Category Archives: Writing

SO YOU WANNA BE A WRITER…STEP 9: KNOW WHEN TO FIRE A CLIENT (AND HOW)

You’re trying to grow your freelance business. You’ve been taking every writing job that comes along just to get experience and put money in your bank account. You’re feeling fortunate to have cobbled together enough writing jobs to pay the bills and start a portfolio.

But…

There’s this one job that you hate. (Maybe hate is a strong word—but it might be close.) You were grateful when you landed the opportunity, but things have gone south since you started. Maybe the subject doesn’t interest you. Or maybe the customer grates on your nerves. For whatever reason, you simply don’t want to work with that client any more.

What should you do? In the midst of trying to make it as a writer, is there ever a time to say no to a job? Is it ever ok to “fire” a client? Will you be considered a quitter if you give up on this project?

In Step 4, I covered when it’s ok to “just say no” to taking a job, but this situation is different. You’ve been working with the client for a while, but you don’t have any desire to continue that relationship.

I have good news for you: Yes, there is a time when you can say “enough.” If you’ve been following these steps to develop your business, you should be in a position that you can let go of that dreaded job.

No, this isn’t a free pass to just quit as soon as a project or a client becomes challenging. But I believe there are legitimate reasons to move on from a particular opportunity. Here are four:

1. When the work doesn’t meet your goals

Keep in mind why you started down this unconventional path in the first place. Was it for flexibility? An excitement for the craft? The freedom of being your own boss? Maybe you wanted to become a world-renowned cat blogger.

Whatever they are, examine your motivations and the goals you’ve set for yourself and your writing. Then, take a good look at the job in question. Does it meet these goals? Or at least move you toward them? If it’s taking you in the wrong direction, it might be time to turn around.

Several years ago, I was working with a resume company. I was receiving steady assignments, and they were happy with my work. I could have gotten more jobs from them if I wanted them. The problem: The work involved setting up multiple appointments with the people who were requesting resumes—and they often didn’t keep those appointments. I found myself arranging entire days around phone calls to gather information or review a completed resume, and the people didn’t bother to show up for our meetings.

This might not bother you as much as it did me. But when I looked at this situation, I realized this job was not meeting my goal of working a flexible schedule. I was missing out on doing other things because I was tied to a lot of set appointment times—that weren’t even being honored. I felt like I was wasting time, and the work had become more frustrating than rewarding. The result: I quit that job.

2. When the client doesn’t communicate

I’m familiar with the old adage that the customer is always right, but I don’t believe that fairy tale. Good service is important, but there are lines clients can cross. If they do, it’s time to part ways.

Communication is one of those lines. Remember when I discussed the importance of being responsive to clients? It’s important for clients to have that same quality, too (at least to some extent). If you’re unable to get clear direction from a client, if they won’t get back to you if you have questions, if they expect you to meet deadlines without providing the information you need – this communication breakdown makes it impossible to do your job.

Case in point: You have a client who is extremely hard to reach via phone. That’s fine – you can simply email. But the client’s emails are abrupt and unclear. They rarely answer the questions you asked in your previous email. Many times, the client doesn’t respond at all, leaving you waiting and wondering if they want you to start the next article or not.

I experienced this scenario. I finally decided it was not worth the hassle and let the client know via email that I would no longer be able to work with him. I knew I had made the right call when I received an email from him three weeks later, asking if I was ready to start the next article.

3. When the money doesn’t arrive

There are times when you’re just starting out as a writer that you might feel like a starving artist. This doesn’t mean you have to work for free. If a client doesn’t pay, don’t keep cranking out the content.

This might sound obvious, but it can be all too easy to work and work and never get paid. They tell you the check is in the mail. They’re consistently late with payment. You never know when the money might hit your account.

This isn’t acceptable, even for a newbie. Set certain parameters for payment, then stick to them. It’s ok to charge a fee for late payment, and it’s ok to refuse to do any more work until the account is current. That’s just good business sense. If a client gets offended that you actually expect to be paid for your work, is that really someone you want to rely on for your paycheck?

Of course, this requires clear expectations. Set these at the start of your working relationship. How will they make payments and when? Include due dates and other payment terms on your invoices (and communicate them with your clients when you first establish your rates).

All of my invoices include this note at the bottom: Payments received after 30 days of invoice date are subject to a $15.00 late fee.

Yes, I have waived this fee a couple of times when a long-standing client was late with payment (and I knew it was on its way). The goal isn’t to set strict boundaries that give you an excuse to quit if someone crosses the line. The point is to protect yourself and the client by presenting clear expectations, then sticking to them.

4. When the bank account allows it 

I realize it’s one thing to believe it’s time to quit, and quite another to pull the trigger. There are times when you simply can’t. Even if you don’t like the job. Even if the client drives you crazy.

