How One Freelance Writer Made $87,000 in 2016

How One Freelance Writer Made $87,000 in 2016

We’re beginning a new year — which, in my case, means it’s time to tally up everything I earned in 2016.

It also means it’s time to think about what I want to do with this column in 2017, and get ready to ask some new questions.

First, the numbers for December:

Completed pieces: 41

Work billed: $5,707.81

Income received: $9,638.88

What about my numbers for the full year? I ended up writing over 527,000 words in 2016 — more than 700 individual assignments, ranging from a 60-word blog post to a 10,000-word ebook — and earning $87,709.33 in freelance income.

As you might remember if you’ve been following this column, I earned $63,571.12 in 2015 — which means that I increased my freelance income by over $20,000 for the second year in a row.

Do I think that’s sustainable for 2017? Should I look forward to my first six-figure freelancing year? It could happen, but I’m not planning my budget under the assumption that I’ll earn $100,000 as a freelancer this year.

How I grew my income, and what might happen in 2017

In 2015, I increased my freelance income by setting myself the goal of earning $5,000 per month. I achieved that goal by building my network and taking on every assignment I could, which often meant working long hours.

In 2016, I wanted to keep my income sustainable while working fewer hours.

Instead of writing a bunch of smaller pieces to earn $5,000 a month, I wanted to raise my rates, find higher-paying clients and earn the same amount with less work.

Because I had done the work of building my network and my reputation, I was able to negotiate higher rates with several of my clients. I was also approached by a new client who was offering recurring, high-paying work. I got put on a large project that helped push my earnings to the $10,000-per-month level, but I knew that was only a short-term deal. After the project ended, my monthly earnings dropped back down to between $5-$6K per month.

That’s where I predict my earnings will stay, at least for the first quarter of 2017.

I’ll continue earning around $5,000 or so per month, while maintaining a 40-hour workweek. By the end of the quarter, I should know a little more about what the next few months of my year might look like.

Building my career by asking the right questions

I don’t yet know whether I’ll earn as much in 2017 as I did in 2016.

I do know that having a high-earning year has allowed me to prepare for a variety of financial possibilities.

With that in mind, I’m going to change up this column for 2017.

After two years of monthly income check-ins, I’m switching to a quarterly income round-up, in which I’m going to ask all of us to consider five questions:

  1. How much money did I earn this quarter?
  2. What was the best thing I did for my freelance career this quarter?
  3. What was my biggest mistake (or, what am I going to do differently next quarter)?
  4. What do I want to achieve as a freelancer next quarter?
  5. What steps am I taking to get there?

Every three months, we’ll check in with each other and with these questions, and I’ll share whether I’ve met my earnings goals. See you all at the beginning of next quarter!

How much did you earn as a freelancer in 2016? Did you grow your income this year? If so, what do you think prompted that growth — and will it continue in 2017?

Filed Under: Freelancing

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40 comments

  • Congrats on the big year, Nicole! My question is — what’s your goal for THIS year? Can you do it again? Beat it?

    My theory is that income should always be going up… 😉

    • Hassan says:

      @ Carol Tice @ Nicole Dieker I’m looking forward to your 35k webinar! + I have a quick question for you?

      If you were limited to one of the following marketing activities as freelancer in 2017, which would you choose? And why?

      1. Guest posting aggressively – 3-4 guest posts every month for a whole year.
      2. Applying to job boards
      3. Cold emailing and pitching editors and big blogs

      Thank you so much!

      • Hassan…that would depend on what your freelance writing GOALS are, and who your ideal clients are. But definitely no to #2. Applying to mass online job boards is the top way to end up earning little to nothing.

        • Hassan says:

          Thanks Carol, I just want to make 2-3k/ month with freelance blogging.

          I previously made upto 1k/month from applying to problogger job boards, but have never had clients come from anywhere else. Except referrals, and 1 guest post.

          What would you do?

          Is it wise to take 6 months out and just go on a guest posting frenzy? Will this lead clients to me after a certain while?

      • Nicole says:

        If I could only do one of the three items on your list, I’d pitch editors. Guest posting is a good way to get your name out there, but you’ll earn more money pitching editors and becoming a regular contributor instead of a guest.

        • Hassan says:

          Thank you for your resposne. So if my niche is “marketing companies that sell software products/services to marketers”, I should blast out pitches to editors or CMOs of those blogs?

          • Nicole says:

            I mean, it’s less “blast” than “send thoughtful, tailored pitches,” but yes. Show how your writing can help those companies increase views, clicks, engagement, etc.

    • Nicole says:

      Here’s my goal for 2017: self-publishing my novel The Biographies of Ordinary People.

    • Nice article. I’m starting so your info gives me some perspective on income potential.

  • Wow. I’ve said this before, but I love reading your monthly reports. They are so inspiring and by sharing this, you’re telling all of us reading that, yes you can make it writing full time.

    Congrats on the great year, and I hope you can clear $100K in 2017 🙂

  • I feel like a classically trained opera singer in a pop concert. My education included training in writing elegant, syntactically and grammatically perfect English. I’m not sure if there is a market for that kind of English any more. It pains me to see the trash which even wealthy companies turn out. But does anybody care? Do tell me.

    So what do I want to earn per month? Don’t laugh. To start I want to earn £35/$43. Until I can do that every month I won’t feel I have started. Once I can do that I will work to double it and so on. Any advice for a novice Carol?

    • Brian, classically trained writers should have all the skills to adopt to the way businesses speak and magazine readers like to see stories today.

      I love my big vocabulary, which I started building very young…but you’ve got to know when to bring it out and when to stay conversational/8th grade level.

