The Freelance Money Flow

What I’m listening to: Show Me The Way by Peter Frampton

I was reading a conversation recently among newer writers talking about waiting for that next check to show up.

Boy, do I remember those days. And on rare occasion, I still have that same feeling. It’s uncommon though, amen.

It’s also one of the biggest gripes we writers have about our businesses — lack of consistent flow of cash. Plus, we hear the same advice everywhere:

  • Sock away money
  • Stop spending
  • Lower your expenses overall
  • Eliminate debt

And if we had money coming in consistently, that would all work.

Therein lies the paradox.

I don’t think anyone has a blanket answer for solving the money flow problem (it’s not an issue — it’s a problem). But I can tell you what has worked for me:

Set monthly earnings goals.

If you’ve been on this blog any length of time, you’ve heard me suggest this before. Look for a number that’s higher than what you’re earning each month now. Don’t go insane and set the bar so high that you get discouraged before you even try. So if you’re invoicing $3,000 every month, shoot for $3,500 or $4,000. Or hey, if you’re feeling like a rock star, double that current total.

Account for your actions.

Tell someone — regularly — how you’re doing toward your goals. Your accountability partner can be another writer, a friend, a partner. Just make sure to commit and follow through with reporting your monthly results. (I measure invoice totals — you can measure checks coming in. Do what works for you.)

Stick to your goal.

I’ll just say it right here: you are not going to hit that goal every month. But you should always work toward it with an eye to surpassing it. Some months, you will. Hell, if you really hit your stride, you can surpass that puppy every month. But from the first of the month through to the end of the month, keep that goal at the front of your mind. For me, that’s worked wonders.

Bark up new trees.

Sometimes the issue is the company you keep. If your current clients aren’t paying you what you’d like, talk to them about your new rate increase (don’t let them set it, but inform them your rates are about to climb). And start replacing the resistant ones with new clients (who are quoted your new rate, of course). Review every month the clients you have, the amounts you earn, the value of that relationship to you, and why you’re still with them.

Are you sticking with a client because it's an easy paycheck, ignoring that it's not a good… Click To Tweet

Match your presentation to your ideal client.

I’m going to use my own case as an example. I work with companies and trade pubs. If I sent my potential clients a note loaded with exclamation points and smiley faces, they’d no longer be potential clients. Likewise, if I sent an idea about how to get the most money out of your insurance company … to an insurance corporation for their newsletter. I can’t send the trades an article on the 4 Ways Your Company Can Save on Business Insurance. That’s way too basic and, frankly, too much of a consumer approach to a business topic. Instead, I would send a letter of introduction in the first case, highlighting my experience briefly and using language that clearly shows I know what I’m talking about. In the trade situation, I would send an article idea along the lines of how much the gender wage gap could cost your company (it was published last fall). Make sure in every interaction, you’re approaching your prospective clients with the same tone and message they’re already using and responding to.

Listen to your gut.

Sometimes the answer is already with you. What is your gut saying about those clients, those late invoices, those actions of yours? If you think you need help polishing that professional image, you’re probably right. If you think you need to lose that deadbeat client who is always one check behind the workload, trust that instinct. If you think you charge too little, you definitely do. (And conversely, if you think you can’t demand higher rates, stop sniffing glue. No one should be stuck at $30 an hour without benefits and an office space.)

Writers, how do ensure a more consistent flow of money?
What advice can you offer to writers looking to better their bank accounts?

About the author




  • Mary Schneider June 12, 2017 at 11:23 am

    Setting reasonable rates is the hardest for me…

    A question- which is more professional, an hourly rate or a set rate per project?
    I’ve had an hourly rate for a while now but am considering a shift to a set rate, to make marketing easier. What do you think? What are some of the pros and cons in your experience?

    • lwidmer June 12, 2017 at 12:53 pm

      Mary, I typically quote per-project rates only because it’s easier for me to calculate my time. Clients like to know the full price upfront, and giving per-project rates avoids a client watching the clock.

      The disadvantage would be underestimating your time commitment. I get around that by offering my per-project rate based on XX hours, with additional work costing $150/hr. Or I give the option to renegotiate once the hours are expended.

  • Paula Hendrickson June 12, 2017 at 11:44 am

    Are you intercepting my email, Lori? Right now I’m in one of those spots where I’ve kicked myself in the head by focusing almost exclusively on multiple projects for a client that I know has a slow payment process. It works like clockwork, so at least I know I’ll be paid for all of these things by August 20. And it will be a significant amount, too. Thank goodness.

    Luckily, I stashed my last big check from the same client allowed me to sock a couple more months’ worth of living expenses in my savings account.
    Yes, I’ll have to transfer funds out of savings to pay my July bills, but that’s because I spent nearly $2,000 on home repairs and the first installment of my property taxes this month. Bad timing, but such is life.

    • lwidmer June 12, 2017 at 12:55 pm

      I swear I wasn’t reading over your shoulder, Paula! As long as they remain predictable in their payments, I wouldn’t drop them. Unless there are other factors, of course. And if anyone can protect themselves in these situations, it’s you!

      • Paula Hendrickson June 12, 2017 at 6:13 pm

        They’re an efficiently run machine, and one of the top markets in my field. Knowing when the funds will arrive makes it possible to budget. Unlike my former client, Late Payer, who could take six months to pay—the guy used every excuse in the book and usually only paid up when threatened with “alternate means of collection.” (And one of the two execs there had the audacity to try to connect with me on LinkedIn. NO WAY!)

  • Joy Drohan June 13, 2017 at 6:58 am

    I heartily endorse the accountability method Lori suggests here. Since I started using it I’ve typically made quite a bit more than my monthly goal. I should probably raise my goal, but there’s the occasional month when I might not invoice anything if I’m working on several large projects. I’ve also learned to invoice more frequently as I go, and to value continuing projects for the monthly invoice. And of course regular marketing, not just when work is slow…

    • lwidmer June 13, 2017 at 9:18 am

      You’re living proof it works, Joy! It’s amazing how you’ve blasted through those goals.