2020 Year in Review: Freelance Wins, Disappointments, and Goals

Dec 31, 2020

How do I even start this post? It’s been a year. I don’t need to tell you that.

I’ve done these year-end recap posts for the past two years. Here’s my post for 2018 and here’s my post for 2019.

Despite the sweaty palms and stomach butterflies they inspire, I enjoy doing them. It’s always so interesting to reflect back on the previous 365 days.

But this year? Oh, this year. I’ll be honest: I’ve gone back and forth about whether or not I should even write this post.

I always think these types of recaps can quickly tiptoe into, “Oh, yay! Look at me!” territory. That feels especially icky this year, given the hardships and trauma I know so many have endured.

On top of everything we’ve experienced collectively (*gestures broadly*), a lot happened in my own immediate life and circle this year.

I brought a new human into the world…in the middle of a pandemic. I took the longest break ever (two and a half months!) from my freelance business so I could give myself a maternity leave. I launched a shop. We sold our house.

It’s been a challenging and simultaneously rewarding year both personally and professionally. That made me think, “Why wouldn’t I share that? Why wouldn’t I want a record of the highs and lows I experienced during this rollercoaster of a year?”

I don’t do these posts to only document the expected. In fact, this type of reflection and this amount of transparency is arguably even more important when the universe throws a whole bunch of wrenches into my plans.

In short, providing visibility into what the freelance life is like for me is important to me. I’ll do it during a great year. I’ll do it during a tough year. And I’ll do it during a year that was a little bit of both.

So here we are. With that big (and likely unnecessary) explanation out of the way, let’s get into the juicy stuff: the ups and downs of 2020.

Freelance Recap: 2020 By the Numbers

We barely got through the first disclaimer, and here we are at another one.

Sharing my income online is always uncomfortable, and it feels even more cringey this year. This was another part I debated skipping, but I also know it’s one of the most enlightening sections for people.

So, when it came to breaking down my income and expenses from this past year, I let other people decide what I should do by polling my followers on Instagram.

The response was pretty clear: Share the gosh darn numbers.

Instagram poll showing that 96% of people voted for me to share my income.

Ask and you shall receive. Here are the notable numbers from this past year.

  • Number of Years as a Full-Time Freelancer: 6.5 years
  • 2020 Gross Freelance Income: ~$127,000
  • 2020 Freelance Business Expenses: ~$8,500
  • Number of Clients I Worked With: 23
  • Number of Clients Who Were New This Year: 8
  • Average Rate Per Article/Project: $550

Some Notes About These Numbers:

  • This was my highest-earning year ever, but please know that it’s not something I’ll shoot for again. More on what exactly that means below.

  • I earn most of my freelance income from writing projects. However, I also work in a management role with a separate content marketing agency/team. That gives me a decent chunk of steady, recurring income. The vast majority of what I earn is still made through writing, but I want to be upfront that not all of this income comes from strictly writing posts and articles.

  • This year, I decided to share only my freelance income. This is the total I earned from freelance clients who will send me a 1099. It doesn’t include the very modest amount of income I earn from any digital product sales or my part-time, W2 position at a local college.

  • Keep in mind that this is gross income. Things like tax payments, retirement savings, business expenses, insurance, etc. all come out of there. I don’t take that total amount home.

  • Since I’m only reporting my freelance income here, I decided to treat my expenses the same way. This is a rough estimate of the expenses to keep my freelance business running, but that total expense number doesn’t include marketing efforts, contractors, etc. I use for the product-based side of my business.

  • I added a new number this year: average rate per project. Of course, all of my projects differ pretty greatly. Some pay me thousands while others pay me a couple hundred bucks. But, I did some simple math to find my average article/project rate. I hope that helps you!

Things That Went Well in 2020…

We could probably all use a little more positivity after riding the many waves of this year. So, let’s kick things off with the good parts, shall we?

I became a mom.

Without a doubt, this is my single greatest accomplishment and has been my biggest source of joy and pride—way above anything business-related.

My husband and I welcomed our son, Adrian Thomas Boogaard, to the world on April 18, 2020 at 5:42 in the morning. He clocked in at 5 pounds, 9 ounces, 19 inches long and arrived an entire month early.

I’ll spare you any undesirable details, but the end of my pregnancy became really frightening and complicated. In fact, my delivery was my fifth unexpected hospital stay in about as many weeks.

I’ll be honest with you: That was one of the most stressful, challenging things I’ve ever been through. My pregnancy was scary and uncertain, I couldn’t keep myself out of the hospital, and we were in the thick of a global pandemic—meaning my husband and I were totally isolated from family, friends, or anything that resembled a support system.

