Tracking Income & Expenses

To be a successful freelancer, you should run your operation like a business. This not only means getting business licenses and insurance, but it also means closely tracking your income and expenses. The information is necessary for your taxes, of course, but it is helpful to see where your work is coming from, who pays and with what terms and how you are investing back in your business. It can also help you identify important patterns in your business, so you can budget for the future.

For example, maybe December is always a slow month for you. If that’s the case, then in the late summer, put together a solid marketing plan to pitch stories and seek out new clients to help fill the gap.

So how do you record this info.? When I first started freelancing, I simply made up two Excel spreadsheets:  one for income and one for expenses. In the income spreadsheet, I tracked sequential invoice numbers, date of invoice, client name, project or work performed, amount due, date billed and date paid. I could then take this info. at the end of the year and sort by client or by date to see which clients were the most lucrative and determine which months were the busiest.

For expenses, I created a simple spreadsheet to record date, vendor (Staples, Office Depot, Target, etc.), item(s) purchased, cost and how paid (credit card, business debit, business check, etc.). I also created a spreadsheet to track my mileage, collecting date, reason for trip, client or prospect, location of trip, and miles driven. All of this was useful at tax time.

As my business grew from part-time to full-time, Excel spreadsheets were not robust enough to handle my bookkeeping needs, so I switched to QuickBooks SimpleStart. This special edition of QB is a scaled down version of the full program, providing tracking for income, expenses and assisting with tax prep. This was a great program – at the time, it was very affordable (less than $100) and it served my needs without giving me too many features.

After about three years with SimpleStart, I upgraded to QuickBooks Pro which is a full-featured bookkeeping and accounting program. At this point, I realized that managing my freelance business was becoming a bigger task than I’d imagined, and I hired a bookkeeper. She visits my office for a few hours each month, enters my expenses (I still track invoices and payments), reconciles my bank accounts and prepares my 1099s at year end. Yes, this is an added expense, but it frees up my time to focus on other tasks like writing, editing, business development and continuing education.

Not sure where to start? Ask other freelancers how they manage their bookkeeping and accounting or consult with a small business expert or accounting professional for advice. Good luck!


Dana Neuts is a freelance writer, editor and marketing professional based in Kent, Washington. In addition to writing for publication, she edits books and is the owner and publisher of and, hyper-local blog sites. She serves as the SPJ freelance committee chair as well as on the national SPJ and SDX Foundation Boards. For more information, visit

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  • Bill McCloskey

    Make’s sense to me.

  • I see a couple of practical issues for SPJ in terms of sustainability. One is that there is no structure for institutional memberships, which should exist with national and local options (without a requirement to do national before you can do local). The second is that the national dues are an impediment to individual members joining the local chapter. This is important because the future health of the national organization is dependent on the health of the local chapters, not the other way around because local is where the value proposition is built.
    In niche journalism organizations, this might not be as much of an issue because the value proposition is generally focused and strong – narrow is generally more specific to people’s lives/professions and so it’s easier to engage. Although SPJ has a reasonably clear purpose, it is broad and the actions taken around that purpose and their effectiveness are not clear at all. How has SPJ made practicing journalism better/easier/more impactful? There need to be clear answers to those kinds of questions.
    I also feel like the conferences need to be two-tracked to serve what appear to be the two main audiences of independent journalists and those working for an organization. It’s hard to justify sending a staff member to a conference where a significant amount of the programming is about building a freelance business.
    I realize this would create more work for already strapped chapters, but if more institutions were brought in as members, I think there would be a bigger pool of volunteers to help bring in quality programming.
    I believe that good journalism is absolutely necessary to preserving democracy, but the passionate discussions in SPJ seem to be more about process and bylaws and contest administration.
    I do think that partnering with other journalism organizations is a good thing. We can help each other out.


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