Here’s What I’ll Earn from Freelance Writing in 2011

Carol Tice

Do you know what you will earn as a freelance writer this year?

I do.

Or let’s say, I’ve got a real good idea of the figure I’ll see when I close the books on 2011.

How can I tell?

We just passed the six-month mark — halfway through the year.

That means it’s time for your half-year checkup. Not a doctor’s visit, but a financial-health checkup, to see how your freelance-writing business is doing.

At this point in the year, you can add up what you’ve earned from writing so far, multiply by two, and get a good estimate of your gross annual earnings.

Don’t like what that figure tells you? Then it’s time to start marketing your writing business more aggressively to bring in new clients for the back half.

Speaking of which, midyear is a great time to analyze your past marketing efforts, too, and see what’s paying off…maybe tinker a bit with how you’re spending your marketing time.

Not tracking your earnings? Then it’s time to start.

The more aware you are of what’s coming in and going out, the better you can gauge whether you have room in your schedule for a new project — or whether you’ll be able to cover your bills. I’m kind of a numbers dork, so I’m always fascinated to add it up and see how I’m doing.

Tracking your earnings — and your bookings — doesn’t have to be complicated. For years I just wrote a bunch of entries in a Word document and added them up with a calculator.

I’ve got better data now because starting this year, I’m invoicing through Freshbooks (which has a free level for the first few clients you track). It allows me to see instant totals by month, by client, or about any other way I want to cut the data. Love it!

We’re far enough into the year that you can do some serious analysis of your client base, too. With Freshbooks this is a snap — I can tell at a glance who my biggest clients are, and what I’ve made from each one.

This is useful information to bear in mind when a client’s annoying and you’re thinking of telling them to shove it. If your data shows they’re one-quarter of your income, you might decide to keep your cool. Or maybe the numbers tell you they really aren’t worth the trouble.

Think not just about totals but the hourly rate each client represents. It may be time to weed out a few losers, or try to pitch your higher-paying clients more projects.

Each month, I start with a forecast of earnings based on bookings I have. That tells me how much more work I need to find to make my target for that month.

I try mightily not to let any assignments’ deadlines (and revenue!) slip into the following month (failed that course in June, though). That creates a domino effect of lower monthly income that leads inevitably to lower annual income.

But back to my numbers.

Last year, I came within spitting distance of earning six figures from writing, but fell just short.

This year, my projection is I’ll be solidly over that line. That’s been a goal of mine for a while, to officially be a six-figure freelancer, so that feels great.

Of course, there’s no guarantee that the second half of the year will turn out like the first.

I’ve got vacation weeks coming up that will cut into revenue, and clients will come and go. But I like having a solid estimate of what I’ll earn.

If your income is too unpredictable to make a year-end estimate at the half, it’s time to even out the bumps and lumps. The best way to do that is by finding bigger clients with ongoing assignments and better rates, so you start each month with some good-paying work already booked.

Have you done a year-end estimate? Tell us how you track your progress.


  1. Corey Freeman

    Awesome post. I’m actually just getting started in my freelance writing career, but now I have a good metric for when the year finishes – multiplying my first 1/2 year by two for an estimate. Right now I’m actually using which is a free bookkeeping web application. From what you’ve said, I think outright has many of the same features as freshbooks.

    • Carol Tice

      Cool Corey! I have heard of Outright…actually quoting them today on my Entrepreneur blog!

      I really do feel stupid that I was using back-of-the-envelope level tracking for so long. It’s highly informative to be able to push a button and see, Oh, look, that client only sent me $800 of work all year…or wow, that one is worth $14,000.

  2. Megan Collins Quinlan

    You are so right that it pays to keep a good track of what you are earning. I tend to add up my figures at the end of each month and make sure that every month it is increasing just a little. By doing that I have doubled my income in one year – not bad going.

    the funny thing is that even though I am earning twice as much, I am not doing twice as many hours. It is clear that I am working smarter, charging more and getter better at what I do.

    I am sure that I am still underselling myself, but that might be my target for the second half of 2011 – start increasing my prices and see what happens.

    To earn six figures is amazing. I need to keep reading your posts to see how you do it!

    • Carol Tice

      Doubling your income is A W E S O M E. I don’t care where you started from. I have one mentee right now who is earning like 2 1/2 times what she was when she started. It’s still not a big figure, but to me it’s a big mental change — it means you are out there marketing and you’re focused on growing the business. And you can double it AGAIN.

