Freelancers: How much money are you REALLY making?

When I began relying on editing and writing to pay all my bills instead of just some of them, it became increasingly important to get a better handle on what I was making per hour. If you’re a freelancer, or even an editorial freelancer like me, you should really know how much you’re making per hour. If you don’t, that means a part of your finances is a mystery, and this can be dangerous to your wallet.

Getting paid per hour is great, but not all of my clients pay me that way. So, when you’re charging a flat fee for a project, how do you know what you’re really making?

Office Time became a valuable tool for me, recommended by fellow EFA members. I time my work even if I’m not being paid hourly. Office Time allows you to time your work easily and efficiently, and it gives you the option of inputting how much you make per hour—if you’re getting paid hourly. If you’re not, and you’re being paid a flat fee for a project, this program can help newbie freelancers gauge how much they’re really making per hour.

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Office Time for Mac. Also available for other platforms.

There are other great programs for tracking your time as well. I love Office Time. Having to tell a client how much you will charge on a given project can be nerve-wracking, and tests your faith in yourself and your own abilities.

There comes a time when you have to acknowledge you deserve to be paid for your skills, especially if you’re relying on them to pay the bills. Are you good at what you do? If the answer is yes, the time is now.

A great tool for freelancers: Office Time

Note: I did not receive any compensation for this, I just wanted to offer my honest opinion of this program.

Just Write: Career-minded authors, take note

My writing is going well, and this is no accident. I’ve been working feverishly on several projects, and I’ve signed four contracts over the past few months. How do you do that? You stomp on discouragement, and kick fear to the curb. Those sensations don’t serve you any longer.

Just write. It sounds easy, of course. Like anything that’s worth doing, it’s not easy. Today, I was thinking about the things that hold me back, and I managed to pinpoint the number one barrier that causes any so-called writer’s block, regardless of how long the block lasts.

HESITATION. Any kind of hesitation seems to throw a wrench into my timing chain. If I spend more than a brief second thinking about writing, it’s less likely to happen. That is because another sinful voice pops in to say hello.

DOUBT. Doubt is never welcome, but it whispers in my ear when I sit down to write. Doubt usually translates into, “Eh, I’m not really feeling it today,” or “I just don’t think anything I write at this moment will be any good.” How do we tackle doubt and hesitancy?

JUST WRITE. It takes a long time to learn to shuck off these horrid voices; it takes some of us longer than it takes others. National Novel Writing Month—coming up in November—was very helpful for me in this regard. I learned to write until I was finished, not back track, not think too much—just write. I apply everything I learned in NaNoWriMo to any writing I do the rest of the year.

If you intend to make money off your writing, I’d say the best thing to do is just write. Maybe the first draft will be terrible, but that’s okay. Worry about it when you’re done. Don’t waste your time thinking about it when you should be writing instead.

And most importantly, if you aren’t having fun, your approach needs to change. After all, what’s the point in doing anything if it isn’t fun? Wait, don’t answer that.

Just write.

The freelancer’s nightmare

I have been freelancing full-time for three months, but I’ve been doing it part time for the past eight years or so. When I started doing odd freelancing jobs, I wasn’t confident enough in myself, and I felt safe sub-contracting for small presses, editing for magazines, because it meant I wasn’t yet in the position where I’d have to quote a price or answer a client’s heavy questions. For now, the client was dictating the price, and I did what I was told. I wasn’t ready for full-time freelancing, and I knew it.

I’m grateful I’ve had the chance to step into it willingly; I haven’t been forced into freelancing by suddenly losing a full-time job. Over the course of many years, beginning when I was a small child, I knew I wanted to be my own boss, so I worked carefully toward that goal, learning as much as I could, observing others.

I remember my mother quipping, “If it were up to her, she’d stay in bed and write all day.” Well, here I am, living proof that a person can stay in her pajamas if she wishes, recline in her bed, getting paid to read and write all day.

But I’ve hit some bumps in the road, which is inevitable and expected. I’d like to share those with you.

Learning when to say no:

For quite a while, the people I worked for were either writers I knew well in person, or small presses who hired me over the internet. So, my first ever in-person total-stranger client was a very large, imposing, somewhat batty man, who had a penchant for telling wild tales and claiming they were true. No, this didn’t end well.

We made an appointment to meet, and talked for a while in a café. I walked away with a heavy paper copy of his book, because at that point I still preferred my red pen. I’d been warned he was a tad off-kilter, and I should’ve stayed away from him. But I needed the money.

