10 Ways to Make a Six-Figure Income as a Freelance Writer: Part One
By Bob Bly
I started freelancing full-time in 1982, and except for that year and the next, I have earned more than $100,000 a year as a freelance writer for 20 consecutive years. Last year, I grossed $500,000, as I did the year before that.
I tell you this not to brag, but to illustrate that making a six-figure income is a realistic goal for even an average freelance writer like me. (I’ve never written a bestseller, nor have I sold a script to the movies or TV.) Following, are some suggestions to help you achieve and exceed the $100,000-a-year mark:
1. Get serious about making money.
If money is not a concern, you can write whatever you want, whenever you want, as much or as little as you want, without regard to the fee you will be paid, how long it will take to write the piece, or the likelihood that you will sell the piece. If you want to consistently make $100,000 a year as a freelance writer, you need to avoid the “poverty mentality” that holds so many writers back from earning a high income.
A doorman in New York City earns around $30,000 a year. If an unskilled laborer can make $30,000 just for opening a door, surely you can earn $50,000 to $100,000 for your skills.
2. Have a daily revenue goal.
To make $100,000 a year, you need to earn $2,000 a week for 50 weeks. For a 5-day workweek, that comes to $400 a day — a quite modest and achievable sum.
The question then becomes: What writing-related work can you do that people will pay you $400 a day for? Proofreading won’t hit the mark, but ghostwriting books, annual reports, fundraising letters, speeches, or ad copy probably can.
Do you have to make $400 each and every day? No. Some days, you’ll be writing queries or doing self-promotion and earn nothing. Other days, you’ll get into a writing groove, finish a $1,000 article in six hours, and still have time to write more queries. You’re safe as long as your average revenue is $400 a day, or $2,000 a week, or approximately $9,000 a month.
Of course, the higher your average project fee, the easier it can be to meet your $400-a-day goal.
Robert Otterbourg specializes in annual reports, with an average price tag of $10,000 per project. By doing several of these jobs in a month or two, he can get way ahead of his income plan, leaving him time to write the career books that are his avocation.
3. Value your time.
If you earn $100,000 a year and work 40 hours a week, your time is worth at least $50 an hour. You should base decisions about how you spend your time on that figure.
For instance, if you spend an extra half-hour to go out of your way to save $10 in office supplies, it costs you $25 in lost productivity, and you are $15 in the red.
My time is worth at least $100 an hour. Therefore, virtually any service I can buy for under $100 an hour — including lawn services, handymen, and tax preparation — I outsource.
Of the two resources, time and money, time is the more valuable. You can always make more money. But time is a non-renewable resource. Once it’s gone, you can’t get it back.
4. Increase your personal productivity.
Except for royalties and product sales, writers are paid only for their time. So the more efficient and productive you are, and the faster you write, the more money you make.
Develop habits that help you get more done in less time. The easiest is simply to get up and start work an hour earlier than you do now — say at 7 a.m. or 8 a.m. instead of 9 a.m. That first hour will be your most productive, because you can work in peace without interruptions before the business day starts, the phone begins to ring, and the messages come pouring into your e-mail box.
“I am most productive at 5 in the morning,” says travel writer Jennifer Stevens. “It means I can get into the shower at 7 or 8 having made a dent in whatever I’m working on.”
Nancy Flynn, author of The $100,000 a Year Writer (Adams Media, 2000), maximizes her productivity by avoiding in-person meetings unless absolutely necessary. “You can accomplish a tremendous amount — including establishing and maintaining successful business relationships — via telephone, e-mail, and fax,” says Flynn.
[EDITOR’S NOTE: If you didn’t accomplish all your 2003 goals or you have big plans for 2004 and you don’t want to fall short,
click here to find out how you can maximize your productivity and achieve all your most important goals.]
I have not gone to the post office in eight years. Why not? Because doing so is an absolute waste of time I could be using to write and make money.
The only thing you get paid to do is write, research, and think for your clients and publishers. All other activities are non-paying and therefore should be farmed out to other people who can do them better and more cheaply than you can.
You do not need to hire a full-time secretary to outsource routine office work and administrative tasks. There are plenty of bright high school and college students eager to work with writers for the glory, glamour, and a relatively modest fee of $10 an hour or so. Or, you can hire a word-processing or typing service; most advertise in the local town paper.
I once had a secretary on staff. When she quit about six years ago, instead of hiring a replacement, I started calling word processing services advertising in the classified section of my weekly newspaper. I said, “I will buy 40 hours a week of your time, every week of the year, and pay you a month in advance. In return, I want a better rate.”
All were eager to take me up on this offer. I chose one, and she has been with me ever since.
[Editor’s Note: Learn more about opportunities to profit from your travels (and even from your own home) in our free online newsletter The Right Way to Travel.]