Can You Really Make a Living as a Freelance Writer?

May 15, 2017

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 just need to follow five simple steps 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.

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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, OK?), I thought I’d dedicate an entire post to the income side of freelance writing. I hope it serves as some inspiration that you definitely can support yourself by tapping away on your keyboard.

Grab this worksheet to start mapping out your own freelance writing income!

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

Personally, I’ll probably never be somebody who puts together detailed income reports. I love reading them myself. But, honestly, I think mine would get pretty boring. I thank my lucky stars for the fact that my income is pretty stable (that’s the dream, people!) and my expenses are almost nonexistent—so, my income report would look largely the same month after month. Snooze fest, right?

With that said, I don’t think, “Hey, it depends!” is a quite comprehensive enough answer for a question as important as this one. So, I’m more than willing to share a few details of my own earnings to bring some context to this situation.

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 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.

  • 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.
  • My second year, I earned roughly $32,000 before taxes.
  • This past year? I earned just under $80,000—not including those big checks I wrote to the government. Also, friendly disclaimer: I found myself way overworked last year achieving this amount. And, I’m totally OK with earning a little less this year in an effort to strike a better balance and maintain my sanity!

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. Instead, you need to sell something like courses or ebooks.

Selling digital products is such a huge business these days. And, people make great money doing it! But, I can assure you that not a dime of my above income has come from anything like that—it’s all been tried and true freelance work that I’ve done for clients. Here’s a general breakdown of what went into those amounts you’re seeing:

  • Project Management: In addition to being a writer, I also did some freelance project management duties for a content marketing agency. That contributed about $25,000 (a good amount!) to my income last year. But, I’ve since ended this project and replaced the income with projects that are more closely related to writing, content strategy, and editing.
  • One-Off Writing Projects: Another $10,000 or so was sporadic, one-off projects that I did here and there for clients that would approach me.
  • 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. The remainder of my income last year (about $45,000) came from these sorts of regular projects—whether I was a contractor or a W-2 employee (some places prefer to use a part-time employee structure, as it’s easier on their end!).

What don’t you see on that list? My own blog or any sorts of digital products.

While I’ll admit that I’d definitely love to build some passive income in the future through selling some reasonably-priced (!!!) digital downloads for prospective freelancers, it’s nothing I’ve done so far (with the exception of some one-on-one coaching sessions I recently started offering). Other than that, I make almost nothing (a few pennies come in now and then from the ads placed in the sidebar of my blog page—but, since I don’t want to clutter my site with advertisements, we’re talking literal pennies) from this site.

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 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 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 projects in favor of dedicating all of your time to strictly writing.

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 freelance writer 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!

Ready to plan out your own income as a freelance writer? This worksheet can help!

Over to You

Where do you go from here? I recommend downloading the planning worksheet included in this post to get a clear handle on your goals and your strategy moving forward.

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