The Lowdown on What Freelancers Earn and How They Find Good Clients

Carol Tice

The Lowdown on Freelance Writer Pay - 2012 Freelancer Report Infographic. Makealivingwriting.comHave you been wondering if you can really earn a good living as a freelance writer?

Well, today, I’ve got some hard data to unpack for you about freelancers’ lives — what we’re earning and how we get good clients.

The info comes from Ed Gandia’s 2012 Freelance Industry Report, a survey of more than 1,500 freelancers in all fields.

Let’s start with probably the hottest question in freelancing — what can you make?

Ed has figures for freelancers overall as well as writers and editors/proofreaders.

Let’s compare (I’m rounding these figures off, folks):

Earnings for all types of freelancers

12% make over $100 an hour

41% make over $70 an hour

67.5% make over $50 an hour

Earnings for writers

14% make over $100 an hour

31% make over $70 an hour

61% make over $50 an hour

Earnings for editors/copyeditors

2% make over $100 an hour

13% make over $70 an hour

33% make over $50 an hour

 Earnings for copywriters

24% make over $100 an hour

53% make over $70 an hour

78% make over $50 an hour

You may have heard copywriting is a highly paid niche…and there’s the proof.

Also, check out all of the proof there that writers can make a good living. More than half make over $50 an hour! Hopefully that gives writers a sense of where to set their rates.

Three fun facts about freelance writing

  • 60 percent of the writers bid by the project, the survey found. Which is how you want to do it.
  • Over 40 percent of freelance writers report they earn more as freelancers than they did in their previous full-time jobs. I just knew I wasn’t the only one!
  • Roughly half of freelancers report the economic downturn has had no or “very minor” impact on their business.
  • (For more fun facts, check out that infographic!)

Marketing that works…and doesn’t

What did freelancers report were the best ways to get clients?

Referrals 27%

Word of mouth 24%

“Tapping my personal/professional network” 17%

From there, it goes down fast — the next best was looking at online bid sites with 6 percent. Email marketing was effective for less than 5 percent of respondents.

What really sucked in marketing

Social media 3%

Cold calling 2%

Craigslist ads 1.5%

I’m not sure where they put LinkedIn in all that — referrals? Word of mouth? Social media? But want to say it’s been a great source of leads for me.

Why it’s a great time to be a freelancer

If you feel weary of learning all about how to market your business and find clients, take heart.

The fact is, you’re smart to slog through the muck and learn how to do it now.


In the future, many more freelancers will be joining our ranks. One survey forecast that the number of freelancers will grow from the current one-quarter of the workforce to as much as half of all workers, as companies increasingly outsource creative services.

People who are freelancing now will have their businesses established and earning while workers who figure out this macro-trend late will have to scramble to learn how to operate their own freelance business.

Join my freelance writer community


  1. Neil

    This are amazing stats. It reiterates why I am glad to be part of this movement. Now, I simply have to get to that point with more aggressive marketing and finding my niche.

    I read too often about some people like me, but who are the whiners and complainers, that are not at that point in their career. The fact is we each make our own beds to lie in and roads to travel. If I am not at the point mentioned in the above blog, then the fault is no one’s but mine.

    I have the talent for writing with no doubts about that. Getting past the paralysis of analysis and simply market more vociferously is the key.

    Thanks again


  2. Nancy A. Locke

    Good morning, Carol,

    Thank you for a terrific and very useful post. I’ve registered for the International Freelancers Day event.

    Like you, the evaluation of social media stumped me, too. I’ll be flagging this post for all my SM friends in my networks. Perhaps they can respond to that perception.


  3. Damien

    Wow I’m staggered by how many freelancers are making over $50 an hour. Curious to see what the sample size was and where they were drawn from! (The link to the workforce article seems to be broken by the way).

    • Carol Tice

      Yeah, I’m sure that’s going to be an eye-opener for many on these rates.

      In the Den, I so often have the experience of getting asked what I charge for some task, and when I tell them the bottom rate I would ever possibly entertain, they about fall over because it’s 2-3x higher than they were thinking! The content mills and race-to-the-bottom bid sites train everyone to think there is no pay for freelancing anymore.

      But as soon as you leave what I like to call the freelance writing Underworld…you can discover plenty of clients willing to pay professional rates.

    • Ed Gandia

      Hi Damien — The sample size was 1,491 freelancers. There’s a page towards the end of the report that explains in detail how we announced the survey and how we gathered the info. Check it out — the report is free and there’s no registration required.

  4. Bethanny Parker

    Most of my clients find me through my website. I don’t think that fits any of the categories.

    • Carol Tice

      Yeah, me too, and I was also disappointed to not see a category for inbound marketing…going to ask Ed if he can add that next year!

      • Ed Gandia

        Bethany — That question in the survey was worded as follows:

        Historically, what has been your MOST effective method for finding and landing clients for your freelance business?

        We included “SEO” as one of the possible responses to that question. We also had an “other” field where you could enter your own answer.

        Only 1.7% named SEO as their most effective method. Our thinking was that a website is not usually a first landing point by itself. Something has to drive a prospect to your website — either a search engine, a recommendation from a friend to check out your site, an ad, a business card you handed to someone in a networking event, etc. All these examples I mentioned were choices listed. So our thinking was that respondents would choose the real *driver* of the inquiry into your services.

        However, we may change this in next year’s survey so it’s clearer. That may involve adding an “inbound marketing” category.

