Solving the Cash-Flow Conundrum:
The Three-Tiered Approach to Income Diversification

Building a consistent cash flow is probably the single biggest challenge facing new freelance copywriters.

Here are three questions I often hear:

"If I'm working a full-time job, when do I find time to build up my freelance income?"

"If I dive into the writer's life without significant savings, how do I quickly generate income to stay afloat?" And …

"If I'm working part time and freelancing part time, how do I balance them both?"

Jumping off the boat without a life preserver

From 1990 to 2009, I had a paycheck twice a month I could count on. Even when I was on straight commission in direct sales, there was never a month I didn't get paid. Not once.

So when I quit my job in March of 2009 to become a full-time freelance copywriter, I naturally expected that track record to continue.

I had one client on a small monthly retainer, and I figured it would just blossom from there. Kind of like spontaneous combustion.

A month later, after two other small projects barely paid for groceries, it hit me.

"What was I thinking?!"

I didn't have the safety net of a huge savings account. My wife didn't have a salaried income. (She's a freelance mural artist.) We have four kids in school. And there are the normal expenses that any family has.

Can you relate?

Does the idea of going from a steady paycheck to the unknown land of freelancing scare you just a bit? You're not alone.

Whether you're a part-time or full-time copywriter, building up a consistent monthly income is job number one.

The three-tiered approach to diversifying your income

First of all, this isn't a "zero to six figures in six months" strategy. Those examples are out there, and I wish I had a great story like that.

But it's not in my nature to radically change overnight. I'm more of a methodical, long-term thinker. In my case, the "tortoise approach" and a focus on diversifying my projects has given me a steady income and a solid foundation from which to build on.

There are three steps to building a solid income foundation and solving the problem of ongoing cash flow:

  1. Getting immediate cash-flow projects to keep you afloat.
  2. Going after "stretch" projects for short-term income boosts and long-term potential.
  3. Building back-end passive income.

Let me explain …

1. Get immediate cash-flow projects

The idea is to get as many quick, small projects as you can.

Don't worry about the size or perceived "quality" of clients. Just build up work fast, turn some of them into ongoing monthly clients, and worry about getting bigger projects later. This is especially important when you’re just starting out as a freelancer. You’ll earn money and experience.

This is more of a philosophy than a marketing strategy.

Instead of going after the big clients whom everyone wants to work for, target prospects who don't have copywriters beating down their door. For example, small businesses that can't afford top writers but still need good copy.

My first client was a sales training company with about 10 employees. The projects weren't huge: print brochures, website copy, and email marketing messages. But it was steady work for six months because the little they invested in me paid off well.

People you know are another source of quick cash flow. When I started telling everyone I was a copywriter, doors started opening. A Facebook friend who worked at an insurance company hired me to rewrite their website, develop five brochures, and write an online video script.

These two clients alone kept me busy for months, and I did most of the work while I was still working a full-time job. From there, I got referrals and expanded, but this provided my base and enabled me to eventually quit my job.

You can also get projects online at places like,,, and I haven't used those particular sites, but they're recommended along with a few others in the Accelerated Program for Six-Figure Copywriting. I'd also encourage AWAI members to check out

So, the first step is to get immediate cash flow coming in.

Step two is to …

2. Go after "stretch" projects

Developing quick cash flow will set your mind at ease, but it may not allow you to quit your job or pay all your monthly expenses.

That's why you need to go after bigger projects while still maintaining your smaller, ongoing clients.

The idea is to stretch out of your comfort zone and try to land clients that intimidate you a little (and, of course, pay more than your smaller clients!).

For me, that meant snagging a number of projects in the $1,500 – $2,500 range. Not superstar money yet, but good projects that gave me some experience and boosted my short-term income.

Going from $300 projects to $1,500 projects was a big mental shift for me. I didn't know if I was qualified, but it turned out the work required similar skill sets, just on a bigger scale.

