Hello from way more than six feet away!
I left my full-time job and started working for myself full-time in early October 2019. Right away, things were going pretty good. I was writing steadily and supplementing my income with dog-walking. I organized and re-organized my office, created a digital inventory for all of my teaching supplies, and generally got my shit together.
But then just before Halloween, I woke up in the middle of the night in intense pain. It wasn’t the first time it had happened to me, but it was slightly stronger than in the past, and nothing was soothing it. I went to the emergency room where they did a CT scan and found that my appendix was swollen and I had a one-inch cyst on my right ovary.
I was actually pretty happy about this news — my appendix hadn’t burst, which was good. Plus, I had suspected for years that I had rupturing ovarian cysts, and the pain from them had been getting worse. But I hadn’t been willing to go to get scans done because shit is expensive and the pain had always been tolerable (except that time I had to pull over and lay down on the sidewalk, but that’s a story for another day).
So, all in all, I was happy to have confirmation about the cysts and happy that my appendix was still intact. We scheduled an appendectomy and just 17 hours after I got to the hospital, I was home in bed.
I’ve always struggled with the concept of rest and letting my body heal. When I was a teenager, I continued to do eight hours of dance lessons per week even though I had torn a ligament. In college, I worked up to four different jobs while being enrolled full-time. So when The Appendix Incident happened, I wasn’t super willing to let my body rest. Two weeks after my surgery, I flew to Pennsylvania to visit my grandmother. I laid on the couch basically the whole time.
While I still managed to move around a good bit, the brain fog was more than I could have ever imagined. My surgery was laparoscopic, so in my head, I should have been right back at it after a few days. It took well over a month for the brain fog to lift, even though I didn’t take painkillers beyond the first three days. Then in mid-December, my partner and I got married, and a week later, we visited her parents through New Years.
So, I’m counting my first full quarter working for myself as this one. The first quarter of 2020 has had its own issues (uh, hi, COVID-19?) but ultimately, it’s been a pretty stable quarter for me. Things will change a lot as we move into Q2, because April is typically my busiest on-campus teaching month, and I can’t do that right now.
I’m planning on publishing these invoice logs once per quarter so that you can see where my money comes from as a sex educator. Some of the sources might be a bit surprising to you. I’ll also be talking through problems I faced and lessons I learned each quarter, because, well…there have been a lot.
Q1 2020 Income
“Billed” means how much money I sent invoices for in this quarter.
“Collected” is how much money actually landed in my bank account this quarter. I’ll break down the difference in a minute.
You might be surprised to see such a big difference between the amount that I billed last quarter and the amount that I actually received. In most of these cases, it doesn’t mean that a client is trying to make it hard for me to get paid. Well, not directly anyway. Most colleges and publications approve their payments in batches, which means I don’t usually see a check until about 30 days after I send an invoice. So, I may have invoiced for something at the end of March, but I’ll actually see those funds around mid- to late-April.
I set a goal for myself of invoicing $10,000 this quarter, and I surpassed that by more than 50%, which was pretty cool. It’s important to note that this is how much money before I deduct my expenses (like Internet, supplies, and travel) and before I put away money for taxes. Because I work under a 1099 contract for all of my clients, I’m responsible for my own tax withholding. I put away 20-25% of each check I receive in a separate account for taxes.
One anomaly this quarter is that I invoiced $9,866.50 to one client for one project — that’s the “social media contracts” section of that chart. I have a contract that runs through April 17th with a media company that focuses on sexual and reproductive health. I put in 20 hours each week into that, so it’s taken up a good bit of my time. I’m working on their social media while they onboard their new hire, and this has been an interesting blend of my past marketing experience and my sex education experience.
That “other projects” category is a project that should have been done at the end of 2019, but because of The Appendix Incident, it didn’t get finished in time. More on that later.
The teeny tiny little sliver is just $100 for a sponsored Instagram post. I got paid by a toy company to make a normal post and mention their product.
Freelance writing accounted for $3,450 of my invoices for Q1, which is split among five clients. I’ve dropped one of those clients moving into Q2, and I’ll be writing for one of them more frequently.
The last category is workshops for a total of , which includes live-streamed and pre-recorded workshops that I teach myself and bookings by campuses.
In February I went to Penn State on behalf of The Center for Sexual Pleasure and Health’s Study Sex College Tour. That workshop was meant to be the kick-off to my busy season, but it actually ended up being my only in-person workshop that I’ll teach this semester, due to COVID-19.
I also facilitated an online training for Harvard’s Peer Educators just one week before travel restrictions and cancellations started coming into play.
My CSPH workshop fee and my virtual workshop fees are lower than my usual in-person fee, which ranges from $1,000 to $3,000 per workshop, depending on the context. That means my April cancellations had a much bigger effect on my Q2 income projections — for April alone I cancelled $4,000 worth of bookings.
Lessons Learned & Affirmed
1. You need more than one source of income as a freelancer
I’ve always been really careful about having more than one income source. Even when I worked for a company full-time, I had anywhere from 1-3 freelance clients in addition to my full-time job. Did this lead me to be very tired? Yes. But it almost meant that when I started working for myself full-time, I was already in the habit of not letting my time be consumed by one client.
Because I’ve previously worked for start-ups and small non-profits, I know that money can be there and then very suddenly not be there. So, right away I set about building niche relationships with several different companies. When one client ghosted me for nearly three months, it was okay, because I had money coming in from other places. When one outlet’s publication process proved to be more trouble than the money was worth, I was able to deprioritize their assignments.
And when COVID-19 decimated my spring semester bookings, I freaked out — but knew that it would ultimately be okay. I think.
2. Don’t make decisions when you’re anxious
Ha, joke’s on me — I’m anxious basically all the time. But back when I left my full-time job, I offered to do this one last project on a contract basis. I knew that my former employer had a history of not paying other companies on time, but I figured that I was well-protected by a contract and I knew how to deal with them, so it would be fine. I was wrong. I spent the better part of Q1 being annoyed (okay, pissed) at their behavior, and the better part of March sending emails literally every other day reminding them about payment. My invoicing service comes with a tracker that tells me when invoices have been opened, so I knew that they had seen them, and I knew what they were doing.
I signed up for that project because I was worried about not being able to make enough money in my first quarter working for myself, but in the end, I ended up charging them just 50% of our originally agreed-upon rate just so that I could be done with them.
Now, I don’t know how well I’m going to be able to listen to this lesson for a while. COVID-19 has changed everything, and many of us are going to be making decisions based in anxiety for the next few months. That’s okay. Do what you need to do to get food on the table and pay your bills. You can worry about realignment later.
Planning for Next Quarter
For Q2, I’ve set my invoicing goal for $10,000 again. COVID-19 has affected everyone I know, so right now, I’m just giving myself grace and trying to think of new things that I haven’t done yet. Luckily, I have a couple of projects that have been waiting in the wings, so if the budget is still there, I’ll turn to those.
We’ll see what the spring brings! I hope that you all find some time to take care of yourselves and find pleasure, even in the midst of so much confusion and fear.
Thanks for being here with me!
P.S.: If you want to take your quarantine period to learn some new things, I’ve made the recordings for these three workshops available.