Woah, stop right there.

Sorry, my friend. Never say yes to a client who gives you the willies just because you need money. The writing was terrible, the client was creepy, I quoted too low of a price, and then the author grew anxious, demanded we end our collaboration, and I returned his manuscript and was never paid.

If you want to be a freelancer, especially full-time, learn when to say no during an uncomfortable situation. It’ll save you a lot of time and hassle in the long run.

Undercutting:

The word along the grapevine is there aren’t enough good editors to go around. And I’ve heard too many horror stories from my clients that make me think, yeah, they’re probably right. When you’re first starting out, you may be tempted to do anything for just about any amount.

“Wait, what, too much? Okay, okay, how about fifty bucks?”

Hey there, buddy. Not good!

Have confidence in your abilities.

Some people can’t afford good services. Others can afford them, but don’t want to pay. Whatever you do, don’t become the desperate freelancer who is more anxious about getting paid something, anything, than providing good, honest services for a reasonable price. Being on the bottom of the barrel means you’ll be treated that way; you won’t be respected by clients, when in fact you deserve respect. Be proud of your skills, and make sure you get paid fairly. Don’t engage other freelancers in a game of dirty pool; it isn’t fair and it won’t help your reputation.

Organize your life:

Recently, my business has been getting hectic. I don’t mind; it’s a good thing. My client base is increasing, and things are going well. Maybe this has happened to you.

One day, you check your inbox, and you have an email from a client that says, hey, what happened? I haven’t heard from you in a week.

Ouch!

You never want to be that freelancer. We all make mistakes, but remember to learn from them. I am learning every day from my mistakes. When something like this happens, step back, re-examine things, and ask yourself where you can organize to keep things like this from happening.

I printed out two check-lists, daily and monthly, and put various copies around and on my desk. Every day, I train myself to look at those check-lists so I don’t miss anything. Other than my editing clients, I also have marketing clients, and I have to keep up with them on a regular basis. The check-lists help.

I also utilize Microsoft Outlook’s notifications and task manager to keep track of projects, as well as Excel.

There will always be bumps in the road. But rather than pretending they aren’t there, it makes more sense to fix the path. Make your mistakes, and move on. The freelancer’s nightmare doesn’t have to be reoccurring.

The freelancer’s paycheck

I never came across so many people who didn’t know what freelancing meant until I leapt full-time into editing. Even the people who handle my student loans had no idea what I was talking about. After I explained that I’m an editorial consultant, a freelancer, and that most of my clients pay me through Paypal, there was a long uncomfortable silence.

“No, like I just said,” I tried to explain, “I don’t get many paychecks, and all I have is my bank statements, because they’re personal checks and they don’t have stubs. Most of my clients pay me through Paypal. I could send over my Paypal statements.”

“Um, uh, um . . . let me . . . put you on hold while I . . . get the . . . uh, figure this out.” When he came back he said, “So you’re . . . mostly self-employed?”

“No. I am completely, totally self-employed.”

He didn’t seem to get that.

Despite the stares of confusion I receive whenever I have to explain what I do, I am really enjoying my job.

The biggest hurdle to overcome if you’d like to be a freelancer, or a consultant working entirely for yourself, is the fear of where your next paycheck is coming from. The student-loan man seemed shocked when I told him I had no idea where my next check was coming from.

“Do you get paid weekly, bi-weekly?”

“No,” I said again. “I never know when I’m going to get paid.”

I wasn’t going to go into the logistics of how my clients pay me or when; I was already fairly annoyed by that point.

I grew up in terror of money, or rather, of not having any. My mother was always worried we wouldn’t be able to pay the bills, so this constant worry rubbed off on me. It has taken an incredible amount of will-power to train myself to not worry so much; I try to counter these frantic thoughts with the mantra, I will have more than enough, I will be successful. So far, it’s working. But over the last few days, my will-power has crumbled, and I opened up the carefully labeled jar I’d placed on the dark shelf of my mind: Fear.

A good friend of mine, author of the memoir The Journey of a Motherless Child, wisely said, “Don’t water your weeds.” I have to focus on the positive and keep my goals in mind.

Something always triggers the terror; this time it was an off-handed comment someone made.

“Don’t ever get married, as long as you don’t get married, the government can’t come after your spouse for your student loans.”

Aaaaannd, queue onslaught of carefully tucked away terrors.

I don’t think I could do this job as well if I spent the majority of the time worrying about money.

This week, I face up to that fear and let it go.