Where do you find projects at this level? I found them in four places (with no marketing expense whatsoever):

  • Client referrals. When your copy produces results, clients will send others your way. This has been my main source of new business.
  • Personal networking. One project came through a friend in my town who worked for a big agency. They were outsourcing a website rewrite job, and I happened to connect with her at the right time. Another series of assignments came from a colleague I used to work with in direct sales. I explained to her how she could increase sales with a direct response letter, and it paid off for both of us.
  • Submit proposals at Direct Response Jobs. There are plenty of postings on the in-house AWAI job site, so something is bound to match your skills and interests eventually. I just landed a project here and wish I would have pursued this avenue earlier in my career.
  • Upgrade your current clients. This is my favorite method of securing "stretch" projects because it requires the least effort. You already know your client. They know you. Why not make suggestions that will help them earn more profits?

    A $200 copy critique of an online video turned into a $1,200 project to completely revamp it because I made so many suggestions that the client liked. And a very small $120 job writing a monthly fitness newsletter story has paid me over $4,000 to date because I offered ideas for improvement. (The client increased from 350 to 900 clients during that time, so it paid off for them as well.)

Think about it. Let's say you have five small clients paying you $300 a month each. Not much, but it adds up. Then through consistent effort, you land two extra projects a month for $900 each. All of a sudden, you're at $3,300 a month, or just under $40k a year, which may be the point you decide to launch things full time.

The beauty of this three-tiered approach is that you're building a solid foundation first and then working upward.

Finally, step three will give you "income insurance" …

3. Build back-end passive income

Confession time: If I was just starting my copywriting career right now, I'd start with this step.

Passive income means doing something once and getting paid again and again.

You could earn royalties on a sales letter or write and sell e-books or your own information products.

Even better? Build your own money-making website: a content-rich site based on a subject you're passionate about, like French cooking or stand-up paddle boarding. You write interesting, useful content optimized for search engines. Once you attract enough visitors, you can make money through affiliate programs and ads on your site. It's considered passive income because the money comes in whether you're working, sleeping, or playing golf.

Nick Usborne is the master of this. Nick has been a web copywriting expert for the past 14 years, writing copy for AOL, Microsoft, Disney, and many others. He's also a highly respected speaker, trainer, and author on the subject of web copywriting.

I'm currently using his program, How to Write Your Own Money-Making Websites. I hope to have my website published sometime in January and be making money on it by July. Within two to three years, my plan is for this passive income stream to cover all my expenses, with my copywriting income a pure bonus (a rather hefty bonus by that point!).

These are realistic expectations from what I've seen. Tennis coach Tomaz Mencinger brings in $3,000 a month from his tennis site, and Nick himself makes anywhere from $4,000 to $8,000 a month from his site.

It's a juggling act

Okay, all this is easier said than done, I'll admit. But here's the point: if you can balance your time among all three strategies, you'll be building a rock-solid income foundation.

You won't tumble if you lose a big client. You won’t be scrambling for projects each month. You'll be more creative because you're not worrying about paying the bills. And as time goes on, you can continually focus on getting bigger and better projects.

The three-tiered approach to income diversification isn't designed to immediately rocket you to the copywriting stratosphere. But it will position you for long-term success.

And that's what counts, right?

The Professional Writers’ Alliance

The Professional Writers’ Alliance

At last, a professional organization that caters to the needs of direct-response industry writers. Find out how membership can change the course of your career. Learn More »

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Published: January 9, 2012

6 Responses to “Solving the Cash-Flow Conundrum: The Three-Tiered Approach to Income Diversification”

  1. Steve, I'm gettin' tired of you hitting me between the eyes every time you write something...

    Somewhere along the line, I got the idea that I should be hitting home runs from day one. Thanks for letting me know that $300 (or even less) writing assignments are OK.

    Another great - and useful - one!


    Ed in Minnesota

  2. Steve,

    I have to agree with number three. If I were starting over, I would have built a passive income first. But, that's in the past. My top goal for 2012 is to create my own products, services and passive income sites.

    Sean McCool

  3. Good stuff, Steve, thanks. I've been thinking about a money-making website. You may have just pushed me over the edge to get off my butt and do it.

    Bob Edelstein

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