Behind the scenes at my location-independent business, Q4 2019

by Gigi Griffis
workspace in Riga, Latvia

This post is part of a series about how I make money while traveling the world. I’ve been on the road for over seven years. For a deeper look at how I started my business and began traveling full-time, start here.

As you may already know, for the nearly-eight years, I’ve been traveling the world full-time while running my freelance business. Every quarter, I sit down and take stock. What did I do? What kind of work is bringing in my income? What sales activities worked – and which didn’t? How am I doing with my financial goals for the year?

And as I’m evaluating all that for myself, I also share it all here. Because how freelancers make their business work shouldn’t be a mystery. It shouldn’t all be trial-and-error. And the only way to demystify things is for some of us to lift the curtain and show others how it works.

Which is why that’s exactly what I’ll be doing today.

Q4 still going strong

So, the year has officially ended. The holidays are past. And the fourth quarter of the year – which can be either incredibly busy or extremely slow, depending on the kinds of clients you work with – is a wrap.

So, how did it go?

The answer is very well indeed. Most of this year has been very busy for me. I’ve been raising rates, turning down work, and sending referrals out to other writers whenever I can. And in Q3 I was starting to feel a little overwhelmed. 

Which is why it was great news for me that one of my biggest clients had a mellow quarter. They had exceeded budgets early in the year and had to tighten up their purse strings in Q4, which meant I still had steady, reliable work, but there was a cap on how much the client asked for in any given week. For many, a lower budget would be a bad thing. But it made my work very stable and I loved it. 

Other clients were also rather mellow as the holidays approached and I spent my December working an extremely reasonable part-time schedule, which was particularly nice since I was also re-writing my novel as part of a mentorship program

Income sources: how I made money in Q4 2019

So, how exactly did I make my money in Q4? Here’s this quarter’s breakdown:

:: Copywriting and content strategy (97%)
As usual, this is the biggest percentage of my income. Which makes sense because it’s also my primary skillset.

Tasks under this category this quarter include managing social media, writing blog posts, and crafting white papers for a fast-growing tech startup, ghostwriting blog posts for an agency client, and writing long-form SEO content for a major tech company’s new microsite.

:: Affiliate sales/advertising/donations here on the blog (2%)
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.

:: 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.

:: Website consulting (Less than 1%)
This used to be a larger percentage of my work, but this year I let go of most of my website clients and focused my energy on getting and keeping good, long-term content clients. Which means this percentage, while it still exists, dropped pretty quickly. 

I still have one full website client, so this category represents a tiny bit of work for them. 

:: Travel writing (Less than 1%)
I updated an article for a travel publication I’ve worked with on and off over the years. This tiny line item represents that update. 

Sales & marketing in Q4 2019

As I mentioned above, in Q4, one client cut back on their workload for budget reasons. But because I’d already hit my financial goals for the year and I was relieved to have a lighter schedule this quarter, I didn’t really do any marketing.

One of my big contracts was slotted to end December 31st, so I anticipated coming into the new year and doing a bit of marketing. But in a nice turn of events, another team at the same client decided to bring me on for a similar project in Q1 2020, which meant that my schedule was already fully booked through March before I rang in the new year. (Update: Some changes in Q1 to another client mean I now have openings starting in early March, but when I ended the year, I was expecting to be fully booked through March.)

New business: how I actually got new clients in Q4 2019

No new clients this quarter. I did have a great conversation with a prospective client, but when my current client asked to extend their contract, I told the new client I’d be happy to refer them to a colleague and/or chat with them about working together starting in April. Until then, unless something unforeseen happens, I’m fully booked.

My location-independent freelance schedule

After increasing my hours this year and working more of a full-time schedule, I was thrilled that Q4 dropped back down to something more part-time. In the early part of the quarter, I was still close to full time. But by December, I’d say my average was maybe 25 – 30 hours per week. 

Savings: did I hit my quarterly goals?

If you’ve been following for awhile, you know I had some seriously high savings goals this year. Last year, I managed to save just under 50% of my income before taxes. This year, I wondered if I could save 75%.

So, how did Q4 shape up? Even with the abbreviated workload and some unforeseen emergency vet and technology replacement spending, I saved 81%. I’ll write more about this in a future piece. But it has been an absolute banner year for business. 

Location independence: where I worked

As I mentioned at the opening of this post, I travel full-time. This year, my partner and I got visas for a long stay in Estonia, which is an incredible, interesting place that should be on so many more travelers’ radars. So in Q4 we were loosely based in Estonia and also did some traveling in the surrounding areas (Latvia, Lithuania) and a trip down south to Italy and southern Switzerland for some warmth in the winter. 

So, when you imagine me working, you can imagine cute apartments in the Baltics, a balcony overlooking an Alpine lake in Switzerland, and a coffee shop in Torino, Italy. 

Need some content, strategy, or web help?

For the first time in a long time, I have openings in my schedule! I’m available starting in early March. 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

:: Organizing navigation and site content

:: 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), and Catalyst Marketing.

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. 

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.

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