If you love that weekly paycheck from your employer, and you’re afraid to give up that security, it’s possible freelancing isn’t for you.

But, it is for me. Oh, is it ever.

Maybe I’m only pretending to work

I can take my work wherever I go.

I can take my work wherever I go.

Freelancers, do you feel as if people suspect you of being a layabout? We work just as hard as anyone else to pay the bills, and there’s a lot more to being a freelancer that most people don’t consider.

In a recent forum posting, someone mentioned they felt they received more respect when they called themselves a consultant rather than a freelancer. This struck me as quite interesting. Words have power.

Just yesterday, I received the distinct impression my next-door neighbor believes my boyfriend supports me; I get the feeling she thinks I don’t work at all.

I am wondering how other freelancers feel about this. I wonder if people think we don’t have a “real job”? Not that it matters what other people think, but I can’t help but be curious. In a world where people are losing their jobs every day, I have read recently that more and more people are choosing to be self-employed. How do you think this will change how people view freelancers? Readers, what are your thoughts on this?

He asked rhetorically

It’s funny how lessons I’ve learned are attached to memories. I’m sure we all have things like that in our lives.

Like the day you realized you were putting your socks away in carefully wrapped balls just as your mother once had, even though you swore you never would.

This is kinda like that.

When I was in high school, I shared part of a story I was writing with my history teacher, Duncan. I remember the way his brow furrowed when he concentrated, and the way his glasses perched on the middle of his nose. Then he looked at me and said, “You can’t say ‘he asked rhetorically’ because it’s rhetorical. If it’s rhetorical, it’s obvious, so why would you say ‘he asked rhetorically’? The reader should already know that.” He chuckled.

To this day, every time I think of a rhetorical question, I think of Duncan.

Also, whenever I think of the word oftentimes, I think of Duncan as well. Sorry, Duncan. Oftentimes is a word. Attach a memory to that lesson, my friend.

Using Track Changes in Microsoft Word

I often ask clients if they are familiar with Track Changes in Microsoft Word, especially if I suspect they aren’t particularly computer savvy. Usually, they have no problem, but sometimes during a second round of editing I see evidence that the client had difficulty with something but never asked me about it. Remember, it never hurts to ask.

When you receive an edited document from your editor, open it up and take a look at the red marks.

track changes 1

Ye gods, who wrote this? Oh dear, it was me.

When I am working with an author on another round of editing, I always prefer they leave Track Changes turned on so I can see any new changes they make to the document. This way, nothing is missed. When you review your document, you might be accepting and rejecting changes, or just reviewing it to return it to your editor and give her the go-ahead.
The only thing you need to worry about is the Review tab, pictured below.

Don't let all the other tabs in Word confuse you. Zero in on this little baby and you'll do fine.

Don’t let all the other tabs in Word confuse you. Zero in on this little baby and you’ll do fine.

When you are accepting and rejecting changes, you have a few options. You can manually go through each change, or you can use the previous and next buttons so the program will take you through each change. Whatever you do, don’t go too quickly because you may miss something. I find that rushing through a task is often the easiest way to make a mistake. And you certainly don’t want that mistake to go to print if you’re preparing to publish.

Just the other day, I was proofreading a manuscript that had odd mistakes in it—errors I attributed to Track Changes. Of course, we can’t blame the program. As long as you take your time, and make sure you review each change carefully, you shouldn’t have any problems.

Begin at the top of the manuscript and go through each change individually by clicking the next button. Clicking either accept or reject will take you to the next suggested change.
If you make any changes, you’ll notice your changes will come up in a different color than your editor’s changes. If you hover over each change, it should also tell you who made that change.

If your editor left comments in the margin, you can review the comments by clicking next or previous under the comments box. After you finish with the comment, you can either delete it by right-clicking on the comment and clicking delete, or you can reply by adding your own comment box below it. In the past, I’ve had a lot of fun with clients who’ve become good friends; we joke back and forth using the comments box, and each round becomes more amusing. Of course, we still retain a modicum of professionalism—usually!

The most important thing to remember about Track Changes in Word is that, like anything else, it is fallible. It’s a wonderful tool as long as you know how to use it properly. Take your time, and if you have any questions, don’t be afraid to ask someone. There are also plenty of fantastic tutorials you can find online, and You Tube is a great resource.

If you’re almost ready to publish your manuscript, I congratulate you! I wish you the best of luck in your future endeavors.

Readers: I would like to know more about what you’re interested in. What would you like me to blog about? Comment and let me know.