Celebrating some freelancing success after one full year

My friend The $76K Project has been talking on twitter about building a small business. She reminded us all yesterday that it takes some patience. I knew that was true — I’ve freelanced before and I told everyone who would listen to me that I wasn’t expecting my current one to take off immediately — and yet it still kind of surprises me that, just over one year in, things are suddenly going great.

I’m going to start this post with a long string of numbers — income by month and source over the last year — so you can skip to the bottom for more actual content 🙂 (Because I use YNAB, “income for X month” was actually income I made the previous month, but it’s the only convenient way for me to record it now.)

Income for July 2018
Editing: $600.00
Blog ghostwriting: $150.00
Book review: $500.00 (note: this is very unusual and probably not repeatable.)
Total: $1250.00

Income for August 2018
Editing: $1428.00
Blog ghostwriting: $300.00
Total: $1728.00

Income for September 2018
Editing: $337.00
Blog ghostwriting: $1300.00
Total: $1637.00

Income for October 2018
Blog ghostwriting: $1100.00
Editing: $2223.00
Total: $3323.00

Income for November 2018
Blog ghostwriting: $800.00
Editing: $302.50
Lecture honorarium: $600.00
Total: $1702.00

Income for December 2018
Editing: $401.00
Blog ghostwriting: $400.00
Bank Account opening bonus: $500.00
Pollworker compensation: $110.00
Total: $1411.00

Income for January 2019
Editing: $1960.00
Blog ghostwriting: $800
Total: $2760.00

Income for February 2019
Editing: $4785.25
Blog ghostwriting: $0
Total: $4785.25

Income for March 2019
Editing: $3347.00
Blog ghostwriting: $400, but net $0 (subcontract)
Total: $3347.00

Income for April 2019
Editing: $810.00
Blog ghostwriting: $400.00
Total: $1200.00

Income for May 2019
Editing: $5793.00
Blog ghostwriting: $600, but net $200 (subcontract)
Total: $5993.00

Income for June 2019
Editing: $4526.00
Indexing: $1035.00
Blog ghostwriting: $400.00
Total: $5961

Income for July 2019
Editing: $5904.00
Blog ghostwriting: had to quit the gig
Total: $5904.00

Income for August 2019 (so far)
Editing: $3720
Teaching: $800
Total: $4520.00

Additionally, I have about another $7500 booked for work that I’ll perform in the last couple of weeks of July and first few weeks of August, so the August/September collective total will probably average more like $6000/month by the time all’s said and done.

Basically, as you can see, I was pretty much straggling along (with a couple of extra-good months mixed in) through March, when that “income for April” was actually received. In April I even had to use my life fund to cover about half my expenses. Then all of a sudden, WHOA. April, May, June, July, August (semi-projected), and September (projected): all pushing $6K, all well beyond my hoped-for average of $5000/month gross. I even had to first subcontract some of my blog work and then quit the gig altogether because I just don’t think I will have the time.

What happened? A few things.

First, I started working for a larger company, an academic press. This work isn’t regular or guaranteed, but I am on my fourth project for them in six months, so I feel pretty good about it. Each gig takes me about two weeks and pays somewhere between $3000-3500, so it’s a big chunk of income. [It pays by the page and I haven’t been really good about figuring out how well it corresponds to my hourly rate yet. I need to do that with the next project I do for them. It seems basically fine, but I’d like to know.] I also need to reach out to other similar companies to take their editing tests and get added to their freelance lists.

Second, summer is a good time for academic editing work. People are trying to finish projects and get them out to publishers while they’re not teaching.

Third, things are just starting to build overall. I’ve had repeat clients this summer, but I’m also starting to have chains of people. I did a small job for a friend eight months ago. She recommended me to a colleague, who I did a larger job for, and who recommended me to *her* colleague, who I just did a small job for — but it went well, so she projects hiring me for her whole book later this year. This kind of network effect is critical for businesses like mine, and for obvious reasons it just can’t happen instantly. Until recently I’ve depended on people I know personally or people *they* know personally. But friends of friends of friends of friends of friends are how this kind of thing becomes sustainable.

Actually, I’m at the point where I’m starting to have to figure out how to organize my time better. I worked WAY too much for a month or so in early summer — nights, weekends, the works. Then I decided I wasn’t going to take new work this summer beyond what I’d already booked. Then I said yes to a couple of things anyway, along with no to some other (mostly smaller) things. I’ve also lost a few potential clients recently — one person who interviewed like five folks and picked someone else, two who reached out to me tentatively but then decided a few months later they didn’t want to use an editor after all. And I love being able to not stress about that at *all*. Hey, it would have been nice to do that book, but also, omg, I have plenty of work and I won’t really miss the $1500 or so I would have made. That’s not something I would’ve said in January, when I really needed to book *everyone* that made contact with me.

Overall, I’m obviously very pleased. While not every month is going to hit $6000, I now see no reason why I shouldn’t be able to count on a baseline income of $60,000 a year (a $5000 average) while working around an average of 20-25 hours a week. Then I could choose to work more and make more money, or just be content with that and the spare time to pursue unpaid projects of various kinds.