On top of that? I was trying to keep my business afloat as I worked ahead to prepare for my maternity leave (here are the details on how I planned that, by the way). I was quite literally answering emails and writing articles from a hospital bed.

After all of those complications, we ended up delivering our little dude a month early. Fortunately, he was perfectly healthy and more than worth all of the chewed nails and stressed-out tears. He’s an absolute dream and just a bundle of squishy perfection.

Navigating being a mom and a business owner has been interesting (i.e. I no longer want to be at my desk until 9PM each night), but we’re adjusting well and I’m endlessly grateful for my supportive family and a steady, solid partner.

Me with baby Adrian in his wrap.

I had my highest income year yet.

I earned more than I ever have, which really took me by surprise. I wasn’t immune to the fears and uncertainty that the beginning of the pandemic inspired.

I vividly remember walking the dogs with my husband (okay, waddling the dogs, since I was pretty pregnant) and telling him, “I don’t know what’s going to happen. I’m worried businesses will slash their marketing budgets. This might be the end for me. I might need to do something else or try to get a more traditional job.”

On top of that anxiety, I completely signed off from my business between the middle of April and the beginning of July. There was part of me that wondered if I’d even have a business or clients to return to.

Needless to say, I wasn’t expecting to earn what I did this year. I did what I could to plan, prepare, and save. But honestly? Most of this income is owed to plain ol’ luck.

I write for a lot of productivity, project management, and communication software and tools. Do you know what was a hot commodity once teams realized the switch to remote work wasn’t a passing fad? Yep. Demand for those solutions skyrocketed—and I had more work than ever.

See? Right place, right time. That’s probably not helpful advice, but it’s the truth.

Also, I want to provide a friendly reminder that the six-figure milestone certainly didn’t happen overnight for me. In fact, it took me several years to reach that. Here’s a look at my gross income every year of freelancing:

  • 2014 (half a year, as I started in July): $5,300
  • 2015: $32,000
  • 2016: $78,000
  • 2017: $102,000
  • 2018: $98,000
  • 2019: $119,000
  • 2020: $127,000

Six figures took quite a bit of climbing. Remember, there’s no such thing as an “overnight success story.”

I participated in more speaking opportunities.

One thing I really enjoyed doing this year was speaking for more groups and conferences (virtually, of course). A few notable ones I participated in include:

In a year that made the freelance life feel even more lonely and isolating than it normally does, it’s been so great to connect with other freelancers to offer some advice and share my own experiences.

Fingers crossed I get a chance to do even more of this in the coming year!

promotional graphic for The Freelancers Conference

I launched a freelance shop.

I’ve talked about opening a shop filled with freelance templates and resources for years. Seriously, years. I even mentioned it as a goal in both my 2018 and 2019 year-end recap.

This was the year I finally made it happen! The shop officially launched on July 15 with four resources:

Since that time, I’ve added one more product: a pack of pitch templates for freelance writers.

Starting this shop and creating these resources has been a real learning process. Sales have been slow and steady (nope, I’m not one of those people you’ll hear bragging about “my $115,000 launch!!!” anytime soon—or, uhh, ever). But, I’m so happy to finally have these tools out in the world for people who have been asking about them for ages.

Plus, after years of offering free advice (through my blog, weekly newsletter, private Facebook community, Instagram account, and even one-on-one emails—these always have been and always will be free), I’m not ashamed to admit it’s nice to add a very modest income-generator to the mix.

bundled freelance templates

Things That Didn’t Go So Well in 2020…

Ouch, this year. Global pandemic. Shutdowns. Economic uncertainty. The continuing fight for equality and racial justice. An election.

This year definitely threw a lot of challenges our way—and I feel incredibly fortunate and privileged that I fared better than a lot of people this year.

Sure, I faced some hiccups and roadblocks of my own, and I want to share those openly here. But, please know that I’m well aware of the fact that they absolutely pale in comparison to what so many other people have endured.

My work-life balance suffered.

My work-life balance sucked this year. Seriously, it was a disaster.

I worked way too much. While that led to a big year for my bank account, it wasn’t worth the tradeoff in terms of my mental health and happiness.

I’d like to blame a lot of this on the pandemic. Like everybody, so many of my hobbies and passions—my community choir, exercise classes, dinners with friends, travel, etc.—disappeared overnight.

So, when I wasn’t spending time with my new baby, it seemed like one of the only things left for me to do was work. It became an unhealthy obsession. And honestly? I felt pretty fried by the end of the year.

Now that I’m watching a little human quite literally grow up in front of my eyes, time is more important to me than anything. Adequate balance is such a constant struggle for me (and everybody!), and I know it’s something I need to work on prioritizing in the coming year.

selfie of me at my desk

I lost confidence.

