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How to Make More Money as a Freelance Writer

by | Aug 23, 2018

People always say no one goes into freelance writing for the money. But there are plenty of writers out there earning a good living from the written word — and they’re not just famous novelists.

If you’d like to increase your writing income, spend some time evaluating your business model and make a few adjustments to increase your bottom line. Read on to learn how to begin the process and boost your freelance income.

1. Learn about your income

The first step to making more money is learning more about the money you already bring in.

Many writers find an end-of-year review to be very helpful in terms of evaluating your income, business model, clients and setting goals for the year ahead. But you don’t have to wait for the end of the year to conduct a review. Any time you’re looking to make a big change in your business plan — like increasing your income — is a great time for a review.

Evaluate your clients

To evaluate your business, evaluate each of your clients and income sources. To do this, ask yourself the following questions:

  • How often do you write for each client?
  • What types of materials do you write?
  • What is the word count and pay like?
  • On average, how long does each project take?
  • How much do you earn a year from this client?
  • What is your “pitch to acceptance” ratio? If you have to pitch 150 times for every accepted story, it may be time to reevaluate working with this client or consider pitching differently to boost your acceptance rate.
  • What’s the revision process like? Endless rounds of edits can be frustrating and reduce your earnings on the project.
  • Do you enjoy working with the client? It’s okay to cut ties with a client who makes you miserable.

Figure out your current rates

After you’ve evaluated your general impressions of each client and the projects you do for them, calculate how much money you earn on average from each client. This could be per word, per hour or per project.

Many writers find calculating their “per hour” rate to be most useful. This doesn’t mean you’re necessarily charging your clients per hour (though that can be common in some fields, such as editing and copywriting). This means you’re figuring out how much you earn per hour.  

To figure out your rate, first calculate how much time you spend on a project. This includes research, interviews, transcribing, writing, editing and other tasks like  tracking down images. Divide your earnings for the project by how many hours you spend on it. For example, if you earn $100 for a project that takes 5 hours, $20 is your hourly rate for that project.

Now that you’ve spent some time thinking about your current clients and learning about your income, it’s time to figure out what you’d like to make.

2. Set goals

Think about how much money you would like to make and set income goals. You can set yearly, quarterly, monthly, or weekly goals, or a combination of all of these.

If your goals are longer-term in nature, it makes sense to break them down to have a better idea about how much you need to earn to stay on track.

For example, if you would like to earn $50,000 per year and take two weeks off each year, you’ll need to earn an average of $1,000 per work week to stay on track. If you would like to earn $100,000 per year with two weeks off, aim to earn $2,000 each week.

Be sure to keep in mind some of this money will go to taxes and expenses. Consult with a tax preparer or accountant to figure out how much you should save for these expenses (and how and when to pay your taxes).

As you set goals, keep in mind you’ll need to regularly check in with your goals and adjust your plan accordingly. If you are falling short of your goals, you may want to adjust your strategy. If you’re exceeding your goals, consider setting your goals even higher.

You may also wish to set non-income related goals. Consider if you’d like to set goals for work-life balance, working for dream clients, or even taking on certain types of projects, like writing magazine feature articles or breaking into the tech copywriting industry.

3. Raise your rates

When you have the same clients for a long time, it’s easy to keep the same rates for years. You may be afraid to scare a loyal client away with higher rates, but it’s often worth it to take the chance and ask for more money. Many freelancers like to ask for more money around the New Year, while others prefer to request an increase near the client’s new fiscal year or other times.

How much should you ask for? If you’re earning $150 per blog post, suddenly asking for $750 might be a little too much to ask for right away. Few clients have the budget to quintuple their rates instantly. But if you’re earning $150 and want to bump that up to $175 you may have more luck.

It’s very helpful to have an idea about the client’s budget when proposing a rate increase. If the company is slashing their budget and laying people off, it’s likely not the best time to ask. But if they just gained a lucrative new contract, it might be prime time to get more work and raise your rates.

Consider framing your rate increase request in a way that also provides clients with additional value for their money. One way to do this is to provide a package of services. For example, instead of $200 per blog post, you could charge $1,000 a month for a package of four blog posts. This provides you with reliable income and bumps your rate up while also providing your client with reliable content. You could propose a content schedule ahead of time and set everything up to make the process easy for your client.

