A mug full of coffee on an open planner
Freelancing

How I am planning for the next financial year as a freelancer – despite Covid-19

This may seem strange to you. In a world that increasingly seems to offer little prospects for freelancers, why would I plan for 2020-2021? Or at least plan to continue freelancing?

Reasons it’s hard on Australian freelancers:

  • Closures & shutdowns of sections, papers and magazines and budget cutbacks leave freelancers with very few places to pitch to.
  • The knock on effect of restrictions and budget cuts and shutdowns means no work for other businesses that would hire freelancers for other work.
  • More and more in-house journalists becoming redundant means a larger community of freelancers.
  • There is a disparity in who amongst freelancers are eligible for government support thanks to the weird eligibility criteria put forward by a government that does not understand how varied work can be these days.
  • There is no legal ability for freelancers to collectively bargain for their rights or rates of pay in Australia.

Reasons why I am continuing to freelance:

  • As a person of colour in two still very racist industries: publishing & media, it is highly likely that I will be called in for an interview but not hired. This is likely in some cases to be made worse by the knowledge that I am a member of the union. The discrimination on both counts is illegal but it is hard to prove that that is why you are excluded from roles, if it is not expressly stated or written.
  • Freelancing is, I won’t lie, a pain in the neck. Of course it is. It would be remiss of me to not say that. But it also has elements I do like, thank heavens. I want to continue to work as a journalist and editor and I get to write a few good stories and edit a lot of great work. So part of it is a desire to continue that work.
  • I have a limited amount of time and energy. I don’t want to spend it applying for and preparing for job interviews where it is obvious I have been chosen to tick a diversity tickbox in the process and not as a genuinely considered candidate. That feels both disrespectful and a waste of time. So I would rather spend that time working and only apply for positions where I felt the people involved would genuinely consider my application.
  • I also have to earn a living so of course I will continue to freelance.
  • Crises can be opportunities. Or can create them. Covid-19 won’t last forever but it may mean that I can do something that someone else cannot.

On to the planning:

I think the first thing to do is kind of do a stock take of everything that has happened. What projects did I finish? What is unfinished? What goals did I achieve or not achieve?

Stocktake time:

Goals achieved:

  • Make a profit on 2018-2019 income.
  • Finish writing Gin & Tonic
  • Start writing The Real Estate
  • Get new editing clients
  • Get new mentoring clients
  • Speak at the Emerging Writers Festival
  • Get other speaking gigs
  • Get other training/workshop gigs
  • Post more often on the blog
  • Post more often on Youtube
  • Start a gaming channel on Youtube
  • Start an accountability group
  • Start/join a regular brainstorming session
  • Work on my voluntary projects

As you can see, I managed to do some things but not other things. And the profit is not as large as I hoped but it is still a profit.

Goals for 2020-2021:

Financial

  1. A profit on 2019-2020 income

Mentoring

  1. Have two mentoring clients

Journalism

  1. Publish 20 stories

Speaking/training

  1. Speak/train for five different gigs.
  2. Be part of the Melbourne Writers Festival
  3. Be part of the Melbourne Fringe Festival

Editing

  1. Edit/proofread/sensitivity read 10 books

Writing

  1. Finish writing Gin & Tonic
  2. Start writing The Real Estate
  3. Find a publisher for Sedition.

I tried to think of some goals I want to achieve in the next financial year. I have a long list of goals but these are some of the very work specific ones. Some of these goals are very specific. Some of them are a bit more vague because I don’t want to keep some details to myself but you get the gist.

Some also feed into each other. If I achieve my goal for journalism then I moving towards my financial goal as well and so on.

I started by thinking about the goals I met last year and how I needed to plan to meet my goals for the coming year.

One goal was very obvious and that was the financial one: I had a figure in mind last year that was a bit more than the figure I made the year before. I didn’t hit that goal but I aimed for it and I made more than I had the previous year.

The bulk of my income (about 77%) came from editing & proofreading work during 2019-2020.

In the latter half of 2019-2020 I had three regular editing clients. Most of my editing clients are often one time clients because it takes a long time to write a book.

That’s why my editing goal for the coming year is to try and work on more manuscripts rather than finding a specific number of clients.

