8 Money-Making Strategies to Succeed as a Freelance Writer
Most Americans haven’t heard of me or read anything I’ve written. I’ve never made the Best Seller List or talk-show circuit. Esquire hasn’t run an interview with me. Taylor Swift hasn’t said she’s a fan of my work, and Oprah has no intention of recommending me to her book-club members.
In that way, I’m a lot like most writers. Perhaps a lot like you.
But there’s one thing that’s different. And that’s the fact that, unlike the average journeyman writer, I’ve earned a six-figure income as a freelance writer for 34 consecutive years. I tell you this not to brag but to convince you that my advice on making more money as a freelance writer is worth paying attention to. After all, why would you listen to tips on increasing your writing income from someone who earns less than you do?
Today, I want to show you how I make a more-than-respectable income from freelance writing — and more important, how you can, too. I intend to share with you methods by which ordinary freelance writers — not superstars, not literary geniuses, and not people whose work hits it big largely based on luck — can earn an income even a lawyer, dentist, or doctor might envy.
Here are some methods, attitudes, and actions that can help you create a steady income as a freelance writer. You’ll handle a variety of assignments — everything from case studies to web content — for corporations and small or midsize businesses, both local and national. And you’ll have fun doing it, too.
Okay. Here are the eight most important things I know about making great money as a writer based on 40 years in the trade.
1. Ditch the poverty mentality.
When I’ve told people that I am a freelance writer, nearly everyone I’ve met — including other writers! — has assumed that I am just scraping by and must be supported by a working spouse.
Sometime in the past, the cliché of a writer starving in a cold garret while banging away at his Great American Novel became a romantic image, which many writers and non-writers alike embraced. But there is nothing romantic about earning slave wages or not having enough money to pay the bills.
When you earn through your writing double or triple what your next-door neighbors make in their 9-to-5 jobs, it’s a wonderfully liberating feeling. Not only are you doing what you want, unlike them, but you are also getting paid handsomely to do it.
My late father always told me money is unimportant, but I disagree. My colleague, writer Ted Nicholas, says there are four things required for a happy life: good health, relationships, a rewarding career, and money.
Ted is right: Money is extremely important. People who don’t have money and don’t make much money spend an inordinate amount of time thinking and worrying about money, which distracts you from your writing.
2. Don’t count on luck, because most of us never win the lottery.
Lots of writers daydream about becoming the next Stephen King or J. K. Rowling. But it rarely happens.
Becoming a wealthy writer by having your book zoom to the top of the Best Seller Lists is like playing the lottery. Yes, it can make you rich. But the chances of your winning are about on par with the chance that Jupiter will crash into the sun today.
A more sensible strategy for writers who want to earn above-average writing incomes is to think of freelance writing as a business, not as a game or as a lottery.
The average person desiring a financially comfortable life does not, if she is intelligent, make buying lottery tickets her job or profession. Yet that is essentially what you are doing when you pin all your hopes or dreams on your unpublished novel or unsold screenplay, without having something to fall back upon.
The realistic person aspiring to material wealth and comfort has a plan: She either gets a well-paying job or starts a small business. In freelance copywriting, you are essentially a one-person company whose service is writing. You sell that service to a roster of clients and earn a handsome living doing so. It’s regular work, and done right, it can be incredibly lucrative.
3. Have an income goal and a plan for achieving it.
Your income goal should not be vague — “to be rich” or “to make a lot of money.” You should have a specific dollar figure as your target annual income.
How much should that target figure be? Something that you can realistically hope to attain in a few years — high enough to be ambitious but not so high as to be discouraging.
Figure out how much money you need to live comfortably and make double that amount a starting point for setting your income goal. If your expenses are $45,000 a year, your writing business should gross at least $90,000 annually. That’s an extremely ambitious goal for traditional freelance writers, but a modest and achievable goal for freelance copywriters. The jobsite Indeed recently stated the average freelance writer salary is $28.77 per hour yet trained copywriters can earn much more. (Check AWAI’s annual Pricing Guide for professional fees.)
