Let’s face it — 2020 was a disaster for most people.
In addition to the tremendous health impact the pandemic had on our country, there was also a significant economic toll. Tens of millions of Americans lost their jobs due to the pandemic, leaving so many people struggling to find work and make ends meet.
But there’s one industry where, at least on the surface, things weren’t disrupted quite so much — freelance writing.
As freelancers, we already work from home. We set our own hours and make our own rates (unless you’re stuck working in a content mill).
Of course, freelancers still require clients who will actually hire them and pay them, and with so many businesses struggling in 2020, it got us wondering:
What was the impact of COVID-19 on freelance writers? Did their income take a hit? Did they have to lower their rates to accommodate clients who may have been struggling to keep their own businesses afloat?
With that in mind, we surveyed over 700 current US freelance writers to get a better understanding of how they fared in 2020. We asked a number of questions about their overall income, their project rates, how they found clients, and more, and the results were pretty interesting.
We partnered with the data analysis team at Mindnet Analytics to conduct an online survey of 712 current male and female US full-time freelance writers from the time period of April 14-21, 2021.
Of those surveyed, about 26% have been freelancing for 3-5 years, 17% for 10+ years, 25% for 1-2 years, 12% for 6-9 years, and 20% for less than a year.
We asked a number of questions to determine how freelancers fared in 2020, and the results are compiled below.
Overall, most writers saw their income either increase or at least stay the same in 2020 compared to 2019.
Let’s start with the good news. Only 28% of freelancers said their income decreased in 2020 compared to the prior year. 55% of writers said their income either stayed about the same or increased in 2020. That’s great news! About 16.5% of writers still haven’t run the numbers on their 2020 income totals just yet.
Content mill & gig site writers are about half as likely to earn a six-figure income as those who work with clients outside of those sites
Now let’s get to some of the sadder news, at least for those who are getting their clients from content mills (e.g. Textbroker, Writer Access, etc.) or gig sites (e.g. Upwork, Fiverr, etc.).
2 out of 3 full-time freelancers who get their clients from content mills and/or gig sites make $25,000 a year or less. On the other hand, just 1 out of 3 freelancers who get clients outside of those avenues earn that little.
Furthermore, freelancers who get their own clients or work with marketing/ad agencies are roughly twice as likely (about a 17% chance) to make $100,000 or more than those who write for mills or gig sites (about a 9% chance).
Content mill & gig site writers earn far lower rates for projects on average
We asked writers how much they charge for various projects (blog posts of various lengths, feature articles, sales copywriting, etc.), and there’s one very clear trend — writers on content mills and gig sites get significantly lower rates than other freelancers.
Here are some examples:
- 23% of freelancers working on content mills or gig sites earn $20 or less on average for a 500-750 word blog post. On the other hand, only about 13% of freelancers who work directly with their own clients or get outsourced work from marketing agencies report making that little. Furthermore, freelancers who work outside of the mills and gig sites are twice as likely to earn over $150 for this kind of work.
- About 27% of freelancers on mills and gig sites say they earn less than $100 per article for print or high-end digital publications (non blog) on average, while only 8% of freelancers who work directly with their own clients say the may that little.
- Just 2.5% of freelancers in the mills or gig sites say they earn $75 an hour or more on sales copywriting projects, while over 12% of freelancers working outside of those spots report earning these great rates.
More than half of content mill writers earn less than $20 an hour
About 57% of freelancers working in content mills or gig sites say they average about $20 an hour or less overall with all of the work they do.
Conversely, just 34% of freelancers working outside of those sites report making that little.
Furthermore, freelancers working outside of the mills and gig sites are about 3-4x likelier to have an average earnings of $45 or more per hour than those working on those kinds of platforms.
Methodology & Other Details
The survey took place from April 14-21, 2021 and only US respondents were allowed to participate. Participant source was a mix of Amazon Mechanical Turk (freelance writers only with a 95% or higher approval rating) and multiple freelance writer email lists. Participants that completed the survey in less than 30 seconds were removed prior to analysis to exclude anyone who did not read the questions carefully, leaving a final total sample size of 712 US freelance writers.
Confidence Level: 95%, 4% margin of error