Here are three things I know about you:
- You work hard, write well, and care passionately about the work you do. But you’re not earning the money you deserve or living the life of freedom you once envisioned for yourself.
- Your marketing is ad hoc, often inspired by guilt and feelings of “I should.”
- The cash flow in your business sucks. You’re tired of chasing clients for money, of having no idea what you’ll make the next month, and scared of letting go of awful clients for what it might do to you financially.
How do I know? Been there, done that.
It took me over ten years to figure out that it doesn’t have to be this hard.
I wrote for some of the world’s most prestigious publications—The New York Times, TIME, CNN, ABC News, The Christian Science Monitor, Ms., GlobalPost, The Independent, Vogue, Glamour, Elle, Cosmopolitan, Marie Claire, and many more. And yet, cash flow was always a problem in my business. There were feasts (and what awesome feasts they were!) but there were also the famines. And when I became the sole breadwinner for my family a few years ago, the famines became a lot harder to bear. They almost paralyzed us.
I had to come up with a system for keeping the cash flowing through my business fast. And I did.
That process and that system of getting recurring income is what I want to share with you now. You don’t have to wait ten years to figure out how to be a freelancer who makes a regular income. You can start right now, today.
Ready? Read on.
Step 1: Create Your Freelancing Roadmap
The very first thing you must do when you start thinking about regular income and how much money you need to be bringing in each month is to calculate your numbers.
My formula for this calculation is pretty simple.
- How much do you need to make per month just to keep the lights on? This is the very basic minimum that you need to make every month from your freelancing in order to be able to keep freelancing.
- How many hours can you realistically work this month?
Seriously, answer those two questions before reading ahead.
Let’s pretend that you need to make $3,000 every month. Let’s also pretend that you have about 40 hours a week in which to do this.
Now we all know that you’re not going to be writing for all those 40 hours. You’ll need to do some administrative work, marketing, and checking of emails, so let’s just assume that you can write for half the time, which is about 20 hours.
With me so far?
Now, to make $3,000 a month writing 20 hours a week or 80 hours a month, you would need to be paid $37.50 an hour. That’s your base rate.
Doable, right? It’s a pretty low rate. You can easily get work for $37.50 an hour to keep yourself afloat. (And if you can’t, if making $37.50 is a struggle for you, you need to sign up for Content Marketing for Journalists right this very minute and learn how to get some high-paying work through the door a.s.a.p.)
So, I’m going to assume that while you want to be making far far far more than $3,000 a month, if you were able to bring in that much from recurring income, it would give you room to breathe, right? If you didn’t have to worry about marketing every single day just to pay the rent, you’d be able to focus on those bigger clients, correct?
So do that. It’s difficult to get clients who will pay you $200 an hour every month with little to no marketing, but you can easily get the $37.50 an hour gigs. Don’t worry about how the rate is beneath you, how experienced you are, etc. You’re not going to stick to this rate long. But if you’re at absolute rock bottom, you need to give yourself a break from the panic. This is how you do that.
So, that’s step 1.
Step 2: Replace the Low-Paying Clients with High-Paying Ones
Now. It’s two months later. You’ve got $3,000 a month coming in regularly and you’re confident you won’t need to move your husband and children into your parents’ basement next month. You’re steady. Stable.
Now it’s time to grow.
Now you start going intense with the marketing.
But now you’re going to go big with your marketing, massive, doing it as if nothing else matters, but… and here’s the part that’s different… you’re only going to aim for high-paying clients that have the potential to become regulars. Every time you add a new higher-paying client, you let go of one of the lower-paying ones.
You keep doing this until you’ve replaced all your low-paying clients. Then you turn around and do it again. And again. And again. Until you’re at a point where you’re really happy with the work and income you have and all your regular clients are people who not only pay you well but also that you adore working with.
So, where the heck do you find these people? Good question.
Here are my top tips.
1. Your existing clients
Okay, so if you haven’t already asked your existing clients if they have regular content needs—HELLO?—just get off this page right now and go do that.
I mean it. Seriously.
Just e-mail all your clients and ask them if you can take your every-now-and-again gig with them, whatever it is, and convert it into a monthly thing. Give them a discount if it helps. Regular work—at least in the beginning—is far more valuable than high-paying work because it keeps you afloat. Obviously, I’d rather you have both, but if you need to give a discount or cut your rates slightly so that can have money coming in each and every month with no extra marketing effort on your part, do it.
2. One-off clients
That agency director you did one blog post for and then never heard from again? Follow up.
That editor who assigned you two stories and you never again pitched anything to? Pitch her.
That website owner who asked you to do the entire content for her redesign? Ask her if she’s starting up a newsletter or has other content needs.
You get the drift here, right? If they’ve worked with you once and liked your work, they may want to work with you again. And if they’re open to working with you again, they may consider working with you on a recurring basis.
3. Contact agencies
Content agencies are a fantastic source of recurring income for many freelancers I know because they have many different clients, all sorts of projects, and are often in need of reliable freelancers. If you can make an impression at a high-level agency, you can make very good money on a recurring basis.
4. Your professional networks
Finally, your freelance colleagues are a fantastic source of information about clients. Look through their LinkedIn profiles to see who they’re working for, participate in Facebook groups where people are actively sharing information, and of course—I hope this doesn’t need to be said—be generous with sharing information, too.
When everyone pools their resources together, it becomes very easy to see where the opportunities are and how you can take advantage of them.
Recurring income can be a massive boon in a freelance writer’s life, especially if there are creative projects you want to work on that don’t bring in the cash immediately. Having clients who repeatedly give you work helps you create time for those projects and achieve greater happiness and satisfaction with your writing.
This is how you get it.
By the way, if you’re disorganized and scattered as most freelancers are, you can’t afford to miss Your Freelance Business Blueprint, my 8-session workshop on getting your freelance business act together. If you keep forgetting to chase those invoices or struggle to put together that business Excel sheet, this workshop will give you all the tools for your business while you focus on the part that you love—the writing. Sign up here.