We hear a lot about setting freelance income goals and other income goals. They aren't my thing. Here's why.
Working in the world of online financial content often comes with its own FOMO. After all, everyone has freelance income goals, and it's all about making more.
There's nothing wrong with that. Having income goals is totally fine, and there's nothing wrong with you for setting (and hopefully achieving) them.
But it's important not to fall into the trap of thinking that you must have income goals and that they always have to be higher than they were before. In fact, you might be better off in the long run by taking a step back and re-evaluating why you feel like you need to make a lot more each month.
I'm a Chronic Income Underachiever
It's true that I've been writing longer than most people I know in my community. In 2020, it will mark my 15th year as a freelancer. Which is cool. However, I don't make the same amount of income as some of my peers.
Some of them make two or three times what I make in a month. They've got lofty freelance income goals based on annual income or monthly income, and they meet those goals. Which is totally fine.
Unfortunately, I occasionally get someone who asks me why I don't make more. Not my friends. My friends get me. But I get it from others, who almost sneer at me. Why am I not aiming to make more money? Why don't I take on more clients? Shouldn't I write a larger number of articles a month?
So, yeah, I could probably be making more money as a freelancer. But I'd probably have to work a lot more. I remember the days, earlier in my career, when I was working 50 or 60 hours a week, writing tons of articles and trying to meet deadlines.
And I don't want to go back.
In fact, a few years ago I made a goal to stop making six figures a year.
It didn't work. I still make six figures as a freelancer. But the point is that I made a conscious effort to be an income underachiever.
That's because more money for the sake of more money doesn't motivate me.
I Have Lifestyle Goals, Not Freelance Income Goals
Rather than setting income goals, I prefer to focus on lifestyle goals. What are the things I want to do with my TIME?
At one point, I had a breakdown due to burn out. When I came out of that experience, I realized that I needed to adjust my thinking. Yes, I needed to make a certain amount of money each month to do things like “pay the bills” and “feed my family.”
But did I really need to make extra money just to … make extra money?
I decided I didn't. So, instead of setting income goals based on the idea of making more money each month or each year, I took a step back.
What is this money doing for me? What can I do with this money?
I realized that I want my money to help me build a lifestyle that I enjoy. Just making money for the sake of having more money wasn't helping me feel fulfilled.
So I took stock of my situation and took a couple of days to think about what I wanted my life to look like. I created lifestyle goals that I could accomplish with the help of money.
Today, the way I set up my freelancing schedule and the way I manage my workload have more to do with whether it's helping me reach my lifestyle goals and less about hitting some income mark.
What Do You Value in Your Life?
The first step to shedding my freelance income goals was deciding what I value in my life. Basically, for me, it comes down to these things:
- Doing good in my community
All of these things require time. And when I'm trying to make more money, I don't have time. And I can't ever get that time back. If I run into a situation where I need more money, I can go ahead and write more articles, or even get a part-time job or doing something else to trade in some of my time for more money. But I'll never get my time back if I spend it.
I like the fact that I can spend all day on a Friday taking my son car shopping. It's nice that I can meet a friend for lunch or go to a personal training appointment in the middle of the day. And the best time to go to the spa is the middle of the week — when no one's there.
Plus, I don't have to worry about taking time off to travel, or how many vacation days I have left. A few weeks ago, I went several days without looking at my computer. Because I could. And I didn't even have to make huge shifts to my schedule and workload to “make up for it.”
Designing Your Freelance Life Around Your, Well, LIFE
Now, this didn't happen overnight. Or in a week or even a few months. And my life still isn't exactly where I'd like it to be. It's a work in progress. But to get to this point, where I mostly get to spend my time doing what I want, and where I have the income to live my preferred lifestyle, took time.
(Want to learn more about my journey and my schedule? My friend Chonce interviewed me about my freelance life.)
It also took a great deal of work — and even more luck with a healthy dose of privilege.
I have to acknowledge that I was able to start from a place where I had a certain amount of stability. There were student loans for my then-husband's schooling. My support system was solid and I had fallback options. I could afford college (including grad school) with a non-crushing level of student debt.
Yes, I had to work hard (remember that 50-60 hours a week situation?), but my starting point was a big help in my ability to not have to start from being totally behind.
There were some steps I took to start revamping my schedule and life so that my freelancing was supporting my lifestyle goals.
1. Figure out my number
The first step was to figure out my number. How many articles did I need to write to meet my basic living expenses and my goals?
This included goals like:
- Setting money aside for retirement
- Paying down debt
- Putting money toward my son's 529
- Figuring out how to travel more
- Donating to charity
I came up with a number of articles I'd need to write each month and then broke it down by week and day. That was my starting point.
2. Raise my rates
I immediately realized that at the rate I was charging, I would only be able to cut out a few articles a month. That wasn't nearly enough to help me reach my newly-minted lifestyle goals.
So I did some digging. Setting freelance rates is never easy. And it's not fun. But after researching and talking to my fellow freelancers, I discovered that I was charging about 1/3 of what I could have been charging.
Today, I charge more than 10 times what I was charging for each freelancing article at the time of my breakdown.
It's worth noting that as your rates go higher, your number changes. I write many fewer articles than I used to — and fewer than a lot of my peers.
3. Get ready for a rough few months
One of the hardest things about making this shift is the way you could end up doing more work until things shake out. I had existing projects and commitments at my old rates, but I was looking for new work at higher rates.
For a few months, I actually ended up doing even more than I had in the past. I needed to wrap up my old work while at the same time taking on new work.
It was rough, but slowly things changed as the lower-paying work was replaced by the higher-paying work. Now, I can make these transitions in a smoother manner, but it still takes some planning.
4. Look for other ways to make money
This is actually the part I'm still working on. Right now, even though I rarely work more than three or four hours a day, I still have to do something to make sure I'm meeting my lifestyle goals.
While I anticipate my freelance writing income remaining the bulk of my income, I do realize that I need to step it up in other areas. Things could so easily change. Besides, I want to be able to change my number again, and I'm almost at the point where the market won't bear higher rates from me.
So I'm looking into things like writing ebooks and maybe tweaking my investing so that I see a little more income by putting my capital to work. Developing passive income is one way to diversify revenue streams and further your lifestyle goals.
In the end, my freelance income goals aren't really about making more each month. They're lifestyle goals and I view my income as a way to help achieve those goals. My income isn't the goal. The lifestyle I can live is the goal.
If I don't need to make as much money each month to live that lifestyle while meeting long-term financial goals, why should I?