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


  1. 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,

    • 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


      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.


  2. M. Sharon Baker


    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.

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