In case you’re new around here, a quick intro: I’m Gigi – a location-independent content strategist and writer traveling the world full-time with my pint-sized pooch, my adorable partner, and my freelance business. I’ve been on the road for 7+ years and self-employed for 8+. And this series is where I give you a quarterly peek behind the curtain at my freelance content business.
If you need some context, here’s the post where I break down my whole journey.
And if you just want to dive into what my second quarter in 2019 looked like…well, here goes:
The skinny on Q2 2019
At the beginning of Q2 2019, I had a big decision to make.
After working 15 – 25 hours per week for most of the last three years, was I willing to increase my hours?
You see, I had my wonderful, big ongoing client already taking up most of my time. I’d just signed a second anchor client with ongoing work that would bring me up to my part-time maximum workload. And then a colleague who I adore and very much wanted to work with again came to me with a big tech client that sounded like a blast.
So, should I stick to my part-time guns, cap my hours at 25, and split time between two clients? Or should I temporarily increase my hours in order to take on three core clients at once?
The answer, I decided, was the latter.
Why? Well, a few reasons:
1. Stability. As any freelancer knows, having several core, ongoing clients is a much more financially stable position than having most of your eggs in one basket. In Q1, the vast majority of my income came from a single source. I still wanted to prioritize that client and keep my commitment to them (plus, I really love working with them), but I also didn’t want to put myself in a position where if they no longer need me tomorrow, I’d have lost most of my income in one fell swoop.
2. Savings. As you may already know, this year I’ve set an aggressive savings goal for myself. Before taxes, I’d like to save at least 75% of my income. Having three clients who are really perfect for me is a way to hit that goal while also really enjoying my work life.
Now, having said that, I do not want to save at the expense of my health. So I committed to monitoring myself closely to see how I did with an increased workload. I was taking a bit of a gamble that the fact that the projects are steady work with low-stress clients that I love would mean that 25 – 35 hours would be doable for me.
3. Client workloads vary. Now, this may not be the case for other freelancers, so take it with a grain of salt. But I find that most clients think they need more of my hours than they actually do.
There are two reasons for this. One is that speed is one of my strengths. The other is that for most clients, there are internal processes that slow things down. Some weeks everything is rolling, everyone is in, revisions turn around quickly, and my workload piles up. Other weeks, every client seems to have key personnel out sick, encounter delays in their internal review processes, etc.
This means that while I’m opening up more work hours, not every week is going to be busy. (In fact, as I’m writing this to you, almost every project on my schedule is either in review with a client or not quite ready to start, which is why I’ve taken this mellow afternoon to write some blog posts.)
4. I like all my clients. These were all great opportunities I didn’t want to pass up.
Finally, it’s worth noting again that the time increase was a temporary trial.
One client is long-term and indefinite, but their workload lightened a little in Q2. Another was ramping up in April and May, but will need a lot less attention on an ongoing basis once their initial projects are launched. And the third signed me on a three-month contract, so I had a very clear point at which the contract would end and either that client would quietly disappear or I’d have an opportunity to reevaluate my workload and sign on for another quarter.
And so Q2 2019 was a new kind of adventure. With an increased workload and time spent evaluating how that made me feel and what it did for my business.
So, what did it do for my business?
The answer is pretty exciting: I found that the elevated workload does work for me.
I haven’t been getting sick or over-stressed. I’ve been able to protect and keep my No Technology Fridays (during which I very imperfectly attempt to not get online on Fridays and instead do things outside the house). I was right that expectations don’t equal reality and most weeks were very doable (with just a couple weeks that I ended up having to work closer to full-time hours to keep up with deadlines).
And the benefits of that elevated workload? The stability I was hoping for feels very present now. I’m making more money than I ever have in my career. And I genuinely feel good about what I’m doing, my schedule, my earnings, and my savings rate.
Income sources: How I made money in Q2 2019
So, now to the usual breakdowns. How did I make my money in Q2? Am I consulting? Writing? Building my blog like a fiend?
Here are the answers:
:: Copywriting and content strategy (93%)
Those big clients mentioned above? They all fall into this category. And so it makes perfect sense that, as usual, this is where most of my income comes from.
:: Website consulting (5%)
This quarter, I quietly passed my website clients off to a colleague who will have more time for them, be able to give them more attention, and charge them a lower rate (win-win!). The payment that came in is the last I expect to see in this category for awhile.
:: My unique series of local-centric travel guides (1%)
It’s been awhile since I’ve published a book, but they’re still relevant and people are still buying. This is a small (and dropping) percentage of my income, but it’s always nice to have that extra coming in.
:: Affiliate sales/advertising/donations here on the blog (1%)
This blog is here mostly just because I love it, but I am part of an ad network and I do use some affiliate links, which means every month a small amount comes in. Like my books, I’m grateful for this extra cash, but I’m not relying on it for my living.
:: Travel writing (less than half a percent)
This payment was from writing done and invoiced in Q1. I was too busy with content work in Q2 to do any magazine writing.
Sales & marketing in Q2 2019
Being so fully booked, I didn’t want the temptation of potential new clients coming across my email, so I did approximately nada in the sales category this quarter. I actually turned away a number of projects and new clients (who came to me via referrals and Facebook groups) because I simply didn’t have the bandwidth.
