September marks the first month I started seriously freelancing full-time, pitching clients, ironing out workflows, and producing work for someone other than myself. It was scary, fun, exhilarating, and confusing. It challenged a lot of my assumptions about freelance work, and it reinforced others.
This article walks through how I earned $6821.48 this month from my first month of freelance work, what strategies helped me along the way, and what I plan to do to stabilize and ideally increase my monthly revenue.
1. Writing for other individuals: $1050
This is the newest and most exciting source of income — ghostwriting and brand journalism for other people. My biggest client came to me through a recommendation from someone else, which was a reminder that networking exists and is valuable for writers as much as any other industry.
The ghostwriting I do for that client involves writing blog posts under someone else’s name. These individuals normally have specific topics they want to write about but don’t have the time to write it themselves, so they contract it out.
Another client came to me through a viral article I wrote a while back. They loved what I’d written, and wanted to know if I could write something similar, but highlighting their product. This is a tactic known as brand journalism.
Brand journalism relies on not talking about a product or service, but rather telling a story. Readers don’t like ads, and who can blame them? But solving a problem, educating them, entertaining them — that’s what you need to do to provide value as a writer. Many folks don’t know how to write in this way, and often are too close to their own product to create useful written content that showcases their business, but without being obnoxious about it.
Some of the best examples of brand journalism of this are found on this very website — Aytekin Tank’s work on his own product is subtle but persistent. He mentions his struggles, his journey, and his lessons along the way of building JotForm. Here’s a perfect instance of this — the story is not about his product, but he mentions it and links to it.
That’s what I accomplish for my brand journalism and ghostwriting clients.
The good news from this source is that it will increase. I had limited time this month, but now I can consistently increase the formula to earn more in October.
These clients came to me through networking or because they’d seen something I’d written similar to what they wanted. The work is consistent, a little outside my usual wheelhouse. It pays more consistently than any of my other sources.
2. Writing for myself: $3,723.94
I started blogging seriously during Sept 2018 — my first month, I earned $3.32. This is my highest month, two years in, with a 1000x increase in income. I published 12 stories under my own name, but a lot of the income was from stories I’d written in previous months.
I do a full breakdown in this video.
This is the most I’ve ever earned for writing, and it’s my favorite method of earning income. I feel like I’ve developed my voice, my audience knows what to expect from me, and I can provide value.
There are flops, of course — stories I write that do poorly despite my wishes and expectations — but also, there are fantastic uplifts, too.
Writing for myself took 2 years to reach this level of income. It’s not a stable source of freelance income as I never know what’s going to do well and what won’t, but I always write about what I want to write about, which is a joy.
3. Being supported on Patreon: $220
Patreon has been most valuable in terms of learning what my followers want from me, and what is most useful for me to focus on.
While I launched it in May 2019, I’m not too proud to say I asked my own mom to be my first patron. From then, I’ve learned what people are interested in (1 on 1 time, office hours, story reviews) and what they’re not so keen on (in-depth analyses of income, exclusive deep-dive videos).
It’s a great place for me to talk to my greatest supporters. While I spend a lot of time on it and don’t make as much money as on other pursuits, it’s invaluable as a way for me to learn what content I can make that’s most useful.
Patreon has swung up and down but has steadily increased over time. In terms of time spent to money earned ratio, it’s not the most valuable source, but as a focus group, it’s perfect. It’s also just nice to have the show of support from people who enjoy what I do.
4. Posting Videos to YouTube: $327.54
I started posting on YouTube in May 2019. This is only my 5th month earning with YouTube, but it’s my highest one yet.
My YouTube channel has been one of the most fun experiments I’ve done to date. I always knew I wanted to write, but I never considered that I could create videos, too — and it was surprising how much I enjoyed it.
Again, I spent hours and hours on this per month, and I earn very little per hour comparatively, but the income is on a steady trend upwards. I hope that if I continue investing the same level of effort month on month, the income will increase naturally over time.
This income stream is the most work-intensive — I aim to produce eight videos per month, each of which takes anywhere from 1 hour to 3 hours to finish. However, as the revenue increases, I hope I can continue to make more money while putting in a similar amount of effort.
5. Website Copywriting: $1,500
A couple of months ago, I applied for a job. While writing was not on the job description, it’s rare to have an office job that doesn’t incorporate some form of writing, so on my application. I told them I was excellent at and really loved writing.
While I ultimately turned down the job offer, they came back to me a month later to ask if I’d be interested in doing some copywriting and blog posts for them.
Obviously, I was. Copywriting for a website was not something I’d done before, but I was confident I could do it. While it wasn’t as much fun as writing blog posts about the things that really fascinate me, it was an amazing experience to go deep into a product and team, learn how it works, and do my best to represent that in an engaging and friendly way on a real-world website.
This income stream was unexpected, but a new challenge for me that I enjoyed completing. More than anything else, my takeaway here is that anything can turn into a writing job, even something that is not billed as a writing job.
My traditional view of freelance writing was that it’s panicky, uncertain, and stressful. It is all those things — I don’t know how much I’ll be able to make from many of those sources this month, and I don’t necessarily know where my next client will come from. But other aspects were surprising. I was pleased to learn I didn’t have to do a single cold pitch to earn this business, and I was very happy to learn new skills, such as website copy.
The $6.8k I earned this month was my first stab at a full-time freelance income. I’ll continue networking, promoting my work, following my passion, and trusting in the long-term value of creating quality content because all those actions are what got me to where I am today.