5 Steps I Took to Become a Six-Figure Freelancer (Yes, Seriously)

Feb 12, 2018

Can I be totally honest with you?

Even typing the phrase “six-figure freelancer” in this headline made me want to vomit all over the Starbucks I’m currently writing in.

Why? Well, for starters, it’s not a phrase I ever (I mean, ever) thought I’d use to describe myself. During my first full year as a freelancer, I was absolutely thrilled to earn just upwards of $30,000. I was doing what I loved and earning a respectable living while doing so. What a dream.

So, if you had told me that a few years from then I’d earn six figures? I would’ve laughed in your face. Seriously, I would’ve buckled over—teary-eyed from the hilarity of it all.

But, there’s another brutal reason the term “six-figure freelancer” inspires that cotton mouth feeling that accompanies nausea: It just sounds gross, slimy, and braggy, doesn’t it?

I see so many experts and online gurus use this tagline as a way to sucker in people who are just hoping to get started—as if freelancing is some “get rich quick” scheme that involves little to no effort.

It's totally possible to rake in some cash as a #freelancewriter. Here's how: Click To Tweet

Spoiler alert: That’s not the truth. Expect a lot of patience and elbow grease. But, even so, it is totally possible to rake in some cash as a freelancer. Here are a few steps I took to do just that.

My Friendly Disclaimer

I hope this goes without saying—but, I couldn’t go without saying it.

The idea of sharing even glimpses of my income online makes me clammy-palmed and nervous. Not because I’m weird about money (seriously, I couldn’t care less), but because I never want to seem like I’m gloating.

So, my dear friend, I hope you know that I’m not sharing this to stroke my own ego and make myself seem like a big shot. That is not my intention at all.

I remember all too well those many months spent toiling away for only a few dollars. My first year as a freelancer (granted, it was a half year—I started in July), I earned $5,300 for six months of back-busting work.

I get it. I really do.

Instead, I hope that this serves as inspiration to you. It’s totally possible to earn a great living for yourself as a freelance writer. And, I don’t believe you need to earn six figures in order to qualify as successful. Take it from me—any amount that you earn from doing something you love is something that you should be so proud of!

six-figure freelancer

How I Earned Six Figures as a Freelancer

Alright, with that out of the way, let’s get to the good stuff. What steps did I take to finally break that six-digit threshold in 2017? Here’s what you need to know.

1. I refined and expanded my niche.

I’m going to sound like a broken record here (sorry!), but I think establishing a niche is crucial to gaining clarity as a writer. I’ll spare you from my same, tired spiel—you can find out everything you need to know about writing niches in this post.

While I’ve been a big believer in the power of niches for quite some time, I’ll be the first to admit that I was still a little all over the place until last year.

The bulk of my work was focused on career and self-development advice, but I still had some random projects thrown in there pretty regularly.

This past year, I decided I really wanted to hone my reputation in the fields I was most interested in writing about. But, at the same time, I didn’t want to limit myself to only career advice (which is still my bread and butter).

So, that led me to thinking about what other sub-topics would be a natural fit with the “brand” I was attempting to build for myself.

What did I come up with? Well, things like:

  • Productivity
  • Entrepreneurship
  • Project Management

These things don’t detract from my career advice niche—in fact, you could argue that they all still fall under the career and self-development umbrella. However, they gave me numerous other outlets and opportunities (from project management software to productivity apps) I could pursue with my writing.

Yes, I still believe having a niche is important. But, don’t let that limit you to just one very specific topic. Take the time to think about what other subjects would be a natural fit with the things you want to write about. You’ll open doors for yourself—without muddling your focus and your brand.

2. I dropped clients.

Wait… what?

I know what you’re thinking: How could dropping clients possibly lead to more income? Doesn’t more work = more moolah in the bank?

Here’s the thing: As I mentioned in my post on earning a living as a freelance writer, I earned just under $80,000 last year. But, in the interest of transparency, I worked day and night (uhh, and weekends) in order to do so. I ended the year feeling proud of that number, but also overworked and overwhelmed.

