This video summarizes the key findings of a survey of 1,300 freelance writers. If you want to improve your freelance writing business, it’s definitely worth watching.
So what really makes a difference in whether a freelance writer earns a living wage or not? That’s what we’re going to cover in this video.
So about two years ago, I did this really big survey of freelance writers. I asked over thirteen hundred freelance writers about 35 different questions about how they earn their living, how much they earn, where they get clients, how they work, etc.
I was able to break out the results into low earners, medium earners and high earners. As you can see in this pie chart, it broke out fairly neatly with:
28 percent of freelance writers earning less than $15 per hour
28 percent are earning more than $45 per hour
44 percent earning between $15 and $45 per hour
This video is going to cover the differences between those two groups and what the high earners are doing that the lower earners aren’t.
The painful thing I learned in this survey is that most freelance writers, 57 percent, are earning $30 per hour or less. That’s okay compared to many other jobs, but once you pull out 35 percent of every dollar that you earn for taxes and overhead, that $30 per hour starts to get a lot smaller.
The other thing that was actually even more of a concern was that only 11.4 percent of freelance writers were earning $75 per hour or more.
If you’ve ever worked with a freelance writing coach, they’ll tell you that $75 per hour is kind of considered to be a bright line for a professional income for a freelancer. Part of this is because, as I mentioned, 35 percent of every dollar you make is lopped off for taxes and overhead. But freelance writers also have to do things like pay for health insurance, which can be anywhere from $400 to $900 or more per month.
$75 also, if you happen to have children, can be just enough to get from A to B. If you live in a large city, $75 per hour is really required.
So you can certainly can earn a living if you’re bringing in less than $75 per hour. But it is the recommended target for freelance writers and freelancers in general.
So let’s look exactly at what makes a difference between who’s earning a living and who’s not.
Freelance writers who have been doing it for 10 years or more are dramatically more likely to be earning $45 per hour than their under-earning peers.
This was a really a startling takeaway of this survey because it really happens right at 10 years. 10 years is a long time to struggle through. I wouldn’t want you to have to spend any longer in the $15 per hour category than you’d have to.
One of the best ways to get out of that $15 per hour category is to get away from the content mills and to get over to working directly with clients, particularly if you work directly with companies who have 51 employees or more.
These people are a little bit harder to approach… actually they’re not harder to approach, they’re just a little bit more intimidating to approach than, say, a content mill. But look at the difference between the low earners versus the high earners. High earners are like six times more likely to be working with this type of company rather than the under earners who unfortunately are about five times more likely to be working with content mills.
Here’s another really important thing to know about how people are finding their work. This is always a perennial issue with freelance writers is how are you getting work? And so these are honestly the two biggest ways that people get work. Clearly, it’s through their network and client referrals.
So while all these other tactics are good and you might want to have them in your wheelhouse, if you only focus on your personal network and your client referrals, you could probably get from A to B as a freelance writer and be at the $45 per hour earning level or higher just by focusing on these two things.
So if you happen to be having trouble finding work right now, ask yourself, how’s your network? What have you been doing to expand and beef up your network recently? Have you been asking for client referrals? How have you been asking for client referrals? Have you been asking for them more than once? Do you offer a monetary incentive for a client referral?
All of these things are really important and can make a difference whether you’re in the $15 per hour group or the $45 per hour group.
This one is one of my most important takeaways from this survey, and it lined up the most with my own personal experience. As you can see from this chart, people who work with B2B companies, as in business to business companies, are much more likely to earn $45 per hour or more.
It was also interesting in this survey and a different question I asked people basically “the happiness question.” I asked them, “would you recommend freelance writing to a friend?”
The choices to answer with were:
“Absolutely, yes. It’s a great way to earn a living.”
“I would recommend it, but it’s hard and it’s not for everyone.”
Kind of a neutral option of like “I could go either way.”
“I wouldn’t recommend it. It’s a little bit too hard and not rewarding enough.”
“It’s a terrible way to make a living and I wouldn’t recommend it to anybody.