Mentoring is also regular work and I decided to aim for two to start with because whether there is time for more clients than that will have to be determined depending on the client and what else I have on.

Work hours and weeks

This is an easy enough calculation.

There are 52 weeks in a year. To get the same amount of annual paid leave for full time employees, you subtract 4 weeks.

That’s 48 weeks at the maximum amount of 38 working hours per week or 1824 hours per year.

Usually that four weeks of leave gets used up by me for sick days here and there and then a huge chunk of time in Sri Lanka over Christmas. Covid-19 travel restrictions may prevent me going anywhere for Christmas so I might schedule a tentative one week during the Christmas week as my “holiday leave” and keep 21 days in reserve to schedule in as I need them for health related stuff or just mini breaks.

That means I am on leave from 21 December 2020 to 27 December 2020 and on my birthday on 21 July 2020 with now 20 days in reserve.

I then wanted to work out how many hours out of the 38 work hours per week, I wanted to dedicate to each type of work. This was useful because I am now using timeblocking to schedule my work week each week.

This was a bit difficult. Partly because I am often required to be in union and other voluntary project related meetings and this often happens during working hours.

So even though it doesn’t come under work, I did wonder if I needed to account for these things as well.

I also debated setting aside time within those 38 hours for book writing since there would be no immediate financial return on doing that and I was originally planning to work on my writing outside of a 9 – 5 schedule.

This is the list I have come up with at the moment:

  • Admin work: 5 hours
  • Mentoring: 2 hours
  • Editing: 10 hours
  • Journalism: 10 hours
  • Other projects: 3 hours

This leaves eight hours unaccounted for that I am not sure what to do with just yet. The next step is to schedule that into my calendar. I decided to draft a schedule just to see where stuff could go and if a 9 to 5 schedule was going to be something feasible for me before adding anything into my calendar just yet.

Drafting a schedule of sorts:

So this is what I am sort of working with that assumes a 9-5 schedule.

MondayTuesdayWednesdayThursdayFriday
9-10EditingJournalismJournalismEditingAdmin
10-11EditingJournalismEditingEditingJournalism
11-12JournalismJournalismEditingEditing
12-1JournalismJournalismEditingEditing
1-2JournalismOtherEditingMentoring
2-3JournalismOtherMentoring
3-4AdminXXXXXXXX
4-5AdminXXXXXXXX

Again, I don’t know at this point whether this schedule will work, or if I have to start and stop work at a different time like say 4 am to noon instead.

I have so far just put things into time blocks because I know for example that one editing client is in a different time zone so though they work on a Monday, their assignments to me come through on Tuesday night and so I can only start working on them on Wednesday so there is a time block there for that.

A list of journalism call outs for stories comes through to me on Wednesdays and Fridays again due to time zone differences so I can only respond to them then.

I have one regular admin meeting on Friday mornings and one regular non work project on Wednesday afternoons. I talk to my best friend on Thursday afternoons so it’s far easier for me to do small admin bits of work while we chat rather than something else.

What projects will I work on this year?

This list will align with many of the goals listed above though thinking of some of them as projects is a bit strange but the basic idea is the same so that whether they are projects or goals they get broken down into bite sized tasks.

Those tasks then get scheduled into their respective time blocks.

If I use writing Gin & Tonic as an example, I have about 30,000 words of it to write. I can aim to write an hour each weekday till it is done or set a few deadlines and daily and weekly word count goals. The latter system works if I am on a writing retreat. The former system is what works better for me when I have other work to do as well but only if I actually spend an hour per day or the set hours per week that I decide to work on it for.

If there is a timeblock to work on it each week, then I schedule the task of writing to happen at that time.

If I use journalism as an example I can break down the goal of 20 stories to something smaller and say I want to pitch five stories per week. I then know I need to schedule the pitching part of the work for Wednesdays and Fridays because that’s when I have that necessary information. Researching, interviewing and writing stories will have to happen during the other journalism timeblocks during the week.

I can also break the financial goal down to if I want to earn X per year, then I need to make Y per month, Z per week and A per hour and so on.

Problems & potential solutions:

I also need to look at what didn’t work last year. And what is proving to be an obstacle. I have some possible solutions but I haven’t decided exactly what to do just yet for many of them.