      I don’t know if I have advice on how to earn $35 a month! Since my whole focus is on telling writers to avoid tiny assignments and find bigger clients. 😉

    • Having a strong writing background makes you a great candidate as a freelance writer. Remember, good writing isn’t necessarily about using “high” language. It’s about knowing how to write in a way that your (or your clients’) target readers understand. Yes, that often means writing conversationally, but it doesn’t mean ignoring your writing training. If anything, it takes MORE effort to write tight, easy-to-understand copy!

      Being a grammar nerd can also be a huge benefit to your writing career. I’m an editor as well as a writer, and I’ve gotten many repeat clients because they appreciate the quality of my writing. I’m saving them time since they don’t have to correct errors in my articles.

  • I love those quarterly questions! I’ll definitely be using them to check in on the state of my own freelance biz. I’m looking forward to seeing your own answers in 2017!

  • Samson says:

    This is way inspiring. I have been writing for mills until the end of 2016. I hope to land quality clients in 2017. @Nicole Dieker @Carol Tice, when writing my blogs I love to use the F** words if necessary. First because I feel that it connects with people very well. Second because that’s how I converse in real life. I don’t like making my conversation (posts) too formal regardless of the audience. I don’t know what you would say about that?

  • Bruce Navin says:

    Congrats, Nicole!

    I’m new to the Freelance biz, but I’m getting my footing thanks in part to Carol and her bootcamps.

    I’m definitely struggling, though and so far my income has only come from the job boards. But I have been doing some marketing and I’ve got a few good prospects. My goal for ’17 is to pay the bills and get back to having a life. So $5k/ month is what I’d like, I can settle for less and I’m aiming at $1,500/week.

    My primary target is not publishers and article writing, but website renovation. So many sites look pretty but the content is bleh. I really believe that businesses will see the value in building a better message.

    Fingers crossed!

  • Paul K Kho says:

    Congrats on your achievement. Now the tough question. It is a question no one is willing to answer. Ready or not here it is.

    What did you do that convince your prospects to pay you from a “no” to a “yes”?

    I had been in direct sales for a long time. I have yet to accomplish this goal. My advisors told me time and again, I must learn to be patient. Surely I tell you it’s hard to be patient when you are burning a hole in your savings. Thank you.

  • The thing I love about this post is that you get into enough detail about your work to show those of us who have done freelance work that you know what you’re talking about aren’t writing a “fluff” piece.

    So many writers are hungry for advice about freelance work that is real and can send the in the right direction, this post does that. I think your post shows both the potential of freelancing and the HARD work involved to succeed. I’ve made some decent money freelancing as a copywriter, editor, layout and design editor, and ghostwriter. The potential opportunities in this “age of the internet” are unlimited.

    Thank you for a substantive post, and I wish you continued success.
    Scott

  • Sean Reynolds says:

    Hi, congrats on your success. Without divulging any confidential information, can you give use an idea of what is involved in a “piece” of work, i.e. the scope for a given pay rate? Many thanks, Sean

  • Erin Sturm says:

    Hi Nicole! Congrats on a great year. I look forward to reading your quarterly reports. I work less than part-time so my goals are considerably smaller, but you’re still an inspiration!

  • Wendy says:

    Better luck than I had. I put a lot of my own projects on the back burner to work a hand-shake contract for $1,000, (broken into monthly payments of $100). I’d figured the “bird in the hand” cash vs. the “royalties in the bush” that my own works might bring would get a credit card paid off. Instead, the work ended up needing more work than I anticipated, he got behind on payments, and then he died on me. And the credit card that I would have paid off ended up getting another $300 on it (roughly the missing payments).

  • Cathy Bryant says:

    Many congratulations! Thank you for all your posts – they’ve been fascinating.

  • Josef S. says:

    I am a beginner or rather want to be. I just stumbled upon this site not so long ago. Any advice for me as a beginner just to get the ball rolling, where I should hunt for jobs and the best way to do that , also which would be best for me to go after. If there are ways I can maybe learn to improve the kind of writing jobs want please let me know. Thanks

  • TM says:

    Great article Nicole and congrats on your success! A question to you and all, how do I even get my foot in the door with Freelance Writing??? I just self published my very first book last year on Amazon.com. But on top of writing books/series/memoirs, I want to Freelance too. Now I know you mentioned pitching to editors, but how? Is there a template for that sort of thing? How do I get my name out there? How do I get people to give me a chance? Thanks so much for ALL the feedback and comments.

  • Kathleen says:

    Nicole,
    Do you receive credit for your freelance work, or is it done as a ghostwriter?

  • Melanie says:

    Nicole, do you have a “day job”, or is freelancing your entire gig? Congratulations by the way!

  • I am SO glad I ran across this! You have no idea how much this has inspired me. Mine is a long (long) story, but the short of it is I was divorced in 2013 and while I hold a bachelor’s degree and am a certified paralegal, my love, passion, and talent lie in writing. I’m enrolled in a master’s program and will have my M.A. in English and Creative Writing in March 2018. I want to make a living in the freelance writing world and your post has given me that extra push to get it in gear and do it all. Thank you!

  • Meg says:

    Hi Nicole,
    I have to admit to feeling confused about how to break in to copy-writing and bidding for jobs on websites such as freelancer.com I have no idea how to pitch a winning bid to clients who have set such a wide scale on their budget (e.g.:50-200). I mean, of course the client will go for the cheapest bid, right? I have no idea. I have written and published mostly academic work to date, so I am finding this new world very overwhelming. Any advice you can send me on where to start or where to learn about bidding for work etc would be so appreciated. Ps- I do know Carol Tice’s website and have found her links to be great.
    Best regards,
    Meg

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