How to boost your earnings
When reviewing your annual income, it’s hard not to look at whatever you earned and wish it had been a wee bit more. Some years, an awful lot more.
With this in mind, here are three ways to increase your earnings this year:
Grandfather in prices for most of your existing clients, and raise rates with the new.
The holy grail of workflow for most freelancers is a steady, strong one—but feast or famine is a common reality, especially in the early years when building up skills and a client base.
One spring I was overbooked—at the time I thought of it merely as “busy”—when a reliable client referred me to another client, who offered me work. The new project had a firm deadline. I did not want to say I had no capacity, so instead I quoted an hourly rate that was for me at the time crazy high.
The client didn’t blink, and immediately sent a contract through. And yep, I sure did find the time.
The original client had been my highest-paying up until that new contract, and provided steady, straightforward work every quarter that I could count on. In this case, breaking through my price ceiling with the new client didn’t mean it was time to ask the existing client for a raise.
Establish a minimum fee for each individual project.
This is a relatively new strategy for me, and may not be appropriate for somebody in their first year or so of freelancing—but don’t take as long as I did to put it into play.
Instead of simply estimating what I believe my hourly rate on a project will be to evaluate if I should take it on, I also set a minimum for the entire piece. As a general rule, working at high capacity on short pieces means that you spend more time per piece. As Mark Twain once wrote, “I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.”
In abstract, if you have five assignments at 1,000 words or ten pieces at 500 words, one scenario means you have to research twice as many topics, come up with twice as many leads and kickers, and create twice as many invoices. It may not always be that drastic in reality, but the general formula is accurate.
I’ve seen writers get stuck in all kinds of pricing ruts at very different levels, be it working for below-living-wage rates at content mills, on the high-profile but “webby” rates of popular journalism sites, and low-paying corporate content.
The remedy is simple, though it takes bit of courage: set a new minimum price per piece, somewhat above what you are typically earning per piece. Stick to it. Ask your existing editors about raising your word count, but also be proactive and seek out higher-paying clients. Do your research via rates databases and networking with other writers to find out who is assigning at decent pay.
Develop a specialty.
Too much misdirected curiosity can slow down or stall a freelance writing career, especially if you approach every article as something that must be researched in entirety from ground zero. Instead of spending so much time in background researching and reporting that your effective hourly rate drops below what you need to be earning, try honing a specialty where you already have contact information and relationships with key sources, or enough knowledge about the topic that you can prep for an interview with brief research and still ask pertinent, nuanced questions.
If your formal training is in a field other than journalism, tap into that knowledge. My own MA is in education, and my years working in the field means that I know the jargon and issues. It’s easy for me to engage teachers (who often won’t speak with the press) because I’m already up to speed.
Look to your own expertise and interests as a guide. If you’re looking for a lucrative niche, business and tech have many in-demand subspecialties. Lifestyle and travel, on the other hand, are more competitive—it’s not that hard to find a writer willing to go on a five-day yoga beach retreat.
We are a tribe of readers, writers, and researchers—and if you put these traits to work for you by developing in-demand specialties, you’ll be able to command higher rates at niche publications as the go-to writer. Unexpected mashups (such as a topic + location) can work too.
A different kind of specialty can be in upselling your other skills and services, such as content-marketing strategy development, coding, or multimedia storytelling.
If you need some inspiration for finding new markets for your new specialty, download a copy of the free eguide, “Create Your Ultimate Editorial Contact List.”