Can You Really Make a Living as a Freelance Writer?

May 15, 2017

Post updated: October 18, 2020

Become a six-figure freelancer! Earn your first $10,000 freelancing! Build your empire as a freelance writer! Become a millionaire in your pajamas!

Sound familiar? Yeah, I thought so.

There’s so much of this out there today. So, it really comes as no surprise that one of the questions I get most often from prospective freelance writers is this: Can I really make a living at this? Will I ever earn enough money to justify this as a career choice?

Listen, I’ll never be one of those gurus or experts who tells you that you only need to use my “proprietary, 100% satisfaction guaranteed system” and you’ll find yourself sitting on piles of cash.

So much of finding success with freelancing depends on you as an individual. Yes, I can definitely give you some tips and tactics that you can put into play to increase your chances of landing gigs—but, you’ll never see me guaranteeing those sorts lofty promises I shared above.

You absolutely can earn a living as a #freelancewriter. Here's how:  Click To Tweet

However, I also feel a sense of responsibility to share with you that it absolutely is possible to earn a decent living as a freelance writer—hey, I do it myself!

So, to put my money where my mouth is (just gimme one money pun, okay?), I thought I’d dedicate an entire post to the income side of freelancing. I hope it serves as some inspiration that you definitely can support yourself by doin’ your own thing.

How much can you earn as a freelance writer?

As you likely suspect, this really depends. I’ve heard of some freelancers that earn upwards of $250,000 each year. And, of course, there are others who treat freelance writing as a side gig and as a way to earn some extra cash—so, they make anywhere from $10,000 and up each year.

make a living

I’m a big believer in income transparency for freelancers, which is why I break down my freelance numbers in each of my year-end recaps. I share:

  • My gross income
  • My total expenses
  • How many total clients I worked with
  • How many clients were new versus existing

If you’re interested, here’s my 2019 recap and here’s my 2018 recap.

But, how much can you expect to earn as a freelance writer? Let’s dig into some details.

Practice patience

If there’s one thing I can tell you for certain, it’s this: Anybody who promises that they’re going to teach you how to earn thousands of dollars freelancing in a matter of weeks is probably lying to you.

Like building any business, earning a solid living as a freelance writer is going to involve an investment in time and a real commitment to patience.

Need proof? Let’s do this thing:

  • 2014: This was my first year in business as a freelance writer (granted, I started in July—halfway through the year). I earned roughly $5, 300 before taxes.
  • 2015: This was technically my second year, freelancing. But, it was my first full year. I earned roughly $32,000 before taxes.
  • 2016: I earned just under $80,000—not including those big checks I wrote to the government.
  • 2017: I earned right around $102,000.
  • 2018: My gross income came in around $98,000. That’s right—it was less than the prior year, and I still survived.
  • 2019: I earned about $118,000. It’s proof that freelancing has highs and lows.

See? Freelancing is something that builds on itself—it’s absolutely not going to happen overnight. I’ve invested years in making a living that I’m proud of.

I know, getting started is rough and oftentimes disheartening. But, if you keep trucking along, the snowball really starts rolling. Once you have a solid portfolio under your belt, you can chase down bigger clients.

Once you land a few gigs with those bigger clients, your name really gets out there—meaning even bigger, higher-paying clients are more likely to approach you.

So, basically, the lesson is this: Be prepared to put in the work and invest the time. There’s absolutely no way around that.

Where does the money come from?

Here’s another misconception I hear pretty frequently—which I can likely attribute to those gurus who promise to put thousands in your bank account if you buy their courses: You can’t really make a living just writing.

I understand where this perception comes from. A lot of freelancers (hey, myself included) teach about freelancing. So, people assume that those successful freelancers earn all of their living from educating others and not from actual client work.

I sell templates and digital products in my freelance shop (which you can access right here, wink wink).

But, I can assure you that not a dime of the above income has come from any passive income or products—it’s all been tried and true freelance work that I’ve done for clients. Here’s a general breakdown of what goes into some of those bigger amounts you see:

  • Project Management: In addition to being a writer, I also do some freelance project management duties for a content marketing agency. It’s a nice change of pace from my usual writing work.

  • One-Off Writing Projects: A very small portion of my income is sporadic, one-off projects that I do here and there for clients. These ad-hoc projects usually don’t account for more than 10% of my income.

  • Regular Contributor Roles: I think the best thing you can do for yourself as a freelance writer is to find places where you can build a relationship and become a regular contributor for them—so, you know that you’re writing four articles per month at a set amount, for example. It helps to keep your income more stable, without needing to chase down new projects month after month. These recurring projects always make up the bulk of my income.
make a living

Ok… but how can you make a living as a freelance writer?

Hey, I’ve already said that I’m not going to pretend there’s some sort of magic, black-and-white formula you can use to follow in my footsteps and make the same amount.

Every freelancer has their own strategy and journey. However, I do have a few tips I can offer you (aside from practicing patience—remember, that’s your golden rule):

1. Start Small

As you can see from the numbers I shared above, making a living as a freelance writer is a process. Me? I started writing a monthly column for a local women’s magazine. I even did some unpaid work for a few sites just to get my name out there.

I know it’s easy to have your brain filled with all of those big bylines or major clients you’re hoping to get—and, that’s a great goal! But, you need to walk before you can run. So, explore some smaller, lesser-known avenues you can get started with. You need some published clips and client samples under your belt before you can make any real progress.

2. Explore Other Avenues

While my dream was to make a living doing strictly writing work, that’s not how I got my start. For a while, I wrote resumes to supplement my income. I even did some data entry just to make ends meet.

It’s not exactly good news. But, when you’re trying to get your start, you need to be willing to do whatever you need to do to get some money in your bank account. Think about it this way: Taking on those little side projects help you to earn some additional money, while still being able to dedicate the majority of your time to hunting down gigs. You’ve gotta do what you’ve gotta do!

Hopefully, in the not-so-distant future, you’ll be able to drop these sorts of tasks in favor of dedicating all of your time to your ideal freelance projects.

3. Keep Detailed Records

I can’t emphasize this point enough. You’ll have no idea how your freelance business is progressing if you don’t keep accurate records.

I recommend starting with a detailed accounting system in place right from the get-go—yes, even if you don’t think you’re earning any real money just yet. Whether you want to use something like QuickBooks or AND CO or even setup an Excel spreadsheet for yourself, have a way to track your income and expenses.

Keeping your finger on the pulse of how your income is progressing will help you to make any necessary tweaks.

4. Be Tireless

When I was trying to make a name for myself as a freelance writer, I invested hours each and every day writing, marketing, pitching publications, and hunting down new projects. We’re talkin’ at least eight hours every single day.

There was tons of rejection and discouragement. But, I kept pushing. And, in the end, that’s really the best advice I can give to you. Building a career as a freelancer isn’t a walk in the park, and you have to really, really, really want it.

If you’re willing to give it your all, I have faith that you really can make it happen!

Make a living freelancing (I promise, it’s possible)

How much can you earn as a freelancer? Well, that depends on a number of different factors. Ultimately, you’re going to be the one who decides your income cap.

However, take comfort in the fact that it’s totally possible to earn a respectable living as a freelancer. But, note that possible is very different from easy.

When you’re starting your freelance business, it’s important to have some refined systems in place right away. They’ll help you impress potential clients, land more work, and run a polished and streamlined business.

My bundle of must-have freelance templates will save you time and headaches, while simultaneously making you look like you really know your stuff (because you do, duh).

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Have questions? Let me know. I’m wishing you luck, my freelance friend!