An American Editor

December 25, 2020

On the Basics: Overcoming or preventing income anxiety

Filed under: Editorial Matters — An American Editor @ 12:50 pm
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Ruth E. Thaler-Carter, Owner

An American Editor

The topic of “income anxiety” for freelancers — that scary feeling that you aren’t going to earn enough to cover your bills — came up in one of my online communities recently, and I thought our subscribers might benefit from an expanded version of my response.

I’ve been lucky to only have had income anxiety a very few times over many years of freelancing, in part because I have a few strategies to head it off or cope if it arose and in part because of luck — a new project showing up just as I was starting to feel worried.

• If you plan to start freelancing full-time, look for some assignments to start building your business and client base while still in your current job (as long as that doesn’t put your job in jeopardy). Put aside enough savings to cover three months’ or more worth of expenses before you launch your freelance business, because it takes time to build your business until it can generate enough income to pay the bills. Try to maintain those savings (and add to them) as you go along.

• If you’re already in business, or once you launch, put a percentage of every payment into a savings account — either the backup one from your startup days or a separate one that you might use for paying estimated taxes and other business items. That’s often called “Pay yourself first”; if you don’t see the money, you won’t spend it.

• Be proactive — when you get a new client and it goes well, ask for a testimonial and say you’d like to work together again. If it’s a writing project, suggest new topics you’d like to cover. If you offer more than one type of freelance service, let them know you can do those other things for them. Don’t wait for them to remember that you exist or realize that you can provide more than one editorial service.

• This might be the time to look into new services you can offer to generate more income and reduce that anxiety. Just remember that most editorial services require some training, often in using new software or technology.

• Market your business/Promote yourself all the time — don’t get so immersed in either a big, lengthy project or your day-to-day stuff that you forget to promote your business. No matter how big and profitable it might be, that project will end and then you’ll have to wait for payment. You want something lined up for as soon as that current project ends so you have more of an income flow than a stop-and-start scenario, and marketing/promotions is the way to make that happen. Use LinkedIn, Facebook groups, Twitter, professional memberships and your website to let the world know what you do, what kinds of projects you’re looking for, and any successes or achievements relevant to your business.

• And speaking of professional associations, don’t just join: As I urge all the time, be visible so you build a network of colleagues who might refer or subcontract with you. Provide advice, resources and answers to colleagues’ questions through discussion lists, forums, blog posts, etc., to establish yourself as knowledgeable and valuable. And look for ways those associations could provide income as well as resources and camaraderie; some will pay members to present webinars or workshops, write publications, blog, serve on boards or committees, etc.

• Stay in touch with clients (without being intrusive or pushy), so you’re top of mind when they need someone. If you see something relevant to a client’s profession or industry, send them a quick alert with a link. Do something at the end of the year or beginning of a new year to let them know you appreciate their business. Some of our colleagues have found that just announcing they’ll be unavailable due to an upcoming vacation results in clients scrambling to send new work before the “out of office” time kicks in!

• If necessary, look for ways to build some backup income, even if it isn’t editing/editorial work. There’s no shame in having a part-time non-editing/-editorial job if you need it to stay financially safe. Your clients don’t have to know that you’re doing something outside our profession to pay the bills.

• If working at a fast-food restaurant or big-box store isn’t for you, look for other ways to generate income: making and selling crafts, or even better in terms of staying within the editorial field — self-publishing. You don’t have to write a full-length novel to create something that brings in a stream of income; you can sell a short story or how-to booklet.

• Review and tighten up your spending. Look for ways to save money and make frugality a byword. Most of us can find something to do without to save a few bucks a week or month, or ways to reduce spending, even on essentials.

• Raise your rates! One reason for income anxiety is that freelancers tend to under-value our editorial work. Many of us aren’t charging what we’re worth or could command. You can keep some of your current clients at their current rates but charge new ones more, especially at the beginning of a new year.

• Drop unprofitable clients (again, for freelancers). Most of us have at least one client who takes up more of our time and energy than they give back in income. It’s scary to think about dropping a paying client, but letting go of the ones who are a drain on time and energy frees you up to seek — and find — ones that are more worthwhile.

• Update your résumé and test the waters if you work in-house (or want to). These are crazy times, but there are still editorial jobs out there. See if you can find one that pays more than your current one, or provides better benefits. Actually, even if you’re freelancing, the end of the year is a good time for that update, as well as for refreshing your website.

• Ask for help. Don’t whine or beg, of course, but find ways to let colleagues know that you’re looking for new projects or a new job, and ask for suggestions, referrals and subcontracting. If you’re eligible for public benefits, sign up for them — don’t let pride get in the way of survival.

Here’s hoping that the new year will be better for all of us in every way. In the meantime, let us know how you manage income and expenses to avoid income anxiety.


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