- Courtesy Kelly Burch
- I quit my full-time job about five years ago, when my first child was born, to become a full-time freelance writer.
- That first year, my business earned about $6,400. This year, however, I’m on track to gross $100,000 from freelance writing.
- While some of that growth is thanks to luck and privilege, some is thanks to hard work and a few smart choices that made a big difference: asking for advice, investing in childcare, and prioritizing my most lucrative income streams.
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Almost exactly five years ago I quit my newspaper job to become a full-time freelancer. I had recently had a baby, and she had some minor medical issues and a major aversion to sleep. That was my excuse, but the true reason was that I wanted to be self-employed, and I was confident that I could pull it off.
I had no idea, then, how successful I could be. This year, I’m on track to gross $100,000 from my writing business. When my second daughter was born, I kept working, while my husband stayed home during her first year. My career has been incredibly beneficial to my family, but it’s also been hugely fulfilling professionally. I get to work on a variety of projects (this week’s stories include finance, automotive, and sex education clients), so I am able to challenge myself and rarely get bored.
One of the biggest benefits of my job, however, is the financial security. I quit my job in June of 2014, a few weeks after giving birth. I took most of the summer for maternity leave, and started to dabble in freelance writing in the fall.
That year, my gross freelance income was $6,476. In 2015, it was $24,876; in 2016, I grossed $35,151. By 2017, I made $61,425 in gross income, and last year, 2018, I made $70,484. This year, as of the end of October, I’ve billed for $83,564. That puts me on track for billing $100,276 by the year’s end.
Here’s how I grew my business from $6,000 to six figures within five years.
First, I started asking for help and advice
Any business guru will tell you that networking is important. That holds true, even if you work for yourself.
As soon as I quit my job I started reaching out to people, including to a blogger I followed (bloggers were still a thing at that point). She was also pivoting toward freelance writing and added me to a small group of about 15 young, female writers from around the country. We were all at similar points in our career, and were able to ask questions, give advice, and troubleshoot.
Today, a few of us have broken six figures. One woman as published a book. We’ve watched each other go viral, and we’re supported each other in building businesses around our writing careers. Those colleagues have become dear friends and trusted advisers. I would be in a very different place without them.
In the fall of 2015, someone from that small group connected the rest of us with a vast online network of writers. The network included hundreds of thousands of women who posted job leads, gave advice, and shared industry contacts. Joining that network gave my career a huge boost, and helped me increase my income by about 40% over the next year.
Although social media (Facebook specifically) was hugely important, I also networked via email and in person, connecting with editors at local publications.
When I started freelancing, I spoke with a colleague who had made six figures consistently for a few years. This blew my mind and seemed utterly impossible. And yet, I knew this woman was making it happen, which gave me hope. At that point, my goal was to earn enough each month to cover my $1,250 rent. Now, I average about seven times that.
I got my biggest income jump from investing in childcare
Between 2016 and 2017, my income increased 72%. The secret? More childcare. Prior to that, my daughter had been in care two days a week. That year, she started attending preschool every day until 12:30 p.m., followed by a big nap. Since I tend to do the bulk of my work in the morning, this gave me huge opportunity for professional growth.
Like a lot of parents, I sometimes think I can do it all. However, seeing how quickly my business grew when I had more time to focus on it confirmed that I cannot be a great mom and great business owner without dedicating independent time to each endeavor. Investing in childcare is really investing in myself and my business.
My next-biggest jump came from corporate clients
The other large jump in my income came this year, during which I’ve increased my income by about 30%. Most of that increase can be attributed to working with more corporate clients, who pay significantly higher rates than editorial publications like newspapers or magazines.
I started working with these clients through a networking fluke (a woman in one of my networks introduced me to an editor for a major brand). As clients returned to me, I became more confident that I could do this type of work. I started pursuing jobs with brands that are household names.
At the same time, I became more comfortable setting a higher rate for myself and advocating for myself with clients. I know that I want to make each day, and can express it in a rate per word, per post, or per hour. I’m no longer afraid to say no to jobs that aren’t able to pay that rate.
I make some exceptions to this: If I love a publication (like my local newspaper) or if an outlet is offering me consistent work, I will adjust my rate. Yet, for the first time I’m also saying no with confidence, knowing that I have other options for work.
I was lucky and privileged, but I also made good choices and worked hard
Sometimes parents, women especially, are sold the dream of making it big by working from home. That message can be problematic (especially when the need for childcare, an engaged partner, and good networks isn’t discussed).
However, in my case that enticing narrative became reality. Some of it was luck (like finding great networks), some of it was privilege (having the means to pay for childcare) and some of it was my choices (including a partner who is willing and able to take on a fair share of household and child duties). And, of course, hard work.
Now that I’ve (nearly) hit six figures, I sometimes wonder what’s next. The reality is I’m really happy with my career right now: I work about 30 hours a week on a variety of projects I find engaging. I have plenty of time with my family and even some time for myself. For now, I’m going to enjoy this career I’ve built for myself.
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