Why I Decided to Go Public With My Freelance Income

Why I Decided to Go Public With My Freelance Income

In 2016, I decided to get serious about my freelance writing career. The problem was that, after spending the previous four years as a stay-at-home mom, I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to hack it as a “real” writer. So I lowballed my earning power, giving myself the modest goal of bringing in $1,000 per month — and even that felt untenable.

I didn’t tell anyone my plan. I don’t think I even wrote it down. But I exceeded my goal every month except one. And at the end of my first year, I made double the income I thought I would, to the tune of just over $22,000.

Buoyed by my relative success, I decided to make some seriously lofty income goals for 2017. More than that, I went public with them. I wrote them on Facebook, on my personal blog, in freelancing groups online, everywhere. I was hoping that going public would help keep me accountable, and that I would find community in a sometimes lonely profession.

Here’s what I shared:

My Previous Year’s Income. Not only did I share that I had reached $22,000, I also detailed exactly how I made that money. While I did write some features for a couple big, glossy magazines, the bulk of my jobs were far less glamorous and lucrative. I shared that I had jobs ranging from a $25 reprint of a blog post, to a $1,600 magazine article — but that most were in the $75 to $150 range. I thought it was important for people to know that pay can really vary, and that it takes a lot of hard work and hustle to make a career out of freelance writing.

Mistakes I’d Made. When I started, I had no idea what “reasonable” rates were. I was developing, photographing and writing recipe posts for $10 a piece — that didn’t even cover the cost of ingredients. In an effort to pick up steam, I didn’t stop to think about whether what I was being paid was fair, and I wanted others starting out to keep this in mind when deciding whether assignments were worth their time.

Big Goals and Mini-Goals. Instead of setting a small, achievable goal and keeping it to myself, I decided to be ambitious — and share it with the world. I put out there that I wanted to make $40,000 in 2017. I also publicized a few other mini-goals: Set work hours for myself daily to avoid writing against deadline in the middle of the night; get my work placed in four print magazines; make half my income from steady gigs — that is, ones that I didn’t have to constantly pitch; and write for four new dream publications.

Progress. Every quarter, I gave updates. I talked about the highs and lows of freelance life. There are those days when you land a great new assignment or publish a viral article, but there are also times when you get seven rejections by 7 a.m. I wanted to be real about the scope of my experience, and it turned out to be eye-opening.

A year later, I can honestly say going public with my goals helped push me. I doubled my previous year’s income, making a total of $44,000. I wrote for four new dream outlets, including one that helped me land a book deal. I didn’t publish any articles in print magazines — but I did write my first set of travel articles and move into the world of nonfiction publishing. Here are some of the insights I gained:

The author, pictured in her home office, set strict work hours for herself in order to meet her income goals.The author, here in her home office, set strict work hours for herself in order to meet her income goals.

Expect Pushback. I didn’t share my income goals to brag about how much I made. I wanted accountability as well as to help demystify the world of freelance writing. But I soon found that sharing rates was taboo in many circles, especially if you work for both smaller, lower-paying publications and the bigger ones that pay well.

“Rate-shaming” is rampant in some online freelance groups, and admitting that a lot of my work landed in the “subpar” range made people uncomfortable — especially because I was finding success by mixing and matching small and big jobs. There were a few who chastised me for taking jobs that were below the rate writers “deserve,” saying I was enabling large, underpaying content mills. Of course, I would love to exclusively work for high-paying publications, but that is not the reality for most writers working their way up. Being honest about that was important.

It Built Solidarity. Breaking down the mystery of how I made a living did leave me feeling exposed, but it also felt like I was paying it forward. I wish someone had shared their financial behind-the-scenes with me when I was floundering. For every person who trolled me, there were at least 10 more who thanked me for being open and honest.

I also connected with fellow writers who were tired of the taboo surrounding talking about money. Now I have a community of like-minded freelancers who push each other. We share in the triumphs and failures, and it is so much better than going it alone.

Big Goals Need Little Steps. I broke down my goals by month, then by week, to help me know if I was staying on track. I became hyper-organized about how I approached my income, instead of just hoping that I’d made it after tallying up my jobs at the end of each month. I wrote down small action items when it came to pitching stories, sticking to a writing schedule and finding a good mix of jobs. I also let my husband know my work hours each week, so he’d know when he’d be fully in charge while I worked behind closed doors.

While it was nerve-wracking to put myself and my income out there, I don’t think my year would have been nearly as successful without the accountability that going public afforded me. Talking about how much I made helped me set goals in a much more ambitious way, helped me be more strategic than I’d ever been about my finances — and got me to exceed my own expectations.

RELATED: 3 Easy Tricks That’ll Help You Reach Your Money Goals This Year

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