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How an excel spreadsheet dramatically increased my monthly income

By February 7, 2017 August 24th, 2020 12 Comments

I am the first to admit that I have never been a fan of spreadsheets. As a writer, my comfort has always sat firmly with words rather than with numbers. But in December last year I decided to try something new.

How an excel spreadsheet dramatically increased my monthly income

I (well, my partner) created a monthly income spreadsheet. While I’ve had a pitching spreadsheet for ages, which tracks the queries I send to editors as well as their responses, I’ve never really tracked my finances.

As the sole income earner this year, I wanted to set myself a monthly income target.

I didn’t want anything too complicated, but the spreadsheet did need to take into account that I do a variety of writing work – I write for magazines, newspapers and websites, as well as doing research work and corporate writing. Sometimes I get paid by the word, sometimes by the hour and sometimes I receive a flat fee.

I’ve mocked up an example (with random figures) so you can see what my spreadsheet looks like. I put in my monthly target and then as I add in my projects, I can see the difference between my target and my commissioned income for that month.

DOWNLOAD: Writers have asked me for a copy of the spreadsheet so I’ve made it available for download here.

In December I decided to try it out. I put a target of $8,000 in the spreadsheet. Ridiculous, I thought. I’ve never made even close to that when I’ve previously freelanced. But I had also built up my client base over the previous months so I thought I might get within 2 or 3K.

But I made my target. In fact I made it with $12 over.

I credit this simple spreadsheet as a key part of dramatically increasing my monthly income. As I was nearing my target, I realised I just needed to be commissioned for one more feature article and that would get me over the line. If I hadn’t been tracking my monthly income target I don’t think I would have bothered to pitch.

Now that I am two months in to using this spreadsheet, I am realising there is a difference between commissioned work each month and monthly income. For example, this month I got commissioned for a piece that I won’t get paid for for a few more months, but I also got paid for a piece I submitted in April 2016.

So as I build up a steady client base and continue with my marketing efforts each day, it looks as if my income will smooth out.

I’ve never really been exciting about opening a spreadsheet, but this simple tool has changed the game for me.

Do you have a monthly target? How do you monitor and manage your targets?


  • Michaela Fox says:

    I have a spreadsheet for income and commissioned work but I don’t include targets. I can see how this would be very motivating. I’ll put it on my "to do" list for when bubba allows me to start pitching again 🙂

    • Lindy Alexander says:

      Yes it’s been SO motivating for me. I’ll be interested to hear if it works for you too, once you get a spare second to pitch!

  • This is encouraging. Similarly, I track pitches. I use one doc for both pitches and payment, but I like the idea of having two separate sheets that track monthly freelance income. Thank you for writing this and tagging me!

    • Lindy Alexander says:

      Thanks so much for your comment Africa. For me, having a really clear and simple target has been incredibly motivating. I hope it works for you too!

  • Collette says:

    I have never set a monthly target but I think I will now, after reading this blog. So do you count commissioned pieces (where you don’t get paid for a couple of months) as income for the month it was commissioned or the month you get paid for?

    • Lindy Alexander says:

      Hi Collette, I put pieces down in the month I was commissioned, not the month I’ll get paid (because with some articles I never really know when they’ll get published and hence when I’ll get paid!). So far I’ve met my commissioned target for the last couple of months and even though the amount I’ve been paid is less, it’s still been a decent chunk of cash. Does that make sense?!

  • Sian says:

    Love this Lindy, I have a spreadsheet to track my commissions and $$ (more for EOFY tax LOL) but haven’t tried to work with a target in mind really. My writing is still a side hustle but full-time would be the dream. What happens when you are commissioned and it never gets to print..? I’ve been burned by that before. Thanks for sharing !

    • Lindy Alexander says:

      It’s made a huge difference for me having a monthly target Sian – it was a real shift. I have been commissioned a few times and it hasn’t made it to print – usually I get paid a kill fee. It hasn’t happened this year, but I did choose to finish up a project early and forgo my second payment instalment so that came off the spreadsheet unfortunately! I’ve made a copy of my excel spreadsheet for people to download – I just need to put it into my next blog post.

      • Sian says:

        Great – I downloaded the spreadsheet! Goals here I come.

        PS. Do you note the income you do receive in a separate spreadsheet or highlight when jobs are actually paid (I’ve also been paid months down the line) just so you know what’s been paid?

        Re: kill fee, I should have asked or just invoiced actually but I was a newb and just waited and waited hoping. Would love for you to explain how we go about getting paid for those go nowhere articles – although I bet it may be as easy as asking…? I think AWC may have included it in my original course but that was a while ago. Thanks 🙂

        • Lindy Alexander says:

          Yay! Let me know how yuo go.

          I reckon you could easily add columns with invoicing/payment details. I don’t – I just use to track all my invoices.

          Re getting paid for go-nowhere articles – if you have a contract it should detail kill fees in that. If you don’t, definitely ask the editor how much you should invoice for (not ‘if’ you should invoice).

  • Ellie says:

    I’m struggling to figure out how to organize completed projects (expected income) and actual income received. Do you use two separate spreadsheets, this one for actual money received and another for projects invoiced? How do you make the two work together?

    • lindyalexander says:

      Hi Ellie,
      So with my income target spreadsheet, that’s purely on work commissioned. And then I have a spreadsheet for articles I’m writing and when I’ve invoiced for them. For actual money received, I just use my accounting software. Does that help?

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