From $0 to $22,500: My First 11 Months as a Freelance Writer

My first month of freelance writing was April of 2015. I earned a whopping $45 — not much but it validated the idea that I could actually get paid to write.

First things first, shall we?

If you’ve visited Solopreneurist previously, you might notice the conspicuous absence of my previous income reports. Let me explain…

When I decided to become a freelance writer back in April of 2015, I made a decision to post monthly updates along with detailed income and expenses related to my freelance writing. I stuck to the practice of tracking and posting my results for the first 8-months even though this site has been in maintenance mode for several months prior.

Truthfully, I wasn’t sure in what direction I wanted to take this site, and there didn’t seem to be a very good reason to publish my results, especially if there was no value to go along with the numbers.

After some thought, I decided the most beneficial thing for anybody reading these income reports, would be to combine them into a single post. Something that was more in-line with my long-term objective for this site: To share my experience of growing a sustainable and diversified side-hustle and online business.

Over the last 10 months, I’ve learned a lot about freelance writing and about freelancing in general. This post will share those lessons in a way that I hope will provide value to anyone who is pursuing becoming a freelance writer.

The Path from $0 to $22,500

Before I jump into the lessons learned, I’ll quickly share my journey over the past 11 months. After all, you might find it helpful to know that the ideas I am sharing have some legitimate, tangible benefits.

The truth is, I thought about adding freelance writing to my repertoire for many months before taking the leap. I hesitated because I wasn’t convinced it was possible to actually make enough to be worth the effort.

My negative opinions were influenced by the fact that I hired quite a few writers in the past to produce content for various niche sites. The writers came from content farms where the average rate was between .02 and .03 per word — and I couldn’t figure out why on earth anyone would waste their time writing 1000 words for $20. Unless you type blazingly fast (which I don’t), the numbers just didn’t add up.

I had read stories of freelance writers who were making $100, $200 and more writing blog posts. But being the internet, I was skeptical, to say the least. Then one day I ran across a website called Horkey Handbook where I found an email course called “30 days or Less to Freelance Writing Success” written by my now friend, Gina Horkey.

Intrigued by her story of making $3k per month as a freelance writer, I bought the course (which cost me a grand total of $37.60 at the time).  After reading a few chapters, I reached out via email to share my story with Gina.

About two weeks later, Gina opened up an opportunity for readers of her blog to submit a guest post and I threw my hat in the ring. The rest is history, although it included plenty of hard-learned lessons along the way.

I know you’re probably curious about the income side of this venture? Don’t worry, I haven’t forgotten that part.

My first month working as a freelance writer was April of 2015 — I earned a whopping $45. It’s not much but I was pretty damn excited about it at the time.

It didn’t take long before a typical month of freelance writing generated between $2500 – $3000. Not that much, I know, but nothing to sneeze at either considering it’s a part-time income.

Eight Lessons Learned on My Quest to Become a Freelance Writer

Although the path you take as a freelance writer might be different than mine, we’ll inevitably cross through the same waypoints.

There are certain lessons we are destined to learn as freelancers — it’s just a question of which order we’ll learn them in and how many times we’ll repeat the same mistakes.

8 Important Lessons I learned about Freelance Writing

1. If You Don’t Value Your Work, Nobody Else Will Either

There is no shortage of companies out there looking for writers who are willing to crank out 1000 words for $20-30. I know because I applied for and accepted more than a few of those gigs.

But then I started to look at how much time, thought and experience I was pouring in each post. I quickly came to the conclusion that my time was worth more. I realized that I was providing a service which was saving someone else a lot of time and effort.

Before you resign to writing for below minimum wage, think about the value you’re providing. If someone isn’t willing to pay for that value, you should move on as quickly as possible.

2. Writing is Great Side Hustle But Not a Great Business

Writing is an important skill to develop. But by itself, I don’t think it’s a great business. The reason being that once you’re on the treadmill, it becomes increasingly difficult to get off.

If you want to turn writing into a business, you’ll need to leverage your time and hire other writers. That’s a lesson for another day!

As I write this post, I have a steady line-up of clients that I have been working with for a decent period of time. If I maintain my current level of output, I’ll be on track to generate a little over $30k from writing this year— on a part-time basis.

The problem is, if I take my foot off the gas pedal for more than a few days, it’s almost impossible to get caught up. I can’t recover the lost revenue.

