How to Align Your Writing Income with Your Career Goals

by John Soares on March 27, 2014

By Laura Laing, author of Math for Writers

Goal! Courtesy Sean MacEntee

Courtesy Sean MacEntee

“I know what I’m gonna do tomorrow, and the next day, and the next year, and the year after that. I’m shakin’ the dust of this crummy little town off my feet and I’m gonna see the world.”

Ah, George Bailey. He never realized the big dreams of his childhood. Instead, he found great joy in that “crummy little town.” That’s the promise of It’s a Wonderful Life — that those who live generously will prosper in friendships, community, and the admiration of others.

But George is a fictional character after all. If you lost $8,000 in the real world, your hometown likely won’t rally around you, dumping their change and bills into a punch bowl. And even if they did, it’s pretty certain that you wouldn’t be able to pull that trick off twice.

The thing is, your career goals are deeply intwined with your income goals. Which means, if you don’t set solid income goals, you might not reach the aspirations you have for your career. So how exactly are income and career goals related? Let’s take a look.

Set Your Career Goals

The first step is to actually have some objectives in mind. Where do you see yourself in five years? Ten years? And how can your income get you there?

This is the time to dream big. As freelancer writers, we have some measure of flexibility and control that regular 9-to-5ers don’t. So while it might seem like pie-in-the-sky to dream about spending half of the year basking on the beaches of Mexico, as a freelancer, this idea isn’t necessarily so far-fetched.

And yes, where and how long you choose to work are career goals. If you can make your annual income in a mere six months, why not? If you can pound out white papers or magazine articles from a cabana while sipping mango juice, who’s to say you shouldn’t?

But you might want to consider other career goals, like writing a series of YA novels or being recognized as a thought leader in your field. More practical goals include retiring with a nice nest egg or going back to school.

Set Your Writing Income Goals

Now that you’ve dreamed big, it’s time to get down to the nitty gritty. What you earn from your writing will have a direct effect on your career. That’s because as a freelancer, you have the opportunity to spend some of your earnings on your business and your own professional development. You’re also in charge of your hourly rate and the number of hours that you work.

The best place to start in setting income goals is exactly where you are right now. If you don’t know your current income, it’s time to find out. Be ruthlessly honest here. Your latest yearly tax return is very useful, but if you didn’t claim business expenses, like website design, training, and conferences, you may need to do a little bit of figuring.

The next step is to set an annual income goal. Come at this from several different angles, including what you need to earn and how much more you’d like to earn. It’s tempting to shoot for the stars here, but I would advise against setting anything more than a 20 percent increase over the previous year. You want a goal that feels reachable but also stretches you.

But how do you know if your goal is too high? Break it down. Start with your annual income goal and then calculate your quarterly, monthly and weekly income goals.

Annual income goal: $60,000
Quarterly income goal: $60,000 \ 4 = $15,000
Monthly income goal: $60,000 \ 3 = $5,000
Weekly income goal: $5,000 \ 4 = $1,250

Do any of these look out of whack? If so, make adjustments on the weekly or monthly level and recalculate your annual income goal. Also, recognize that these may be averages. If you bring in $2,000 in one week, you’re ahead of the game. But if you only bring in $200, you’ll need to pick up the pace later in the month.

Merge Your Career Goals with Your Writing Income Goals

Now that you have a road map for next year’s income, you can start thinking about how you want to plan for your career goals. This process will vary widely, depending on your career goals, but here’s an example: closing up shop for the entire month of December.

To manage this, you’ll need to rework your quarterly, monthly and weekly income goals. To start, divide your annual goal by 11 months, rather than 12.

Monthly income goal: $60,000 \ 11 = $5,454.55
Weekly income goal: $5,454.55 \ 4 = $1,363.64

Notice that you only need to bring in $454.55 more each month, which is a little more than $100 each week. That doesn’t seem too daunting!

Then you can recalculate your quarterly income goals. The first three quarters’ goals will be different from the last.

Quarter 1, 2 and 3 income goal: $5,454.55 x 3 = $16,363.65
Quarter 4 income goal: $5,454.55 x 2 = $10,909.10

Again, notice that the goals for your first three quarters have not gone up all that much — just $1,363.65.

