Will You Be Singing the Freelancer’s January Low-Income Blues?

Carol Tice

The Low Income Writer BluesI’ve noticed something about my freelance writing income. It always goes to crap in January.

Does this happen to you?

I’ve developed a theory about why the first month of the year is often a loser, and I’m going to test it out this year.

My theory: Income sucks in January because marketing tends to slack off in December.

After all, it’s the holidays! Everyone’s on vacation, editors are out, you’re busy with family. The next thing you know, it’s January 3, there you are in the office, looking at a kind of empty slate of assignments.

When you’re trying to earn big in freelance writing, having a “down” month is a problem. We need to find ways to keep the income flowing consistently.

Two ways to beat the January low-income blues

I was talking to my longtime Seattle writer-friend Sharon Baker (yeah, the one that saved my butt by recording my Webinar), and we got to discussing the January-revenue problem. She shared a great strategy she’s using to make sure her January schedule is full:

1) Call existing clients and drum up work. Sharon’s been calling around to her clients to put a bug in their ear about what they might want from her next year. This is a great way to start the year with assignments, and Sharon had already found an assignment or two for January this way. (After she reminded me about this, I placed a couple calls to existing clients of mine about work for next year!)

Many companies set their marketing budgets for 2011 now, so it’s the perfect moment to check in. It doesn’t have to be anything pushy, just, “Hi, I’m starting to look at my plans for January, and I’m wondering what I can learn about your needs for next year.”

This is also a good move because if you’ve been fantasizing that an ongoing client is going to keep rolling into 2011, but in reality they’re done with you, now’s the time to find that out. Getting the word early gives you more time to market and find a replacement gig if one of your clients is headed into the sunset.

Personally, I’ve been mostly using another strategy to try to fill up my 2011 calendar:

2) Push projects into January. I’ve gotten several calls from new prospects in the past couple weeks. Since my December is already as full as I want it (because I’m taking the last week of the year off), I made them each this pitch: “Wow, your project sounds interesting and I’d love to work on it, but we’re kind of headed into the holidays. Could I start your project first thing in January?” I’ve already got two projects I lined up this way.

It’s a pretty easy pitch to make — December is a fairly unproductive month for many people, who want to head out on vacations. I ask if we can have a quick phone meeting this month to firm up details, and then start after New Year’s. Seems to be working for me.

How do you plan to beat the January low-income blues? Leave a comment and tell us your strategy. Or beat the blues by subscribing to Make a Living Writing and getting free tips on how to earn more from your writing. Coming up later this week, I’ll be giving readers free feedback on their blogs.

Photo via stock.xchng user hakill

25 Comments

  1. P.S. Jones

    I continue marketing through Nov and Dec. I've never been a fan of the holidays so I keep it business as usual. I do send holiday/thank you cards to everyone I've done business with in the year. Then I follow that up with a phone call the second week of January. All of that usually keeps me working all through January.

  2. pricewrite

    Hi Carole,

    I like your ideas for filling up the January pipeline.

    I'm reaching out to all of my contacts to let them know that one of my goals is to take on a few more blogging clients and asking them if they know anyone who is considering starting a blog. I'm hoping it will prompt some of them to say, "Hey, maybe I should start a blog."

    Jack

  3. WritingItRightForYou

    It's often hard when I have a full quill of projects, but I attempt to take 1-2 hours PER DAY to market before I start my *real* work. My quill is already full for January. I have several on-going clients/projects that were already set up in Oct/Nov/Dec that will continue into 2011. I'm looking forward to a breathing break at the end of December!
    My recent post What We Do- Academic Writing and Editing Assistance

    • TiceWrites

      Well good for you! I have several ongoing clients, but I do always find I get into a crush trying to finish December projects and then am not fully booked in January. Hoping to beat the syndrome this year!

    • TiceWrites

      Let us know how it works — I love to have readers come on and do guest posts about their wins, especially ones they got from tips they read here!

  4. @JennyCatton

    Great post. I've been marketing hard during December in order to bring work in for January. I've managed to secure a couple of new projects this way so hoping that it will be a busy 2011!

    • TiceWrites

      Well, you're a better woman than I…I tend to just go down a drain as the holidays approach. My kids' schools have a million interruptions — gotta get to that assembly! Go help in the classroom for a party! — that pop up and sap my schedule. And then I'm desperately trying to file, file, file, so I can actually take time OFF…but trying to be better at the marketing this Dec.

  5. John Soares

    Carole, I find that one or more of my December projects gets delayed a bit and I wind up finishing in January.

    I actually prefer to keep my January schedule a bit light. I house-sit in the Santa Cruz, California area, and like to have time to go to the beach and hike in the redwoods.
    My recent post Why Freelance Writers Should Specialize

    • TiceWrites

      Hi John —

      Seems like I got this message twice. To stop being held up in my moderating module, join IntenseDebate, and then you'll go straight on.

