just one of many income streams that make up my monthly income. I can increase or decrease my freelance writing portion to meet MY schedule and needs. I get to choose what I write and who I write it for.
It took me nearly two decades to work my way out of poverty and build a writing business I could manipulate reliably. And to finally realize it’s perfectly okay to have a combination of several things if it works best for my needs.
But there is something you can do that will make this process go much faster for you than it did for me.
And I’m going to tell you exactly how to do it.
The first thing you need to do is set an annual goal for yourself. Decide how much money you want or need to earn from your writing. Write it down. Do not skip this, trust me.
If you have a side job or even a full-time job right now, this might mean asking yourself how much MORE do you need to earn from your writing? Or maybe the what amount you need to earn to replace your income from your outside job?
Keep your “day” job until you’ve demonstrated you can consistently earn the money you need to replace it. You should also accumulate several months of household expense money in savings.
Give Yourself a Deadline
It’s also a good idea to give yourself a deadline. When I started freelancing part-time I challenged myself to make $700 each month for three months. Then I increased that to $2,400 with a promise to myself that if I did it consistently for a year, I could transition to part-time. It took much longer than I thought for various other reasons, but I was able quit “my job” completely to just freelance.
Setting that deadline though is what kicked my motivation into gear every time. In between, I’d get lax about hustling to meet the goal. Apparently, I needed it fresh in my mind, in front of my face, to keep me moving. What can I say, I’m a Taurus.
Break it Down
So whatever your amount is for the year, write that down. For this example, maybe it’s $30,000 for a whole year. Maybe it’s more or less, whatever amount meets your needs is okay. There’s no right or wrong answer here.
Divide the amount for the year by 12 months. For example, $30,000 divided by 12 months is $2,500 per month. That’s the amount you need to earn every month to meet your goal. Write that down.
Now take your monthly goal, ($2,500 for our example) and figure out what it would take every week to meet that goal.
If you are getting paid hourly, let’s say $15 per hour, ($2,500/15) you’d have to work 40 hours every week. But if you increase that hourly rate to $25 per hour ($2,500/25), now you only have to work 25 hours every week to meet your goal.
Use this formula to set your hourly rate. The hourly rate is just for you. Don’t ever give clients an hourly rate, you’ll quote them a project rate (based on your internal hourly rate).
If your annual goal is higher, you’ll have different numbers. There are many freelancers who make $50 or more per hour depending on the industry and their experience level. You may get different amounts depending on the type of task or project you’re doing.
Setting a goal is what made the difference for me every time I’ve increased my income. It helped me to see every week whether or not I was ahead or behind to make my goal for the month.
Keep Raising the Bar
Back in 2019, I again set an annual goal and met that in less than a year.
At the end of 2020, I set an even bigger goal. My income doubled, not the way I expected, but because I was open to opportunities to increase my income.
So set the goal, write it down, break it into monthly amounts. Keep it where you can see it!
Most experts will recommend pricing your work by the project. But you can still use an hourly formula to figure out exactly how many projects you need to complete each month to meet your goal.
If you are new to freelancing, use an hourly rate and estimate the amount of time needed for the project and then double it because it will take you twice as long as you think in the beginning. Again, trust me here.
For experienced freelancers who have been working hourly in the past, figure out the average rate for your projects in the past. For my hourly jobs early on, it averaged to about $250 each project although I can do them much faster now which means I make more per hour.
Divide your monthly goal by your average project rate to get the number of projects per month. So, to earn $2,500 a month or $30,000 annually, you’d need to do 10 projects a month at $250 per project.
Note: I recommend aiming for at least one more project per week than you need to make sure you meet your goal. After all, one of those projects may fall through or you may want to take a week’s vacation!
Ten projects a month is more than doable (depending on the scope) for most experienced freelancers, even if it doesn’t seem like it right now. You need 10 clients to pay you $250 per month. That’s 2–3 projects weekly. Or if you’re more experienced, you need five clients to pay you $500 per project monthly.
If ten projects a month still seems like a lot, use multiple writing related activities and diversify your income streams like I and many other successful entrepreneurs do.
For me this includes writing on Medium, teaching for Ninja Writers community, private coaching, self publishing, and freelance writing projects. I’ve also created two courses, outlined a series of nonfiction books, and am planning a YouTube or podcast channel in 2023.
If you are a freelance writer or blogger, there are many magazines and websites that will pay $200 to $1,000 per blog post or article, depending on your experience.
Or maybe you’d rather have a part-time steady virtual writing job, blog on Medium, and do only one or two freelance projects a week.
If you write fiction, you could get picked up by a publisher and sell your novel for an advance of several thousand dollars or more. Or ghostwrite fiction for a couple of clients or teach children the basics of writing. There’s nothing wrong with multiple income streams and for many it’s what creates the freedom that we all want.
If you are new, you may have to do more at those lower rates to meet your goal but as you gain experience and build your portfolio, your plan can grow. Perhaps cut your target monthly goal from freelancing in half and aim to meet that for three months. Then increase your goal again as the work picks up and you get better at it.
Once you gain experience in freelance writing, learn to add value, and are confident in your abilities, you can create packages and clients will pay you for 3 to 6 months of work at a time or even for the entire year.
In fact, it’s not at all unusual for freelance writers, especially copywriters and ghostwriters to sell $3,000-$10,000 packages. So that would mean you would only need to sell 3 to 6 packages each year to make an annual income of $30,000-$60,000 annually.
Some freelancers target larger businesses and corporations and do packages which earn them a six figure income.
If you aren’t tracking these things yet, there’s a great invoicing program called Harpoon (not an affiliate link) which includes a feature to help you project your annual income and track where you are toward meeting your goal based on your planned projects and paid invoices.
Whatever you decide to do, having an annual goal and knowing exactly what you need to aim for each month and each week will help you get there.