If they are paying their bills and sending you steady work, you might look at your budget and realize that it’s not wise to quit this job. This is particularly important if others, such as a spouse or children, are relying on your income, too.

In this situation, your best bet is to try to stick it out while you continue to pursue other opportunities. In other words, don’t quit until you have something to replace it. Develop a plan to replace the income first, then you’ll be free to move on (without missing a mortgage payment).

When It’s Time to Say Goodbye

If you decide a job falls into one of the categories above, it’s important to take appropriate next steps. While it might be tempting to simply text an “I quit” GIF, followed by a , I don’t recommend it.

Instead, try these steps:

Finish the current job. If at all possible, finish the current project. Whatever you are working on for them, complete it (unless your reason is #3). This ends things on a more positive note, rather than leaving the client high and dry without someone to finish their project. You’ve committed to it, so finish it. Afterwards, let them know you won’t be able to take on any further projects with them.

Don’t burn bridges. Keep in mind that your reputation is on the line. Even if you no longer want to work with a particular person or business, this doesn’t mean you don’t want them to recommend you to others. If you end things as positively as possible, you can maintain a good relationship that could lead to other opportunities in the future.

Be professional. To avoid burning bridges, part ways professionally. Here’s an example of a professional “I quit” email:

I have accepted new writing opportunities and will no longer be available to write for your blog. Thank you for the opportunity to work with you. I wish you all the best with your business.

Depending on the relationship with the client, you may need to add more details, or you may need to call instead of write, but this is a good starting point for a conversation or email. Keep it simple, positive, and polite.

But what if reason #4 above is preventing you from saying goodbye? If so, it’s time to consider my last step. Watch for:

So you wanna be a writer…Step 10: When the Honeymoon is Over…Persevere

Book 3 Now Available!

The third installment of my 24 Ways book series is waiting for you on Amazon!

Available now: 24 Ways To Meditate Through Your Day

Here’s the scoop on this new release:

Joshua 1:8 instructs readers of Scripture to: “Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.”

Does this sound impossible? Your brain is buzzing with day-to-day tasks. Where’s the time and space for meditating on God’s Word? How can you find a quiet place to sit and meditate at all, much less “day and night?”

Here’s the answer: meditate through your day. Not around it. Not instead of it. Through it. Incorporate this practice into everything you do. Infuse it into daily activities so that it becomes part of your life – day and night.

How? 24 Ways to Meditate Through Your Day answers this question. Learn two dozen practical ways to integrate God’s Word into your daily habits. By putting these into practice, you’ll be brought back to the truths of God’s Word – every hour of every day.

Book 3 of 4

24 Ways to Meditate Through Your Day is one installment of a four-part series designed to help you live out the greatest commandment: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” Mark 12:30

On these pages, you’ll find tips to train your brain to meditate on God’s Word day and night – to love Him with all your mind.

Read more about the series.

Get your copy for just $6.99 on Amazon or BarnesandNoble.com

SPECIAL OFFER

Are you a follower of the Nenn Pen blog? If so, I have a special FREE BOOK offer for you! Here’s how it works.

  1. Get your copy of 24 Ways To Meditate Through Your Day – paperback or e-book.
  2. Send me confirmation of your purchase.
  3. Receive a free electronic copy of either 24 Ways To Serve Through Your Day or 24 Ways To Pray Through Your Day (your choice – just let me know when you send your confirmation which one you prefer).

If you’re not currently following my blog, sign up to follow it. Then complete steps 1 and 2 to get your free book!

To get more offers and free content in the future, subscribe to Nenn Pen News. You’ll receive a brief newsletter once a month or so (no daily onslaught of spammy content – I promise!)

 

I pray this series blesses you beyond measure!

SO YOU WANNA BE A WRITER…STEP 8: GET ORGANIZED

I love restoring order from chaos. I don’t enjoy the chaos part, but I like to organize. It’s what helped me keep my toy department neat during my brief Kmart career, and I think it’s why I don’t mind cleaning up the kitchen after a party or dinner. I’m a big believer in “a place for everything and everything in its place” – and I enjoy putting those things in their places. 

I believe this trait has been an asset for Nenn Pen, Ink. My need for order and my ability to organize have helped as I set up my writing business. After all, it requires more than a little organization to stay on top of assignments and requests from multiple clients, meet various deadlines and work with a fluctuating income. (This variety is what I was looking for when I started, though, and I enjoy the process.)

– If this sounds less fun for you than it does for me…don’t say I didn’t warn you.

– If you’re not scared off by a bit of organizational effort, then you should be ok pursuing this career. (Or, maybe you can afford to hire an assistant – but that requires some organization, too!)

– If you don’t mind a little work (or a lot, if you’re not naturally organized), you should be fine.