  6. Anne

    As a former newspaper employee, I know that writers are needed in the newsroom and in the marketing/advertising departments for advertorial material. If you are a writer for newspapers/magazines (or aspire to be), get the special sections schedule (should be out be mid-October or early November). Make sure that it includes the advertorial sections. January is prime time for car shows and home-builder shows as well as special-interest magazines, such as wedding planning, that are designed and printed ahead of time for early-spring publication. Now would probably be an okay time to query about these sections. I know that I was never real busy around this time of the year! Just be sure to get the right editor or staff coordinator (I was a marketing writer, but hired freelancers and coordinated advertorial projects) for the section you are inquiring about.

    • TiceWrites

      AWESOME SUGGESTION, Anne! I never thought of that one.

      Thanks for adding another great strategy for keeping January busy!

  7. Jean Gogolin

    I took the advice of a good friend (and good marketer) and signed on to SendOutCards.com. He sends custom cards to clients and prospects regularly and they arrive by snail mail. They stand out because they're so retro! And, they're fun to make and receive. I plan to send a bunch over the holidays.
    My recent post NaNoWriMo- Creativity or Writing Frenzy

    • TiceWrites

      Sounds like another great way to have your clients think of you as you prep your January schedule!

  8. bmccrain

    Another great post Carol. I've been thinking about just this topic lately and so I made an extra marketing push to drum up work for January. As it stands I'm starting three new projects at the beginning of the year and have already started work for a regular client that will go into February.

    • TiceWrites

      Excellent, Brendan! Seems like I'm not the only person who has noticed the January problem, and is taking steps to prebook the first month of the year.

      I find if you don't, it's so hard to get clients' wheels grinding those first couple weeks of January to give you an assignment that would bill in that month…it's like it's already too late. And if they haven't already made a plan to get some writing done that month, they come in after New Year's swamped and just trying to get their head above water, and by the time they get organized, it's February.

  9. Jenny

    Good ideas Carol! Just the prompt I needed to contact a client who might have a project for me in the new year. Sometimes I forget it's all about visibility!

    I'm new around here and wanted to say thanks for all the valuable advice you offer on your blog. I've never had much of a web presence but I can see I need to change that.

    • TiceWrites

      Yes, you do! Stay tuned tomorrow for a blast of advice on writer blogs…

      And thanks for stopping in.

  10. M. Sharon Baker

    Carol,

    Just thought you may want an update. I penciled in more than $10,000 for 2011 – not just January – reaching out to one of my top four clients, the one I am not working with this month. And a lot of that came from looking at editorial calendars of the local business journal and other trade publications that accept contributed articles. This client wants to increased their exposure and with a little research and a few suggestions, I'm sure we'll top that $10K easily.

    As I was looking at the calendars, I saw several issues that another client might be interested in, and I'll use a suggested list of the ones she might be interested in to get back in touch. I have not talked to her for more than 9 months. Editorial calendars are a great excuse to use if you're looking for a place to begin an email to an old or even new client.

    • TiceWrites

      Woo-hoo! That is GREAT.

  11. Stephanie Mojica

    Marketing is a year-round effort, and things don't HAVE to dry up in January or any other time of the year.

    Writers in a financial pinch can also apply to reputable online content sites such as Bright Hub, Demand Media Studios, Break Studios, etc. Job bidding sites such as Guru and oDesk have plenty of writing opportunities year-round. I've made in excess of $90 an hour when in need by using such sites. This allows me plenty of time and financial space to market for the work I TRULY want and get the higher rates I deserve and my main clients will pay.

    Good luck to everyone!

    Peace, love, happiness, and prosperity,
    Stephanie

    • TiceWrites

      I know few writers who make anything like that hourly rate using places like Guru and oDesk — wonder if you could share some tips on how you get high-paying gigs on there — I'd welcome a guest post even!

      And I don't consider place like Bright Hub and Demand "reputable"…certainly not in the eyes of any editor I've ever met. The whole issue many mill writers who are my readers have reported is that these sites are so disreputable that they can't successfully parlay those clips into assignments anywhere else.

      But you raise a good point, in that the mills are around every single week of the year if you need to pick up a little quick cash!

      • Stephanie Mojica

        Carol,

        I'd be happy to write a guest post…I'll be in touch about that!

        And yes, Demand Media Studios and Bright Hub are definitely content mills, but they can pay the bills. Unlike many revenue-share only sites, they do offer the advantage of some fairly immediate income.

        Fortunately, I rarely if ever use them these days! But they did get me through some pretty harsh financial times.

        Peace,
        Stephanie

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