To merge other types of career goals, you’ll need to consider how they’ll hit your bottom line. For example, if you want to write a book, you’ll need to carve out time for this labor of love — and that’s going to mean one of two things: raising your hourly rate or upping your workload for some period of the year. If you’d like to spend three months in Tahiti, working only 4 hours a day, you need to know the costs involved and how you can bring in the dough to cover them. And if you’d like to retire early, you need to know what you should be squirreling away now.

Most of us are just like George Bailey, eager to dream big but discouraged by the obstacles thrown up in along the way. Setting clear income goals isn’t a guarantee that you’ll sail smoothly to your career destination. But one key to success is knowing what you need to bring in so you can have the career that you want.

Your Take

Do you know how much you’re making from your freelance writing? Is it in alignment with your long-term goals for your career and your life? How does living a few months a year in an exotic local sound? 

Laura Laing bw headshotLaura Laing is a freelance writer and the author of Math for Writers: Tell a Better Story, Get Published, Make More Money. Visit her website to check out her full virtual book tour roster and sign up for a free, live teleseminar just for writers who need math: http://www.mathforgrownups.com/math-for-writers-book-tour/.

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    { 20 comments… read them below or add one }

    1 Laura Laing March 27, 2014 at 7:01 AM

    Twitter: @mathforgrownups

    Thanks so much for hosting me, John. I’m more than happy to answer questions, if anyone has them.

    Laura

    Reply

    2 John Soares March 27, 2014 at 7:11 AM

    Very glad to have you here Laura!

    I’m sure we have some readers who understand the importance of math!
    John Soares recently posted…The 8 Top Ways to Legally Lower Your 2013 Freelance Writer Tax Bill

    Reply

    3 Anne Wayman March 27, 2014 at 8:49 AM

    Twitter: @annewayman

    Learning to ‘keep my numbers’ and know how much I’m both earning from and spending on my freelance writing business was critical and much easier to master than I expected. I use YNAB to manage finances – weeks off sounds great and are actually worked into my plan – so is retirement. Wish I’d started on retirement funds much earlier!
    Anne Wayman recently posted…How To Start Making Money As A Freelance Writer

    Reply

    4 John Soares March 27, 2014 at 8:54 AM

    I pay close attention to my gross income from freelance writing, but I pay a little less attention to my expenses, which are usually fairly constant from year to year.
    John Soares recently posted…8 Time Management Techniques for Successful Writers

    Reply

    5 Laura Laing March 27, 2014 at 9:26 AM

    Twitter: @mathforgrownups

    Glad to know it was easier to track these things than you expected. Having a sense of where you are is the first step is deciding where you want to be. Too often, I hear from writers who are frustrated because they’re working too much or not saving enough. While we all go through those periods due to circumstances beyond our control, if we’re not planning for these things, we definitely won’t get to them!
    Laura Laing recently posted…Math for Writers Virtual Book Tour, Day 4

    Reply

    6 Anne Wayman March 27, 2014 at 8:51 AM

    Twitter: @annewayman

    btw, just bought the book… will review it I suspect for my site
    Anne Wayman recently posted…6 Tips for Creating Freelance Writing Invoices with Actual Sample

    Reply

    7 Laura Laing March 27, 2014 at 9:26 AM

    Twitter: @mathforgrownups

    Thanks for purchasing the book, Anne. I look forward to hearing what you think!
    Laura Laing recently posted…Math for Writers Virtual Book Tour, Day 3

    Reply

    8 John Soares March 27, 2014 at 8:57 AM

    Paying close attention to my income, along with the general freedom that comes from being a freelancer, has allowed me to:

    – Live on Kaua’i in Hawaii for three years
    – Live on the isolated coast of far northern California for six years
    – Live in the beautiful Mount Shasta area of far northern California for seven years
    – Live in one of the best towns in America — Ashland in southern Oregon — for the last two years
    John Soares recently posted…How I Chose My Freelance Writing Niches

    Reply

    9 Laura Laing March 27, 2014 at 9:27 AM

    Twitter: @mathforgrownups

    You are a living example of how this works, John!
    Laura Laing recently posted…Math for Writers Virtual Book Tour, Day 5

    Reply

    10 Cathy Miller March 27, 2014 at 9:52 AM

    Twitter: @millercathy

    What I like most about this approach, Laura, is the recognition that those dreams are going to be different for each of us. Too many times we are blasted by what others tell us our goals should be. And I have seen many a freelancer take on the goals of others as the right thing to do.

