Have you ever done something that scared you so much you had to refrain from peeing your pants and running away to a foreign country? That was me a year ago when I was a starting freelance writer!
In January 2016 I officially started as a part-time freelance writer, working for myself. It scared the ever-loving bejeesus out of me, but I stuck with it.
And, I’m glad I did! I learned as much about myself and a new profession as I did during my time in grad school, except this time there was less animal poop involved.
Here’s how I did.
The Numbers Behind A Starting Freelance Writer
Day Job Income
I trained for ten years to become a wildlife biologist. I went to school for two degrees in Wildlife Biology and Conservation and came out the other end with no job and $60,000 in student loan debt.
Related post: The Financial Reality Of Being A Broke Biologist
Luckily, this summer (two years after graduating) I got a temporary position with the federal government in the natural resources field. Here’s what my income looked like from my two hourly positions I held this year:
- Animal caretaker: $14,368.37
- Natural resources badass: $18,489.76
- Total: $32,858.13
In the words of one of my readers who just recently wrote to me, “What kind of fuckery is that?”
Here were some of my living expenses in 2016:
- Debt payments (student loans, auto loan, house repair loan): $11,291.52
- Mortgage for house that’s trying to kill our bank account: $14,839.80
- Rent for the apartment we’re currently living in: $11,940.00
- Total: $38,071.32
That’s just a portion of my living expenses.
Clearly I’m not making enough money at my day job. ‘Nuff said.
Freelance Writing And Blog Income
Here is what I earned in 2016 from my freelance writing alone, and from my blog:
- Freelance writing: $10,331.57
- Blog: $14.63
- FinCon Hotel Reimbursement: $380.93
- Total: $10,727.13
Pretty spiffy, if I do say so myself!
Of course, everything comes at a cost. Here were mine:
- FinCon: $1,203.33
- Paypal fees: $18.33
- Freelance writing-specific training: $311.46
- Misc. expenses: $1,567.56
FinCon was definitely a large cost, but I’ve already purchased a ticket for next year (yay!).
A lot of my misc. expenses bleed over between freelance writing and blogging. I primarily write blog posts for clients, and so if I take a training course in how to write better blog posts, for example, it’ll benefit both my clients and myself. It can’t be parsed out between the two.
What I did learn from this was that my freelance writing expenses alone are basically nil—I could have done this all by just shelling out $329.79 in Paypal fees and freelance-specific training alone.
My blog is actually costing me big time compared to the puny income I’m getting from it, so that’s a big area I’ll be focusing on monetizing in 2017. Time to shake that money-maker! (Did I just compare my blog to a butt?)
I walked away from 2016 with an extra $7,626.45 in my pocket.
This is just the net profit. I haven’t even discounted the tax chunk yet, although I do set aside 30% of all of my earnings in a savings account to pay the tax bill. Gotta pay the government so hopefully they can hire me again in the future when the hiring freeze lifts.
The Challenges Of A Starting Freelance Writing
The biggest hurdle I had to get over as a starting freelance writer was my own mindset.
As a biologist, I was kind of taught that you don’t publish articles unless you’re the world expert in a subject, and only then if you’ve done a spiffy experiment. Ain’t no one hiring me to do personal finance science, and so getting over this hurdle alone was a huge effort.
The second major hurdle was maintaining my work while I was out in the field this summer with my second government job.
I worked an odd two-week rotating schedule: for the first week I’d be camping out in the middle of nowhere in the Western U.S. and working 12-hour days without any internet access. The second week I’d have off back at home. During this time, I’d frantically type at my keyboard until I thought it was going to take off and fly away.
It was exhausting, to say the least—both for me and my poor keyboard. But, it worked—I actually increased my pace during the three months I was doing this.
Finally, a major challenge was being social at FinCon. I had to resist the urge to hide away in my hotel room, rocking myself to calm down while singing happy tunes. I made a conscious effort to get out and talk to people, and I’m glad I did, because I met a ton of new friends and clients. Nearly half of my current client list came as a result of attending FinCon! Of course, the beer helped.
By the end of the year, I had raised my rates by 700% over where I’d started.
That’s not a typo.
I charged $50 per blog post starting out, and just before the year ended I signed a new client on for $350 per blog post.
I’m not sure that a 700% yearly increase is sustainable over the long term, but I’ll sure as hell take it now! If only I could get my day job to give me a 700% annual increase…
Why Freelance Writing Is Such An Awesome Side Hustle For Me
I really like to write. It saves me from having to talk. If you’ve ever met me in real life, I’m pretty much reduced to a gibbering idiot. I can’t put two thoughts together in oral form. But on paper, I’m suddenly transformed into a genius… mua ha ha…
It’s really important for me to have a flexible side gig because my day job demands might mean I’m not here for a week at a time. It kind of makes showing up for in-person engagements a wee bit hard. Of course, that is when I actually even have a job…
More importantly, freelance writing pays really well, especially if you choose your clients wisely. I’ve found the sweet spot to be large companies in high-paying niches, like personal finance. I have one tiny client in the science education field, and they’re my lowest-paying client by far. But I loves them!
Freelance writing is also fun. I spent three years studying one thing really intensely in grad school, and now I’m ready to learn new things. I like that I can spend an hour or two doing research on a new topic, write about it, and then move onto the next thing.
It satisfies my inner ADD person. It’s also way better than the ~5,000 revisions I did for my thesis.
Where to, next?
I’ve switched over into full-time freelance writer mode, at least for the time being. I was due to be hired on a more permanent position with the government, but the Federal hiring freeze put the kibosh on that idea.
So, for the moment, I’m looking for more writing clients (feel free to drop me a line if you’ve got a lead!). I like dogs, reading, and long walks on the beach… 🙂
Speaking of freelance writing clients, I’m going to make more of an effort to reach out into different niches. Personal finance has been a very profitable niche, but I’d still like to stay diversified. If there’s anything I’ve learned, it’s that the more baskets you have your hands in, the safer you’ll be. (Note: this did not work well for me as a kid in the candy shops.)
I’m particularly interested in writing more in the science space, if I can find some clients. I also like outdoor recreation activities like hiking, camping, and fishing. There’s a lot of big businesses in this area, so it’s potentially profitable as well. Other areas I’m looking into include language learning, fitness, arts and crafts, and reading. Too bad sleeping isn’t a well-paying niche—I’m great at that.
Finally, I’m going to continue to work on improving my writing. If I ever get to the point where I think, “Man, I’ve really learned everything there is to know about this writing thing…,” then it’s game over. Time to move on to underwater basketweaving.
Luckily, there is always room for improvement—like with my blog. Money-wise, it was a massive failure this year. It cost me far more than I earned back from it. Should I just give up then? Never. I’ve got ideas. Big ideas. Now it’s just time to muster up some lady ‘nads to get it done.
Have you ever tried freelance writing? Did you make any money? Leave a comment below!