Diana Kelly Levey

10 Things I Did Differently to Become a Six-Figure Freelancer

A woman working on a laptop

March 25, 2021

I earned about 30 percent more as a freelancer in 2018 than I did the year before. Since I’m a big advocate of learning from freelance mistakes I’ve made and capitalizing on freelance successes, I thought it would be beneficial to look back and see what worked in order to earn over $100,000 freelancing in one year. I also wanted to know  what didn’t work, and what could be improved in my freelance writing business to help me reach new levels of success the following year.

Here are some business decisions I made and things I did differently as a freelance writer to help me earn six figures as a freelancer that year. Yes, that means I made over $100,000 gross freelance writing and working from home. If it’s possible for me, I’m willing to bet you can do it, too. (It’s a few years since I originally wrote this blog but I still maintain a six-figure freelance writer salary most months. Find out how I scale my freelance business while only working about 10 hours a week.)

Try some of these tactics to learn how to become a six-figure freelance writer!

(Want to become a high-income freelance writer? Enroll in my self-directed ‘Get Paid to Write’ e-course on Teachable today!)

10 Habits for a Six-Figure Freelance Writing Income

1.  Six-figure freelance tip: I spent money to make money.

Sure, this is much easier to do when you’re earning good money freelancing and have steady assignments, but I believe it’s a secret six-figure freelancers follow that’s important to consider. I spent money getting help with: website updates, using a producer upload new content to my portfolio, using transcription services for interviews, occasionally hiring a virtual assistant to help with research for articles, membership fees, conferences, I bought some freelance industry books, and spent money on my new office setup. Over the years, I spend more money on some products and services and unsubscribe from others. I spend more money using a virtual assistant to help with design work in addition to social media help and working on newsletters. I also pay for a professional LinkedIn subscription in order to connect with more potential clients and editors a few months of the year. Sometimes, I’ll pay for SEO platforms to help me write freelance SEO articles and blog posts for clients.

2. Six-figure freelance tip: I blogged consistently.

Rather than working on this freelance writing blog whenever the mood struck–which tended to be erratic–I set a reminder on my phone to pop up on Tuesday nights reminding me to “write blog.” Usually, I had this freelance writing tips blog done by then but knowing I promised new or updated freelance writing advice on my blog each week to my e-newsletter subscribers kept me accountable. My freelance writing e-newsletter goes out on Wednesday mornings (sign up below) and I wanted to keep my promise to readers so I stuck with this. I also keep a running list of blog ideas on a Note app on my phone and a document on my laptop to help jot down new blog post ideas as they pop into my head. I find that I get a lot of ideas for freelance blog posts when I’m taking a writing break and walking while listening to podcasts.

3. Six-figure freelance tip: I attended a conference.

I applied to and was accepted in the American Society of Journalists and Authors (ASJA) in 2018 and paid a few hundred dollars to become a member and attend one day of the conference. The following year, I signed up for both days of the May conference and nabbed the early bird pricing. I realize if you’re reading this in a post-COVID-19 world that in-person experience may not be possible but there are even better deals to be had for virtual conferences and you don’t need to travel so you’ll be saving money while having access you wouldn’t have otherwise had! (My 2020 update? Two years later, I still received a few thousand dollars in business from a contact I made at that conference one day.) I think it’s important to not only take notes at a conference and meet new people in your industry but to go back to those notes when your freelance business is slow to see if any freelance writing advice sticks out that you could try to apply now. While attending a conference might not be possible in a post-COVID-19 world right now, there are plenty of virtual conferences you can attend. Chances are that the costs will be lower and you won’t have to spend money on travel and expenses.

4. Six-figure freelance tip: I stayed in touch with freelance friends.

I met a few new (remote) freelance friends at the ASJA conference (check out some of their freelance advice on these blogs) and throughout the year shared contacts, writing advice, and yes, client gripes with them. I passed along freelance assignments when I couldn’t take them on, and, I gratefully accepted connections to new clients from freelance friends who referred me. (Find out: How many hours do freelancers work each week?) Many of my former magazine editor colleagues are now freelancers themselves so I try to offer up advice I learned from nearly 15 years of freelance experience and pass along freelance writing jobs when they aren’t a fit for me. Find out some freelance writing rates.

