Here’s How I Made $100,000 in My Second Year of Freelancing (But Not My First)


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Here’s How I Made $100,000 in My Second Year of Freelancing (But Not My First)'s Profile

I started freelancing at the beginning of 2018, but it wasn’t until two years later, at the onslaught of the pandemic, that I decided to quit my full-time job and dedicate myself to freelancing. I can still remember the freedom, the excitement, but also the anxiety around this decision. How was I going to replace my income? Find work? Convince myself to take lunch breaks? Save for retirement? Take vacations?

And, boy—what a first year that was. I didn’t make $100,000—not even close—but I worked nearly double the hours I had worked as an employed writer. Was it me, I kept wondering, as I scribbled furiously, or was this just the life of a freelancer? Fun fact: writers can develop “tennis elbow” if they write too frequently. Even when you’re sitting, form matters.

Turns out, I was making some pretty basic mistakes. And though I’m a writer, and, admittedly, writing is different than, say, consulting or advertising, I believe my mistakes are common enough to transcend professions.

Know your worth (and learn to say “no”)

Here’s tip number one: the more confident you are in your true worth, the more likely you’ll actually earn it.

When I first started, I felt uncomfortable charging what I thought I was worth. I would low-ball my prices just to get clients to bite. And oh, let me tell you—the clients would bite. Far more, in fact, than I had time to accept.

But it’s basic economics: because I was charging less for quality work, I had to do more work to meet my budget. Not only that, but clients came to expect a low price from me. They were grateful—don’t get me wrong—but they weren’t telling me the truth: the extra quality in my work was a “bonus” to them.

It took nearly a year before I realized I was charging far less than someone with my experience, qualifications, and education should be earning. Not only that but I realized there was an actual demand for the kind of writing that I was doing. Why was I selling myself short, when I could be making what I was worth?

So I set a price for myself. I told myself I wasn’t going to make any less than $75 an hour. That was my standard, and I’ve stuck to that ever since. When a project comes to me, I always estimate how long it will take me to complete. And if the pay is less than $75 an hour, I say no. Simple as that.

Find a “foundational” client

Here’s tip number two: find a long-term, reliable client who pays regularly and is never without a project for you to do.

In other words, find a foundational client, someone who you can fall back on should your other clients no longer need your services. Your foundational client should be one that you trust to pay you, even when times are hard. Ideally, they pay you a consistent amount, too.

My foundation is, and perhaps always will be the Motley Fool. I know their rates, and I know exactly how much they’ll pay me a month (as long as I do the work). That gives me peace of mind. And it helps me predict how much I’ll earn for the year.

Before I started freelancing for the Fool, I didn’t have a foundational client. It was chaos. Some months I would make just enough to cover my living expenses. In other months I would bring in more money than I needed. That made budgeting a nightmare, and it certainly didn’t help me sleep at night.

I don’t know if I could have made $100,000 a year without a foundational client. Because now I’m spending less time looking for high-paying clients—don’t underestimate this—and more time actually making money.

Get paid by the project

Tip number three: stop getting paid at an hourly rate.

Remember earlier when I said I don’t accept projects that pay me less than $75 an hour? Well, let me add this: I no longer accept projects that pay me by the hour or the word.

As a beginner, I did what most freelancers do. I created portfolios on various freelancing websites, uploaded my work, wrote a nice introduction to myself, and stated a rate. Often, the freelancing site, which acts as a middleman, requires that you list your hourly rate (for writers, it’s often a “per word” rate).

It might work for some freelancers. But, for me, I found getting paid by a rate was often disadvantageous and sort of awkward. Occasionally, a client would ask me to write an article that was, say, 1,000 words. But what if the article requires another section of 200 words? What if I write 1,200 words? What if I write only 800? If they budgeted 1,000 words, the 200 would just be extra.

Then I realized something else. When I get paid by the project, it’s a flat rate. So, whether it takes me four hours or one I get paid the same amount. And then it dawned on me: when I finish projects in less time, I technically get paid more per hour. And that’s when I really started to bring in the cash.

Again, I accept projects that pay me at least $75 an hour. I know my niche (tip number four: get a niche), and I know so long as I write in my niche, I can make $75 an hour. So, if a company wants to pay me, say, $150 to write an article, and I think it’s going to take me four hours to finish it (research, writing, editing), I’ll just say “no,” even if the article is only 600 words.

Don’t burn bridges with former clients

My final tip: be kind to all clients, even short-term ones.

The idea is to have a safety net. If you’re short money for the month, you can reach out to your former clients and fill in the gaps.

Today, I do most of my work for the Motley Fool. I’m also on friendly terms with my previous clients. I know that should I have less work than I’m expecting, I can always ask previous clients if they need help.

In fact, even when I have “more than enough,” I reach out to my former clients and ask how they’re doing. It’s courtesy, but it always helps keep me top of mind.

Think you can earn $100,000 in your first year?

If you do, I say—go for it.

But let me end with this. There’s an Italian proverb that I live by: those who go slowly and with good health last the longest. In my head (which is filled with literature), the logic behind this proverb can explain some of the best stories. Stories that build their tension slowly—not giving everything away at once—are often stories that outlast their authors. Think of Star Wars: it took three long movies before Luke finally confronts Darth Vader again. And even then Luke doesn’t kill him, because Lucas wanted to build even more tension within the viewer.

So if you can’t make that $100,000 your first year, don’t sweat it. Establish yourself as a freelancer. Every year increase your goal. Get better at what you do, finish projects faster, take on more work. Build slowly to that first $100,000. Done in this way, you won’t make $100,000 in one year alone. But you’ll get closer every year.

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