I know there are many writers out there that make way more than I do. However, I’ve made a conscious decision to cap my writing for clients at a certain level so I have time to build something bigger and more sustainable.

3. A Writing/Business Coach Is Worth Their Weight in Gold

I was only 3 months into writing when I decided to hire a coach. I can’t make this point any clearer other than to say that a writing/business coach is worth their weight in gold.

You might be able to get where you’re going on your own but having a coach to guide and keep you accountable will get you there in 1/2 the time.

Every three months Gina pushed me to raise my rates. I went from happily accepting gigs that paid .03-.05 to bidding on and landing gigs that paid .15-.18 per word — all in the span of  8 months.

If your writing is generating revenue and you’re looking for a way to reinvest in yourself, I can’t think of a better option.

4. You’ll Eventually Have to Fire Your Favorite Clients

I’ve had a chance to work with some great clients.  The problem was, some of them didn’t pay as much as I wanted — usually because they were also trying to balance their margins.

One of the toughest things to do is sever a relationship simply because of money. It really sucks but there are times when it has to be done.  You want to enjoy working with clients but you also need to pay bills and put food on the table.

5. It’s Easier to Start With a Niche

I’m now a firm believer in targeting a specific niche. I also believe that initially, everything you write for others and on your own website should target that same niche.

Something I see all the time is aspiring freelance writers who want to target a niche, for example, legal services. But when you visit their website you’ll find post after post of fluff — you know, home decorating, how to organize your garage or knit a sweater.

If you want to write in the legal space (or medical, or WordPress or whatever), you should have the best damn blog in that space. Produce the best work you’re capable of.

Amaze prospective clients with your knowledge & writing chops, then charge an appropriate fee.

6. Who You Know Is as Important as What You Know

This topic deserves an entire post to itself but it’s simply too important to leave until then.

I’ve always been someone who immersed myself in information. When I decided to see if I could generate extra income by writing, it was no different. I read every blog I could find, I purchased a few inexpensive courses, joined some Facebook groups and listened to podcasts. I absorbed every piece of information I could find and I learned a lot in a short period of time.

But none of that information made much difference. In the end, what landed my biggest and most profitable gigs was talking to people — making connections and looking for ways to help. I honestly think I’ve only scratched the surface in this department, which is why I haven’t written a post on the topic yet.

Here’s what I can tell you so far: Every single client I’m currently working with has the same point of origin. That’s right, they came from one initial point of contact.

Talking to one person led to an introduction. That introduction led to another introduction. Which led to another introduction and a lead. And so on and so forth.

Sure, along the way, I’ve had a few inbound leads and made a few cold pitches but my number one source of business has come as a result of talking to people in my target niche.

Do that, and you’ll be on the path to success.

7. To Become a Better Writer, You Have to Read More

It took me a while to realize this. At first, my writing improved naturally. It’s still not great but I’m happy with my progress over the last 10 months. However, I have reached a point where I’m starting to feel stagnant. My pace of improvement has stalled.

When I turned to the internet, looking for ways to improve my writing, there was one piece of advice that I kept coming across again and again: If you want to become a better writer, you’ve got spend more time reading.

Lately, I have found myself taking the time to get offline, to pick up a book and actually read — one word, one line, one paragraph at a time. It’s a very different experience than reading online and time will tell how it improves my writing and thought process.

8. Clicking Publish Gets Easier the More You Do It

I can’t even begin to explain how difficult it can sometimes be to click the publish button. The internet is a big place and putting your thoughts, ideas and emotions out there for everyone to see can be an overwhelming process.

You worry about what people might think —whether they’ll judge you or think less of you because of something you wrote. I was afraid to click the publish button for years and truthfully, sometimes I still am.

If fear is what’s getting in your way, I’d encourage you to push through it. Because every time you click that little button, it gets easier and easier.

Final Thoughts

To wrap things up, there is one final point that I want to drive home. When you make the decision to start freelance writing, the most important thing you can do is simply get started.

I’ve learned many things over the last year but the only way YOU can relly learn is by doing. Make mistakes—under-charge, over-bid, be too patient with clients or not patient enough—and learn. Most of the things I covered in this post will apply to you as well, but you can bet on the fact that you’ll have some of your own lessons to learn as well.

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