Want to be among the 28% of freelance writers who earn $45 per hour or more? Part of getting there is learning how to treat your freelance content writing more like a business than a hobby.
Most freelance writers aren’t underearning because they don’t write well. They aren’t short on cash because they don’t work hard. They’re struggling because they aren’t paying enough attention to the business side of their business.
Here are seven ways this shows up, and how to counteract each problem.
1. You don’t know what you need to earn per hour.
Fortunately, as Marie Forleo would say, this is “figureoutable.”
Here’s the first question to ask yourself: How much money do you need from your freelance writing to make it worthwhile?
“Worthwhile” meaning it’s a better way to make money than just finding a data-entry job on Flexjobs or folding clothes at Target.
…Or maybe you just want to write “professionally” so badly that you’re willing to break even with what you’d make at Target.
Fair enough. So let’s say you need to earn $2,000 a month. With Target’s $15 per hour wage, you’d need to work 153 hours to earn $2,000 per month with 15% set aside for taxes.
But how long would you have to work as a freelance writer? To answer this question, you’ll need to know how much you’re earning per hour from your freelance writing. Which means you’ll need to log your hours so you know:
- How long it takes you to do the work
- How long it takes you to find the work
- How long it takes you to get paid for the work (because if it takes five emails and hours of you worrying you won’t get paid, that’s time taken up in a very low-return activity)
Just to give you a top-line estimate, as a new freelance writer you’d have to earn about $45 per hour from your writing work to roughly break even with what you’d earn at Target.
This is because about 1/3 of every dollar you earn will go to taxes and overhead (including payroll taxes, which are 15% of your earnings, in addition to state and Federal taxes).
Then another third gets lopped off because it will probably take you at least another one third to one half of your full working time just to find and negotiate the terms of your first writing jobs.
If you can find recurring work (which is the best kind of work to have!), you could cut your required hourly rate down to roughly $25-30 per hour.
This, unfortunately, is why the word “hobby” applies to the work of so many freelance writers. They are getting wooed by the idea of “being published” so badly that they’re barely many a profit.
2. You aren’t consistent.
Are you doing a lot of writing one week, then almost none the next? And almost none the month after that?
Are you sending out a flurry of prospecting emails one day, then don’t send out any more for weeks?
“Success is a habit” didn’t get to be a cliché for no reason. The results of consistency build up over time.
1+ 1 = 3 when it comes to marketing, promotion, and visibility efforts. And those efforts need to be consistent.
3. You don’t have a well-defined plan for sustaining or growing your business.
If you don’t have a plan, you may never get to your goal.
If you don’t know exactly which steps you’re going to take on your path towards making $75 per hour from your freelance writing, you may never earn more than $15 per hour… or less.
And here’s the interesting thing: The plan doesn’t even have to work perfectly.
The plan does not have to work perfectly. Because just having the plan means you’ve got a specific series of actions set up to achieve a defined goal.
If those series of actions don’t get the result you want, you will know your plan isn’t working. And then you will change your plan. But at least you will be conscious about what you’re doing.
You’ll have done your homework and have gotten some clarity about your business and your market. You’ll have defined who your ideal customers are, and what services you’ll provide them.
Just that level of awareness will make you way more likely to succeed.
Without a plan, you’re kind of just floating along, letting the current of freelance writing work take you wherever it wants to go. Trouble is, the current almost always pulls freelance writers into the “easy” way to do freelance writing: To the mills, where you’ll get paid a pittance to do work you’ll never get credit for.
4. You want to follow your passion, instead of the most direct path to money.
A lot of writers furiously resist this idea.
“Follow your passion and the money will come,” is a very popular idea. And a lot of “start your own business” gurus will tell you that it’s true.
And this idea does have its merits: You do need some interest in and enthusiasm for the subject you’re writing about. Otherwise you’ll get bored, write bad content, and be miserable.
However… we have to go back to the idea that freelance writing is not creative writing. At least, the type of freelance writing that makes you money is not creative writing.
I cannot tell you how many freelance writers are earning less than the minimum wage because they’ve let this idea of “follow your passion and the money will come” invade their freelance writing.
They have not yet figured out they’ve got a hobby, not a business, and an expensive hobby at that.
As Jen Sincero wrote in You Are a Badass at Making Money, “’Follow your passion and the money will come’ looks great on a throw pillow, but it doesn’t do much for the bank account.”
5. You aren’t tracking your results.
Which tactic works better for you to get clients:
- Sending cold emails
- Networking on LinkedIn
- Writing a free, once-a-month column for an industry website
If you aren’t tracking your hours and your results even in a low-tech, approximate way, you won’t know which actions you’re taking are actually making a difference.
If you don’t know what’s working – or not working – you’re wasting precious time. You aren’t getting as big of a return on your efforts as you could be getting.
6. You aren’t willing to try new things.
Like so many things today, freelance writing is changing. If you haven’t tried one new tactic to find clients in the last few years, you are missing out on an opportunity. If you haven’t changed your rates or the packages you offer, you’re missing out again.
Successful freelance writers don’t chase every shiny new object, but they do learn about new marketing tactics and pick up new ideas for their businesses.
In other words, they learn.
7. You haven’t set yourself up as a business.
Do you have a business checking account? Business cards? A business credit card?
Do you separate your business and personal expenses?
This is easier than it sounds. But it’s one of the most obvious differentiators of professional writers versus hobby writers.
The Good News: Having a Freelance Writing Business Isn’t Any Harder Than Having a Freelance Writing Hobby
Of course, if you don’t need to make any money from your freelance writing, treating it as a hobby is fine.
But if you do need to make more than pocket money from your writing, it is possible. And here’s the best news: The work required to earn $75 per hour or more from freelance writing is not much harder than the work required to earn $15 or less per hour.
You’ll just be doing different things.