Freelance Business Basics

By Sandra Phinney

Sometimes we get so caught up looking for markets, doing research and interviews, sending queries, or writing our stories that we fail to take care of basic business housekeeping items. The result can be everything from being disorganized and overwhelmed, to missing opportunities that can actually improve our bottom line.

Here are a few things that might un-complicate your freelance life:

1. Create a query/client tracker. Why? If one of your goals is to send a lot of queries or contact potential clients on a regular basis (to round up new work), you need to keep track of both your efforts and the results. Otherwise, you can forget what you’ve put “out there” and lose track of outcomes.

I have a simple 5-column chart with these headers: Date; Name of client or magazine; Topic/Request; Follow up; Result/Notes. Reviewing and updating this once a week helps me to keep on top of what’s going on, and reminds me what to do next.

2. Create an invoice tracker. Here, I use an Excel spreadsheet and set it up so I can see at a glance my income to date as well as what’s owed to me. Here are the column headers I use: Client (name of magazine, newspaper e-zine or corporate client); Assignment (story topic/project); Projected invoice/amount; Actual invoice amount/date sent; Invoice date/paid; Accounts receivable. So at any given time I know what my projected income is for the year, what I’ve invoiced for and when, when I’ve been paid, if I’m owed money.

3. Create a To-do list. Basically I have two columns: DEADLINES (this is where I note story topic, word count and date due) and TO-DO, which is for everything else I should be doing. You can do this with a word doc and simply delete what you’ve done and add what needs to be done on a regular basis.

I like to have a hard copy so I use a three column sheet with lines, cross out or add items by hand, and cart the list around in my day book. This means I have to print a new to-do page every once in awhile and fill it out (being sure to carry over deadlines and un-finished “to-do” stuff ) but that’s how I like to operate. Matters not what method you use. What’s important is to have things written down and not in your head. We all need road maps.

4. Create a Work-flow schedule. This sounds complicated and time consuming but it’s not. I buy a desk blotter with big squares and dates (one page for each month). You can simply use any big calendar, make your own, or use an online organizer.) Then it’s a matter of figuring out when you are actually going to do XYZ in order to a) meet your deadlines and b) keep your sanity intact. If I get slack doing this, I end up going around in circles and my blood pressure jumps over the moon. Not a pretty sight—and hard on the psyche.

5. Back up, back up, back up. You can buy external hard drives that don’t take much space. Buy two. Just do it. Back up often. If you don’t, you’ll be sorry.

Now here’s some rosy news. Once a year Access Copyright and Public Lending Rights deposit money into our bank accounts. But only if we do what we’re supposed to do at the right time.

6. Access Copyright. If you are a published writer and/or photographer (and have both been paid for said work and have not sold all rights to your work) then you are eligible to receive a creators “payback” cheque every year in November.

How? You have to register with . It’s free. Then fill out the application form that documents what you’ve published. Initially this can take a long time, especially if you have a lengthy track record. But it’s worth it. Then you simply update your file once a year.

Once registered with AC, every member gets a base rate once a year, just for being a published member. In addition to that, your “payback” increases according to how much you’ve had published.

7. Public Lending Rights. If you have written one or more books and are registered with PLR, once a year you’ll get a cheque: It’s based on the number of books you’ve written and how many libraries are carrying your books across the country. (Some books don’t qualify e.g. cookbooks, guide books.) You don’t have to determine how many of your books libraries carry; PLR has a system for doing that. But you do have to register (it’s free) and provide your titles, ISBN numbers etc.

There now. Feel better? I will, as soon as I update my to-do list, figure out who owes me money, and re-gig my work-flow calendar. Might even have time to take a nap (instead of going around in circles.)


Sandra Phinney pens stories from her perch on the Tusket River in Yarmouth County. When she practices what she preaches, her bottom line (and her sense of humour) always improves. You can find some of her work at

Posted on June 2, 2016 at 9:00 am by editor · · Tagged with: ,

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