        Thanks for the input — very helpful!

        • Carol Tice

          What I think is interesting is these are the methods people say they are using…not necessarily which ones work best! I think it may point the way to using some of the methods that few writers are using as a way to stand out.

  5. Thomas

    I don’t mean to sound pessimistic, but all this news sounds great at first, until we learn how many writers are fighing publications for their pay-contracts or no contracts.

    The National Writer’s Union is currently fighting a once-reputable magazine in Minneapolis in hopes that they pay the writers who did a lot of work for them.

    This is no isolated story, as many writers face similar battles.

    This was a great post, but a certain reality needs to be faced by us: a contract is no guarantee of payment-well-maybe after a long court battle it may be.

    Just a word of caution.

    • Carol Tice

      While it’s true that there are always a few deadbeat publications and companies out there, Thomas, the vast majority are great. I’ve even had publications fold and I still got paid, for an article that never even ran.

  6. Barry

    It seems that one major issue notably absent from the enthusiastic accounts of high hourly rates and the claim that one can make the same amount freelancing as at a regular job is health insurance. The cost of a health insurance plan for one who freelances becomes much higher. So I need to make much MORE freelancing than I do at a regular job in order to suggest that I’m just as well off. No?

    • Carol Tice

      I think most hourly employees don’t make $100 an hour, Barry. That’s why most freelancers are aiming for $50-$100 an hour or more — you have many expenses you pay out of pocket as a freelancer, especially healthcare, that you don’t shoulder as an employee.

      I net more now backing out every additional cost I have as a freelancer — still way more. I’d think most of the writers who’re seeing those rates would say the same.

  7. J. Delancy

    I downloaded Gandia’s book a few days ago. It makes for interesting reading and gives me hope for my future.

  8. Sophie Lizard

    Thanks for sharing this, Carol – yet more proof that freelance writing isn’t about being a starving artist in a garret somewhere!

    I was very happy to see those stats, and I’ll be sharing them with all my freelance blogging friends who are undercutting their value. 🙂

    • Carol Tice

      Yeah — spread the word!

  9. Rob Schneider

    According to the US Dept. of Labor, writers average $26.64 an hour and make $55,420 a year – This seems more realistic than the survey above suggests, but does not, I think, necessarily refute it. There are legions of us who have been willing to work for $10hr or less because we’ve been suckered into thinking that’s the going rate.

    I just spent an inordinate amount of time researching the online writing job platforms for a blog post and the best paying one I found paid $27.40/525 words after taking their cut. All those companies who hire writers through that service would jump at the chance to hire someone direct for $40/500 words or more if they knew how to find them (that’s about what they pay the service).

    Interestingly, this service accepts US based writers only. Why? It’s because they are tapping the market for better quality writing. This is interesting to me because so many freelancers whine that ESL writers are dragging prices down. That’s only true if you’re looking for gigs on bidding sites and content mills.

    Great blog and it’s nice to be getting closer to the facts about freelance writing.

  10. Techboy Rocky

    I am really surprised seeing this info that how much some writers are earning online. Indian writers are writing articles for just 5-6$ but I wish that I could also earn like others. Carol I wish to get in contact with you more and know more info regarding increasing the earning..keep writing more and wish to see your mail soon.

  11. Abass Toriola

    Thanks for these interesting stats. I never knew I’d been underselling myself all the while. This post has just motivated me to work on my rates and say no to the “slavemasters” who hire writers for pennies.
    I agree with techboy, Indian writers are really defacing the writing business.

    • Carol Tice

      You know…I don’t think Indians are affecting the marketplace I operate in at all. English as a second language writers are in a low-pay, SEO-writing niche, because those are the only type of clients that will hire them. I’m not going after those type of low-pay clients.

      The key is that anyone with more skills needs to stay OUT of the freelance writing underworld and go out and get their own quality clients, where they can command the kind of rates you see in this study.

  12. Angela Booth

    Excellent article.

    Too many freelancers still have a “woe is me” attitude, which puts clients off. Clients want to know you’re confident and capable.

    I hope this shows new freelancers that you can not only make a living as a freelancer, you can make a wonderful living… as long as you’ve have the right attitude.

    • Carol Tice

      Hi Angela — nice to see you here on my blog!

      I think the rates in this survey were very eye-opening to many writers. In Freelance Writers Den, one of the big things I find is how shocked new writers are when they ask Den experts about appropriate rates for a gig they want to bid, and find out what people charge outside of the content-mill Underworld of freelance writing. 😉

  13. Samantha

    Wow, Carol, interesting stats! I must be an oddball, because I find a lot of clients via social media, much higher than 3% (I do include LinkedIn as social media).
    Nice to know what’s trending!

  14. Joyce

    Thanks for the great stats and proving how successful freelancers can be!

    I actually started on the freelancing road as a recent college grad who kept getting discouraged or frustrated by businesses or companies to which I’d applied and their impersonal attitudes towards their employees. But after just one month of freelancing full-time, I’ve made more and connected with more people than I ever did searching for conventional 9-to-5 jobs.

  15. Janelle Coulton

    Carol, many thanks for the data above and the tip about Linkedin, I think I may start marketing my writing skills there and see how it goes. I have a few endorsements already from a couple of clients I wrote for a while ago, so I am sure that will help. I have made up a Hire Me page on my website, but it really needs work. My plan is to use that page to market myself. I will let you know how it goes. Jel

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