This aspect of the job simply comes easier for some than others. For those of you who don’t naturally color-code your sock drawer, I’ve put together the following tips. These four areas cover the basics you need to get your business organized.

Deadlines

Let’s start this section with a confession. I had originally planned to write this post weeks ago.

I’ll give you a minute to stew in the irony…

Ok – moving on to what we can learn from this…

I’m typically very dedicated to meeting deadlines. The problem with this one was two-fold: I had no accountability, and I had no income riding on it (which is actually another aspect of accountability).

If you’re setting your own deadlines (to publish a blog, release a book, etc.), it helps immensely to have accountability. If you’re trying to finish paid projects, this helps as well. There are three main types of accountability to consider for your business and writing goals.

 

  • Individual accountability: Put the deadline on your calendar. Yes, it’s self-imposed, but it’s still a deadline. If you put it in writing, it carries more weight. Plan a reward for yourself when you make the deadline.
  • Personal accountability: Choose a person or some people in your life (up to four) that can help hold you accountable to your personal deadlines. These are good friends who will ask you how things are going and encourage you to meet your goals. You know they’re going to ask you this weekend if you entered that writing contest or worked on your new book. This spurs you on to make the effort so you can say, “Yes, I did!”
  • Professional accountability: This naturally occurs when you have a deadline to meet for a client. Let them know when you will complete the work, then deliver the finished product on time (early is even better).  If you miss your deadline, you have an unhappy client, you might not get paid, and you lose future business. Hopefully, this is motivating enough to keep you on track with client deadlines.

Once you get some accountability in place, you also need a system to stay organized. As with personalizing other aspects of your business, myriad options exist for a deadline system. I simply use a couple of Excel spreadsheets. One is titled “Open Projects.” It lists current projects and their deadlines. The second is my weekly calendar, on which I assign myself work each day based on what is due when.

I am sure there are hundreds of apps out there to organize a calendar, so you simply need to find one that works for you. The important thing is to get in the habit of scheduling your days and weeks so you complete each task on time. Break down large projects into manageable chunks and schedule a realistic amount of work for each day.

Remember, your deadline for a client is likely one in a domino-set of deadlines for their own projects and clients, so missing it causes fallout all the way down the line.

Hint: It’s much less stressful if you avoid both procrastination and overbooking – and your work will generally be better quality.

Follow-up

How often have you contacted someone, and they failed to get back to you? Or, maybe they did get back to you, but it was days or weeks later. How did you feel? Did you want to contact that person again? Did you wait around for them, or did you take your business elsewhere?

Get back to people ASAP. Don’t keep people waiting. Remember, if someone contacts you about a job, they may be contacting several other potential sources, too. Be the first to get back to them so you get the business. Let them know they are important to you.

Hint: Set boundaries as you start. Being responsive doesn’t mean you have to answer emails at 2 am or work through the Sabbath. Either post your hours and stick to them, or let people know what to expect when you start working with them. (For example, if you receive an email on Friday after 6 pm, clients know you will respond first thing Monday morning – not before.)

Appointments

Depending on what types of writing projects you complete, you may need to set phone or in-person appointments. You may interview a source, gather information for a project, or conference-call with a client team. Part of staying organized means making these appointments.

Set reminders, then make the calls or meetings on time. Make it a habit to be reliable when it comes to scheduling and follow-up. This quality is rarer than you might think. It will make you stand out above the competition. On the flip side, missing appointments will sink your business.

Use your calendar, phone reminders, or whatever system works for you (just be sure to have a system). Do what it takes to ensure you never miss an appointment and are always on time.

Finances

We’ve already discussed the challenges of living on a variable income. The aspect I’d like to cover here is the logistics of your finances. Here’s what I recommend as you start your writing business.

Keep ‘em separated: You’ll get this same advice from just about every business professional. You need a separate financial account for your writing income. Create a checking account for your business. Deposit all payments you receive for writing here. The only funds that go in this account are ones you earn from writing jobs. Any expenses you incur related to your writing business come out of this account, and only expenses related to writing are taken from here.

Schedule payday: Pay yourself regularly from your business account. Budgeting is easier if you space this out as if you worked a “normal” job. Pick a pay period you like and stick to it. Maybe you pay yourself every Friday or every other Thursday. When payday arrives, simply transfer the money you have earned since the previous payday into your regular (non-business) account. This is your earnings to spend on bills, a date night, or a new toy for your cat.

Don’t forget S.E.T.: It might be tempting to transfer all your earnings on payday. Don’t do it. When tax time comes, you’ll be one unhappy writer. Set aside a portion of your income to pay taxes when they are due. The amount varies depending on your tax bracket and your state of residence, but 25% of your earnings is a good figure to use for federal taxes. This covers regular taxes plus your self-employment tax (S.E.T.). In Illinois, you’ll need another 3.75% for state income tax.

