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Behind the scenes: my first full month back at freelancing

Behind the scenes: the return to freelancing, month one

As you may be aware, in mid-May I had the last day at my full time job and I went back to being a full-time self-employed person. Given that this came with fresh eyes (I’m going to do a post on things I learned by getting a job, eventually), and also came with a pivot in the services I’m providing (writing whereas before I was doing mostly consulting & project management work), I’ve had a few questions about how it’s going and I wanted to answer them.

I definitely feel like there isn’t enough Really Real Talk (TM) in the online business world, and I always love it when others do it – so even though it’s a bit nervewracking, here’s the no-holds-barred breakdown of my first month back at full-time freelancing:

Extenuating circumstances this month

Before we get into the data, it’s important to talk about anything that may have skewed the results of this month. The main thing is that I was either traveling or recovering from traveling for about half of this month. During the time I was traveling, I was spending my time writing the summer slump series and keeping up on client work, so I didn’t spend near as much time pitching.

This definitely meant that not only did I get less work done overall, I wasn’t moving people through my sales funnel as actively as I could have been, or spending as much time working on things like guest posts or my other marketing activities – so I’m guessing it had an overall negative impact on income.

How I spent my time:

I use Harvest to track my time. Even though I don’t bill by the hour, I track time spent on client projects (because I don’t bill hourly but I still have an average hourly goal to hit, and if I find myself not consistently hitting it, something needs to change), and as an experiment, I’ve started tracking the time I spend on my business, too, to make sure that that I’m not spending too much time on things like administration, email, etc.

I was pretty lax at time-tracking during the 10 days of travel, so these numbers are definitely not 100% accurate, but they broke down as roughly 14 hours of client work and 34 hours of work on internal/business stuff.

The internal tasks broke down as: 

  • Just over nine hours spent on pitching projects, and 2.25 hours spent on meetings
  • About 15-16 hours spent on working on my website and blog posts
  • Just over five hours spent on email and administrative work (which would be great except I’m still horribly behind on my email, so let’s see if I can maintain that after getting caught up)
  • About an hour and a half on social media (which I know is under-tracked because I usually forget to stop the timer for “writing” and start it as “social media” when I finish a post and go to schedule it)
  • And then 2-3 hours on either biz-dev or project management

How I made my money:

  • Products/classes, counting the guest posting class sales: $891
  • Amazon Kindle income: $27.69
  • Services: $1,313.50
  • Total: $2,232.19 (my income goal was $3k, so I fell pretty short – but I’m not too worked up about it for reasons I’ll cover in the last section)

I had some unexpected money in the format of a gift, which was definitely helpful but isn’t counted in here.

Also notably, I did the math for my business expenses and they came in at a whopping just-over $500 – holy shitsnacks, Batman:

  • Just over half of that was either spent on service provider fees (to the wondrous Nathan Briggs for some shop page template tweaks), on WordPress plugins, or on office supplies (a laptop stand, keyboard, etc. so I can work at a desk without turning into a 90 year old).
  • About $90 of that was spent at coffee shops while I was working – which is still less than a coworking membership (although it doesn’t come with all the benefits that are associated with a coworking space).
  • And the remaining $150 was spent between web hosting, SAAS-es (*deep breath* Improvely, Contactually, Google Apps, SendOwl, Coschedule, and Harvest), and my now-defunct Flexjobs membership. (I had paid for three months at once and let it expire as of Sunday.)

I’m probably going to be switching to another analytics program (Clicky or Piwik combined with Google Analytics) just because I know I’m not using Improvely to the fullest extent of its capabilities and at $30/month, it’s the most costly out of category 3 spending. The rest are pretty non-negotiable, though I haven’t been using Contactually nearly as much since installing Streak – but I still see it being useful for post-sale client/customer follow up, and will probably keep it around for that.

The summer slump series: breakdown

This deserves its own aside as it was largely an experiment in two things: 

  • whether a post series is worth the effort (if it gets more shares, etc. than a standalone blog post)
  • what kind of content gets shared the most with my audience

There were four posts:

In order of shares and traffic driven, they rank (shares via Coschedule, visits via Google Analytics):

  1. Post #4, with 91 total shares and 96 visits
  2. Post #3, with 20 shares and 65 visits
  3. Post #1, with 18 shares and 57 visits
  4. Post #2, with 12 shares and 22 visits

But, notably:

  • I really hated pulling together the quote post. Holy bajeezus, it made me want to shank a unicorn. It was a lot of work.
  • And although I was right in my theory that the people who were quoted in post #4 shared it, it only got 40 more hits than the first post (which I actually enjoyed writing), and if I’m reading my stats dashboard right, it was the only post that didn’t actually cause any email signups or store purchases.
  • Post #3 was the best balance between something I enjoyed writing that still got shares & visits.
  • I think the value in the post series will probably be more evergreen content than anything else.
  • That said, the post I wrote last week got more shares and has driven more traffic than the whole summer slump series combined (181 shares, 215 visits), which leads me to believe I’m better off working on one-off posts (that do tie back into my larger content strategy) than doing another post series like this.

