Editor’s Note: this article compiles parts 1-4 of Kathy’s “How I Doubled My Freelance Income in Two Years” series that ran this week from Tuesday through Friday.
No one needs a reminder that it’s tax time.
We Canadians don’t have to file until April 30, but that doesn’t lessen the sting for those of us who actually work for a living — especially if, like me, you run your own business.
My accountant just gave me the “good news, bad news”:
The bad news is, I owe a low five-figure amount to the taxman right now. I’ll also have to cough up quarterly payments this year on top of that — something I normally don’t have to do.
That’s because — and this is where the good news comes in — as a freelance writer, I earned more in 2013 than I ever did before, even when I was working at a “normal” cubicle job.
Throughout this week, I’ll try to explain (to you and myself) how I went from making an average to an above-average income.
Believe me, none of these “lessons” will be terribly earth-shattering.
I certainly can’t promise that they’re universally applicable, either, or will even still work for me in six weeks or six years.
That said, they may still provide some food for thought at a time of year when we’re all forced to review our own individual bottom lines.
1. Always Say “Yes” (Except Sometimes).
At this juncture in my freelance writing career, clients and publishers approach me, not the other way around.
(Here’s how I got to that point.)
Today, one of my biggest challenges is knowing when to accept assignments and when to turn them down.
Mostly, I say “yes,” even if I’m (secretly) afraid to squeeze one more gig into my 14-hour a day, seven day a week schedule because my calendar already looks like a clown car, and I’d love to just veg out with a Criminal Minds marathon.
(Nope, The 4-Hour Workweek this ain’t. I don’t buy that gimmicky formula and neither does Timothy Ferriss or he wouldn’t be Timothy Ferriss…)
I’m able to say “yes” as often as I do now because a few years ago, I screwed up the courage to sometimes say “no.”
That’s when I’d first noticed a strange pattern:
The less someone pays you, the more work they demand from you — usually for free.
These “I need it yesterday!” types want multiple revisions and last minute changes, but they sure freak out when you add them to their bill.
Whereas my “high end” clients who are paying full freight are easier to work with.
They’re more satisfied with my efforts, and they pay faster, too.
So two years ago, I politely “fired” some long-time clients who were still enjoying my old, low “just starting out”/”I’m afraid to charge too much” rate.
I also stopped writing for publications that weren’t paying me enough. (No, I never write for free.)
This left me more time and energy to devote to newer, better paying (and more enjoyable) clients and publishers.
Yes, I still work long hours, but now those hours are less frustrating and more lucrative.
Yesterday, as part of my series about how I doubled my freelance writing income over the course of about 24 months, I advised you to “Always Say ‘Yes’ (Except Sometimes).”
Today’s tip is also somewhat contradictory:
2. Be Prepared (But Not Too Much)
A while back, a fellow writer asked me to look over the outline/proposal/project scope thingie he’d just prepared for a client.
The client had hired my friend to write the copy for a ten page website.
My friend’s outline was… 40 pages long.
Whereas I’ve written the copy for 40 page websites, and the outline was five pages long. Maybe.
And I only create outlines (or whatever you want to call them) if a client asks me to (and I can’t talk them out of it).
Otherwise I never write outlines. I’ve never had a business plan.
I do not make to-do lists. I avoid face-to-face meetings whenever possible.
Don’t get me wrong: My day, and therefore my week, is planned hour by hour, because my regular daily/weekly work routine rarely changes.
(As I said yesterday, my calendar looks like a clown car, and sounds like one too, thanks to the loud honking noises that remind menopausal me about my deadlines, even ones that have fallen on the same day of the week for years.)
However, my idea of “being prepared” involves, say, having two working computers (and mice and keyboards) at hand, at all times. And a LOT of batteries.
(And toilet paper and cat food, so I don’t have to interrupt my work day to restock those and other non-work-related necessities.)
I use the fastest and most reliable internet connection available, and, like the ones related to my blog’s dedicated server and its domain name, those (sizeable) bills are paid automatically.
Speaking of “automatically,” every file on my computer is backed up throughout the day to CrashPlan Central — except for my emails, which are stored to DropBox using Email Backup Pro.
In other words, “preparation” for me is about taking care of the boring, hardcore, mission-critical basics, not fiddling around with outlines, to-do lists and other calorie-burning “business” activities that give you the dangerous illusion that you’re actually working.
Again, maybe it sounds counter-intuitive, but rigid, real planning ahead and preparation actually allows me to be more flexible.
Only a day long, city-wide blackout has ever put me out of business completely. Even then, my husband and I drove to a Tim Horton’s in another, unaffected area code and used their free wi-fi.
(Yes, one day I’ll spring for a generator…)
This matters because — as I’ve said before — your clients don’t care about your problems.
A few hours after my mother died, I conducted a long-scheduled interview with a big-name author for Canada’s biggest newspaper.
This wasn’t just about me not wanting to give up the much-needed check, or lose my status as “Kathy the Reliable One.”
The author, her publisher and the newspaper were counting on my piece, to sell books (and newspapers). Period.
Which reminds me:
It isn’t enough to be prepared. You have to look that way, too.
When discussing deadlines or any other business, don’t mention your doctor’s appointment, or your child’s, or your temperamental computer or old cell phone or your flooded basement. (Or dead mother.)
As far as your editors and clients are concerned, you never have any problems.
And if you prepare the “right” way, you almost never do.
Today’s advice sounds pretty harsh, but I prefer the word “realistic”:
3. Trust No One (Not Even Yourself)
Seconds from now, that editor who gives you all those juicy assignments will be fired, or promoted to management, or sent to rehab.
That new client who seemed so easy to work with (and so flush with cash) will turn out to be stark raving mad.
The company you’ve worked with for years will go bankrupt. Or their office will go up in flames.
Not all these things have happened to me, but enough have that I never count on people, and circumstances, to stay in stasis.
An older, wiser writer told me recently, after I finished whining about my shabby treatment at the hands of a longtime colleague:
“These people are not your friends.”
The people you work for, and with, prioritize their own financial and personal well-being — as they should.
And those are the sane ones. You will also work for, and with, individuals who are unstable and untrustworthy.
(Although, if you learn to listen to — and obey — your gut, you’ll be able to keep most of them out of your life.)
(That is: “Be polite, be professional, but have a plan to kill everyone you meet.”)
Diversify. Don’t spend money before you get it. A promise is not a contract.
Accept more work than you think you can handle, because at least one of those gigs will implode.
(And if it doesn’t, you’ll discover you were capable of working harder than you thought…)
Don’t trust yourself, either. I hate my “clown car calendar” and my copious Post-It Notes and noisy alerts.
I hate having to write down even the dumbest, most obvious idea because if I don’t I’ll forget it seconds later.
That said, I hate myself a lot more when I can’t extract that brilliant sentence from my brain when I need it.
Newsflash: We’re all human. Your clients will let you down.
And you probably aren’t the effortlessly organized dynamo with the photographic memory you pretend to be.
If you accept your own limitations, and other people’s, you may actually find yourself enjoying more success than you ever thought possible.