That means, on payday, you’ll only transfer 75% of that pay period’s earnings into your checking account (or 71.25% – whatever the total is with your state tax added in). The rest will remain in your business account to use for quarterly estimated tax payments. Don’t forget to put these tax due dates on your calendar and set reminders to pay them. They are typically April 15, June 15, September 15 and January 15.

Ready…Set…Organize!

Are you feeling empowered to organize your efforts for a successful writing career? If “overwhelmed” is a better description, don’t despair. Keep in mind, you’re free to try different systems of organization until you find one that matches your personality and needs. Don’t give up. If you “whiff” on a deadline or a phone call, that’s not cause to call it quits. Learn from the situation and add to your organizational system for the next time.

That brings us to the next question: When should you call it quits? Is there ever a time to say no? Watch for answers in the next post…

So you wanna be a writer…Step 9: Know When to Fire a Client (and How)

SO YOU WANNA BE A WRITER…STEP 7: LEARN TO LIVE ON A VARIABLE INCOME

Congratulations! If you’ve made it this far, you’ve started earning income as a freelance writer.

Now what?

If you’ve received paychecks for more than 30 days, you’ve probably noticed that the bottom line is not the same every month. In fact, it might feel a bit like feast or famine. One week you’re scrambling to keep up with all the writing assignments. The next, you can hear crickets in your inbox.

How are you supposed to function on such a variable income?

By living on a variable budget.

So…what does that look like?

It probably looks slightly different for each person, but I’ll give you the run-down of the Nenn Pen, Ink version, and you can take it from there. Following is the method my husband and I use for budgeting with an income that changes each month. Make whatever adjustments you need to make it work for you.

1. Create Your Budget

Literally, write or type out a budget on a piece of paper (or in an app if ya wanna get all fancy). If you’ll be working on the budget with a spouse, a printed version can be easier to look at and make notes on together.

401kcalculator.org

At the top of the page, list your income for the month. Add up everything you earned to create a grand total (after taxes). This is your net income or take-home pay.

Subtract 10% for your tithe.

The remaining funds are what you must allocate to your various expenses for the month. As Dave Ramsey would say, you’re giving every dollar a name. I say, you’re telling it where to go.

To work with my fluctuating income, my husband and I have broken down our budget into three main categories. My husband, (the talented financial whiz who devised our budget) even color-coded these tiers.

Tier 1: Needs

Tier 2: Wants 

Tier 3: Wishes 

Under the needs category, list all your essentials. These are the bills that you must pay to survive. Most of them cost you nearly the same amount every month. They might include mortgage payments/rent, utilities, groceries/supplies, transportation, and communications. (The most variable item here is groceries, since you can choose steak or Ramen each night, but the fact is that you have to eat something, so it goes in this “tier one” category.)

The second tier includes items that you don’t need to survive…but life is better with them in it. Here is where we list items like AAA membership fees, life insurance premiums and haircuts. The biggest variable in this tier is “Mad Money.” No, it’s not angry. Some call it “fun money.” Others call it their entertainment budget. It’s the amount you allow yourself to spend on apple turnovers from Arby’s and overpriced popcorn at AMC. Since this amount is pretty much entirely up to you, you can easily make this line-item realistic for your income.

The final tier includes all your dreams that you dare to dream. It’s basically a breakdown of things you want to save for in the future. Once you’ve allocated dollars to fulfill all the items in tiers one and two, you put the leftovers here. This includes long-term savings for retirement as well as short-term savings for the grill you want to buy this summer. Our categories cover things like retirement, vacation, cars (for repairs and eventual replacement), house (decorations and remodeling), gifts (a benevolence fund for b-days and opportunities for generosity), and Christmas.

Important Note: If you are in debt (other than your mortgage), you probably shouldn’t have a tier 3 yet. Anything left over after your essentials should get thrown at your debt. We used the debt snowball method to get rid of our car payments and student loan debt. (I don’t recommend taking on either of those debts to begin with, by the way.)

2. Stick to Your Budget

This may seem obvious, but many don’t do it. Devise a system that will help you stick to the spending amounts you’ve indicated on your budget.

Some find cash envelope systems helpful. (Once you spend all the cash from your “grocery” envelope for the month, you’re done buying groceries!) We don’t like to carry cash, so we use an app (shocker, I know – coming from the anti-tech gal). We record each trip to the store in the grocery category, every restaurant meal in the Mad Money category, and so on. We use parts of the Every Dollar app, but I’m sure there are others. Pen and paper work, too.

The goal of your system is to remain aware of how much you are spending and know when you reach the limit. When you do, STOP spending. If there’s nothing left in the Mad Money category, don’t go bowling or order a latte. You’re done with these things until next month. Got it?

