How to make $50,000+ Per Year as a Freelance Writer

Freelance writer typing

This blows my mind.  The gig economy is estimated to be 34% of the economy (as of May 2017).  It’s expected to grow to 43% by 2020.

I kind of find that hard to believe because most people I know have traditional jobs.  However, most people I know are in their 40’s.  Perhaps younger people are running side hustles which make up a good portion of that 34% statistic.  Moreover, that 34% doesn’t mean 34% of people earn their entire livelihood from online work.  For many it’s a side hustle.

The point is, many, many people are running side hustles looking to ditch the 9 to 5 and be their own boss with only a laptop and a couch.

  • Do you hate your job and will do anything to quit?
  • Do you make far too little money and can write reasonably well?
  • Are you looking for a way to earn a livelihood with more flexibility as to when and where you work?

If you answered “yes” to any of the above, perhaps freelance writing is a good way for you get started with an online job.

But, there are 3 prerequisites in order to earn a living as a freelance writer.  They are:

  1. You must be able to write well in order to make a living as a freelancer.
  2. You must like writing.
  3. It won’t happen overnight, but if you’re a pretty good writer and work hard, it shouldn’t take too long.

$50,000 per year USD is enough to not have to have a job unless you have a high paying job and your standard of living is way beyond $50K.

Not having a 9 to 5 or 8 to 6 or whatever is demanded these days gives you the option to work when and where you want and a chance to build your own business.

I’m not saying you’ll live large on $50K per year if you live in the US or Canada or UK.  However, you can live on it.  I’ve lived on way less.

Did I start online as a freelance writer?

No, I didn’t.  I liked my job pre-IM.  I got my start blogging and doing SEO for my brick and mortar business.  At the end of the day, I blogging bug so I switched from my profession to being a niche site publisher.  While it all sounds easy, I worked my real job 50 hours per week and spent another 20 to 30 hours per week working on my niche sites.  It was a ton of work.  I did both for a little over 2 years.

If I had hated my job, I’d have no qualms about getting started as a freelance writer.

If I never was a freelance writer, what on earth do I know about it?

I’m writing this article from the perspective of someone who hires freelance writers extensively.  I work with individual writers and writing agencies.  I also write quite a bit myself for my own sites.  I’m well acquainted with the industry.  I’m writing this as if I were to pursue freelance writing.

Why am I writing about freelance writing when I’m a niche site publisher?

I’m writing about this because if you can write well (which helps when publishing niche sites) and you want to quit your job but need money, in my view, freelance writing is a way to get cash coming in fast while providing job flexibility so you can start a niche site or some other online venture.

If I were in a 9 to 5 that paid truckloads of money, but I hated it, I’d adjust my standard of living so that I could jump ship to have flexibility as a freelance writer doing something I enjoy.  I’d probably start while still working, but once writing work came in steadily, I’d take the leap.

NOTE: if you like your job, don’t quit.  But then, if you like your job, you’re probably not on this site.  People only look for alternative ways to make a living when they don’t like their job or need more money.

Aren’t freelance writing rates ridiculously low?

The rates are all over the place.  Good writers, though, can demand good rates.

Example:  I routinely pay $60 USD per 1,000 words.  If you can write 5,000 words per day, that’s $300 per day.  $300 per day at 5 days per week is $1,500 per week which is $6,000 per month.  That’s $72,000 per year.

Okay, there are problems with that analysis.  That assumes the following:

  • you have enough work for 5,000 words per day;
  • you’re able to produce 5,000 words of quality content per day (I can, and I’m not the best writer around);
  • you choose to work 5 days per week.
  • you can find clients willing to pay you $60 per 1,000 words.  I pay the writing agency $60 per 1,000 words.  You wouldn’t earn that writing.  Let’s say y0u get $30 per 1,000 words.

If you opt for working with a writing agency (i.e. Writer Access), chances are you’ll get a lot of work so that’s not an issue if you’re good.

5,000 words per day at $30 per 1,000 words equals $150 USD per day.  That’s $2,400 per month which is $28,800 per year.  Not quite $50,000.  In fact, it’s pretty tough living off $28,800 per year in North America.

What you will need to do is get experience and a portfolio and then hustle for higher paying gigs.  Hang a shingle on Freelance websites and writer job boards.  Keep your agency gig for cash, but hustle for direct with employer gigs so you can charge the $60 per 1,000 words (or higher).

In time, you become less and less dependent on the agencies for work and end up with a nice stable of clients who feed you regular work.

How much do Freelance writers earn?