The people who answered more on the positive side were dramatically more likely to be B2B writers. It was really interesting to see the data break out that way.
The B2C writers weren’t universally unhappy, but they were much more likely to say that they would not recommend freelance writing to a friend then the B2B writers.
So here’s another really critical thing about whether people earn a living or not. It’s the type of writing they do. As you can see, all the classic recommendations are here. White papers, case studies, landing pages, press releases, even. These are great ways to earn a high hourly rate. But I am still very fond of the long-form blog post because it’s recurring work. I’ve found in my freelance writing business, the more recurring work I get, the more money I earn per hour and also per month and per annum.
This really popped out in the data because when I did ask people how much recurring work do you get approximately,” the people who said most of their freelance writing work is recurring, they’re twice as likely to earn $45 per hour or more. The people who get no recurring work or very little recurring work are dramatically more likely to be in the group of people earning $15 per hour or less.
I mentioned that one’s personal network and client referrals are the best ways to get clients. This chart really lines up with that idea about the personal network because as you can see, freelance writers who have a significant but not a massive following on social media are much more likely to earn $45 per hour.
I think this all comes down to being visible and having a social media platform is definitely one of the better ways to be visible these days.
Finally, here’s what ended up not making as much of a difference as I thought it was going to.
As you know, we all get recommendations as freelance writers. “You’ve got to have a web site. You’ve got to have a web site.” I absolutely want all freelance writers to have a web site. But here’s the reality: among the high earners, yes, 77 percent of them had a web site. But among the low earners, 64 percent of them had a web site.
This is not like an earthquake’s difference in data. The high earners are a little bit more likely to have their own site, but having a web site alone is no guarantee you’re going to earn a good hourly wage as a freelance writer.
So I hope that was all helpful and it gives you a lot of insights on how you might want to manage your freelance writing business going forward.
Want to know the secret formula that determines how much freelance writers make?
What you can earn from your writing = How much money your writing can generate
That’s it. That’s the “secret” to earning radically more money from your freelance writing.
It’s not hard. It’s not complicated. And it’s definitely not personal… though I can see how it might feel like a personal slight the first time you hear it.
You see, if you’re not being paid well for your writing, it’s probably not because you’re a bad writer. If you have chosen to write out of all the other things you could possibly be doing for money, you’re probably pretty good at it.
If people are paying you to write for them at all, even if they aren’t paying you well, you’re probably a good writer.
But — as you know — being a good writer does not mean you’ll automatically earn good money. Most freelance writing job boards make this abundantly clear. I’m sure you’ve seen job listings offering $30 for “a well-researched, 2,000-word blog post.”
This idea that the quality of our writing does not necessarily equal good pay can be a little challenging for some writers at first. And they’re right to object: To a certain extent, you do have to write well to get paid anything.
But simply being a good writer isn’t enough.
If you want to earn money from your writing — good money, the type of money you can actually live on — you’re going to have to think more like a business person.
You’re going to have to think about the value of the writing pieces you produce.
So here’s the hard news: There’s a reason why most poets are broke. It’s because many people in the world are not willing to hand over $1,000 to read some random person’s poetry. Many people don’t value poetry all that much, and there’s also a ton of free, world-class poetry that they have access to anyway.
So while poetry may be high art, it does not have a very high value in the marketplace.
Poetry is an example of content that, alas, is not likely to generate much money.
Let’s go to the other side of the spectrum. To, say, a blog post for a B2B SaaS (business to business, software as a service) company.
This blog post, in the hands of a smart marketer, can be used to generate hundreds of leads over the course of a year. And because the B2B SaaS company sells expensive stuff, the value of each of those leads is about $50.
So that one piece of content, in the right hands, can be used to generate tens of thousands of dollars.
For that piece of content, that chunk of words that generates tens of thousands of dollars of business per year… any smart marketer is happy to pay $1,000.
So while that blog post is not high art, it has an extremely high market value.
Now here’s the problem: Most of the people “buying” content from freelance writers aren’t all that smart with our content. Most of the people buying content from freelance writers don’t earn much money from our content.
