Why Freelance Writers Earn More by Tracking 2 Key Things

Carol Tice

Business ChartsBy Nicole Dieker

What’s the last thing you do before you end your freelance writing work week?

If you’re like most of us, you’re probably eager to get up from your laptop and do something else — anything else! — for a change.

Instead, it’s worthwhile to do a tiny bit of math before you go.

So stay where you are and tally up two numbers:

  • Money earned this week

  • Pieces written this week

For money earned, calculate everything you were able to bill this week. Don’t worry about whether the client has paid you yet — that’s not important for this calculation. If you completed a $50 blog post, add $50 to your tally even if you won’t get paid until next month.

Adding up pieces written is pretty straightforward. Count each individual assignment as a “piece,” whether it’s a 1,500-word long-form essay or a 200-word content mill article.

Got it? Now we’re going to use those two numbers to grow your writing income.

Track the trends

My goal as a freelance writer is to do two things, every week:

  • Bring the amount of money I earn UP
  • Bring the number of pieces I write DOWN

It should be pretty obvious why I want to increase my income. But why do I want to decrease the number of pieces I write?

Not because I want to do less work, but because I want to do better work.

When I write fewer, better-paying pieces, I get to spend more time on those pieces. I’m also more likely to be working with clients and editors who value my worth.

About a year ago, I was earning $500–$750 a week for anywhere between 25 and 50 individual pieces. I was literally writing 5,000 words per day.

This April, I was able to bill nearly $1,000 for 19 pieces, or about 3,000 words per day. Every week my income fluctuates slightly (my most recent billing as of this writing was $877), but I have been able to show a significant upward trend.

Use the stats to grow your income

Once you start tracking income versus pieces, you’ll notice a few things.

First, you’ll notice just how hard you work for those dang content mills, and how much easier it is when you have higher-value clients.

Second, you’ll be able to pick out which clients are the true keepers, and which ones you want to use as stepping-stones for better opportunities.

These numbers will also give you the most important metric re: growing your writing income: they’ll tell you when it’s time to hustle.

Here’s the secret: the time to hustle for clients isn’t the week when you’re writing 50 content mill pieces for $500. By then, you’re in crisis mode, and you just need to get the job done.

The time to hustle for bigger and better clients is when you’re earning $1,000 for 19 pieces.

Or, if you prefer, the very first week your income starts to drop from its highest point. If you try to bring in one new client or job every time your income dips — even just a little — you’ll set yourself up for continued, sustainable income growth.

How do I hustle for new work? I check the writing job boards for good-paying gigs. I send out pitches to online publications with which I have established relationships. I send out cold pitches to new publications that I know pay well. I also remind my social media followers and my network about my Hire Me page — you’d be surprised at how well that tactic works!

By the end of summer, I hope to only be writing 12-15 pieces per week while billing around $1,000. We’ll see if I can use my own advice to make it happen.

What numbers help you grow your freelance writing income? Tell us in the comments below.

Nicole Dieker is a freelance copywriter and essayist. She writes regularly for The Billfold on the intersection of freelance writing and personal finance. You can hire her, follow her weekly income tracking, or read her published essays at her Tumblr.

41 Comments

  1. Erika

    I get a kick out of tracking my pie chart every month when I do my billing, which charts what percentage of income has come from which clients. When one client starts to get too “big” in the pie I think of ways to increase revenue from other clients.

    That way my overall revenue increases as well as becomes more balanced so I’m not so dependent on one client.

    • Carol Tice

      Great point, Erika — it’s never good when one client gets too powerful in your freelance business.

  2. Elvis Michael

    Very inspirational, Nicole. Many people feel paralyzed when it comes to contacting new clients and pitching your skills to them, but you laid out a pretty straight forward method and various good sources.

    Do you write about any subject under the sun? I noticed that many of us are picky about the things we write about (in other words, we only like to write about our passion.) Unfortunately, sometimes this makes finding work a little more difficult, in my opinion.

    • Carol Tice

      It’s not that we’re sticking to our passion, Elvis — often, we’re sticking to the topics that pay best. I can tell you business finance and insurance topics are not my passion. 😉 But I’ve made a crap-ton writing about them.

    • Elvis Michael

      This is probably my biggest hurdle at the moment, stepping out of my comfort zone. I spent years writing titles for Demand Studios and would only touch tech titles. I suppose that client got me a little spoiled. But i”m working on getting rid of those habits slowly.

      Thanks!

    • Carol Tice

      I’m doubting you were ‘spoiled’ at the rates Demand pays, Elvis…but it’s easy to become lazy about marketing, writing for mills. That’s the habit to acquire that really changes your earnings.

    • Nicole Dieker

      I do write about anything under the sun. Personal finance seems to come up often, as do frugal living topics. But it’s very interesting to see what clients want me to write for them!

  3. Michele

    Thanks for sharing! I just recently lost my job. I am looking for gigs as I prepare to get freelancing. This article was helpful so I can see what I need to do to write less and make more.

  4. Amel

    If I understood what you are saying above, you are currently writing about 3,000 words per day. If you are writing 5 days per week, that’s about 15,000 words…and if you are billing $1,000 for 15,000 words, that works out to about 7 cents per word.

    If you increase the amount you charge per word, you could write less for the same amount of pay (or more).

    Let’s say, for example, you changed your workload so that you were only writing 3,000 words per week instead of 3,000 words per day.

    This is the length of 1 to 4 articles in a typical print publication (depending on the word count of each article).

    You could still earn $1,000 per week by writing for markets that paid about 35 cents per word.

    And if you earned 50 cents per word, you could increase your weekly earnings to $1,500 or simply write less (say 2,000 words instead of 3,000) and still earn the $1,000.

    I haven’t done a formal poll, but I would imagine that most writers who write for high-paying markets do not write much more than 2,000 to 3,000 words per week, if that. That’s because articles in this category require more time for research, interviews, and other non-writing tasks. A writer may only write a couple of articles per month, but the earnings are still high.

    It is amazing that you are able to write 3,000 to 5,000 words per day. I would love to be that productive. But do you ever feel that the amount of time you spend on writing each day takes you away from the ability to seek out higher-paying gigs? Also, do you consider the per-word rate when deciding to accept a particular assignment?

    In the article I’ve linked to below, I discuss a formula that is similar to yours, but I focus more on the need to target publications with specific rates of pay. I have another formula that I use as well for times when you must come up with a quote for a project on your own, without much guidance or input from the client…but this is something I will discuss in a future post.

    • Carol Tice

      I was impressed with that volume as well! Even when I was writing 75 blog posts a month, they were short and I don’t think I hit that wordcount.

    • Nicole Dieker

      I am well aware that as I increase my rates, I can decrease my word count! 🙂 That is one of the goals for this summer. I already increased my desired rates on my Hire Me page, to let potential new clients know that they need to expect to pay $80 for 500 words.

    • Carol Tice

      Do yourself a favor and make it $100, Nicole…that’s the minimum article rate we have for Den job board ads. That is really rock-bottom in my view.

  5. Allen Taylor

    I just did this and realized that I actually earn more per hour than I thought. It’s also useful, as you say, in seeing where I can fill my time in seeking higher paying gigs – especially now that my largest client has decided to scale back production a bit. He’s still my highest paying customer – by the gig and by the hour – so he’s not going anywhere, but the exercise has motivated to go out and seek other comparable clients so that my hourly wage and my monthly income both go up at a nearly-the-same rate.

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