Can You Really Earn a Living as a Freelance Writer?

Carol Tice

Skeptical business womanI have earned a full-time living from freelancing for over 10 years.

There are more than 500 posts on here describing various aspects of how you can make a living as a freelance writer, too. Most of them are based on my actual experience of finding and working with freelance clients, both magazines and businesses.

I’ve documented my most successful freelance year in detail.

Discussed how I built a lucrative paid blogging niche.

Provided detailed answers to reams of questions from freelancers about how to get started and build your business.

I’ve shared chapter and verse on how I’ve used my writer website and social media to get clients.

I have done everything short of xeroxing my client paychecks and posting them here as I share exactly how I have gotten and worked with freelance writing clients since 2008 on this blog.

From decades back, long before me, books have been published and mentors were busy helping writers learn how to turn their craft into a living.

And yet, at the end of it all, I still get the question in this headline. Often asked a bit bashfully, doubtfully, skeptically, incredulously.

But…so…can you really make a living as a freelance writer?

I also get blog comments like this:

Conny-you're a scam

And this:

Sandy-I have no luck

In case you hadn’t heard: I’m a scam.

There’s a basic feeling in some quarters that if you ever sell anything to anyone that transmits your advice, then it must be a ripoff. That if you really earned a living doing the thing, you’d do that thing instead of teach about it.

For people who believe that, there’s nothing I can do to convince you that you could earn a full-time living with your writing, even though probably 90% of coaches in anything coach full time off their knowledge of their past career.

That’s the norm, and I’m the exception as a coach who’s still a working freelancer.

But for some, that is just snake-oil I’m selling, and not anything that could ever be real.

Which is too bad…because freelance writing is a real career. But there’s a catch: You can only be one if you believe that’s true.

I’ve learned no matter how much evidence you give of the many viable opportunities in freelance writing today, there are some people you will never convince.

Here’s why:

The frame of reference problem

As human beings, how we perceive what’s happening depends on our own experiences.

We contextualize information, putting into our own frame of reference as we evaluate whether it’s believable and credible.

Which is why you get comments like this one:

Jacob-conventional wisdom

And this one, in response to my post about how I earned six figures entirely from freelance gigs in 2011:

Conny-I don't believe youWhen the only other writers you ever talk to are on content mills or stay-at-home mom chat boards, and no one you know has ever earned more than $10 an article or $15,000 in a year, it can be hard to believe what you’re doing is a real living somewhere.

You have no context for that.

If you personally don’t know anyone who has figured out how to earn a living as a writer, or you have tried Craiglist or Elance and had “no luck” finding decent-paying gigs, you might think that’s because it’s not possible to do it.

In reality, all that’s happened is you just haven’t discovered where the paying markets are yet, and how to reach them. Chances are you don’t even have a writer website up, and don’t realize no one is taking you seriously as a result.

Your vision of what is possible is narrow. That can only change when you entertain the possibility that the world might be wider than you ever imagined.

When you start to wonder whether the “conventional wisdom on the Internet” could just be wrong.

That you in fact possess the potential to live a life where you are your own boss, and do what you love for a living.

Can you see the potential?

They say the biggest challenge Moses had wasn’t leading the Israelites through the desert for 40 years.

It was first convincing them, after generations of slavery, that they had the potential to be free.

Some people don’t want to hear that they could be freelance writers. Because then they’ll have to do a whole bunch of scary stuff to pursue their dream. Quit the day job, learn to market themselves, fight their way toward the lifestyle they’ve always dreamed of having.

It’s easier to pronounce it all a myth.

But for those who can see over the horizon, I’d like to help.

And I’d like to ask for your assistance with that today.

Share your success

If you are someone who has found good-paying writing work through my advice — whether the free posts here on the blog, or my classes, or from being a Freelance Writers Den member — I’d appreciate it if you would share your success in the comments below.