5. Six-figure freelance tip: I followed up.

I’ve mentioned before how important marketing is for freelance writers but it’s worth repeating if you want to generate a good salary as a freelance writer and be able to do this full time working from home. This freelance blog on “finding money in your inbox” addresses how to do this but if you do one thing after reading this blog, check in with editors you used to work with, say hello, and ask if they need help! One summer, I pitched over 100 clients in a three-month period of time. I followed up at least once with many of them. One of those clients I followed up with turned into $10,000 worth of assignments over the next year. I can’t stress this tactic enough as a six-figure freelancer salary success principle: Track your emails and follow up. 

6. Six-figure freelance tip: I pitched new outlets and clients.

Another important component of freelance marketing, you need to make sure you’re reaching out to new outlets and clients every week, even when you’re super busy. In fact, it’s part of my freelance marketing plan. New clients probably resulted in about 40 to 50 percent of my salary in 2018 when I wrote this. Not only should you be on the hunt for new editorial clients, non-profit clients and content marketing clients that will pay you a higher rate, but you might want to branch into a new freelance niche if the niche you’re in has lower rates or is too crowded. I’ve spent more time writing about sleep, skin care and pet health and wellness in recent years and it’s paid off. Many of those clients now make up a big chunk of my six-figure freelance salary.

Read freelance writers’ number-one success tips.

7. Six-figure freelance tip: I ditched low-paying clients.

I walked away from some lower-paying outlets early in the year so I’d have time and energy to find new, higher-paying anchor clients. It’s okay to walk away from lower-paying freelance clients—and say it nicely—as I’ve found that clients understand your financial needs may have changed. If you’re raising your rates, it’s a good time to remind clients of the value you’ve added to their company with your writing services.

If my lower-paying clients can’t accommodate the higher rates, many will say they’ll let me know if their budgets increase and they can work with me at a higher rate in the future. The end of one year and the beginning of the next year is a good time to let clients know you’ll be raising your rates and that you hope you can make it work with them, but if not, you understand their budget constraints and will have to move on. Here’s how to find higher-paying clients this year. 

8. Six-figure freelance tip: I did some unsexy writing and editing work in order to earn $100,000.

I believe that every freelancer needs to do some boring, unexciting, or just-pays-the-bills work in order to hit their six-figure freelance income mark. That doesn’t mean you don’t enjoy the writing or editing you’re doing, or that you aren’t learning something new in the process.

It might just not be your favorite assignment to write or edit in the morning. You might not be passionate about the topic. That’s okay. I said yes to some of these SEO projects for a previous client and article editing projects for a new technology client. Together that generated about $8,200. Worth saying ‘yes’ to! Should you write for clients whose values and messages aren’t in line with yours? No. But just realize that every assignment a freelance writer who’s earning $100,000 writes isn’t all fun and games and exciting work. Remember freelancing is work, not your hobby. You should enjoy it but you’ll have to write assignments at times that you aren’t excited about at times. That’s part of the job. Get used to it.

9. Six-figure freelance tip: I kept track of freelance pitches.

Oh, how I wish I did this when I first started freelancing! Think of all the freelance article ideas  you pitched over the years that disappeared into the great beyond (meaning they never came to fruition) because an editor didn’t respond or passed on it! (Or, they never saw your email and you didn’t follow up!) I found that having this document helped me go back to editors I didn’t hear from and check in on a pitch, rework it for another client if it wasn’t a fit, and keep track of whether I was successful with my pitching. This document is not only helpful for keeping your article ideas in one place but it can be motivating to see the times when an editor approved an idea after a rejection (or two or three).

10. Six-figure freelance tip: I tracked my freelance hours.

I used Togg.l for every project I worked on from August through December in 2018. (Now I turn this on for every freelance work task all the time.)  I was used to doing this before, for any client where I needed to report hours, but now I tracked how many hours I worked on every project. This helped me realize I was earning at least $100/hour on some projects, and it also let me know that I wasn’t spending as long as I thought I was on other big projects. (i.e. They were more time-consuming in my head than in reality.)  I also track how much time I’m spending posting on social media, writing blogs like this one, reading other freelancers’ content and blogs, pitching editors, as well as reading industry news and participating in social media groups I’m a part of. This shows me how many billable hours I’m working for freelance clients as well as how many hours I’m spending  simply running my freelance business. Tracking my hours also helped me realize that I earn a higher hourly rate on some articles than I think–even up to $600 an hour for one client!

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