Or you could pair your writing services with social media offerings if you’re skilled in that area. Just be sure packaging several services together ends up increasing your hourly rate overall, not decreasing it with additional time-consuming projects.

However you ask, be prepared to hear a “no” and have a plan for how you’ll respond. You may choose to continue working with the client, or you may prefer to part ways. There’s also a slight chance the client will think you’re not a good fit anymore, so do keep that possibility in mind. It’s always a risk to ask for more money, but it’s often one that turns out to be worthwhile.

Is it true that no one starts freelance writing for the money? Maybe, but that doesn’t mean you can’t earn a good living doing what you love.

4. Spend less time on lower paying projects

If you spend all day every day churning out articles for $20 a pop, it’s going to be hard to make a ton of money as a freelance writer. If you’re spending 40, 50 or 60 hours a week working on low paying projects, it may be a challenge to find the time and energy to find better paying clients.

Sometimes you need to free time in your schedule — and room in your client roster — to make space for higher paying clients. This doesn’t mean you should dump all your clients and only accept new ones that pay $5 per word (those will be hard to find).

But when you are able to free just a few hours each week in your schedule to cultivate new client relationships and send out pitches and proposals, you’ll likely have better luck finding higher paying clients than waiting for them to come to you.

For example, if you’re working on lower paying projects for 45 hours a week, consider cutting that down to 40 or 42 hours a week to free up three to five hours each week to pursue higher paying clients. You’ll still earn the bulk of your income, but hopefully this extra time will make it so you can take on higher paying clients and gradually transition to higher paying work.

5. Find higher paying clients

Everyone wants higher paying clients, but how do you find them? Resources like Who Pays Writers can help point you to publications that pay within the range you would like.

It also makes sense to consider different types of writing. Content writing can pay fairly well, so if you’re looking to earn a little more, it might make sense to take on a few content writing clients and offer website copy, reports, ghostwriting, and other services.

One good way to find content writing clients is to spend some time networking. Sending letters of introduction and samples of your work to potential clients can also be a good way to start building a relationship and hopefully gaining a new client.

6. Set your new rates

Figuring out what to charge can be a bit of a challenge. Rates and rate structures vary widely. Freelancers can get paid by the word, the hour or even a per-project rate.

For guidance on typical rates, the Editorial Freelancers Association shares a list of market rates for a variety of services, from transcribing to ghostwriting. These rates are a good starting place for negotiation, but they’re not set in stone.

When determining what to charge a client, consider how long the project will likely take you. If an article pays $200 and takes two hours of your time, your rate is $100 per hour. If a $500 project takes 15 hours, you’ll earn $33 per hour., but if the same project takes 40 hours, your pay rate drops to $12.50 per hour — a rate brushing up against minimum wage in some locations.

It doesn’t always make sense to take the higher paying article if the per-hour rate is much lower.

Keep in mind that you don’t have to charge each client the same rate. Most writers have a range of rates. It’s okay to charge high-budget clients more and cut a break for a nonprofit you love. If you know a client will want a lot of revisions and meetings that take up a lot of your time, by all means charge a premium rate to account for your time and effort.

Another technique is to ask a client about their budget for a project and then provide them with a few options of what you can provide for that amount. For example, if they have $1,000 per month to spend on editorial services, you could give them several options for what you can provide for that fee. Perhaps that’s two long blog posts, or maybe it’s rewriting a few pages of web copy. Clients generally like having a few options to choose from.

Sometimes it pays to earn less

Sometimes a project isn’t all about the paycheck. There may be other factors that make a lower paycheck worthwhile. For example, if you’re devoted to the local animal shelter, you may be willing to charge them a lot less than your corporate clients.

If you’re delving into a new field, or want to start writing about a new topic, you may need to start at lower paying publications to develop your expertise and promote yourself as an expert in that field. For example, if you write mostly about technology and want to veer into the health and wellness space, you may have to start at publications that pay less in order to get started and build your name in that field. Then you can likely use your clips and connections to work your way up to higher paying publications in the same field.

When you take actionable steps to set goals and work towards them, you’ll likely have a better chance of getting to where you’d like to go. But be patient with the process. It won’t happen overnight, and it’s likely to have ups and downs. Working towards your goals, even with small steps, is a great way to achieve them and ultimately earn more income as a freelance writer.

How do you work towards earning more income as a freelance writer?