How Much Money Can You Really Make as a Freelancer?
If I tell you I work from home as a freelance writer, you may assume it’s a nice little side hustle to make me feel more productive as a stay-at-home parent. In reality, however, freelancing is my full-time job, and I earn a full-time salary. I’ve been at it for two and a half years and I consistently earn more than $5,000 a month.
What does my workload look like? I work about 15-20 highly focused hours per week (i.e. no checking Facebook while writing) and churn out about 30-40 articles per month on topics ranging from parenting to finance to emotional labor. I write exceptionally fast, which gives me the bandwidth to take on more work. When I’m not writing, I’m still working. I still have to account for the time spent brainstorming and pitching new story ideas, finding new outlets to write for, bookkeeping, and collecting payments for overdue invoices.
Of course, no two freelance writers do exactly the same thing. They also don’t necessarily earn the same hourly or project rates. Some freelancers hustle at it full-time, whereas others prefer to take on freelance projects on the side. To learn more, I decided to talk to a few writers to get their take on how they make money. Take a look.
Katherine Clover: Freelance rookie
Freelancing for two years with earnings of $12,000 to $18,000 per year
Schedule: I set aside three days per week, or about 25 hours, for freelance work. I want to push myself to earn more than my average of $1,000-$1,500 a month, but I want to do so without burning out.
Since I am my own boss, I think about how I’d want a boss to treat me. “That means allowing myself to take breaks, setting a reasonable schedule, and trying to work with my strengths. It also means creating systems to streamline things, and keeping track of the money without getting addicted to the money.”
Best part of the job: The work itself is something I love. I also like going after projects that excite me, like writing about dinosaurs for Salon. I was delighted to learn “the big secret” of freelancing is to simply ask to write about the things you love.
Worst part of the job: People do not realize how much of a hassle it can be to get paid for the work you’ve already done, how much bookkeeping is involved, and how much it really is like running a business. All of that time doing invoicing and paperwork is essentially unpaid labor. I think people imagine when I’m working, I’m writing. This is not always the case.
Advice: Just keep pitching. You won’t get work if you don’t ask for it.
Emily Monaco: Freelance go-getter
Freelancing for four years with earnings of about $48,000 per year
Schedule: I work weekdays between 8:00 am and 6:00 pm, with very little time off for breaks. I’ll usually take off one afternoon per week, but I occasionally do a bit of work in the evenings or on the weekends to make up for it. The work is a mix of interviews and transcribing, pitching, story writing, and working on my novel.
Best part of the job: The freedom. I love being able to decide on a sunny Tuesday morning to go for a hike, or to go back to New York to visit my family for several weeks with little or no disruption of my schedule. I also like that my work life is constantly changing and evolving, and I can work on projects that interest me.
Worst part of the job: Self-motivation is definitely a challenge and it’s important to come up with a system that works for you. I actually think the most difficult part of freelancing is getting other people to respect your work hours. Just because freelancers don’t go into an office doesn’t mean we don’t have to work.
Advice: Break down your income goals into manageable pieces. Look at your life and the money you need to make to maintain it. For example, if you want to earn $2,100 in a month, you can break this down into 21 working days, so $100 a day. “When you get up in the morning, work until you meet that goal. Then you can either take the rest of the day off, work ahead, or pitch for new projects.”
Chaunie Brusie: Freelance veteran
Freelancing for six years with earnings $100,000 to $120,000 per year
Schedule: I start work at 5:30 am and work 40 hours per week around the schedules of my four children. I work on and off all day, spending pretty much every free moment writing, and I try to dedicate at least one full day to working while I have a babysitter. I very rarely have “set” hours.
Best part of the job: I can make significant income and still set my own schedule. I never miss field trips or school events, I go to the gym every day, and I have the freedom to go out to lunch with a friend or do whatever I want. I enjoy being my own boss and the backend of running my own business. I also genuinely love writing and find enormous satisfaction in being a storyteller. I also love how it encourages exploration. “I can write about going on a wine tour, for example, or take my kids to a new museum exhibit. It’s awesome when life overlaps with what works for me.”
Worst part of the job: How incredibly hard it can be to set boundaries for yourself. I only recently have started to cut back on work a bit after it started affecting me physically. I’ve literally been glued to my computer and phone for years and it’s not healthy! The isolation is also hard: I feel a lot like I am writing about life instead of actually living it.
Advice: Know what you’re willing to give up, because freelancing comes with a price. Are you willing to give up leisure time and TV shows? You’ll have to carve the time out from somewhere. On the flipside, set some rules for yourself so you don’t wind up working 24/7.
Do you want to try freelancing?
Whether you’re interested in freelancing as a side hustle or a full-blown career, it helps to set reasonable, actionable goals for yourself. Figure out what you want – whether it’s a cool byline at a big publication or a set dollar amount each month. From there, come up with a plan to achieve your goal.