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. 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

  2. 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.

  3. 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!

  4. 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. 😉

  5. 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.

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