How long does it take to start earning income as a freelance writer, and how much do they make? A new freelance writer, Kathy, wrote me recently with this question.
Her computer needs a memory upgrade, and she was wondering how long it would be before she could pay off the expense with her freelance earnings:
I just need some reliable data from somewhere that someone who is beginning at freelancing (as I am) is not going to have to wait two-three years to make $800-$1,000 a month on a quasi-regular basis.
I’d love to get started at grantwriting and other more lucrative assignments, but I imagine it takes quite a bit of time to actually get an assignment.
As it happens, there are studies about how much freelance writers make. The Writer’s Market notes typical rate ranges for various writing gigs. Copywriter Chris Marlow sells a survey on what copywriters make.
But here’s the problem: These surveys don’t tell you anything about what you will earn.
Why? You are not a statistical average. You are an individual. Your situation is unique.
Like the auto-industry people like to say, your mileage may vary.
What will Kathy earn? In my view, that depends on the answers to a few questions:
- Are you willing to take a class in grantwriting, if that’s your interest?
- Do you have previous experience in grantwriting?
- Why are your earning goals so low? A typical full-time freelancer makes quite a bit more than your stated range.
- Are you able to wait up to three years to start making money? I don’t know many would-be freelancers who could hold out that long — most need to make it happen sooner. I’m curious why you bring up such a long timeframe. In my view, if you’re two years in and not getting any paying work at all — or even six months in — it may be time to reconsider your plans.
- How crazy-hot are you to become a freelance writer? If you’re burning up to do this, maybe you’ve got the drive to make it happen.
- Why do you assume it will take a long time to get assignments? It might not take long at all, depending on your writing background and whether you’re willing to aggressively market your writing. You might cold-call and find a great business client your first week.
Assumptions are powerful in the freelance-writing game. Your mindset will often shape what comes to pass.
For instance: When I got back into freelancing in 2005, I thought I could build my freelance-writing business fairly rapidly. Whaddaya know — within six months, I was earning as much as my previous salary as a staff writer.
How to tell what you’ll make, and how soon
Yes, every writer is unique, and it’s difficult to predict how quickly any one freelance writer will start earning, and how much they’ll make.
This is the type of question my friend Anne Wayman likes to call a “How long is a piece of string” question.
How long will it take? How much will you make? In large part, that’s up to you.
But I do have a theory about how you can tell.
In my years of mentoring other writers, I’ve discovered there are some basic factors that tend to predict freelance-writing success. I’ve turned them into a quick, 10-point quiz. I’ll post the quiz later this week and you can check it out.
What do you think predicts writer success? Leave your factors in the comments below.
Do you have questions about how to earn more from your writing? Learn more in my freelance writer community — take ecourses, attend live events, and ask writing pros your questions in our forums.