3. Review and Renew Your Budget

At the end of every month, sit down with your budget and repeat the process. Write down your actual spending next to the amount you planned to spend in each category. Hopefully the numbers match. (If you did really well, your actual spending will be less than the budgeted number!)

If necessary, make changes for the next month’s budget. Add new line items (such as new “wishes”) or remove old ones (such as debt you paid off – yeah!) Maybe you need to change the rent line-item because your landlord wants more money (sad), or change the insurance line-item because your premium went down (happy).

Again, when you complete tiers one and two, if there is anything left over, decide where you want to put it.

Remember, this “leftover” is what makes your budget variable. By working through tiers one and two, you’ve stabilized your budget to create a fairly steady or predictable system from a somewhat unpredictable income. As your pay changes each month, you’ll have more or less to put into the third tier. Allocate portions of this leftover amount to various categories in tier three until you have zero dollars left. (If it was a slow month in the writing biz, this part of the budgeting won’t take very long!)

Ummm….what?

Is all that as clear as mud? Perhaps a visual will help. Here’s the budget form we use each month. (Minus all our personal stuff, since you don’t really need to know how much we fork over to AT&T and Xfinity.) Your specific categories will obviously vary from ours, but this will give you a general idea of where to start.

The figures in parentheses are the same each month. They represent what you expect to spend in that category (tiers one and two), or what you hope to save for that category (tier 3).

Tip #1: For your utilities, use an average amount based on bills from the past year.

Tip #2: For bills you pay once each year, include 1/12 of the amount in each monthly budget. These fraction amounts will stay in your checking account until the bill is due, then the funds will be there to pay the full amount.

Tip #3: If you’re having trouble covering tier one, it’s time to go back to puttin’ on the blitz to start earning more money. You may also need to make adjustments in the categories which you can control – like Mad Money.

If you have any questions, suggestions, or simply want to vent to a fellow freelancer about your budgeting frustrations, feel free to comment below or get in touch.

Need more help getting organized as the workflow picks up? Watch for the next post:

So you wanna be a writer…Step 8: Get Organized

SO YOU WANNA BE A WRITER…STEP 6: GET PAID

You set up shop. You had fun puttin’ on the blitz. You landed some freelance writing gigs. You even managed to get a respectable rate. Now…how do you put that money in your pocket?

You may have heard horror stories about freelance jobs. “I did all this work for a client and never got paid!” “It took me three months to get my paycheck.” “I never know when the money will come in from a job.”

I have good news and bad news.

The bad news: The stories are true. I have experienced each of these scenarios, as well as other frustrating situations, when I’ve attempted to get paid for writing work.

The good news: These stories are not the norm. They happen, but not all the time.

More good news: You can take steps to reduce the likelihood of these scenarios and simplify the process of getting paid.

Keep in mind, every freelancer has their preferred methods. We’re creative types, right? So, the odds that everyone will conform to the same pattern are roughly the same as the odds that my book sales will beat Stephen King’s.

Still, I think a few guidelines are helpful. It’s good to at least know what you’re getting into and have some basic ideas to follow. Here’s a few tips, based on my experiences with getting P.A.I.D.

P. Payment methods

Freelancing isn’t your typical 9-5 job, and it doesn’t pay the way an office job does, either. You don’t have a neat salary that is broken into 26 paychecks a year that arrive in your bank account every two weeks. That’s way too simple. Where’s the fun in that?

Getting paid for your freelancing writing requires a little more work. But, once you have a system in place, it’s not too bad. The first step is to decide what payment methods you are willing to accept. Then, set up the necessary accounts.

Common methods of payment include:

