Can Freelancers Retire? 7 Basic Ways Writers Can Prepare for Retirement

Carol Tice

If you have been or want to be a freelance writer, you might have wondered:

Can freelancers retire?

Yes, they can!

I got this question from a reader recently:

After a 20+ year career in nonprofit fundraising I’ve been consulting in the field for the past six years and really focusing on writing for them for the past two. So far, so good.

On a recent “weekend retreat” with my wife, we were talking about the business’ future and how when I go, it goes.

So having “the end in mind,” what’s the end game in freelance copywriting? How do you create something so that when it’s time to “fade into the sunset” there may be something to offer someone to buy as a result of my hard work?

Thanks — Matt.

So, can freelancers retire?

There are a few ways freelance writers can get themselves in a position to retire, Matt:

Create your own ebooks

If you can create ebooks over the years, they could sell for you more or less on autopilot, through word of mouth from people who’ve already bought them, and continue to earn for you.

I’m just getting started on this myself with the one ebook I have out, but I’m hoping to create a whole list of ebooks with writing-biz basics that can keep earning for me in future.

If you’re interested in learning more about how to write and publish a book, check out Self-Publishing School.

Create your own e-courses

With webinars and video technology where it’s at today, it’s not hard to create courses that can keep on teaching for you and bringing in revenue, long after you’ve stopped actively teaching. All the live events I create for Freelance Writers Den fall into this category.

For more information on e-courses, you can check out this article on best online course platforms.

Create a blog you can sell

Some blogs offer so much valuable information to readers that they eventually grow a big enough audience to attract a company that wants to buy the blog outright.

Examples I know offhand include the finance blogs Mint.com (which sold for a reported $170 million) and Get Rich Slowly, as well as Freelance Writing Gigs in my own writing-advice niche.

The key here is that the blog not be a cult of personality that’s all about you, but about a topic of high interest to a broad audience, where a buyer could hire other experts in your industry to run it after you depart. The Write Life is a great example of this as well.

Create a Web-based service business you can sell

Sometimes, in the course of pursuing your writing career, you get an idea for a related business you could start. That’s what happened to Peter Shankman with Help a Reporter Out — and it became a smash hit.

Ad revenue rose to a reported $1 million a year. It was sold to Vocus in 2010.

Write direct mail copy

In some direct mail writing scenarios, the writer earns a royalty on sales made through the copy they wrote. I don’t have any of these gigs lined up, but I gather some of the biggest copywriters have created ongoing revenue streams this way.

Write a smash-hit, evergreen business or how-to book

I’m sure the authors of the perennial business bestseller The 1-Minute Manager don’t worry about whether they can retire, for instance. If you have nonpareil information that could keep selling for years, write that book proposal and start pitching it around.

Chad Allen has a great program for crafting book proposals. A thorough review of his course has been written here.

Sock money away and/or live on the cheap

Any way you slice it, freelancers are really just like employees when it comes to retirement. If you save money, you can retire on it. If you don’t, your options are fewer. It’s just that we don’t have easy 401(k) plans set up for us — though our options are growing. For US-based freelancers, Betterment actually has some good options for direct-to-consumer retirement plans (and low fees).

If you’re serious about retirement, master the art of living below your means. Look at your expenses and make a commitment to cutting back.

Then, start saving money, every month. If you’re young, you can use the magic of compound interest to grow your small savings over time. Even if you’re not, it’s never too late to start saving.

Money in the bank gives you the power to say ‘no’ to assignments you don’t want and to say when you want to call it quits on working.

I think too many writers just wring their hands and give up on ever retiring — dooming them to poverty-stricken later years — rather than figuring out how to acquire the habit of saving.

Also…not everyone envisions retiring to a 7,000-square foot beach villa and traveling the world.  You may not need $1 million to retire on if you are a simple-living type.

Are you planning to retire? Leave a comment and tell us how you’re making it happen.

35 Comments

  1. Clara

    The book proposal pitch resonated with a bang! I’ve been writing my motivational & developmental blog for over 4 years…It’s no time like the present to get the book out:) Already tweeted, linkedin and facebooked working title, premise and expected publication date. Maybe I should have written the proposal first?

  2. Ali

    That’s GREAT stuff… I never even thought about it… Of course, I’m not retiring any time soon, but you never know what’s coming for you 🙂

    Carol, this post takes what Sean Platt is always preaching to the next level: build assets instead of working your heart out for your clients all the time.

  3. Allie

    Carol,

    In any business one should plan for the future. Thanks for the specifics for freelance writers.

    You know what I find amusing. That many people that love what they do, I mean a passion, think that one day they will retire. But they don’t. They “retire” and then wonder “what the heck do I do now, I loved what I was doing.” LOL. And many times go back to the field they were in.

    These tips are not only great for retiring but to secure a better future and more financial freedom.

    Thanks.

    ~Allie

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