New business: How I actually got new clients in Q2 2019
:: Referral (2 new clients signed)
(The above are the third fabulous client mentioned in the intro and an agency I’ve started working with on some small occasional projects.)
My location-independent freelance schedule
As you know, after a pretty epic illness a few years ago, I realized I couldn’t work full-time and take care of my physical and mental health. And so I committed to a part-time work schedule of 15 – 25 hours per week.
Until this quarter.
As I talked about in detail in the intro, this quarter I gave myself permission to work up to 40 hours (while trying to keep things around a more reasonable 30 when possible).
I went into my three-client spread with the hopes that most weeks when one client was on the quiet side another would get busy and vice versa. I also went in prepared for occasionally having a week where everything happened at once or nothing happened at all.
In the end, I was right that client-side delays and changes kept my workload more reasonable. I think I averaged about 30 – 35 hours a week.
Savings: Did I hit my quarterly goals?
Hell yes, I did. Turns out, increasing my hours and committing to clients with long-term projects was exactly the boon to my business that I thought it would be. This quarter, I saved 88% of my income before taxes.
Location independence: Where I worked
As you know, my business is location independent. Which means I can work from anywhere in the world as long as I have a laptop and a good Wi-Fi connection.
If you came looking for me this quarter, you would have found me in sunny Split, Croatia in April, Montenegro’s pretty Bay of Kotor in May, and a tiny Swiss village near the Alps in June.
^^^ The way to my house in Switzerland.
Need some content, strategy, or web help?
As of this writing, my schedule is still full. But you never know when things will change and I’ll have an unexpected opening. So, if you need someone like me, please reach out.
I’m particularly great at:
:: Writing content about technical topics for a a non-technical audience
:: Inbound marketing/content marketing
:: Developing writing guidelines for your team
:: Helping experts translate their knowledge for the layman
:: Coming up with headlines, taglines, and brand campaigns
:: Making your website clearer, simpler, and more strategic
:: Optimizing content for SEO
:: Managing blogs
Tech businesses I’ve worked with include Dell, BestVPN, ComplyData (oil and gas compliance software), miiCloud (face recognition software), Atlassian, and Lytics Customer Data Platform. Agency clients have included Atlas Advertising, Fractl (the infographic masters), Catalyst Marketing, and Cowlick Appeal.
If you’d like to chat about what I can do for your business, drop me a line.
Are you a freelancer or business owner? Tell us about your quarter! Feel free to drop any questions you might have in the comments. And you’re welcome to join my Facebook business group where we talk all things entrepreneurship, business, and web.
Is there something you wish I’d cover in these quarterly reports? Please let me know! I want them to be as useful as possible, so if you have a suggestion, drop it in the comments or reach out to me on Facebook anytime.
Really helpful post Gigi!
I’m sorry to hear about your health issues, but I’m so glad you found a part-time, flexible solution that works for you!
I’m sure the jump up to 30 – 40 hours was not easy (even though it didn’t impact your health), but I’m happy it worked out well. I think the peace of mind that comes from financial and occupational stability is so invaluable – it feels great to not worry so much as a freelancer! :)
I’ve got a question about something I’ve been struggling with as I try to move into the freelance world while traveling. How do you balance your time? When my surroundings change so regularly, I find it really hard to commit to having a set time for my writing. For me personally, I like to set certain work spaces that have limited distractions where I can plug in and do work for an undisturbed period of time, which means coffee shops and libraries are great for me. But I find it’s hard to resist the temptation of (new or old) friends, exploring, and then general appeals of vacation in a foreign place. So how do you maintain your discipline (and that goes I suppose for not overworking either)?
Hey! I’m not sure I’m the best person to answer this because I have the opposite problem. The longer I’m in one place, the harder I find it to focus in that space – routine actually makes me restless and change helps me focus.
That said, I think there are a few things that help me on that count.
First, staying longer in a place. If I’m only somewhere for a few days, it’s definitely harder to force myself to work instead of choosing a food tour or a meal with friends (in fact, I’d always choose the meal with friends in that case). If I’m somewhere for a month or three months, there’s plenty of time for everything, so it’s easier to work without feeling like I’m missing out.
Second, I do mostly have a set schedule. My most focused time is early mornings, so I usually get up, eat breakfast, and start working right away on workdays (Mon – Thur). I don’t give all my productive time to work (Fri – Sun mornings are my own), but I do slot most of my work into those highly productive hours during that four-day span. I find that I get more done that way and it gives me routine no matter where I am in the world.
I’m not great about not overworking myself, so when it comes to stopping work and getting out and exploring, I have a few strategies as well. One is my No Tech Fridays, which force me to make a plan to walk away from the computer for the day. Another is making non-work plans so that when I am done for the day I’m not without something to do. (Because it’s harder for me to get motivated and go do something if I don’t have a plan or something on my to-do list and making plans at the end of my workday is hard because by then I’m generally at a low-energy part of the day.)
Thanks! I appreciate you taking the time to write out this response! I think there’s a lot of wisdom in staying longer to feel like there’s more time for everything and setting regular work days that don’t necessarily take up the whole day/limit you from still doing something social and active in the later part of the day. I’l work on adjusting my schedule and mindset so it feels less like an either/or and see how it affects my approach. Thanks and happy traveling :)