How I Made More Money Freelancing in 2018
Even when I say it out loud to myself, I can’t believe it. Somehow, when comparing my gross freelance income to my gross as a contract content writer and managing editor jobs, I made more money working as a freelancer than I did working full-time.
When I graduated from Columbia College Chicago in December 2014, I didn’t foresee myself working as a freelance writer. At the time, I had just wrapped up my finals and was preparing to become an intern at Crain’s Chicago Business, where I’d learn a lot of business journalism fundamentals that have helped me in my tech and entrepreneurship reporting today. I presumed that my internships at Crain’s and NBC Chicago, along with some freelance work I picked up at the now-defunct neighborhood news site DNAinfo Chicago and the historic Chicago Defender, would make me a desirable candidate for a full-time journalism job. In a way, I was right.
I got a full-time job, but it wasn’t right for me. And that lesson—learning what about my work life and career doesn’t make me happy—was perhaps one of the most important lessons I’ve ever learned. Today, a full-time, contract and part-time job later, life is not how I pictured it. In a way, my life is better than I expected.
In August 2017, I left a contract content gig. I was asked about a month or so prior whether I’d like to extend my time at the company beyond the three-month period in which I was originally supposed to work. But I felt myself longing for a freelance life, a life free of shared office spaces, one boss and predictable days. So, I decided to leave once my three months were up.
The first few months of full-time freelancing were rough, but I made it through. And by the end of 2018, I had surpassed my gross earnings from previous part-time and full-time jobs. Here’s how I did it.
I landed more higher-paying content gigs.
A former boss of mine put me in touch with one of my current content marketing clients, a client which had paid a greater hourly rate that I’d been paid in the past. On top of that, a former classmate of mine recommended me for a brand journalism assignment that paid $1 per word and a reader of my blog enlisted my help for a couple high flat-rate blog posts as well for a recruiting firm. The lesson here is that you never know who’s watching. But to plan this out more intentionally, put together a spreadsheet of companies you want to pitch, and then check who’s in your social network (perhaps LinkedIn or Facebook) who can connect you to the right person within those companies. In my experience, referrals are the best way to cut through the red tape and get directly to the person who can commission you. Former classmates or bosses as well as friends and family members can all get you closer to your dream clients.
I landed more higher-paying reporting gigs.
Similar to the lucrative content gigs, my reporting gigs came via contacts. I met a former writer at a B2B magazine who put in a word for me with the editor. Later on, the editor contacted me to take on a few freelance assignments that paid nearly $1 per word. Adweek posted a call for Chicago writers, a call which one of my former classmates sent me via Twitter direct message. They also paid less than $1 per word and in 60 days rather than 30, but they paid via direct deposit and were wonderful to work with. Another classmate of mine who’s now an editor at a city magazine (so cool for her!) reached out to me with a feature assignment which paid less than $1 per word, because she liked my other magazine features. One of my former clients, The Chicago Tribune, came back into the picture in need of several company profiles, which added up to a commission of more than $1,000. Again, reaching out to former editors you’ve worked with or tapping into your contacts is a good way to find out who’s in need of freelance work. Pay close attention to social media for good client leads, too.
I nabbed anchor clients.
A tech site I pitched repeatedly asked me in January 2018 if I wanted to become a regular contributor, a request which I happily accepted. A former colleague of mine also put me in touch with a small content marketing firm in need of another content writer with journalism experience. (Hello, that’s totally me!) These clients anchored not only anchored me financially, but also in terms of my workload. Having a routine number of deliverables for which I’m responsible gave my freelance life a bit of order and stability. In addition to reaching out to your network, reach out to past clients with whom you have a great relationship and ask if they need steady contributors. Newsrooms or companies with small staffs but a sizable budget are the sweet spot.
I set an attainable goal.
I didn’t want to put too much pressure on myself by setting an crazy-high goal. So, I set out to reach a salary goal based on my previous full-time job and my current living expenses. Then I divided that salary amount by 12 to figure out how much I needed to earn every month to reach my goal. Having that dollar amount in my mind made it easier to spot which kinds of commission goals I needed to reach in order to sustain myself. Now, that I’ve exceeded that goal by more than $10,000, I have the confidence to test how far I can push the profitability of my business.
I moved away from low-paying gigs.
My motto for 2019 is: a comma for every check (a play off of “a chicken for every pot”). My best months were in the Fall, during which I had the most of my highest paying gigs. That period was tough for me at first, because I was wrapping up low-paying gigs while taking on higher paying ones. Once I offloaded the low-paying gigs, I had more time to focus on the more meaningful, lucrative gigs. Of course, there’s anxiety in turning down work, but I found that working less on more higher-paying gigs was a lot less stressful than cranking out a bunch of smaller assignments. Maybe it’s just me being a magazine writer, but I love longform writing.
Much of my income increase has come through connections reaching out to me, which is great, but my goal in 2019 is create more consistency in my higher-income months. Hopefully, we’ll all have a prosperous 2019!
How are you increasing your income in 2019? Tell me your secrets in the comments or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.