New freelancers often think they’re going to spend their time, well, writing. That’s actually a misconception. As a self-employed writer, in any given day you may be researching queries, articles, and books; marketing yourself to potential clients; reviewing and amending contracts; tracking business expenses; sending out—and following up on—invoices; reworking pieces per editors' requests; and oh yes, writing for pay.
The most important task, other than completing your assignments (and doing a good job on them), is marketing yourself and your business. No matter how busy you are, you must continue to market—otherwise you’ll finally come out from under to discover you have nothing waiting for you.
How much time should you spend marketing yourself? That depends on where you are in your career and what kinds of writing work you do. Starting out, you’ll likely spend 80 percent or more of your time hunting for work—researching potential markets, responding to job posts on craigslist and the like, and sending out queries and letters of introduction. As you start developing steady clients, however, you should find that you spend more time writing on assignment (i.e. for paying clients) and less time pitching yourself.
What about you? How does your time break down? As you develop regular clients, you should see your marketing time decrease, but you should always devote about 20% of your time to selling yourself and your business. That will help ensure a steady flow of work and income.