Here’s a side effect of my maternity leave I wasn’t at all prepared for: When I returned to work, I felt like a complete newbie. That time away made me feel rusty and uncertain, which led to some not-so-great decisions and thoughts when I started getting back into the swing of things, including:

  • Accepting clients and projects that my gut told me weren’t a good fit

  • Quoting way lower rates for new projects than I should have

  • Questioning whether or not I could raise my rates during “unprecedented times” (blergh)

  • Feeling uncertain about how to address current social issues with my clients and my “audience” (blergh again)

  • Doubting whether I was qualified to provide advice to other freelancers

I deal with imposter syndrome and uncertainty like any normal person. But, most of the time, I feel pretty self-assured about how I handle my freelance business.

That simply wasn’t the case for at least a few months after coming back from leave—and I honestly couldn’t tell you why.

So, it’s extra surprising to me that this was my biggest year financially so far. Because, in many ways, I felt like I had shakier footing than ever before.

What I’m Looking Forward to in 2021…

Much like anybody else, I’m ready to bid adieu to 2020 and see what the next year has in store for us.

I feel optimistic that it won’t be nearly as rocky as these past 365 days, and I have a number of things—both big and small—that I’m looking forward to.

Improving my work-life balance.

Like I mentioned, this is an ever-present struggle for me. Some years I feel great about it, other years I feel completely lopsided.

But, time has never felt more precious to me than it does right now and I’m aiming to put some different things into play to ensure I prioritize time away from my to-do list. A few tactics I’m considering include:

  • No meetings or calls on Mondays

  • No deadlines on Fridays

  • Setting a strict “shutdown” time for each weekday

I’ve also been able to delegate some various responsibilities. This was the first year that I worked with a virtual assistant on a few projects, and I also assigned out some marketing tasks (managing my Pinterest account, trying some social ads, keyword research, etc.) to some incredible contractors.

On the client-facing side, I’ve also brought on two amazing researchers and writers who are helping me out by doing some initial research and outlining for some of the pieces I need to write. That’s been such a huge help and time-saver so far!

Enjoying a greater sense of “normalcy” (hopefully).

Here’s one I’m sure we’re all crossing our fingers for. I’m really hoping to shake this nagging homesick feeling I have for my own life and get back to a little more normalcy—even if it’s limited at first.

From working in a coffee shop to being able to safely see and hug my loved ones, I can’t tell you how many “little” things I’ll never take for granted again.

Adding a few more resources to the shop.

I have two more products currently in the works for the freelance shop—one of which I’m hoping to launch in the next few weeks (eek!) before rolling out the second one sometime in February or March.

After those? Well, honestly? I don’t know. I’m not sure if I’ll create more products or stick with the existing ones for a while. I’m taking it one step at a time.

As always, if you have something in mind that you want me to create, feel free to let me know here. I’m all ears!

Building our house.

We’re in the process of building a new home for our growing family!

It’s something we’ve been planning for and working toward for ages (see the photo below from when we bought our lot over four years ago), and it’s been so fun to see our ideas come to life—quite literally from the ground up.

While building our home, we’ve been living the dream with my parents. We feel so unbelievably blessed to have this soft place to fall and it’s been such a gift to watch them have so much time with Adrian.

Plus, it ended up being excellent timing as we’ve been able to quarantine together (and have some extra hands to help with the baby)!

My husband and I on the lot where we're building our house

Watching Adrian continue to grow.

And finally? I can’t wait to watch this little person I created continue to learn and grow.

He’s at such a fun stage right now (eight-ish months) and is becoming so curious about the world around him. We still have so many fun milestones to look forward to, and he brings such an immense amount of joy to our lives.

When he finally looks at me and says “mama”? Prepare for me to be a puddle. I will never recover.

Bring on the Next Year—I’m Ready!

That’s it. That’s a look at what 2020 was like for me. There were some definite highs and lows, and lots of learning and growing pains.

I feel so fortunate to have kept my head above water this year. If you can say the same, give yourself a well-deserved pat on the back—and then remember to give to people who weren’t quite so fortunate. Give your time. Your energy. Your support. Your expertise. And when you can, your money.

Let’s close things out with a few links. I’ve never done one of those Twitter threads of my favorite pieces I published over the year, but I figured I could pull together a few of them here. Here are a few posts I’m particularly proud of:

And, as always, if you want to get your hands on my freelance advice and keep up on how this next year goes for me, there are a number of different places you can do so:

Here’s to a better, safer, healthier, and hug-filled 2021! 🥳