Over the last 6 years, I have spent over $50,000 on freelance writing services. I have hired $100-per-hour specialists and $6 per hour transcribers. I have worked with some of these freelancers for so long that they feel like friends. Others have provided work so poor that I didn’t even bother to post it.
So, despite the fact that I have found other uses for my own writing skills, I feel qualified to comment on the state of the freelance writing space. And, despite the fact that I respect all of the freelance writers that I work with, the conclusion that I have come to is that, with only a few very specific exceptions, this is a soul-sucking line of work to be in.
To be 100% clear, it is not my intention to dissuade anyone from trying to make money from their writing. Quite the opposite! My intention is to persuade all of the talented writers out there to take a more holistic view of their talent. I want to help you avoid the disappointment of not being able to achieve your freelance writing dream.
So, let’s start why I believe that freelance writing is such a tough way to make a little extra money through your talent for words. Then, I’ll offer an alternative perspective on how to use your writing skills.
Is it Really Possible to Make Money as a Freelance Writer? The Supply Problem
When it comes to freelance writing, there is a dirty little secret that is hiding in plain sight. If you go to Upwork’s public website and search for “writing,” you will get a list of 446,000 freelancers.
Of these, guess what percentage have made at least $1 on the platform? 50%? 20%? 15%? Nope! If Upwork’s statistics are to be believed, only 11% of these writers have made more than $1.
How many have made over $1,000? About 7%!
The problem with freelance writing is that everyone thinks that they can do it. In addition, countless blogs, books and Instagram accounts feature stories of fabulously wealthy writers who spend their days sipping cocktails on the beach, while making $1,000s writing for other people.
Once again, I’m not saying that it’s not possible to make money as a freelance writer. I know several people who make $100,000’s a year in this way. But, these people are the exceptions to the rule. They have spent decades building up their client base, they are outstanding writers and they have found a niche (more on this later).
So, if being a freelance writer is so tough, should you just throw away your notebook and give up? Hardly! There are plenty of ways to make real money as a writer. None of these paths are easy, but, in my opinion, they are a heck of a lot more predictable (and profitable!) than putting your words in the hands of others.
Write for Your Own Audience on a Topic You Care About
The other day, I invited a woman to join our Sixty and Me guest writer program. I explained to her that we touched 50,000 women every day through our blog and social media channels and invited her to join the conversation.
Her response? “Thanks for the opportunity, but, I don’t write for free.”
When I took a second look at her website, I saw that she was telling the truth. Her own posts, released once per month, were mostly about her work as a writer. Because she saw her words as an asset to be auctioned, she didn’t even write for her own audience.
I’ve always wondered why freelance writers don’t spend more time… well, writing. It’s almost as if the very act of monetizing your work takes the fun out of putting your thoughts on paper.
My advice to people who want to make money as a writer is to take the exact opposite approach; find something that you care about and start writing about it. Start a blog. Write a book. Join a poetry club. Just write.
By now, you’re probably saying, “That’s all well and good… but, can you make money writing for your own audience?” Not true!
While the blogging space is just as crowded as the freelance writing space, there is plenty of room for specialization and innovation.
You don’t need to have an audience of millions of people to make a solid side income. If you have a sufficiently targeted niche with 1,000 visitors per day, you could probably make $200+ in advertising revenue per month and up to $600 from sponsored posts.
Now, $800 per month doesn’t seem like a lot of money for all that work, but, I can guarantee you that very few freelance writers are making this much. And, they also have to deal with the stress of having customers.
Of course, the bigger advantage of writing for yourself is that there is no upward limit on the revenue that you can make. If your writing takes off and your blog grows to 500,000 monthly visitors, you take all of that upside.
Make Your Writing a Hook for Your Consulting and Speaking Career
Another option that many writers have found profitable is to use their writing to launch their speaking or consulting career. Once again, the trick here is to pick something that you enjoy writing about and then, shock-of-all-shocks, actually write about it consistently!
Here are a few questions that you can ask yourself if you aren’t sure what to write about.
What activities do I love? Note: loving something is not enough. You also have to want to add value to others. But, for now, identifying your passions is a good place to start!
Which topics do people seek out my advice on?
What do my friends and family consider me to be an expert on?
What unique skills or experiences have I gained over the course of my life?
How do I want to make the world a better place?
What do I wish I could help other people to accomplish?
Obviously, this is an abbreviated list of questions. There are literally hundreds of ways to approach picking a topic to write about. The point is that writing with purpose is WAY more fun than writing for others… and it’s also more profitable!
Becoming a recognized subject matter expert is not a fast process. In the beginning, you may struggle to make any money at all. But, if you stick with it, over the course of months and years, people will start to seek you out. And this is where your new business as a consultant, speaker or author can really take off!
Write a Book… No, Seriously!
Right about now, I can hear you groaning. We all know that writing a book isn’t the short path to riches that people think it is. But, that’s not the point!
The point is that, if you are reading this article, you want to make money from your writing. The brutal truth is that ANY path that you can take as a writer is hard.
I’m not saying that writing a book is an easy or predictable way to make money. I’m simply saying that becoming an author is a better way to make money from your writing than being a freelance writer.
Here’s the thing. Like starting your own blog and becoming a subject matter expert, writing a book isn’t just about making money directly from your words; it is about standing out from the crowd. It is about shaping the world through your work. It is about putting value out into the world, not into someone else’s business.
To be 100% clear, I’m not saying that writing a 60-word, poorly researched “10 Tips for…” book is going to launch your career. These days, there is simply too much competition to stand out as an author (self-published or otherwise) unless you are willing to take the writing process seriously.
But, if you pour your heart into your work, you have a good chance of changing your life. Will your book make it onto the New York Times Best Seller List? No. And, I’d love you to prove me wrong on this by the way!
Could your book establish you as a credible writer who can attract top dollar for any paid writing work that she does? Absolutely! Could it make you come extra cash? Yes! Could it launch your speaking or consulting career? You bet!
If you don’t know where to get started with the ideas on this article, don’t worry! In the next few months, I am going to interview several experts who can help you to launch your writing business. For now, I just want you to believe in yourself enough to use your words for your own benefit.
And, if you still want to be a freelance writer, that’s ok too! I’ll be back with some advice on this topic soon!
Have you ever thought about making some extra money as a freelance writer, blogger or author in (or before) retirement? What is stopping you? What do you want to write about? Let’s have a chat!