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Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Mistakes Were Made: How 2012 Will Look Different Than 2011

Last post, I shared what I grossed in 2011, and that I failed to meet my income goal. That was a bummer. However, I spent the last week of 2011 revisiting my career, reevaluating my goals, and creating a new plan for 2012, so I know what happened last year. I've written about freelance mistakes before, but that doesn't mean I never make them myself. So here are my "top 5" reasons I failed to meet my 2011 income goal:

1. Too-positive thinking. In other words, I counted my proverbial chickens before they hatched. Early in 2011, I coauthored a book proposal for a client that our agent shopped around. I was certain that the book would command an advance of at least $20,000-30,000 (hopefully more!) and planned accordingly. Well, the only offer we got was for a whopping $4,000, and my client was unwilling to throw anything else in the pot. So I wound up in the spring with no book project. I'm a positive person, but in 2012, I'll be more realistic in my expectations.
2. No backup plan. The book proposal I mentioned above? Remember, I was certain it would sell to a traditional publisher, so I didn't look for any other book projects to take on because I didn't want to have too much work on my plate at once. (I'd spent three months before that busting my butt because I'd overloaded myself before and during the holidays.) Instead, I was left with no book and no backup work--which made a definite dent in my bank account. This year, I have backup plans for when I have too much work, and too little work.  
3. Significant life change. For my family, 2011 was the Year of the Move. We prepped, painted, staged, and cleaned the house we'd lived in for 13 years to get it ready to sell. That was a huge time commitment that took a lot of time away from my career. Then, we had to find a house to buy (long story, but it took several months) and then actually move all of our belongings, our two children (and all of their belongings!), both of our home offices, our golden retriever, and everything else we owned from our house and the storage facility into our new house...and unpack it all. (I confess, I still have a ways to go on that--but I'll get there eventually.) I know our move hurt my career, but now that we're in our "20-Year House," I don't have to worry about this in 2012.
4. Lower-paying work. I've seen advances fall over the last few years, and the book projects I took in 2011 paid less than I would have liked. Here's the thing--I can try to negotiate for more money, but sometimes I'm in the position of saying "yes" to a project I want for less money than I'd like or saying "no" and having no work. (Remember, most of my work these days are sizable projects like ghostwritten books, so I tend to take on one or two gigs at a time. When I had a dozen or more articles under contract at any given time, this was less of an issue.) I can't always control how much money I get for a gig, but I can make an effort to negotiate more money for the work I do in 2012. And I will.
5. Inconsistent marketing. I should know better, but I admit that when I was busy, I wasn't marketing myself. Then I'd come up for air to discover I had no big project waiting for me. Yeah, I know better! But I'm sharing this so you know that even experienced freelancers make dumb mistakes sometime. This year, I'm already marketing myself more consistently and I hope I'll have a steadier workload as a result. If not? Well, then I've got my backup plan to keep me going.

**Readers, what about you? Did life circumstances or other causes keep you from meeting your income goal? Feel free to share them here--and how you plan to tackle them in 2012. And if you haven't done so, please take my quick, confidential 2012 Freelance Income Survey, and ask other freelancers to do the same. We've garnered 85 responses already but I'm shooting for at least 250 this time around. Thank you!


  1. Kelly,
    I took on blog writing because it pays more timely than magazines, but, although I made a lot more money this year, I found myself not having the time to write what I enjoy or on my own projects. Definitely weighing this out for 2012.

  2. Dear Kelly,
    I've always been a silent admirer until this post moved me to comment. While most writing blogs offer useful and practical solutions, yours is my favourite because you're so honest. Thanks for sharing this, Kelly, and keeping us grounded yet hopeful!

  3. Thanks, Alex! I really appreciate hearing that. And Carol, I think you're smart to consider what you *want* to work on, not just what you have to work on. Trust me, I struggle with that a lot.

    Thanks for both of your comments!