4. Become obsessive about your personal productivity.
Dentists have a saying: If you’re not drilling and filling, you’re not billing. Dentists, highly paid though they may be, are hourly laborers who only get money when they are working with clients.
With the exception of royalties and other passive income (I’ll get to that next), we writers, like dentists, are also laborers who get paid only when we work. Therefore, the more writing you do for your clients, the more money you earn (assuming a consistent level of quality in your work). Top-earning writers, with rare exception, got that way because they use their time to maximum advantage. Double your output, and you can double your income.
5. Generate passive income.
Writing is labor-intensive, and when you are a freelancer, you are the one laboring. To reduce your workload to a reasonable level while maintaining a high income is more easily attained when you have some passive income.
Passive income is money you earn from something you have already written, not by writing more. For writers, sources of passive income can include book royalties, performance-based incentives, such as royalties (e.g., a percentage of the increased sales the client realizes from your marketing campaign) or product sales (e.g., writing and selling e-books online), or affiliate marketing via a Money-Making Website. I’ve made a substantial passive income from writing e-books.
6. Know something and become known for knowing it.
The late Paul Sarnoff, a prolific book and newsletter writer specializing in gold, once told me that if you have specialized knowledge you will never go broke.
Too many writers know only about writing. Your earnings will improve if you also master a subject, niche, industry, or technology to write about.
Beginning writers ask me whether they should study journalism, English literature, or communications in college. I suggest they study geology, economics, biochemistry, or another subject they can make a profitable living writing about for business clients. For instance, a degree in biochemistry and deep knowledge of the field can help make you an in-demand freelance writer for pharmaceuticals, an extremely lucrative and large business writing niche.
If you have work experience in a specific field, you can leverage that background as a freelance writer. Your knowledge of the industry, jargon, and competitive market will make you valuable to prospective clients.
You can also find a specialty where you can focus your energy and build a solid reputation as a go-to writer. Gordon Graham is known as “That White Paper Guy.” Nick Usborne is internationally recognized as a Web specialist. Heather Lloyd-Martin is a pioneer in Search Engine Optimization. Do consistent work and you will become known for it.
7. Let lucrative writing pursuits finance literary ones.
It seems that, unfortunately, the fun and easy writing projects are mostly low-pay or no-pay; while the difficult and sometimes challenging writing projects are the ones that pay the highest rates.
If all you do is the low-paying, “fun” projects, your writing income will remain modest. My suggestion is a balance. Do some writing for clients to pay the bills. Use the money from these jobs to support your avocation of writing plays, poems, short stories, or novels. My rule of thumb is an 80-to-20 ratio of business freelancing to literary writing, because it keeps your writing fresh and your finances flush.
8. Have fun every day.
There are many professions more lucrative than freelance writing. For instance, many freelance writers consider $100,000 a year as the goal to strive for, the dollar figure that means they are really making it as a writer. But on Wall Street, a stockbroker who earns $100,000 a year in commission is nothing special, and is likely at the bottom of his office in terms of production.
I never tell people to go into freelance writing as a way to make big money. If money is of primary importance to you, and you don’t much care what you do to earn it, then be an orthodontist, investment banker, accountant, or attorney.
But for some of us, we can’t imagine doing anything else except writing. The problem is that some traditional freelance writing — articles and books — usually doesn’t pay very well. By freelancing for business clients, you can have the best of both worlds. You can spend your day writing, and you can get paid handsomely for doing it.
Okay. These eight suggestions lay a broad framework for doubling or tripling your freelance-writing income this year.
Whether your goal is to quit your day job and become a full-time freelancer or just make a nice spare-time income to pay for that new boat or vacation home, copywriting will help you increase your revenues this year.
Do you have any questions about getting a start in this business? Share with us in the comments below.