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Want to be a Six-Figure Freelancer? Here’s What That’s Really Like

Carol Tice

What it's like to be a Six-Figure Freelance Writer. Makealivingwriting.comI meet a lot of writers who say their goal is to become a six-figure freelancer.

You may find some ‘experts’ online who’ll tell you they earn six figures freelancing and hardly work — that they’re vacationing all the time, driving luxury cars, and enjoying the good life…and I’m here to tell you, they’re lying.

I’ve been a six-figure writer since 2011, when I hit that number entirely from my freelance gigs — not counting any blog or Freelance Writers Den revenue. At this point, I’ve had a few years to experience what this lifestyle is really like.

Money â‰  happy

Am I going to tell you it sucks to have money? No.

But now that I finally have some, and I’m not scrambling to pay basic bills while slowly sinking into debt — the mode I was in for most of my adult life — I’ve discovered there are many things money can’t fix. And getting that money usually comes with some very real costs to your personal life.

This is why studies often show that beyond the point where your basic needs are met, there’s not much increase in happiness as people earn more. A recent study from 2013 found $75,000 a year was the cutoff, beyond which people were no happier.

Lifestyles of the well-paid freelancer

Still interested to be a top-paid freelancer? Here’s the lifestyle I’ve had, and that of most freelance writers I know who’re paid at this level:

  • Long hours. I’ve never met a six-fig freelance writer who doesn’t work a *ton* of hours. Work, work, work. We get up before our kids wake, or work after they sleep, we work on Sunday — often, we also work while on vacation. Not fun.
  • Low glamour. Often, the best-paying gigs aren’t your dream topic or magazine — but you take them for the money. “I’m like a machine, stamping out hamburgers,” one well-paid writer-friend once told me, as she turned in yet another arcane trade-publication article on new refrigeration technology for convenience stores. If you’re one of those people who’s in it for fame and to write what they want, it may be hard to earn well. A lot of the good-paying work doesn’t carry a byline.
  • Do the hustle. It’s tough to earn big if you’re in feast-and-famine mode. The only way to prevent that is constant marketing to ensure a steady stream of client leads and new work. Having lots of offers is what drives your rates up and lets you pick and choose the best ones to grow your income. Of course, you need a good invoicing system too, in order to ensure you’re billing your clients consistently and they are paying you promptly.
  • Deadline pressure. Better-paying clients tend to want their assignments done right and on time. Top freelancers usually have ongoing work from clients, so blowing an assignment could drastically affect future income. To sum up, it’s pressure, pressure, pressure — often while you deal with some pretty persnickety people, or downright PITA clients. A lot of the good-paying jobs pay well because no one wants to do them…for good reason.
  • Walking the high wire. When you’re earning well, you’re often working on big, complex, important projects. Your reputation is on the line. You’ll be asked to do the impossible in no time with nothing, and have to calmly pull that off.

If you’re still interested in earning the big bucks, let’s talk about what that money can — and can’t buy you.

What money buys

Here are some of the thrills I’ve enjoyed as a six-figure freelancer — I can:

  • Buy organic food, like I always wanted to
  • Take a vacation that does not involve a tent
  • Hire a babysitter and have date nights
  • Buy a new dress for $75 without worrying I’ll bounce a check
  • Afford healthcare premiums that are sky-high as a self-insured U.S. freelancer, and to pay all the deductibles and copays for all the care my family needs
  • Pay off debts — most writers I know list this as the first action they take as their income grows, and that’s a good idea.
  • Remodel the rundown — like my leaking upstairs shower, after several years of waiting.
  • Stop worrying about money, which was occupying some serious head space before.

All good stuff, right?

I’m not gonna lie — it’s been a huge relief to get out of ‘survival’ mode, and to become essentially debt-free, aside from my mortgage.

But it’s also been a rude awakening for me, learning money’s harsh limits. When you’ve never had money — and I grew up very working-class — you imagine having it will solve all your problems.

Spoiler alert: it won’t.

What money can’t buy

What have I found money isn’t that much use for?

  • You can’t buy back your children’s childhood. The time we spend working while they’re young is an opportunity gone forever. Even though I ended up working from financial necessity, I still have regrets. The same goes for single people who aren’t taking the time to date.
  • Doesn’t change your genetics or body type. My hair is still falling out (my dad was bald at age 28). No cure. Rogaine makes me break out in a rash. At this point, my knees only hurt if I do a vigorous workout — or if I don’t. And I don’t notice those extra 10-15 pounds are any easier to lose with a bigger bank account.
  • Mental illness endures. While it’s a comfort that I do have some resources to pay for therapists, treatment programs, and the like, mental illnesses are brain disorders and for many affected people, a medication solution that allows them to lead productive lives remains elusive.
  • Broken things still need fixing. Recently, our home’s heater broke, and it took 8 weeks to repair. Money couldn’t speed up the process — the HVAC pros were baffled. It took three teams to solve it. We were chopping and hauling logs like a pioneer family.
  • Love. You may have heard money can’t buy it. True — though it can get you spoiled, irresponsible kids who expect a shopping spree every weekend. “Why don’t you just get it for me, mom? I know you have the money.”
  • Peace of mind. People still seem to shout and fight in my household, and nothing I do seems to stop it. Possibly, with more money and more stuff, they have more to fight over. As Rabbi Hillel said: “The more possessions, the more worries.”

Am I trying to talk you out of aiming for the stars with your freelancing? Definitely not…if it’s what you really want.

But consider the tradeoffs in your quality of life as you ramp up your freelancing. Ironically, it turns out money usually comes at a price.

Do you want to be a six-figure freelancer? Let’s discuss in the comments.