And because they don’t earn much money from our content, they can’t pay us very much.
Here are several examples of this in play:
The Hobby Blog
So this little hobby blog just got started. It’s getting maybe 100 visitors a month. The owner makes their money from affiliate links. The blog owner is earning about $50 per month.
This person hires you to write a few blog posts for them. They pay you $30 per blog post, which seems like a generous sum to them, given how little money they have to work with in the first place. They want a few 1000-word, “well-researched” posts.
Each of these posts takes you about three hours to write if you’re efficient. You earn $10.00 per hour… if we only count your writing time. This is 3 cents per word (which just so happens to be the going rate at most content farms).
Your hourly earnings are above the Federal minimum wage of $7.25, but given that you are not an employee and you have to pay payroll taxes (which are often more than Federal taxes) and you have to pay all your overhead costs and you get no vacation or sick days, that $10 per hour dries up quickly.
The hobby blog cannot afford to pay you any more than $30 because they aren’t earning even $30 from the posts you write for them. They have basically no revenue and no real prospects for generating a revenue any time soon.
They lose money on your content even after they’ve paid you dirt-cheap prices for your work. It’s not that they don’t care how much freelance writers make; it’s that they aren’t making much money themselves.
The Digital Magazine
A digital magazine has 3,000 paying subscribers and about 20,000 website visitors per month. They get their income from those subscribers and from advertising (another $1,500 per month).
$20 per year x 3,000 subscribers = $60,000 per year = $5,000 per month
$1,500 per month from advertising
Total income per month = $6,500
That $6,500 per month gets cut to $1,500 per month for editorial content once they’ve paid their overhead, which includes website hosting, design services, the phone bill, rent, one person’s part-time salary, and other costs.
The digital magazine publishes 20 articles per month. They pay $75 per article.
Each article is about 1,500 words and usually includes at least one original quote or interview from a source.
It takes you, the efficient freelance writer, four hours to write an article like this.
You earn $18.75 per hour, not counting the time you spend getting the assignment or any other back and forth with your Editor. And that’s before you pay taxes or your overhead, of course.
As you’ve probably guessed already, the digital magazine cannot afford to pay you any more than $75 per article.
Even if you suddenly became twice as good a writer, your Editor still wouldn’t be able to pay you a whole lot more. Your “reward” for being a good writer is to get the assignment at all. And even at these prices, most digital magazines have their pick of writers because there are so many freelance writers and so many freelance writers are willing to work for low pay.
The B2B blog
A software as a service company offers a marketing tool that they charge their customers for each month. They have 3,000 customers who pay them an average of $50 every month.
From that $150,000 of income every month, they have a marketing budget of $22,500. They’ve set aside $2,400 per month for blog content, which is 10.6% of their monthly marketing budget.
You get paid $600 to write one blog post per week for them. It takes you about five hours to write each blog post, so you earn $120 per hour. Even after you pay taxes and overhead, and you allocate some funds for vacation and sick days, your earnings come out just above $75 per hour.
The marketing manager of this company knows how to monetize content. So they add a call to action at the close of each of your blog posts. They know how to promote your posts so your content gets enough traffic to drive business.
So the company gets about 100 leads from your blog post within the first three months of it being published. Each of these lead is worth $10 to the company. They have not only made their money back from paying you, but they have also earned a $400 profit.
This is how the business of content works
This is called monetizing content.
If you are not writing for people or businesses who know how to monetize content, you aren’t writing for people who can afford to pay you well.
In fact, many of the people you are writing for right now are probably losing money from the content you’re writing for them, even though they’re paying you a pittance for your work. This may be why they only hire you to write a few pieces for them, and then they stop, rather than continuing to work with you for years on end as a valued content partner.
So here’s the deal: If you want to earn more — much more — from your writing, it’s time to start thinking like a business person. It’s time to understand how businesses monetize content.
If you’d like to learn more about how top freelance writers think about their work and their clients, the ebook below will help.
Requesting it will also sign you up for my email list, which will get you access to even more strategies highly-paid freelancers use to earn up to 10x more than their underearning peers.