No matter your field of writing, as a freelance writer you have a great deal of control over your earnings. You don't have to query, pitch, bid on or accept any project that doesn't meet your minimum rates. Of course, the more you want to make with your freelance writing jobs, the better you must compete and the more carefully you must choose where to compete.
Knowing what you need to earn will help you to know if a particular freelance writing job pays enough and will help you keep on track with your time budget.
To figure the amount you need to earn from your writing in a year, begin by calculating expenses. Be sure to include everything:
Mortgage or rent. Groceries Transportation. Household expenses. Personal expenses. Health insurance. Retirement savings. Credit card bills Professional development (organization membership fees, courses, conferences, books, etc.). Office supplies, Internet, a new computer, utilities, etc. Marketing costs you anticipate (nominal or significant, depending on your approach; this book will give you a clearer idea). Other expenses, such as "sick days," vacations, special family needs, etc.
Add these up, calculating the total for 12 months. Then divide by 1,000 hours. This will tell you how much you need to make during approximately 21 billable hours per week.
"Billable hours" refers to the time spent performing the tasks required of your writing assignments. These could be research, writing, conceptualizing (you might appear to be just staring out the window, but you are coming up with a tag line for a business), editing and proofreading.
The rest of a freelancer's work time consists of non-billable hours, that is administrative tasks. You can expect to spend around 50% of your work time on these.
Some spend more time, some less on administrative tasks, but Writer's Market (a comprehensive, annually updated database and book detailed in the next chapter) reports the average freelancer works 21 billable hours per week, which if working 40 hours a week, works out to just about 20 hours spent on administrative tasks.
These administrative tasks may include querying magazines, bidding on projects, promoting your website, keeping track of your expenses and payments, etc.
Communicating with clients and editors might be considered billable, depending on the topics being discussed. For example, payment negotiations would not be billable, but providing consulting could be, depending on your agreement.
Part Time Freelancing Budgets
If you will be freelancing part time, adjust the figures above. For example, if you will be keeping a job while wading into freelance, adjust the figures to reflect any benefits and income you get from the job and lower the billable hours to reflect the time you have for freelancing. As your skills and portfolio grow, you may want to just work part time at your freelancing business, job or no job.
There are many reasons one might only freelance part time - a mom with young children and a spouse's income, might not want to work 40 hours per week. By earning more per hour, you can work part time and make "full time pay."
Your Time Budget and Earnings
When you start considering where to market your work or apply for freelance writing jobs it will help to have a good idea first of how long it takes you to create a given type of writing.
For example, say you can write and polish an article of 800 words in three hours, and it takes you around two hours to complete the research/reporting in two hours. This works out to five billable hours per 800 words.
So if you see a magazine publisher that pays .50 cents per word and uses 1,600 word features, then you can figure on 10 hours of work for $1600. This works out to $160 per hour for you. Publishers don't pay freelancers by the hour, but you would do the math for your own time budgeting purposes.
If your annual earnings goal is $40,000 and you are freelancing full time, you need only make $40 per billable hour. So if you land this assignment you will be making 4 times your minimum rate. Some assignments will bring more or less than others. As long as it balances out, you're set.
And remember this isn't set it stone. As your portfolio and references skills increase you can raise the bar on your earnings from your freelance writing jobs and have more fun!
Robert Leichter is the author of The Freelance Writer's GPS: Explore freelance opportunities, chart your course, and navigate a successful writing career. To learn how to become a freelance writer - where to find freelance writing opportunities that are right for you and how to land them, how to manage a prosperous writing business and more, visit FreelanceWritingforProfit.com