It’s tax season, time to pull out those invoice stubs and expense receipts and see how your business did last year.
If recession took it’s toll on your freelance work like it did on mine, chances are your income was down in 2009. I made matters worse by deciding to invest in some new toys office equipment and rev up marketing efforts by attending an out-of-town conference, both of which increased my expenses.
But I’ll talk about expenses in another blog post. For now I wanted to focus on income. Look close enough and you’ll see lots of stories hidden inside last year’s income. Analyze them and you can learn what you did right and where you went wrong so this year you can repeat your victories and avoid your mistakes.
In 2009, my overall income was down approximately 17 percent, due mainly to significant drops in the amount of work I received from two regular clients – the fall out from putting too many eggs in too few baskets coming back to haunt me. My biggest regular client cut what it paid me 43 percent in 2009; my income from another regular dropped 63 precent from the previous year. Neither one cut their per-word fees, they just assigned fewer stories, adjusting their freelance budgets to lower advertising revenue.
The numbers aren’t all bad. In 2009, I wrote for 10 clients, up from eight the previous year. In 2008, my two biggest clients accounted for 72 percent of my income, whereas in 2009, they represented only 49 percent, meaning I did a better job of spreading my work and income over more clients. In 2009, I worked with five new-to-me publications that accounted for about a third of my total income. Those new clients included several start ups, which was a risk on my part but turned out to be fun (and everybody paid what they owed).
Another reason the numbers aren’t all bad: by the end of the third quarter of 2009, I saw an uptick in work coming my way, a trend that grew even stronger in the last quarter of the year when I signed a six-month contract for a freelance editing assignment that will help make 2010 one of my best years ever. I’ve heard from a number of other full-time independent writers that they too started seeing more work flowing in at the end of the year and are predicting a fruitful 2010.
Several other observations from analyzing last year’s income:
Last year, almost half of what I wrote – 47 percent – was for media properties that exist only online – not surprising seeing that’s where the industry is headed. The rest was for trade or business magazines that publish stories simultaneously in print and online, or in print first with a few weeks delay before the material was available online. None of work I did in 2009 was only for print.
I missed a personal goal of generating income from alternative revenue streams, such as adding ads to my blog or selling e-books or reprints. But I’ve already taken steps to make that happen in 2010. I joined the BlogHer ad network in February and have other income-generating plans in the works that I’ll share when the time’s right.
More than three-quarters of the work I did in 2009 – 78 percent to be exact – was for editors I’d worked with before, either at their present publication or a previous one. Some of those editors I’ve known for 10 years, others even longer. There’s no better evidence than that of the power of networking.
If you’ve done your taxes, what stories does your 2009 income tell about your freelance business?