      When I started, my whole dream was just to replace my staff-writer income. After a while the light dawned on me: As a freelancer, YOUR INCOME POTENTIAL IS UNLIMITED. Once you adopt that abundance mentality, things really change.

      Personally, I feel like work is growing on trees right now…I got 3 major nibbles for big projects in the past 3 days, all off passive marketing, mostly my LinkedIn profile. Feel like things are percolating out there!

      • Ron - Top 20 SEO Copywriting Blogs

        Definitely! I count Carol Tice as one of the true freelancers out there apart from the likes of Jennifer Mattern and Deborah Ng. And whoa! I am really not focusing on being a freelancer, but being a six-figure blogger instead. Maybe David Risley will be of any help, what do you think? 😉

  3. Anne Wayman

    Great Carol, congratulations. More proof that there are plenty of good paying gigs for freelancewriters out there.

  4. Ahlam

    This is a great 6 month resolution check-up! So often individuals start with so much energy at the beginning of the year and this energy just dwindles off somewhere…Freshbooks is a great way to keep track of your clients, but so too is a pen and notebook! I still log in my estimates in a notebook, at the end of the month I tally up which assignments went through and which didn’t and log them into an official accounts book. It’s about getting a system in place that works for you and sticking to it. Love this post Carol.

    • Carol Tice

      Hi Ahlam —

      Well that’s pretty much how I used to do it. But then what if you want to know who is your biggest client? I can tell in 2 seconds with software. How many clients do I have? Again, I push a button. It’s really a big timesaver and I have a lot more information now than I used to — and information is power to know your best next steps for the business.

  5. John Soares

    Very smart practice Carol. It’s something I need to do more often. In my specialty I do fewer and larger projects than most other freelance writers, so I have periods, even a whole month, with no income, but then I’ll have high income the next month.

    At a minimum writers need to keep a running total of money they’ve earned for the year and the money they’re owed.

    • Carol Tice

      Ooh, I am glad you bring that up John!

      Obviously, the BIG point of using Freshbooks is I can tell at a glance whose bills are overdue and immediately be on them for payment.

  6. M. Sharon Baker

    Good advice Carol, especially for anyone trying to book a vacation that’s longer than a day or two.

    I use Quickbooks and do a quick check monthly. Being able to track customers, especially over several years, is very helpful.

    I like having the ability to see exactly when a certain company purchased services over time, which allows me to map the best time to call them a year later and tailor my sales funnel.

    • Carol Tice

      Great tip for anyone with seasonal clients!

  7. Carol Tice

    Well welcome to the blog, Lisa!

    Of course the big question mark for me is what the blog will earn and my own products…I’m not figuring that into this math as it’s more unpredictable.

    But that’s another plus to opening Freelance Writers Den from my end. I’ll have more predictable income instead of waiting to see what demand is for each individual Webinar, plus I’m hoping I’ll spend less on marketing time for my monthly Webinars as I’ll just be encouraging people to do one thing. So I can annoy readers with that less.

    And the readers get WAY more learning materials for a lower price than the cost of one normal Webinar bought solo…so hoping it’s a win all around.

  8. Vivek Parmar

    If you are a freelancer then its must that you track your earnings. Tacking earnings allow you to paln your future and long term goals

  9. Luana Spinetti

    Hi Carol,

    I have to admit I can never stop learning from you. 🙂 No, I didn’t track my earnings regularly this year. I do remember I hit the $500/month on December 2010 and January 2011, which is the biggest I’ve ever earned with freelance work so far. Other than that though, with university classes and coming home super-tired at night, I often forgot about my tracking program. I hope I can be more regular with it starting December 2011.

    Thank you for being my daily inspiration, Carol. 🙂

    ~ Luana S.

  10. Erika

    I’m wondering if I should try some kind of billing/tracking software. I do everything in Excel. After I manually do my invoices, I enter the numbers onto an Excel spreadsheet that automatically tracks days outstanding, income by client, monthly average and projected yearly income. I don’t have so many clients, yet, so this is simple and works for me. Maybe I’ll consider software when it gets unwieldy.

    • Carol Tice

      Dunno…I just hate Excel! I think if you tried Freshbooks you’d never look back.

      I’m just digging the data I’m able to get out of it…not to mention the invoices I generate in about 2 seconds that look more pro than the Word docs I was previously sending. I’m thinking Excel doesn’t do anything for you on that end, either.

      I did manual invoices for years, and I am SO happy to have left that behind!

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