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.

8 thoughts on “Celebrating some freelancing success after one full year

  1. Maria says:

    Wow, that’s amazing! $60,000 a year while working 20-25 hours a week (on average)! QUEEN!

    1. thesingledollar says:

      Yeah, I think it’s pretty good! I should probably add a few unpaid hours a week to that; got to email people, update the website, work with my finance spreadsheets, etc. But still! And there’s no commute 🙂

  2. Isabella says:

    Terrific! That’s a very good income for hours worked.

    1. thesingledollar says:

      Yes! I can charge a good hourly rate for what I do. It’s still kind of variable because some people pay by the page and there are other variables like rush fees. But it’s overall pretty good, even when accounting for unpaid hours spent on the business (emailing people, updating website, etc) and for freelance taxes.

  3. Thanks so much for sharing this and being transparent. I’m super impressed by your income and having some diversity in its sources.

    Also, blog ghostwriting is maybe the coolest sounding job ever. 🙂

    1. thesingledollar says:

      hah! It does sound kind of cool. I’ve done it before and my experience was the same this time — it starts out really fun and after six months I run out of ideas for posts about managing student loans 🙂 I was super grateful for these gigs because I really needed the money, but I’m also ok with moving on. That said I think diversity is key to freelancing happily and I think I’m going to try to add, not just another employer, but another category of work next year.

  4. Afro Penny says:

    This was a really timely post for me. I’m just finishing my second week in my new role and was already thinking about a side gig. I was thinking about retail but when I look back at the last holiday season, I really didn’t make that much compared to the hours I had to invest. I think I will look into writing gigs as it is something I enjoy doing.

    I am not quite through your entire blog archive but I’m getting closer. So impressive.

    1. thesingledollar says:

      Yeah, the problem with retail and anything else minimum wage is that it just doesn’t seem worth the time you’re giving it, if you have ANY other option. You’d probably get more money-time babysitting or petsitting. Writing gigs are pretty good, I think; if you read money blogs for a while you get the style down pretty well and the research typically isn’t that hard, so the time-to-cash ratio is often quite high. If you comment on others’ blogs for a few months and get to know people in the PF community, the likelihood that you can network your way into a paid gig is pretty high. That’s how I got all of mine when I had them.

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