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How one writer nearly lost $5K from a very common freelancer mistake

Posted by Ilise Benun on

I think you’ll like this post from a new guest blogger, Lindy Alexander, who made the mistake I see a lot of creatives making: imagining you’ll be overwhelmed with work if you promote yourself too much! Enjoy!

Since I started freelance writing full time at the beginning of 2017, I’ve been conscious that I need to ensure I have enough work and enough income.

One of the biggest things I have struggled with is how much to prospect or hustle for work. If I put in proposals for all the briefs that interested me and that I was qualified for, if I pitched every other day to editors, if I sent out 20 letters of introduction – what would happen if all the irons I had in the fire blew hot at the same time?

That thought, the thought that I would be overwhelmed with work, almost cost me 5K.

It happened in January this year. A director from an agency I do some work for had got in touch to let me know an opportunity was coming up and told me I would be “a perfect fit”. The director let me know as soon as the opportunity was posted so that I could put in my proposal first. I was feeling so confident. And this was no small change. It was a project worth $5,000.

So you know what I did? I waited. I still worked on all my projects and articles I had in the pipeline, but I didn’t pitch for anything else or look for any other work because I assumed I’d get the gig. I was already excited about exceeding my monthly income target by a few thousand dollars.

But I heard nothing. The end of January crept closer, and I still hadn’t heard. I suddenly realized that not only might I not exceed my monthly target, but also that I might not even make my target income for that month.

I had counted my chickens too early.

With a week to go until the end of January I knew that I needed to get marketing. I hurriedly pitched some ideas and made up most of the shortfall.

But I was still under my target for January by $300.

It can be hard for freelancers to strike the right balance between prospecting and waiting for the work to roll in. For me, having a spreadsheet dedicated to tracking my monthly income has really helped me recognise (the fairly obvious fact!) that I can’t make my target income unless I have work commissioned.

Being a perfect fit without a signed contract or firm commission just doesn’t pay the bills.

My spreadsheet is simple – it records the variety of writing work I do (writing for magazines, newspapers and websites, as well as research work and corporate writing) and the way I get paid (sometimes by the word, sometimes by the hour and sometimes I receive a flat fee).

Here’s an example of my spreadsheet (with random numbers plugged in).

Lindy monthly target example

I set a target income each month and work towards it. If it’s not on the spreadsheet, I can’t count it as income, no matter how promising the prospect may be.

So what about if all those letters of introduction and all your pitches come to fruition? Well, all your ships might come in at the same time, but it’s unlikely. And even if they do, you will probably have some room to move with deadlines. And in the short term, surely too much work is better than not enough.

And you know what? That $5K gig has still not come through. The client has put it on hold indefinitely.

Lindy Alexander is a full time freelance writer who writes for Australian newspapers, magazines and websites. She also writes health-based white papers, discussion papers, fact sheets and case studies for universities, non-profits and corporate organizations. Lindy shares all her tips and tricks about full time freelancing at www.thefreelancersyear.com and regularly tweets about the best resources to help freelance writers.

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