Short-Term Money is Killing Me

I got into freelance writing for a simple reason: I needed to earn money. There was no barrier to entry. I could set up a website, start chasing clients and wind up with money in the bank at the end of the week, provided that I wrote quickly enough.

And freelance writing has done well by me. I’ve been able to build up a stable income with enthusiastic clients who come back month after month.

But I Have to Learn to Say No

I have so many projects that I want to work on — more ebooks, a few classes and plenty of other things. Most days, I don’t work on the projects that really interest me, though.

I’ve worked hard and built up a reputation as a reliable writer. I don’t have to chase clients at this point — my marketing and networking is so automatic at this point that I get at least a couple of emails from prospective clients every week. And I can’t say ‘no’ — I’ll write up an estimate for just about any project that crosses my desk, even when I’m not sure how I can do the work. I have an incredibly hard time turning down work.

But that work is just short-term money. If I can clear my schedule and finish one of the projects I’m excited about, I know it will make me more than I’ll earn working on client work for an equivalent amount of time. The long-term wins are so much more that, if I could handle the situation based on pure logic, there’s no reason I should be spending so much time on my clients.

The Scarcity Mindset

Recently, I wrote that writers have to get out of the starving artist mindset. In a way, this is just another example of how it’s hurting us. One of the reasons that I have such a hard time turning down work is that I remember when I was starting out — when I didn’t have enough work to support myself.

I’ve gotten past the point where I can’t turn down any work at all. There were times when I’d take any project with even a little money attached, but now, if a project doesn’t hit my basic requirements, I won’t touch it. As long as it does pay at least my minimum rate and fall into what I consider my specialty, though, convincing myself not to take a project is incredibly difficult.

It’s something I’m working on. I know exactly the sort of things that I wanted to spend the majority of my time on, and the type of work I do for clients doesn’t really fit. The things that excite me today just aren’t the same as when I started out as a writer. I’ve found some ways to make this more manageable: I’m pretty much avoiding any new projects where I’m actually doing the writing myself — I tell clients that I’ll put everything together, but one of the writers I work with will do the actual work. And sometimes, I just flat out say ‘no’ to a new client.

At the end of the day, we each have to do what’s right for our businesses in the long-term. If that means turning down the short-term money, sometimes that’s just what it takes.

Image by Flickr user epsos


  1. Miss Britt   •  

    I had this same realization today and realized that if I’m going to make time to pitch the big projects I’m most interested in, I need to leave room in my schedule – and then USE THAT TIME going after the long-term goals.

    • thursday   •     Author

      Absolutely! I’ve been trying to scrape out extra time after the rest of my work — but I can convince myself to schedule sixty hours of work a week.

  2. Susan Johnston   •  

    Boy, can I relate to this, Thursday! Given the choice between pitching the editors I know will assign me something and reaching for more competitive markets, it’s tempting to choose the editors I know, even if they don’t pay as much as the editors I don’t. But in the long run, settling for the low-hanging fruit leads to stagnation instead of growth. It’s a tough balance, because it can take longer to build those relationships with bigger markets and you might not see an immediate return on investment.

    • thursday   •     Author

      That guaranteed money is hard to give up, isn’t it? But I’ve never had a situation where building up another project or investing time on pitching bigger clients hasn’t paid off in the long-term — provided I actually get in gear and spend the time on it.

  3. Whalen   •  

    I suffer from the same problem to a different tune. I make enough money where I am, but I want to transition to a better (self-employed) job. I am very torn between how much work to take in my new venture and how much room to leave myself for my other job.

    • thursday   •     Author

      I think you’re figuring out a good balance. It takes time, but everything worthwhile does.

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  5. Prime   •  

    Hi Thursday:

    This is aloso the reason why I ended up being a corporate employee – the scarcity mindset, the lure of short term money. I forgot to focus on what I really want over the long term that I tend to accept any good corporate [promises (good income, benefits).

    The thing is, once I finally decided that all I want is to have my own business, it’s easier for me to let go of temptation. I just turned down a promotion because I wanted to build my business on the side. It was a tough choice, but never regretted it. And Im glad it’s bearing some fruit.

    • thursday   •     Author

      I absolutely know the feeling. Having that steady paycheck can feel very reassuring, but it doesn’t get you where you want to be in the long term.

  6. Elaine Ellis   •  

    I see my freelance friends go through this frequently. The smartest guy I know is often bogged down with client work when he went freelance for the opportunity to create his own projects. But he rarely says no, and it’s unfortunate. Because knowing him, his projects would rock.

  7. Sean G   •  

    Hi Thursday,

    You have identified a problem that I’m sure is common to many self-starters: finding the right balance between short term gigs and long term projects. To me, it seems you would be wise to shift the scales a little bit. Instead of focusing the majority of your time on short term gigs, perhaps you could devote the majority of your time to long term projects. With your free time, you could then fill in the gaps with short term gigs, knowing you would maintain a steady income. This makes sense since you are more passionate about the long term projects and know they will earn more in the end. Easier said than done though.

  8. Denene Brox   •  

    “The things that excite me today just aren’t the same as when I started out as a writer.”

    I relate to this statement SO much. I have pulled back quite bit doing client work to focus on my own projects.

    You’ve got me curious with your statement that you work with other writers to do the actual work. I’d love to know more about that and how it’s worked for you.

    • thursday   •     Author

      Handing off at least some of the work to other writers has made sense for me, because I’ve built up work in some very specific niches. It was relatively easy to find writers interested in those niches and bring them up to speed on what I was doing.

      I’m still ultimately responsible for every last bit of work, so I’ve been careful of who I work with. Beyond that, though, it’s worked out very well.

  9. Angela   •  

    You perfectly painted my situation. I have some writing projects I really love working on and I keep accepting other projects because of their immediate, short-term earning. I’m aware I should work more on my personal projects but I don’t have the nerve to say no because I also have plans (mostly travel-related) I need money for. It seems to be a never-ending cycle, I feel I’m getting there but it’s still so much work before I can be as independent as I want.

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