    So, for me, the first step is making sure the goal is your goal. Then use your Math for Writers :-) to make it happen. Love this post, Laura.
    Cathy Miller recently posted…LinkedIn’s Clashing Cultures

    Reply

    11 Laura Laing March 27, 2014 at 2:05 PM

    Twitter: @mathforgrownups

    And our goals change over time! Great point, Cathy. Thanks for sharing it.
    Laura Laing recently posted…Gas Up! Join the Math for Writers Virtual Book Tour

    Reply

    12 Marcie March 27, 2014 at 2:42 PM

    Twitter: @marcie_hill

    Cathy, I have listened to other people and I’m learning to tune them out. On the one hand, I have my goal in mind. On the other hand, people keep telling me to take what I can get. Going forward, I’m taking the advice in this article.
    Marcie recently posted…Check Out My Powerful Women on the South Side Article

    Reply

    13 Cathy Miller March 28, 2014 at 9:31 AM

    Twitter: @millercathy

    Good for you, Marcie! :-)
    Cathy Miller recently posted…LinkedIn’s Clashing Cultures

    Reply

    14 John Soares March 28, 2014 at 2:17 PM

    That’s a great attitude Marcie!
    John Soares recently posted…How Content Shock Hurts Freelance Writers

    Reply

    15 Gerry Straatemeier March 29, 2014 at 3:23 PM

    Twitter: @AZgerry

    I can not at this moment imagine making $60,000 per year freelancing, or even a quarter of that, and so I really could use some advice. I am 72 years old. I was retired for 12 years and just returning to earn extra income after my pension was cut. I worked for a company as a technical writer for 7 years before I retired, at $45,000 plus benefits, and have actively blogged and such since. But I am new to freelancing and new here – and discouraged. I don’t know where to look for jobs that pay enough to make even part of a living.

    Any advice would really be wonderful.
    Thanks so much,
    Gerry

    Reply

    16 John Soares March 30, 2014 at 9:00 AM

    Gerry, I may eventually write a blog post based on your situation and your question. But for now…

    1. Pick one or more niches, likely in technical writing.

    2. Find good websites and books about how to succeed at technical writing.

    3. Join good writing communities. I highly recommend the Freelance Writers Den.

    4. Start marketing your writing services to high-quality clients.
    John Soares recently posted…How I Chose My Freelance Writing Niches

    Reply

    17 Mainak Halder March 31, 2014 at 12:40 PM

    Twitter: @PastMasterBlog

    Hi John,

    Setting a goal is easy but achieving the goal is really tough. I was a freelancer writer and had setup goals in the beginning of my career but later to my dismay, I couldn’t reach the goal of earning I had set per month.

    However, at a later stage with a good portfolio, it was indeed possible to reach the goal.

    Btw, the post is awesome and would love to see more such posts again. :)
    Mainak Halder recently posted…Why should you not blog for profit but profit from blog?

    Reply

    18 Lori April 1, 2014 at 6:04 AM

    Twitter: @LoriWidmer

    Good post. One thing I don’t do, and probably won’t, is break it down per week. I have monthly goals, which to me relieves a little of the pressure. Much of my work (and I suspect much of most freelancers’ work) comes in at intervals. This past month I had one week with nothing and one week where the bulk of my income was earned.

    Carve out time — Amen to that! Isn’t that why we became writers, and yet do we put our own desires in the mix?

    Reply

    19 John Soares April 1, 2014 at 8:25 AM

    I’m with you Lori. I focus on the monthly average, not week by week. Some weeks I’m swamped, and some weeks I have a lot of free time.
    John Soares recently posted…When a Freelance Writer Gets Only Silence from an Editor

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    20 CrisisMaven June 24, 2014 at 7:01 AM

    Yet I fear, looking at these freelancer sites like fiverr, that a lot of weeding out has to happen before writing for online platforms will be taken as seriously (both by writers as well as potential buyers/clients) as it once was offline. The Internet culture of “free” seeps down into every nook and cranny. If someone doesn’t like the price, they think they can do some superficial research and then rewrite (regurgitate) it as their own. So setting the goal in terms of money in my opinion won’t be enough – you also have to have a very well-defined idea as to what you want to specialize in. The niche you bring to the Internet should preferably be something that contains strong elements of what cannot already be found on the net by a simple search. This is getting increasingly difficult, when I compare today to, say, ten years ago or even 2005.
    CrisisMaven recently posted…The Swiss Central Bank Conundrum: Fighting Fire with Kerosene

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