My friend, Vincent D’Eletto, owner of  WordAgents (boutique writing agency that I use extensively) employs many freelance writers, published an excellent article setting out rates he pays freelance writers.  Here are the rates in a nutshell:

  • Tier 3 Writer:  $.005 to $.03 per word ($5 to $30 per 1,000 words).
  • Tier 2 Writers:  $.04 to $.19 pe word ($40 to $190 per 1,000 words)
  • Tier 1 Writers: $.20 per word+ ($200+ per 1,000 words).

I reached out to Vin of WordAgents to inquire about how many words writers can produce per day or per hour.  Here’s what he said: “They’re [tier 3/2 college students) usually able to write anywhere from 800-1,500 words per hour. We’ll usually have them work on easy projects with minimal research.”

Now is a good time to be a freelance writer

Before Google Panda penalty, good writing wasn’t rewarded.  Publishers got away with publishing garbage.  Garbage ranked in the SERPs, so why pay more than necessary.

These days, it’s very clear that for the most part, quality content will outperform poor content.  Publishers understand this and are now willing to pay a higher rate per word or per article as well as pay for longer articles.

Longer articles are, in my way of thinking, preferable for freelancers because you earn more per assignment and can usually write more words per hour.

Freelance Writing Pros and Cons

Benefits of freelance writing

  • Able to get cash coming in faster than building a niche site from scratch (or starting some other online business);
  • Work where and when you want;
  • Move to lower cost of living location: suppose you realistically expect to make $25,000 your first year.  In the US that doesn’t go far.  In Central America, South America, Eastern Europe and some parts of Asia, $25,000 per year will be more than enough to live well.
  • Turn it into a thriving business if you’re able to hire GOOD people to write for you and/or add outreach and guest post placement to your arsenal of services.
  • Potential for 6-figure income via either being very, very good or able to scale up into an agency; and
  • Efficiency increases fast:  Once you have a stable of clients and understand their writing needs, you’ll be able to crank out their content pretty fast because you know exactly what they want.

Disadvantages of freelance writing

  • Boom and bust life.  You may go a week with little work and then get slammed with huge orders.  While some people like this spontaneous life, I imagine most people prefer steady work.
  • Need to hustle:  You do need to hustle and establish relationships in the beginning.  All freelance work is like that unless you get lucky with a big client in the beginning.
  • May take a pay cut in the beginning from your regular job.  If possible, keep your job and freelance write on the side.  Save that money and build up a clientele.  It’s having a clientele of publishers that will make it possible to earn $60 or more per 1,000 words.
  • It’s hard work: making a good living as a freelance writer is hard work.  You’re trading money for time.  Don’t expect to make $50,000 or more working 2 hours per day.  Writing quality content can be gruelling and tiring.  I know; I write a good amount each week (as well as edit and review lots of submitted content).
  • Get stiffed:  Once in a while an employer will not pay you.  That sucks big time.  In fact, the Freelancer’s Union estimates the average freelancer gets stiffed $6,000 per year.  That’s $500 per month.  That’s not chump change.
  • Difficult to scale up into a business:  It’s certainly not impossible, but boutique services are always hard to scale up into a business because your clients expect you to do the work, not some hired gun.

$60 per 1,000 words! Is it possible?

One problem here is if you join a writing agency (WordAgents, Textbroker, WriterAccess, etc.) you won’t get paid the $60 per 1,000 words.  You’ll get a portion of that.

The only way you’ll earn $60 per 1,000 words is if you work directly with editors or publishers of websites or work your way up to ultra premium work within agencies.  It takes time to land these gigs, but once you have them, you eliminate the middle person and keep all the money for yourself.

As a publisher I pay $60 per 1,000 words and I don’t care who gets the money.  I just want quality content done fairly quickly.  If the full amount goes to a freelancer, that’s fine by me.

Can you charge more than $60 per 1,000 words?

Yes.  I pay per 1,000 words because the content isn’t terribly difficult to produce, yet it needs to be well written.  However, if you become expert in some high content demand niches where you can write stellar content, you could command 0 or more per 1,000 words.  Of course, you won’t crank out 2,000 word articles in 2 hours.  You’ll need to do extensive research and provide some really polished work.

How do you land writing clients who pay you directly?

While it’s not hard to become a writer with an agency (just sign up and start writing), it’s not so easy to land clients who feed you work every month.  Many publishers use the agencies because agencies can handle volume.

The reality is you’ll probably need to start with an agency and work for less, but as you build up a writing porftolio, you hustle for clients.

Here’s what you do:

1. Focus on establish a writing portfolio.  Keep track of published content you write so you have examples to show prospective clients.