I knew I needed to change something—that I couldn’t maintain that pace, no matter how much it inflated my bank account.

So, I took a good, hard look at all of the consistent work that I was doing. Seriously—I sat down with my dad and a notebook at Panera Bread and scribbled out:

  • My current clients
  • How many articles I was writing for them per month
  • What that amounted to in terms of monthly income

That was a particularly revealing exercise. I realized there were quite a few regular assignments I was doing each month that I didn’t particularly enjoy—and, even further, they weren’t paying me particularly well.

Do you know what I did then? I dropped them.

Of course, this isn’t to say that I eliminated everything that fell below a certain dollar amount—there’s a lot to be said for a gig that you love or even just contributes to your reputation.

But, anything that was particularly low-paying and I was OK parting with? I did so.

That freed up time that I could either use toward my personal life (I had honestly forgotten what that was for a while) or dedicate to existing, higher-paying clients who wanted more work from me—yet I hadn’t been able to accommodate with my full schedule.

The result? I worked way less in 2017 than I did in 2016, but I earned approximately $22,000 more. It’s crazy, but it’s true.

Want to follow the exact steps I used to sort through my clients? Grab this free worksheet!

3. I focused on consistency.

You’ll hear a lot about the feast or famine phenomenon that comes along with freelancing. One week you’re buried under work, and the next week your inbox (and your fridge) is empty.

However, that hasn’t been my personal experience—and that wasn’t by accident.

As opposed to completing random, one-off writing assignments for various clients, I typically try to pursue regular contributor agreements—where I’m submitting a set number of articles per week or per month.

Not only does this help me maintain a realistic and predictable workload for myself, but it also leads to a far more reliable income.

So, if you have the option to become a regular contributor for an outlet—as opposed to just a sporadic freelancer—I highly recommend doing so.

Not sure how to go about that? Have no fear. I break down all of the details right here: How to Turn a One-Off Freelance Assignment into Consistent Writing Work

six-figure freelancer

4. I became more aggressive with my rates.

Setting my rates is still enough to make me break into a cold sweat. Even after years of freelancing, I still panic when somebody poses that dreaded, “So, what do you charge?” question. You think I’d be over it by now, but no.

Even so, I learned something important over the past year: People aren’t going to give you something unless you ask for it.

As I built up more of a reputation, I became more comfortable quoting a higher price for new clients who were interested in working together (side note: I didn’t actually raise the rates for my existing clients!).

Plus, when I didn’t really need the work, I had the added safety net of knowing I’d be fine if that client walked because of my rate. But, if they agreed? I would earn more (well-deserved, of course) for the same amount of work.

5. I worked my ass off.

Here’s the cold, hard truth: I may have finally achieved that six-figure benchmark that people go on and on about. But, there was no quick tip or hidden secret that helped me do that.

Ultimately, it just took a lot of hard work and patience.

2017 was my third full year as a freelance writer. That means that—at the end of 2017—I had been at this for three and a half years. It took me that amount of time to get what I earn now (and not 30 days like so many gurus and experts would have you believe).

You can earn a wonderful living as a freelance writer (I make way more now than I did when I worked a traditional full-time job!). But, it’s not something that’s just going to happen—it’s going to involve a lot of blood, sweat, and tears. You’re going to need to be willing to invest that.

Don’t forget to grab this worksheet to sort through your own clients!

Enough Bragging, Right?

Will I earn six figures as a freelancer again? Maybe. But, then again, maybe not.

That’s the thing with freelancing—it can be sort of unpredictable. And, I’m OK with that. I impressed myself with the amount I was able to earn this past year. But, I won’t be heartbroken if it doesn’t happen again—money isn’t everything, my friend.

As for you? Whether you’re closing in on six figures yourself or are still trying to figure out how to even land a paying gig (I’ve been there!), I’ll leave you with this nugget of inspiration: Freelancing is a rewarding and fulfilling career path—six figures or not. After all, it’s tough to put a price on doing what you love.

Got questions? Holler at your girl (that’s me—I’m your girl).