I’ve accepted that there will always be skeptics, and that I can’t help every writer. Only the ones who are ready to be helped.

But maybe if people see how many writers are full-time freelancers, it could change a few people’s frame of reference about this career.

They could realize this isn’t a scam, but something they could really do, if they have the drive and the resolve to do it. And a road map from someone who’s been there.

To answer the question, can you make a living as a freelance writer? You most certainly can.

I came from nothing, with no degree or connections, and have paid my bills with it since about 1995. And I am definitely not the only one who earns a living this way.

But don’t take my word for it — read the comments below.

Are you making good money as a freelancer? Leave a comment and tell us your story.

 

 

158 Comments

  1. Kevin Casey

    Hi Carol –

    To those who say it’s ‘impossible’ for someone to make a 6 figure income solely as a freelance writer, I would say look at my situation: I started off my freelancing career with a couple of dubious content mills late in 2013, made very little money, did a few other things (part-time work) and then ditched them entirely in mid-2104 and started pursuing my own clients through networking (especially LinkedIn). In the past 6 months (since Oct. 2014) I’ve made about $36,000, and this is writing part-time (I travel the world 2-3 months a year, and only work 9 or 10). Many days I don’t write at all, and I take a week off whenever I choose.

    And what’s more, most of this income came from only 2 clients (a major insurer and a world-renowned software developer). I should hasten to add that when I took on these jobs I knew virtually nothing about insurance and zero about software (I don’t even own a mobile phone).

    My best month was February – I made $7200 in that month alone. Now, I’ve only really been seriously going after my own clients since about late September 2014, and if I chose to work harder (and travel less!) I could easily make over $100,000 during my second full year as a freelance writer.

    I don’t have my own blog (but I have been paid up to $450 a pop to write others’ blog posts), I don’t have a sign-up newsletter on my very basic WordPress writer site, and I don’t sell any eBooks, courses or anything else at the moment. 100% of my income comes from writing for quality clients who appreciate my skill and pay me well for it. It’s that simple. I do what I do professionally, and I treat good clients like gold.

    Certainly, if anyone is hoping to make $100,000 a year as a writer, they need to stop looking for work on job boards, content mills and bidding sites and start to laser in on the clients they really want to write for (I, for example, specifically target successful, rapidly growing businesses).

    If I can make $36,000 in 6 months (part-time) during my first year as a serious freelance copywriter, then I could easily make over $100,000 next year if I just ramped up the productivity level a smidgen. Of course, I do like the travelling, however, so I may not bother!

    Cheers,
    Kevin Casey

    • Carol Tice

      Kevin — I’m going to email you about a few things — Linda Formichelli and I are looking to do some success case studies on writers who have kicked content mills…and I’m also planning a post about people who’ve made $200+ writing blog posts.

      Plus…are you a Den member? We have a new level for people like you, who’d like to double their income…but I can only tell you about it right now if you are a current member. Not yet available to the general public, but sounds like a GREAT fit for you.

  2. Oana

    Carol, I literally just came across your website, so for everyone reading this – rest assured, I’m unbiased.

    I have been freelance writing since 2012, and I made some very good money with it. I think it’s crazy that some people still don’t believe it, considering all the established freelance sites online where you can see freelances making money and clients posting jobs. But that’s just how it is, no need to worry about people who think is a scam, everyone choose to live in their own limits.

    I started freelance writing because I wanted to work online and travel the world. I had a business degree, a passion to travel and an open mind. I’ve been self-employed since then with most of my income coming from freelance writing. I made most of my income on Elance and PeopleperHour, which is not amazing income, but if you pick the jobs carefully and work smartly, it can rival a standard office job.

    Anyway, off I go reading more from Carol and learning how to take my freelance business even further!

    • Carol Tice

      I would bet that business degree gave you a real edge. I think having been a business reporter really helped me, I’d been studying business for years, so I instinctively knew I needed a business approach to freelancing.

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