Knowing what you want and need to earn is essential in learning how to price yourself in your current stage of freelancing.
I’m a very goal-oriented person. I have weekly goals, monthly goals, and yearly goals. I also have daily goals.
While some people view goals as limiting, I’ve found that setting the right goals and moving towards them has actually allowed for more freedom in my life. As creative freelancers, it is often much too easy to come to the desk in the morning and be paralyzed by the sheer number of things that we need to get done. By setting goals, you allow yourself the clarity to see what you need to be working on and focus your attention on the things that will move your career forward.
I feel the same way about income goals.
One of the most common questions I see on freelancer forums and Facebook groups is from writers who don’t know where to begin with pricing themselves. They get an assignment, and they’re not sure whether to take it because they’re unclear on how positively or negatively it will impact their overall income.
While external factors are certainly important, I believe knowing what you want to earn and need to earn is essential in learning how to price yourself and navigating through what’s acceptable for your business and your stage of freelancing.
That all starts with setting income goals. Here’s how to go about doing that.
Setting Income Goals
The most important aspect of income goals is to set them. You have to be realistic, but you also want to challenge yourself. I recommend calculating two numbers:
- Your base income
- Your target income
The base number is the minimum you need to earn given your circumstances. For example, while you know you can survive on $500 a month, you know you can easily bring in $2,000 worth of work in a month with little difficulty. That’s your base income.
To calculate this number, I recommend sticking with the average of what you’ve made in the last quarter. If you make $2,000, $4,500, $3,000, and $2,500 in the last four months, your base income is $3,000. You should average this going forward with no additional effort or pain.
This number is what I treat as the floor. As in, I won’t go below this unless the floor is being pulled from under my feet and I’m in circumstances that require desperate action.
Your target number is the number we’ll focus on when setting income goals. This is the number that makes you quiver in fear, but also brings a smile to your face when you imagine hitting it. It’s also somewhat achievable in the next three to six months. This is a number that you truly believe you can hit, not some random number that is completely unreasonable, unrealistic, and unachievable. If you’re averaging $1,000 a month, setting the target for $10,000 a month, while possible, only serves to discourage you if you don’t hit it in your first few tries. Try reaching for $2,000 or $3,000 instead, so you can make exponential jumps quickly.
Remember, your target should be a number that seems a little out of reach. Not so far that you can’t see it. You can see it, you can believe it, but you can’t touch it. Yet.
Meeting Income Goals
Meeting income goals essentially comes down to focus. Let me explain.
1. Learn to say no
Every time you get an acceptance or the offer of an assignment, look at it objectively, see whether it helps or hinders you from meeting your goals and only then, accept it or turn it down.
That may sometimes mean saying yes even if it’s a dry topic you dislike and will have to suffer through.
It may sometimes mean saying no to a low-paying “opportunity” for visibility.
Not that you can’t or shouldn’t take on passion projects. You can and you should. Just don’t count them with your “income” goals. They may add to your income and if so, that’s fantastic, but don’t start relying on them if you’re serious about meeting your income goals. (Or reassess whether your income goals are really yours or just an ego-driven exercise.)
When I coach freelancers, I’ll ask my clients to calculate the hourly rate they need to be charging based on their base income needs and the number of hours they work. If someone is working 30 hours a week, of which only 20 hours are writing (80 hours a month) and they need to be earning $4,000 a month to pay bills, their rate needs to be at least $50 an hour ($4000/80). If they don’t earn that for every assignment, they won’t meet their income targets. It’s that simple.
Don’t cram your schedule so much with $20-an-hour work that you never have the time for the $100-an-hour work to even show up.
2. Market routinely and consistently
If you have 30 hours a week in which to work, and you can write for 20 of those hours, the only way you’ll meet your income goals is by filling up those 20 hours with assignments. And you do this by making sure you’re routinely reaching out to new clients and tapping into new opportunities. Filling your hours is, in fact, the hardest part for most writers because it requires planning, thinking ahead, and, of course, working efficiently.
(Want to know why you’re not making the freelancing income you want? Read this.)
When you do this, however, you allow for a steady stream of work to fill up your days. Ideally, you’d fill up the 20 hours for the next two weeks in advance so your marketing is future-focused. This is, of course, harder to do as a new writer and gets easier the more experienced you become.
3. Find recurring sources of income and clients
For content marketing and corporate writing work, recurring clients are a lot easier to come by than for journalism. (Here’s how to get them.)
The only way to build recurring revenue with your journalism clients is to pitch consistently. I send 30 pitches a month once every quarter and that sets me up for the next few months. It’s become habitual, a part of my routine.
Every time you finish an assignment for a client, send them a new pitch. This means that even if you’re not on an official schedule, you’ll get work more consistently than you would otherwise.
With content marketing and corporate clients, push for quantity. Once you’ve done good work, you can raise your rates, but building that regular client base has to be top priority because it gives you income you can depend upon, schedule for, and build from.
(New to content marketing? Here’s a 10-part series that will get you started.)
Where most writers fail in the setting and achieving of income goals is that they either aren’t realistic about setting targets or not focused enough to keep tracking how they’re doing as the month goes by.
If you get those two things right, you’ll be well on your way to meeting any income goal that you set for yourself now and in the future.
Natasha Khullar Relph
Founder and Editor, The Wordling
Natasha Khullar Relph is an award-winning journalist and author with bylines in The New York Times, TIME CNN, BBC, ABC News, Ms. Marie Claire, Vogue, and more.
She is the founder of The Wordling, a weekly business newsletter for journalists, authors, and content creators.
Natasha has mentored over 1,000 writers, helping them break into dream publications and build six-figure careers. She is the author of Shut Up and Write: The No-Nonsense, No B.S. Guide to Getting Words on the Page and several other books.
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