The Seven Habits of High-Earning Freelancers (Part Three)

See Part One and Part Two for earlier installments of this series. Today we’ll talk about a habit observed by almost none of the freelancers I’ve spoken with.




We all have “goals” for our writing, whether it’s making $150k a year or getting that novel in the bureau drawer published. Thing is, most of us don’t make those desires real goals.

A real goal is measurable and has a time limit. Otherwise, it’s just a dream with little chance of success.

By measurable, I mean it’s tied to a number or other “victory condition” that makes it possible to know when you’re finished — and how close you are to completion.

A time limit is a date by which you’ve promised yourself you’ll reach the victory condition. You can divide long-term goals into benchmarks, keeping you on track for the final product.

Metrics are ways of measuring your progress to keep yourself on track for reaching your goals by the time you’ve set. I learned about metrics during my time running a martial arts studio. With over 100 students and a staff of more than 20 employees and volunteers, I had a lot of metrics to track. In my simpler life as a freelance writer, I track only a few:

  • How much money I’ve earned by writing.
  • How much money I’ve been paid for my writing (sadly, not always the same as number 1.
  • How many posts for my blog I’ve put in the hopper.
  • How many “action items” — for example, writing a scene or editing a chapter — I’ve completed on my book projects.
  • How many pitches I’ve sent to potential new clients.
  • How many “acts of marketing” I’ve performed.
  • Whether or not I’ve completed my weekly administrative tasks.
I hold myself to specific standards for each week, and plan my weeks to make sure I reach the numbers I’ve committed to. The specific numbers are tied to my needs and those of my clients. Over time, these individual pieces add up to completing my major writing projects. 

Do you use metrics? If so, what metrics do you hold yourself to, and how do you track them? Leave some comments about your own process.

Thanks for listening.


photo credit: onomotomedia

Friday Fun: Dialogue

Writing good dialogue is vital to writing fiction, and even to good narrative nonfiction. It’s one of the best ways to “show, not tell” and makes a great shortcut for introducing characterization and personality tags.

A handful of great dialogue writers include Douglas Adams, Joe R. Lansdale, Lawrence Block, John Sandford, Christopher Moore and Sir Terry Pratchett. Dozens of others are out there, but those are a few of my favorites.

One of the best places to find great dialogue is on television and in the movies — after all, those mediums rely on dialogue in a way that prose doesn’t have to. Comedic dialogue is especially great on screen. Consider these clasics.


The Seven Habits of High-Earning Freelancers (Part Two)

Part One of this series looked at professional appearance, both in person and online. Today, we’ll look at another facet of professionalism in freelancing.


This one is true of freelancers and entrepreneurs in other fields. It’s so common that Michael Gerber built a consulting empire out of teaching people how to fix this common problem.

Freelancers have only themselves to make sure they do their jobs. Unfortunately, most freelancers are pretty bad at doing that — if they were good at it, they’d be fine working a regular job with regular hours and solid benefits.

Result: a host of obstacles between you and the freelance income you deserve. Do any of these sound familiar?

  • Turning in assignments late
  • Working until 2 in the morning to turn in an assignment on time
  • Having no clear budget
  • Not sticking to the budget you set up
  • Slow or frustrating communication with clients
  • Constant worry about if you’re forgetting something
  • Constant worry about money
  • Disorganized time, finances and/or workspace

Don’t judge yourself too harshly if you resemble the above remarks. They’re epidemic among freelancers and consultants. Most of us are constitutionally challenged when it comes to professionalism and organization — which makes it all the more important that we use tools to stay on top of our work. Here are a few systems I use to keep it together.

Schedule your time and work — even if it’s just blocking out a few hours of uninterrupted work. This not only keeps your work on track. It also protects your “me time” by marking it as not time to go to work.

Have “meetings” with yourself. I spend ten minutes each morning going over my tasks for the day, and another ten each night laying out my plan. Once a week, I schedule major events and ongoing projects using a monthly calendar.

Find an accountability buddy: somebody who will ask you if you’re on schedule and give you a verbal spanking if you’re not. For some people, a spouse is the best candidate. For others, that would be a disaster.

Set a response timeline, meaning you promise yourself you’ll respond to all business communication within a certain window. I use 24 hours. Similarly, set another “hard limit” for letting clients know about problems. Setbacks are unavoidable, but letting people know well before it’s a problem will buy you plenty of grace.

These are just four of many tools that help me. What are some of your systems and tools?


photo credit: onomotomedia

Sharpening the Saw

“If I had eight hours to chop down a tree, I’d spend six hours sharpening my ax.”

— Abraham Lincoln

Stephen Covey later adapted that idea by adding a “sharpening the saw” task to every executive’s daily things to do list. The idea is simple: without rest and preparation, you can’t be effective and successful.

I learned this the hard way recently.

This past month has been phase one of a big remodeling project in my house. This means writing about twice as much as usual to afford the project. And spending a few hours a day tearing things apart with a sledgehammer, crowbar and my work-gloved hands.

After two weeks, I was already feeling pre-carpal in my forearms and elbows. And then I went to a capoeira workshop. Four days of this:

Alert observers will notice this activity gets hard on the wrists, forearms and elbows. And thus I’ve been pretty much unable to type for a few days. Light duty for the next few, then things should be back to normal.

The point here isn’t making excuses for not posting in a almost a week. The point is I wasn’t sharpening my saw. I wasn’t resting. I wasn’t planning my work or stockpiling work to post during an unforeseen gap in productivity.

I could have avoided this problem in a dozen ways. Since I make some of my living giving advice to freelancers and small business owners, I should have avoided it.

What things do all of you do to keep from burning out/overworking yourselves/getting carpal tunnel from too much of an obscure Brazilian martial art? I look forward to your comments.


Photo courtesy of Tim Vickers. Used with permission.