February 22, 2021
When I tell people that I’m a freelance writer, they sometimes reply, “I wish I could do that, I love to write!” While I tell them that they, too, can become a successful freelance writer, I also tend to think, ‘I don’t spend as much time writing as you think.’
Honestly, a lot of my “writing” time is likely spent on emails. Whether you’re a beginner freelance writer who’s just starting to gather clients and work on writing assignments, or, you’re an experienced freelancer wondering where your time is going, I thought it might be helpful to show a breakdown of where my work time is going these days. (In another blog post, I cover how many hours freelancers work each week – and that I try to keep it around 35 or so.)
Although no two weeks are that similar in my freelance writing business, and some times of year are slower for my freelance business, I wanted to show an estimate of the time I spend writing articles each week and how that fits into the rest of my freelance writing business responsibilities.
I use Togg.l to track my time. This helps me have a better idea of how much time I’m spending on each client’s assignment, as well as how much time I’m spending on marketing and writing work for myself (like this blog and writing email newsletters), reading and responding to emails, doing phone interviews, research, and administrative work like tracking down invoices.(Note: This isn’t a breakdown of every hour but an average of what I’m doing.)
Freelance writers don’t always factor in how much time they’ll need to spend finding sources to interview (emailing), setting up the call, preparing questions, executing the phone interview, and typing up notes or transcribing the recorded call afterward. I’m working on four big feature articles that require at least two to three interviews each, and four shorter online articles that require one interview each. I spent 3.75 hours on eight phone interviews for assignments last week. That’s more than usual for me, but I’m gathering the material I need to write stories due in the next two to three weeks. (BTW, forgetting to account for your interviews is one of the time-management mistakes freelancers usually make.)
I try to send out introductory emails to new content marketing clients, editorial clients, and stay in touch with editors about new projects they are working on. Last week I spent about 1.75 hours on email marketing efforts (research and writing emails) as well as a 20-minute phone call with an editor about a project she’s working on. (Follow this sample marketing plan to reach all your freelance goals.)
Blogs, Website Updates, and Emails
I spent about 1.5 hours updating some older blogs, refreshing the copy with new information, and writing email newsletters to send out to my email list. (If you’re not receiving this yet, sign up for the freelance writing e-newsletter on my home page.)
Emailing clients, sources, and contacts
I try to track the time I spend popping into my inbox and responding to emails in batches. I understand that email can be a big time for freelance writers (especially this one) and it’s easy to keep responding to one-off emails and not get much work done if I’m not careful. My Togg.l tracker reported about 2 hours spent emailing (but I know I spent more time on it than that). I don’t turn on the tracker when I’m responding to emails from my phone, skimming while eating lunch or at night. I’d estimate the time I spend emailing is closer to 4 or 5 hours weekly.
I was amused to see I tracked about 15 minutes of social media in the Togg.l platform, because I know I spent more time that that on social. This was time spent reviewing social posts. I don’t track how much time I spend popping in and skimming Twitter or Facebook. I try to track when I’m taking social media breaks – or even set a timer for 15 minutes, but I’m not actively recording scrolling through Instagram on my couch at night or skimming Facebook groups’ boards I belong to in the evening. I do, however, have a timer set on my phone for social media apps that limits use to 1.75 hours a day (including Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, and Twitter). I turns those apps off when I hit my limit. I’d estimate that my social media use for work is about 1 hour a day and about an hour daily for personal use. (How much do freelancers earn each day?)
Since I had one article due last week and it was research-based, I spent 1.25 hours actually writing assignments. This is due to having a few assignments due in the next couple of weeks. In the next two weeks, I have 10 articles due, so I’ll probably spend about five to eight hours writing each week for the next few weeks to complete those assignments I did the interviews for.
This is different than the “marketing” section because three editors I worked with before requested pitches for the coming months. I spent 1.25 hours researching and writing freelance pitches for clients. I heard back on some already and got offered two assignments worth $919! (These article pitch examples will help you score high-paying jobs like me.)
I started to research information for one of those articles I was just assigned after pitching and spent one hour gathering information and reaching out to contacts. This piece isn’t due for a few weeks but with summer vacations and the July 4th holiday approaching, I know it’ll be tougher to get a hold of people.
This is an area many beginner freelance writers forget to factor in when pricing their work. Your editor will likely come back with edits, requests for more information, or more assets or details needed in order to finalize the assignment. I spent 22 minutes on one client’s revises and 30 minutes following up with experts and reviewing my copy for another client. For reference, I was assigned both of these articles in March and turned them in a few weeks ago. You never know when the article will be returned and you’ll need to work on edits (or how extensive they’ll be). That’s why you should build an extra 30 minutes or so of work into your freelance article rate.
Invoicing and paperwork
I followed up with some editors on assignments I turned in the week before and filed invoices for about three invoices, noted others that were paid and update my Google sheet where I keep track. This took me approximately 20 minutes to complete these freelance business tasks. (Have more questions? Check out this freelancer FAQ.)
I try to track the time I spend reading clients’ websites and industry articles. My Togg.l tracker said I did this for 0.75 hours last week but I’d estimate it was really 2 hours or more, factoring in reading for work I do in the evening when I’m not at my computer. I also track the time I spend corresponding with my VA and getting her up to speed on new projects (0.75 hours), as well as the time I’m spending writing a freelance writer’s ebook to be released this summer (2 hours), and time spent finalizing my new Freelance Writing Weekend Jumpstart online course on Teachable, approximately 1 hour.
Total time actually tracked: About 19 hours
After tallying up the time I spent on work when I wasn’t at my computer, I’d estimate I spent closer to 28 hours total on my business last week and only 1.25 of them was spent writing an article I turned in.
What’s not reflected in this number? Paying to have those 3.75 hours of interviews transcribed by a service (saving me about 5 hours of time), and the 5 hours of help from my virtual assistant. Enlisting outside help is one of my 5 tips to make more money writing.
Did you learn anything from this about how much time freelance writers actually spend writing articles? How much time do you spend writing articles each week?
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Email Diana about opportunities: Diana(at)DianaKelly.com.