Working 9 – 5:

I am not sure what the best daily work schedule for me and my levels of energy is – ie 9 am to 5 pm or something different? Writing at four am actually worked for me for awhile so that is definitely a good time for me to do that sort of work but it didn’t often work well for the rest of the day after that.

Any work schedule I have also has to work with my friends, family & partner so I am a bit limited by that though many people I know are now used to me working during the night. But my partner operates on a 9 – 5 schedule so I can’t work the opposite schedule to him.

A solution might be to have some sort of meeting that I have to have every work day that means I have to be up and about and in work mode to prepare for it.

I have one such meeting every Friday morning which is a weekly accountability meeting.

Interruptions & distractions:

I do have my phone on silent 24/7. But I still get interruptions.

Someone sends an email to look at right away. Someone messages to ask a question (usually one I have already answered).

These interruptions primarily come from both my other two voluntary projects and sometimes my friends.

What I have started doing is muting specific chats in Whatsapp, Facebook Messenger and ther apps. I have turned off notifications for Twitter. To try and work better with my partner while he works from home, I have asked him to text me during my working hours.

I occasionally dip into my email inbox so I think it is a case of just replying to emails at only the relevant times – when relevant timeblocks occur or when I have time during a scheduled admin timeblock.

Writing my book:

I needto figure out when this can happen and if it is worth working on it for an hour before actual working hours start every day or another time entirely.

When do I do other things:

It’s been a bit of a struggle to fit in things like regular social media posts, book reviews, blog posts, videos, Patreon and other things. Partly because it is always a struggle to decide what people want to pay for on Patreon and what people want to get in other formats but also because it is dependent on me having the time and opportunity to do other things.

I have mapped out a system by which I think the whole balance between the newsletter, blog, Youtube channel, social media and Patreon can work. The question is will it work?

If I have a few extra hours free in the new schedule, it might be worth devoting that time to some of these things.

The other potential solution is to have some of these things ready to work on whenever I am in a timeblock and my work for that timeblock is completed and there is some spare time.

Organising it all:

I used to use bullet journals. That was lovely but I felt I needed to see things in a larger calender format and I also wanted some automation.

I tried Asana. The thing with Asana is that each area of my work was a big never ending project. And I was on the free version. There was no way to track my goals. No way to document ideas.

I ended up not checking off tasks in Asana and instead scribbling everything on a giant desk pad. But that meant I had to remember all my tasks to put on there including the recurring ones. And each time I logged back into Asana, there were unchecked tasks from months before.

So I am now testing out Amazing Marvin as a potential solution after I realised I wanted timeblocks.

Pitching:

I am struggling with pitching stories. I am either struggling to find ideas, struggling to find outlets or struggling to find the motivation.

I am hoping to join a weekly brainstorming session with some fellow journalists that will hopefully allow me to plan what I am going to pitch and help me meet my pitching goals.

Capturing information:

The Keep app on my phone wasn’t going to work for me and Asana wasn’t useful for keeping notes and links and other things that cropped up and I could not store them all as tasks. So I ended up with Evernote.

Evernote can keep track of story research, story ideas, blog post ideas and all sorts of other information though I must admit working out the upload limits is frustrating.

Putting it together:

I am hoping Amazing Marvin is what is going to help me given that I can customise my workflow and also hopefully pretty soon in the future have an additional goals planning feature as well.

I will have another post on how I organise a workflow using Amazing Marvin and other apps soon but I can so far use timeblocking with it.

I figure if I have got measurable tasks that are part of projects and goals and I can schedule them into the calendar and block out time so I know what I am supposed to be working on next, then that may help.

As always I will automate what I can automate. And I think I am going to have to plan each week out because it may vary from week to week.

But there are two things to remember:

  1. It’s a plan, it’s doable. It’s not perfect and it can and will be tweaked as I go.
  2. I need to work it. I need to follow through and complete the tasks.

So I think there is still a lot of work to do to finalise it but in case this was useful to anyone, this is how I am going about planning the next financial year.

Marisa is a globetrotting freelance writer, journalist and editor with cat for hire (her, not the cat). She is currently based in Melbourne.

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