Can You Make Money Freelance Writing? – Well…

The broad term “freelance writer” applied to me way back when I began my career. I had just moved to a new country. I survived off odd jobs and savings. One of those odd jobs was writing articles online. Although the dollar I got in return (especially when converted to euro) wasn’t much… it upped my income significantly.

I was still earning peanuts… but enough to get by.

As I wrote more and got paid more, I slowly started to appreciate the situation I found myself in. The feeling of freedom and independence was intoxicating. So, I made freelance writing my full-time pursuit for the next few years. Like a lot of writers these days, I started at the bottom with low-paying clients (read: horrible content mills).

The desire to earn more money pushed me to market myself and find new opportunities (all online). I thankfully landed myself a handful of well-paying clients. Being treated like an actual person (what!?) was… refreshing.

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My first “content mill”… Not as fancy as its name.

“Can you make money freelance writing?” comes up a lot on Google, forums and social media. Successful freelance writers and bloggers have already answered this with a resounding Yes!

Those (successful) bloggers and freelance writers are right. You can make money as a freelance writer. The thing is… That’s not the question you should be asking. In fact, forget that question entirely. It would be more relevant to ask…

Can I make enough money as a freelance writer to fund the lifestyle I want?

By “lifestyle” I’m not referring to yachts, chauffeurs, multiple residences and 35+ servants. I mean a good standard of living: the ability to comfortably pay your rent/mortgage, cover basic expenses (healthcare etc.), save money and occasionally travel/go on holiday. I’ve seen many freelance writing projects advertised that wouldn’t cover the cost of a Happy Meal.

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All that work and not even a toy…

The answer to this question is trickier. You see, there’s something many budding freelance writers forget and it’s this: freelance writing is a business like any other. Don’t have business aptitude? Well, you’d better acquire some.

DON’T quit your day job – What to do instead

Forget the cliché of quitting your job to do the thing you love. Unless you’re independently wealthy or have another source of income, that kind of bullshit doesn’t fly in the real world. The first thing you need to do is know your expenses.

Back when I was starting out, I’d bring in US$1,200.00/month on average (that was a bit less in euro). I had luck on my side: I lived in a “cheap” city and in general, Germany’s cost of living (groceries, going out, etc.) is relatively low. On an hourly basis, I could earn between US$10.00-20.00. It seemed like a good wage at the time – until I factored in how much I worked. Some days, it was 10+ hours. Others, I barely worked three.

If you aim to be a proper professional (as you should), the standard fee a freelance copywriter should charge is around US$50.00 or more.

For anyone starting out (especially if you don’t have much experience), that can seem like a lot. Almost too much, in fact.

Well – get over it.

You’ve got costs to pay. Just like any other business. Even though you’re mainly running it from your laptop, you should consider…

  • The cost of equipment: This includes your smartphone, laptop and other add-ons such as a comfortable place to work (desk & chair – if that’s how you roll) as well as Internet and phone bill (mobile data if you work on the go a lot), hosting for your blog/website etc.
  • Health insurance: Varies by country – but for most people, you’ll have put some money away. One of the few exceptions I know of is the UK – unless you opt for private insurance.
  • Income protection: Again, some countries may have sufficient social welfare to fall back on making this not so much of an issue.
  • Contributions to social welfare/security: Even in countries with good social welfare, you’re required to pay contributions to social welfare.
  • Pension scheme: Even if your country has a state pension, it’s still good to put some money away for retirement.
  • Taxes: Obviously!
  • Other business expenses: Meetings with clients (if they insist on physically meeting in person), etc.
  • And of course, your own wage: How much can you comfortably live on once you’ve subtracted everything else?

Once again, the exact amount you should be charging also depends on where you live. If you’re in Scandinavia, it would cost you a lot more than it would in Thailand. Either way however, US$50.00 per hour is the minimum you should charge.

Will Clients Really Pay Me That Amount?

Any client who tries to stiff you for the lowest amount isn’t a client worth having. There is of course nothing wrong with your client negotiating a slightly lower rate. There’s also nothing wrong with being a little bit flexible, but don’t go too low. Not only does this ruin things for other writers, but it also means lowering your own expectations.

Good clients will pay good rates. The real challenge is finding those clients. That’s where the “business” part of freelance writing comes into play. You are a business and you are selling a service. Get out there and do your marketing!

Feel free to yell at people with a megaphone if you think that works. Personally, I’d recommend networking, blogging and getting creative online.

It’s easy for me to say that any client who tries to stiff you isn’t a client worth having. I mean, it is true – but there are certainly times when you’ll feel desperate. However, that’s where having a business plan comes in. That’s why you shouldn’t quit your day job: you may very well need that job to help you get your freelance business up and running.

Making a living as a freelance writer is far from impossible. Many writers consider it a rewarding career. Yet the takeaway here is to never stop thinking of yourself as a business. The job of a writer is more than just typing and sending documents. Work won’t fall into your lap, at least not in the beginning.