  • Check (mailed to your home address) – Yes, people still write checks. Some clients or regular employers may cut you a check. If they are a larger entity, such as a marketing firm, they probably have a service that sends these out for them. It’s also possible to receive an old-fashioned, hand-written check with your name on the “Pay To” line.
    • The pros: A paper check avoids any potential online fees. Transfers and deposits through various internet sources often stick you with flat fees or percentage fees that reduce your net pay. Those make me sad.
    • The cons: You have to add “bank deposit” to your list of errands. Don’t worry – it doesn’t take long. More importantly, if you’re working with a brand-new client, you have to trust that their check will clear. I’ve personally never received a bad check. If it’s issued by a company (as opposed to an individual), it’s especially unlikely you’ll have an issue. The other con – you have to wait for accounting to cut you a check and send it through snail mail.
  • PayPal – You can create a personal PayPal account, a business account, or both. This account allows you to receive payments online, which you can then transfer to your bank account or keep in your PayPayl account to use for other online transactions.
    • The pros: This is easy to set up and simple for clients to use. Most people are familiar with PayPal, but a client does not have to have an account to pay you. They simply need the email address you use for your account, and they can send your payment quickly and efficiently. It arrives immediately, so there’s no delay in getting paid. Yes!
    • The cons: It’s not free. It doesn’t cost anything to set up an account, but you have to give PayPal their cut of every transaction. Currently, PayPal charges 2.9% + $0.30 per payment. If you have international clients (since you can work from anywhere), that rate goes up to 4.4%. You may be able to make arrangements with each client for their account to cover the fee, or you can simply keep this reduction in mind as you set your rate.
  • Direct Deposit – There are a host of services that perform direct deposits. You can set up your own, or an employer may ask you to enroll in the one they use. This typically involves creating a login and setting up an account with their service.
    • The pros: Once you set up the account, it’s easy to get paid. You shouldn’t have to pay any fees, and the money will go right into your account (without a run to the bank).
    • The cons: You have to give out personal information about your bank account. I’ve never experienced any problems with this. But, it’s good to do a little research to vet any system you are asked to use. Ensure it’s legit, then only provide info under secure settings (don’t email your bank account info to the client).
  • Google Wallet – This app is similar to PayPal. You provide your email or phone number, and anyone can send you money (whether or not they have  the app.) If you have a Google account and debit card, this is easy to set up.
    • The pros: Similar to PayPal. You can get money quickly and simply. The big plus: it’s free.
    • The cons: Google Wallet only works for domestic clients. Anyone outside the country has to find another way to pay you. Additionally, you can use it if you are set up as a sole proprietorship, but not if you have incorporated your business.
  • Wire transfer – This involves transferring money to your bank account, but it is a different process than direct deposit. This is a service banks offer, and there’s almost always a fee.
    • The pros: It’s fast and direct, like other online transactions.
    • The cons: I don’t recommend accepting this form of payment. The bank fees are usually steep, and you will probably have to provide your bank account info directly to the client, rather than through a secure online deposit service.

A. Accounting

As you set up your payment methods and begin to collect payments, there are a few things to keep in mind.

1099s – As an independent contractor, you will receive a 1099 from employers (instead of a W2) for tax purposes. This form shows how much you earned from that client during the calendar year.

Records – Keep in mind, you must track all of your income. Not every job will result in a 1099 (and the ones you receive might not be accurate). For your own budgeting, as well as tax purposes, keep detailed records of what you earn, what you receive, and what expenses you incur.

Software – QuickBooks is a popular option for small businesses, but there are plenty of others. These systems typically allow you to invoice, track payments, prepare totals for tax time, etc. But, I’ll let you in on a little secret: You don’t have to use any of those. For many people, it might be worth the cost and effort. Personally, I like to keep things as low tech, simplified, and cheap as possible. I track all my income on spreadsheets in Excel. I use these to record my income goals, set my budget and prepare tax totals.

What’s the best method for you? That depends on your personality and budget. You’ll have to find what works best for your needs. I simply want to give you the heads up that you’ll need an organized system to stay on top of payments.

I. Invoicing

A major part of your payment system is invoicing. Again, I like to follow the trusted “keep-it-simple” mantra. When I was first starting out, I searched for an invoice template in Microsoft Word (there’s a slew of them). I chose one I liked, personalized it with my logo and info, and have been using it ever since. I tweak it to match each job and client, but it’s basically the same Word doc you see here.

As I mentioned above, you can use other bookkeeping software and online programs to create invoices for you. Choose the level of technology you prefer.

No matter what system you choose, it’s essential to stay organized and consistent. When you start working with someone, establish how and when you will invoice them for the work, how they will pay you, and when they will make payments. I have some clients whom I invoice at the completion of every project. Others, I invoice twice each month. Still others receive invoices on the 30th of every month. Some pay via PayPal. Others send me a check. I have a list of whom I need to invoice and when, and I put this information on my calendar as part of my regular to-do list.

Sound too complicated? You can decide to only accept one form of payment and send out all your invoices on the same day every month. It’s your company. Just keep in mind that working with a variety of clients will probably require some flexibility.

Also, if you’re concerned about delayed payments, include a stipulation for this. Make it clear when payments are due, and add a fee for late payments. Even if it’s just $5, it can motivate people to expedite payment.

D. Determination

My last bit of advice on getting paid is simply to persevere. You’re running your own business, so you have to have some grit. It takes effort and determination. Establish organized systems and stick to them. Adjust them as necessary as your business grows. Follow up (politely) if payments are not received by the due date. Have patience but be assertive.

Push through frustrating situations. Keep writing and invoicing. Accept now that you will occasionally encounter payment problems in the future. It goes with the territory.

If (when) you hit snags, don’t get defeated. I once had to wait three months to get paid for an article. I’ve dealt with disorganized accounting departments who are consistently slow and have sent the wrong payment amount. I’ve been hit with unexpected fees for online transactions.

You live and learn.