2. Set up profiles with freelance websites such as Freelancer, Upwork and Problogger job board.  The Problogger job board is particularly good because high volume publishers seek out in-house writers there. In the beginning price your services low to attract a few jobs.  Once you have some solid reviews, increase your rates.

3. Seek out publications that pay for content.  There still are many websites that will pay for content.  In some cases the rates are good.  The downside is you won’t get consistent work this way, but these top-tier publications will put some cash in your pocket and beef up your portfolio.

4. Guest post for free (I never said hustling in the beginning would be fun or lucrative).  Get some pieces published on top-tier publications.  Guest post for the heck of it just to get published.  You might offer some free guest posts for a niche site you want to work for in the hopes they’ll take you on.  Don’t expect they’ll take you on, but it’s worth trying.  The worst case scenario is you add to your portfolio.

5. Reach out to other established freelance writers and ask for some overflow projects they can’t take on.  If you do a great job, they may refer more work to you.  In time, referrals could be steady clients.

6. Reach out to websites that publish lots of content written by a variety writers.  Once you have a writing portfolio, reach out and pitch your services.  Explain how you know the niche really well. Suggest some great article topics (again add the keyword research info – publishers (at least me) like evergreen content that will pull search traffic for months or years.

One Way to earn much more as a freelance writer

If you don’t mind doing outreach to get articles published as guest posts on other websites, you can earn even more freelance writing by offering outreach guest posting services for website publishers who want links via guest psots.  You’ll definitely want to streamline the outreach portion with outreach software, but by including backlinks for clients, you can charge far more for much fewer words.

In the beginning it’s tough because you need to establish relationships with websites so you can submit your articles to them for your clients.  However, in time, you’ll have a nice network of websites that accept guest posts for your clients.

How much can you charge getting guest posts written and published?

You can charge $100 to $150 per published article with a dofollow link on a good site (i.e. decent DA and real traffic).  The good news is that the article need only be 800 to 1,500 words.  In some more than 1,500 words, but that would be on a high quality site so you could charge more.

Let’s say you get $120 for a 1,000 word article.  That’s double the usual $60 you’d charge.  Yes, you need to get that article published as a guest post, but that shouldn’t take more than 45 minutes of outreach.  Over time as your contacts increase, your outreach time will decrease significantly.

The article would take 2 hours to write and outreach would take 30 minutes.  $120 for 2.5 hours works out to $48 per hour, which is quite good.

Another huge benefit of the outreach service is you can outsource the writing and outreach once you get busy enough. The outreach is really easy to outsource.  This is a much easier freelance writing model to scale than writing for clients.

How good of a writer must you be?

You need to be good if you expect to charge premium rates.  This article assumes you can write reasonably well.  However, you need not be Tolstoy or Jonathan Franzen.  Being able to do solid research is a real plus because premium publications want more than “off the top of your head fluff”.  Top tier publications that pay premium rates want quotes, data, statistics, well-structured arguments, proper grammar, a pleasant flow… all the things that make a great article.

If you can’t get a guest post published on a half-decent website, perhaps freelance writing isn’t for you.

Should you focus on a specific niche?

When you start in an agency, you will probably cover multiple niches.  When you have few clients, you may need to cover multiple niches.  But, if you can get expert in some broad niches, that may result in you being able to charge premium rates with select publishers.  If you can write content that performs well and is better than the usual content in the niche, that could be a powerful way to land clients and charge more.

But the reality is when starting out, you’ll need to write for multiple niches.

Should you start your own niche site?

If you’re ultimate goal is to be a successful niche site publisher, yes, get your niche site going.  If you can only work at it 5 hours a week, that’s okay.  Get it going now and when you have more time and money, grow it faster.

However, if you’re more interested in building up a freelance writing clientele / business, don’t bother with a niche site.

Should you publish a website about your freelance services?

If you’re long term goal is to be a niche site publisher or run some other online business and you’re freelance writing just to make ends meet, I wouldn’t waste the time and money on a services site.

If, however, you’re in the freelance gig for the long haul, start the site.

Is freelance writing the ultimate online job?

I don’t think so, but it sure beats a lot of jobs.  I didn’t say this was a perfect solution.  Perfection is publishing your first blog post and making a $1 million.  Sadly, unless you are very, very, very lucky, it’s not going to happen.  Freelance writing or freelancing of any time serves as cash bridge until your niche sites or whatever online business you run funds your lifestyle.

On the flip side, if you love writing and only want to write and are able to command premium rates such as $100 per 1,000 words or more, you can earn a very good living as a freelance writer.  You have to be good though; best-of-the-best.

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