This article is by staff writer April Dykman.
Those of you who have read GRS for a while know that when I started writing here more than four years ago, I was gainfully employed as a writer-editor-project-manager type. I had a steady paycheck, and every two weeks, I knew exactly how much money would magically appear in my checking account.
Two years later, I gave up that predictable paycheck to pursue life working on my own terms. What I do sounds pretty great to a lot of people: freelance writer. I think they picture me working in scenic cafes, pondering the meaning of life as I fuel up with French press coffee. Or they think I work in my pajamas all day, or that my husband supports me financially.
The truth is, it’s still work, and I do need to make a certain amount of money each month. This is not some side-income hobby. And the actual writing is just part of a freelance writer’s day. The harder part has been income-related stuff, like dealing with invoicing.
For instance, two years ago, I wrote two whitepapers for a client, who then dodged my invoices and emails for the next year. First, she said that the project wasn’t completed yet (it was). Then, as months passed, she started ignoring my emails. When I finally tracked down someone in the accounting department, that person promised payment, but the check was continually delayed for various reasons. Eventually, I had a debt collector help me out by drafting a letter and placing a few phone calls, and amazingly the check appeared within a month.
Another income-related aspect that’s been difficult, and it’s the subject of this Ask the Reader post, is income-related stress. No matter how much you try to exceed a client’s expectations, stuff happens. Their ad revenue drops and they can’t afford to pay for regular content anymore. Or, and this recently happened to me, your project winds up in the middle of a company’s internal conflicts, and the project gets shelved. When that happened last month, it meant that $1,700 per month of income — poof! — disappeared. Just like that.
So how do you handle the uncertainty? I’ve tried a few things.
First, I have an emergency savings account, at least six months’ worth of living expenses (although if I ever had to dip into it, I’d become über frugal, so maybe it’d last longer).
Second, I’ve tried to keep monthly expenses low. For instance, when my husband and I bought a house early this year, we borrowed only half of what we could’ve qualified for, so our mortgage payment is pretty low.
Third, I’ve tried to take on slightly more work than I need. This has worked pretty well, but it’s still problematic. At one point, my workload was just unmanageable. In fact, that’s when I took a short hiatus from GRS. (Obviously, I couldn’t stay away from you guys!)
But the reason that I took on too much was that I was scared to turn anything down. Because what if one client dropped off the face of the earth? Wouldn’t I regret turning down that extra project? Even though my expenses are manageable, even though I have money in savings, even though I’ve historically always made enough money to cover the bills and then some, I still worry.
Now, I realize that many of you can’t relate to juggling client work and several sources of income. You have the steady paycheck I once had. But still, I’m sure there’s a kernel of truth that resonates even if you can’t relate. When I was an employee, there were water cooler whispers about layoffs. At a previous job, one boss often threatened to “fire everyone and just start over.” (He always reassured me that I’d still have a job, but you can see why things felt a little unstable to me!)
So that brings me to my questions for all of you. Whether you work for yourself or for someone else, do you worry about your income? And if so, what have you done to lower that stress? I’d love to hear what logistical steps you’ve taken as well as how you manage your mindset.