This is my favorite day of the year. To me, January 1 represents promise, potential, possibility. It's also when I set my goals for the year, and I suggest you do the same for your career.
Consider the Past
To look forward, however, you first must look back. At the end of each year, I review what types of writing work I performed, for whom, and how much money I made as a result. I also add up the amount I made from selling reprints and from speaking engagements so I know how much I’m making from both activities, and I look for trends, both good and bad.
Another issue to explore is how you spent your time last year. Look at when projects were assigned and when you turned them in. Are you turning around your profiles quickly but spending too much time on shorter, lower-paying pieces? Are those heavily-researched business articles really worth spending so much energy on? Remember that it’s not how much you make for a particular project—it’s what your hourly rate turns out to be.
Finally, how diversified were you this year? Were you working for only a handful of clients or for dozens? (The former may be unavoidable if much of your work is writing books, which take much longer than articles.) Did you have lots of short, lower-paying assignments or did you focus more on bigger projects or feature stories? Does your income come from a variety of sources or only a few?
Consider the Future
So, now you know where your money came from. The next question is how much you want to make this year—and what kind of work you want to perform to make it. Should you focus your efforts in a particular area or would you rather try something new? Are you feeling burned out and want to switch gears—and try writing fiction, for example, instead of essays? Consider too how much time you can dedicate to “projects of the heart” compared to the work that pays your bills.
After you’ve set an annual income goal, determine how you’ll get there. How many hours must you write to earn that income? If you’re freelancing fulltime, the answer may be as many as necessary. Having a daily financial goal can help keep you on track. If your goal is to make $30,000 a year from freelancing, that averages to $2,500 a month or $125 a day (with four weeks off during the year.) In other words, if you can average that amount of income 240 days a year, you can make $30,000 this year. Make sense?
Strive for a Balance
By setting monthly, weekly or daily financial targets, you’ll be on your way to achieving your overall financial goal this year. But remember that your writing career isn’t only about the money. Your goals may also include non-financial ones like spending more time writing fiction or developing a stronger voice. (One of my goals this year is to finish my latest novel, which has been languishing for months.)
That's why I suggest you build writing time into your schedule for projects that don’t produce income (at least not yet) but are important to you for other reasons. (Need a boost? Check out Kelly Stone's 90-day writing challenge that launches tomorrow.) Even though I write for a living, I give myself time to write for myself as well. After all, if you only focus on the bottom line and continually take work that bores or frustrates you, you’ll be likely to become bored and frustrated with your career as well.
Instead, strive for a balance between the money you want to make and the work you want to do—and both you and your bank account will be better off in 2012.
** Want to publish a book but aren't sure which route (i.e., traditional publishing, print-on-demand, e-publishing, or self-publishing) is right for you? Check out my Writer's Digest webinar on Thursday, January 5. You'll learn about your book publishing options today, and their pros and cons.