Which leads me to:

There doesn’t appear to be a hard and fast rule with my site where “XYZ content always performs better than ABC content.”

(I honestly guessed that the results from #4 would be about what they were, that #3 would perform really well, and was unsure how the other two would do.)

All in all, I didn’t get the kind of results I expected to get from the series experiment, but that’s still incredibly useful information to have going forward.

The forecast moving forward

The lessons I learned this month:

My low tier income goal ($3k) is very reasonable – which is great because in the past, I’ve made my lowest income goal too low, and wound up scrambling for money for bills at the end of the month even though I met it. This month was a little tight, but reasonably so, given that I spent a lot more money than I normally would have because of the trip (eating out pretty much every meal and splitting gas costs, etc.).

I need to lower my business expenses – but that’s doable, as discussed above.

Diversifying income streams is good! My product and class income was a solid chunk of this month’s income, so I’m very glad I’ve put a focus in my future marketing plans on creating more income that way.

The trip threw me off more than I thought it would. I don’t think my income goal was unrealistic for a normal month (and given June’s circumstances/my plans for this month, I fully expect to meet or exceed it), but it was a bit much for a month where about half of it was spent either traveling or trying to catch up after traveling and where I was also still ramping up my freelance practice.

Not really a lesson learned, but I already raised my rates for new clients, because I figured out by the rate at which I was getting pitching and accepted that I’d be working at an unsustainable rate. And I already got my first client at my raised rate!

I can’t find a spot to mention this but also: holy crap I was on FastCompany last month! That was awesome and definitely a highlight. (And that post got shared over 450 times. Woo hoo!)

Whew. That’s my exhaustive behind the scenes breakdown of June. Not sure if I’ll do another one of these next month but I hope it gave you some real insight on how my business works, and functioned as a bit of an antidote to all the smoke’n’mirrors that comes up when we talk about online businses.

Photo Credit: mayrpamintuan via Compfight cc

9 Comments

  1. Just wanted to chime in and even though you didn’t hit your income goal this month, I think you’re KILLING it on content and value and that will add up quick. So you’re doing great and I’m inspired!! I love the summer slump series. The money talk breakdowns are scary but maybe some day I’ll be brave enough to do one (I see it as a big accountability thing, keeping me motivated and taking deliberate, intentional action and strategy where before I was treating everything as a hobby).

    Reply

    • Thank you Janet! That really means a lot to me. It was honestly pretty nervewracking to publish actual numbers. Although it interesting because since I WASN’T actively freaking out about cash at any given point this month, I just assumed I had met my income goal – interesting thing to learn about my money attitude! Anyways, thank you for the kind words, and yes, I think I might keep doing this to some extent every month in the interest of honesty and accountability (and really, these are all metrics I should be keeping a close eye on anyways so maybe doing a monthly post on them will keep me actually checking and tracking them).

      Reply

  2. I really love this breakdown, not only the money part but also the amount of time spent on different activities and how well your posts performed.

    Interesting point on the quotes post, I wanted to do something similar for an issue relating to my line of work, but just the idea of contacting 20+ people in order to get maybe 5-10 of them respond and arrange all the info sounds like such a hassle!

    Reply

    • Thank you Nela! I’m glad you liked it. And yeah I think the time breakdown will continue to be a part of this – it’s super useful to me and I see it only becoming more so as I get more and more accurate with the time tracking.

      Reply

  3. When I read this, the thing that stood out was your business expenses. I’m glad you are looking at ways to improve that number.

    I run my business at about $65 per month right now which is super low I know. I’m really loving your candid posts and am finding so so so much value in everything you are writing.

    I also just took the leap and did my own ‘income’ from the blog post. It felt like I was running naked across the football field. haha.

    <3

    Reply

    • Yup, it feels pretty naked! 😉

      Thank you Dani! I’m glad you’re getting a lot of value. Yeah, the expenses this month were through the roof for me – less than half of that is my norm – but it was pretty necessary stuff – I can’t work if I’m having wrist flare ups or neck/back aches because of bad office set up!

      Reply

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