Ultimately, it’s all God’s anyway. The money. The time. The talent. I’ll do my part in stewarding it responsibly. If things don’t go according to plan (my plan), I can trust He’s in control and is working it all together for my good.

Once you’ve determined to press on in faith, you’ll be ready to face the next challenge. As the payments start rolling in, you’ll quickly realize that the grand total is not the same every month. With delayed payments and the ebb and flow of work availability, you must be prepared to live on a fluctuating budget. This is the next step.

So you wanna be a writer…Step 7: Learn to Live on a Variable Income

SO YOU WANNA BE A WRITER…STEP 5: SET YOUR RATES (And Watch Out for S.E.T.)

If you serve value meals, you can count on earning at least minimum wage. When my husband was a teacher, his union helped negotiate contracts that determined his salary and raises. My brother-in-law runs his own moving business, and there are moving company regulations in place that determine what he can and can’t charge his customers.

Isn’t that nice? So many industries offer fairly clear guidelines about the wages for workers in that field. Amounts may vary by state or region, but there’s at least a standard by which employers and employees can decide what is fair.

Guess what? Freelance writing isn’t one of those industries. Sorry.

At least, that’s been my experience. To me, freelance writing seems much more…free. This comes with pros and cons. On the positive side, you can charge what you want. On the negative side, no one has to agree to your rate. Everyone’s free to say no. They can move on and find someone cheaper. Ouch.

Of course, when you first start out, you might be that cheaper person they turn to. As I mentioned in the last step, the price on your writer’s soul might be pretty low as you break into the field.

But, you have to set some standards, right? There’s no official minimum wage, but you have to draw the line somewhere. Working for nearly nothing gets you…nearly nowhere. It also brings the entire profession down with you. If people believe they can get quality writers for bargain basement rates, they’ll never be willing to pay better wages.

Still, you can’t simply charge your dream rate and expect people to line up at your website the moment it goes live. So, where do you start?

I’ve done a lot of online searching for “typical freelance writing rates” over the years and have discovered the answers are all over the map. I finally decided everyone else is just like me – still trying to figure this out.

I did find some good, specific pricing resources, such as the pay-rate chart in the Writer’s Market, which is updated every year. If you search for rates, you’ll also discover the Editorial Freelancer’s Association, which offers a rate guide, and you’ll find tools like the freelance hourly rate calculator that can help you do some quick math to help determine your rates.

Since there are hundreds of sites out there that rehash the same info, I’d just like to offer you 5 tips as you set your rates. Based on my experience, I suggest you…

1. Charge per word or per project, not per hour.

Yes, I do break this rule from time to time. Typically, though, you’ll severely limit yourself if you charge by the hour. You’re better off if you set a rate per word or quote a flat rate for a project. Why? There are only so many hours in the day. If you charge per hour, you can only make 24 times your rate each day (and that’s if you don’t sleep, eat or play with your cat). If you charge by the word or per project, you will earn more as you get faster. This pay scale also provides clients with more precise pricing. There’s no stress about the amount of time you spend on the piece and what that translates to on the client’s bill. Everyone knows up front what the final total will be.

2. Give yourself raises.

This one has been incredibly difficult for me. We don’t want to scare anyone off with rate hikes, right? But, the truth is, costs of living increase each year. You gain experience each year. If you provide quality writing and good service, it’s acceptable (and even expected) that your rates will increase over the years. Be reasonable about your increases and notify clients properly, and it’s likely they will remain loyal to the trusted, talented writer they know they can count on to deliver quality work. January 1 is a good time to adjust your rates. Send notices in December that your new rates will go into effect as of the first of the year. Here’s a sample letter:

Dear (client name),

 

Please accept this email as notification of a slight rate adjustment, effective January 1. The adjustment is a result of general cost-of-living increases over the past year. As of January 1, 2018, my per-word rate will be $0.XX.

I value you as a client and plan to continue serving you with (services you offer). If you have any questions or concerns about this increase, please don’t hesitate to contact me.

 

Thank you for the continued opportunities with (business name).

3. Don’t get stuck in a rut.

If you’ve “settled” for low rates to get started, don’t stay there! I know, searching for new writing jobs is about as much fun as…well…looking for a job, but so is feeding at the bottom forever. Get your feet wet, then look for fresh waters. Find other opportunities that pay a little bit better, then scale back on the lower paying ones. Slowly devote more time to better paying jobs, and work your way into a profitable writing career. (Yes, that’s easier to type about than to do, but I promise it’s possible!)

4. Be flexibly firm.

Set your rates, then stick to them. If you’re like me, it’s easy to waffle on your wages if you’re feeling desperate or unsure. “I really want this job, so I better low-ball my rate to get it!” If you do this every time, what was the point of setting your rates? Then again, you may be willing to work for less if it’s something you really enjoy or it offers great experience and opportunity for advancement. This is why I recommend a “flexibly firm” stance. Know what you charge. Be confident and firm in that number. Be ready to quote it when asked. Also be ready to consider slight adjustments if necessary.

