Crunching the numbers

pie-chartI’ll start this post with a confession. I’ve been freelancing almost exactly nine years, and I’ve sort of been making it up as I go along.

It all began when I woke up one morning in late 2007 and decided that, although I liked my job (as a senior editor for a book packager), I didn’t want to spend as much time in meetings or fighting fires that I didn’t light. I was also earning a name for myself as the slightly odd one in the office who kept muttering expletives under her breath and sighing, and I thought it might be time to start doing those things in the privacy of my own room. Without further ado I handed in my notice, bought a tiny MacBook and took a bus to my local Ikea to kit out my home office. (The fact that I managed single-handedly to wrestle a chair, a lamp, a bin, an in-tray and a small desk from Tottenham to Islington on public transport I took as proof of my tenacity and therefore suitability for the freelance life.)

Fast forward nine years, and instinct has got me a long way, but I can’t trust to luck forever: I need to stay competitive; I need to understand what I do well, and what I could do better. I need to have a firm grasp of where most of my money comes from, and where most of my time goes, beyond a lot of gut feelings. It’s time to figure out exactly where I am and decide where I want to go next. Then go there. (This time not on a bus laden down with furniture.) I decided 2017 was going to be the year I carried out a proper, disciplined marketing exercise, with 15–30 minutes set aside for it each day.

I started on 1 January, so I have completed nearly two weeks of my new regime. I’m starting this month with analysis, before moving on to more active marketing. I’ve marketed myself before, of course, and to some extent it’s built into my regular working day already – but it’s always been rather reactive, a bit ad hoc. This time I aim to do it all with more precision … more mindfulness, if you like.

Drilling down into my business

Excitingly, the analysis has already confirmed some things I did know … and told me others I didn’t. The good news is that many of my gut feelings were right. Although two clients stood out as being particularly significant in terms of earnings in 2016, in general the income is quite well distributed between clients, which minimises risk for me. However, it’s always possible to ensure a better spread, and I can now focus my marketing with this in mind.

The figures also helped me to identify which clients occupied more time than they paid for … and vice versa. Of course I was tracking my hours carefully anyway, and working out the rate achieved per project, but it was interesting to look at the broader trends associated with each client, and each client type. For example, it’s often said that publishers don’t pay as well as non-publishers. In my experience, this isn’t necessarily true. There isn’t much difference in the mid-range, and fewer of my non-publishers feature at the low end, but my highest payers in 2016 were still publishers. What this also tells me, though, is that I need to continue to develop the non-publishing side of things; my ways of working have tended in the past to be more geared towards publishers, and perhaps the figures reflect this.

Perhaps the strongest reason I have for carrying out this analysis now is that I want to be able to measure my progress in six months or a year. Those who know me well would recognise that I have a tendency to be impulsive – to not look before I leap. Often it works out! But this year, I want to have a clearer idea of exactly where I’m jumping before lift-off, and be able to accurately compare where I land with where I’ve come from.

photo 2016 cropped

Liz Jones has worked as an editor in the publishing industry since 1998, and has been freelance since 2008. She’s beginning to appreciate the joy of graphs. 

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