5. Watch out for S.E.T.

Chris Potter/Flickr

When I first started working for Nenn Pen, Ink (myself), I encountered something I wasn’t expecting. I discovered new taxes! I learned that I now have to pay self-employment tax. Here’s the scoop: When you work for someone else, you and your employer split the required contributions to Medicare and Social Security. When you are your employer…guess what? You get to pay both halves. Lucky you! This portion of your taxes just went from around seven percent to around 15 percent. I suggest keeping this higher tax percentage in mind as you set your rates. Make sure there’s enough left over to live on. Remember, after all the federal taxes, you’ll only get to keep about 75% of what you charge a client, and you’ll have to pay state taxes on top of that.

Did I realize I’d have to pay more taxes when I started working for myself? No.

Do I enjoy paying self-employment tax for the privilege of working for myself? No.

Do I think it’s worth the extra seven or eight percent in taxes to work for myself? Heck yes.

 

This series will continue with the next logical step – reaping the fruits of your rates.

Up next: So you wanna be a writer…Step 6: Get Paid

 

SO YOU WANNA BE A WRITER…STEP 4: CHECK THE PRICE TAG ON YOUR SOUL

Price to be a writer

As you’re puttin’ on the blitz, you’re initially looking for anything and everything that will give you writing experience.

Well, almost.

One day, as I clicked away at my laptop to create a blog post for a small-business website, I had to ask myself, “Have I sold my soul by writing for a chiropractor?”

Those who know me well have heard my soap-box beratement of this profession. I realize there are probably chiropractors who are trustworthy and effective. I’m just a bit (lot) skeptical about “see me three times a week for the rest of your life (and pay me lots of money forever) and you’ll feel…a little better.” Still, I’m sure some of you chiropractors out there have helped many people.

But…it was chiropractic care for pets!

Yep, that’s a thing.

And it’s a thing I can now say I’ve written about. The truth is, it wouldn’t have bothered me so much if that chiropractic care I was writing about was for humans. But, seriously, I’m telling people to take their dog to get its back cracked?

I say all this to let you know I began to wonder about my freelancing commitments when they began to involve writing on subjects I was far from excited about (and even a little doubtful about.) Something seemed broken – and it wasn’t Spot’s spine.

Was this what I wanted to do for a living? Could I afford to say no if I didn’t like the topic?

It turns out, the answer to that first question was yes, so the answer to the second one was no. I wanted to be a freelance writer. I still do. In my experience, that means writing about some less-than-exciting stuff now so you can write more of what you want later.

Perhaps you’ll find a different route. Maybe you’ll figure out how to get paid a livable wage by devoting 100% of your time to writing about Christian living, board games, party planning, travel, and the outdoors (wait a sec, that’s my dream list.)

My point is – whatever your ideal topics are –  you will probably have to work your way there. Don’t get discouraged if this is the case. If you have a specialty, by all means, pursue it. But, if you’re simply looking to break into freelance writing, then it doesn’t hurt to explore your options. Write for a variety of media and cover a wide range of topics.

This could also help you find a niche if you don’t have one. Maybe you’ll discover you absolutely love to write about home remodeling, and you’ll become the go-to source for contractors looking for blog content. Maybe you’ll accept a small job drafting a marketing piece for a country club, discover you enjoy writing about golf, and become the next big sports writer. The possibilities are endless.

Be willing to dip your toe into many ponds before finding a place deep enough to dive.

Keep in mind, this is coming from someone who enjoys covering a variety of topics, but I still think it’s good advice.

But what about…

Of course, don’t write anything that goes against your moral beliefs. I feel very strongly about alcohol use, so I have turned down assignments to write web content for liquor stores. On the other hand, I’m not crazy about guns or hunting for sport, but I haven’t had a problem writing content for pawn shops that sell guns, or creating text for a taxidermist’s website.

You have to decide where to draw the line. I’m simply trying to warn you not to make that line an inch from your feet. Don’t get too picky or you won’t have any jobs to pick. Get some experience. Accept the fact that you have to start somewhere. Your initial freelance work may be low-paying and somewhat boring. But, those assignments are not your end game.

Keep working at it. Your goal should be to gain experience, build your portfolio and improve your writing. This will eventually allow you to be more selective in your project choices.

Greater experience will also allow you to earn better rates – which leads to our next topic. It’s one of the toughest questions I’ve had to answer as a freelance writer: How much should I charge?!?

Up next: So you wanna be a writer…Step 5: Set Your Rates (And Watch Out for S.E.T.)

« Older Entries