How I doubled my freelance writing income last year

... without losing my mind

Hello writer friends,

In 2019, I doubled what I made the year prior, and nearly tripled what I earned at my first full-time writing job.

While I’ll get to how I did that below, let’s first acknowledge a few things I already had on my side:

A. Privilege. I have no loans and no one who relies on my time or my income. My boyfriend’s paychecks would cover our necessities if things went awry. And I’m in good health.

B. More than six years of devotion to the basics: filing clean copy, on time, every time; prioritizing a high-paying niche; firing low-paying clients; seeking recurring work; being responsive; etc. etc.

C. A focus on content marketing, which pays much better than journalism. I still write journalistic stories because my soul would die without them, but I could never live off journalism alone.

With that as my foundation, here are the two changes that helped me double my income in 2019:

1. I made myself sick

Starting in mid-2018, I set a goal to feel sick to my stomach whenever I sent a rate quote to a potential client*. (Major hat tip to Jennifer Goforth Gregory’s “The Freelance Content Marketing Writer” for this golden nugget of advice.) 

Like, I literally felt nauseous after clicking “send” because I felt like I’d quoted an absurdly high price. Yet time and time again, the client came back with something like “great!” or “how about X price [that was lower than what I quoted but still higher than what I normally would’ve asked for]?” On only one occasion did the client say “um, nope” and then refuse to work with me. 

Admittedly, my niche (finance) and experience were the main reasons this strategy was successful. But I think all writers could do this to some degree, because we’re not talking about a specific rate — we’re talking about asking for more than you’ve been asking for. What’s absurd to one writer might not be absurd to another; what’s absurd to all of us is not absurd to Taffy (you go, girl!). 

That said, if you’re just starting out, maybe don’t take this advice. But if you’ve been around the block a few times, and have some clips under your belt, and know you are going to do a good job, try it on for size. Start with asking for a little more, then keep going — you might get lucky. 

*I have only tried this technique with content marketing clients (ie. companies) — not with editors at news outlets.

2. I became obsessed with deep work

Cal Newport is my new hero. Not only did I quit Facebook and Instagram after reading “Digital Minimalism” last January (thereby freeing up lots of time), but I also became about 10 million times more productive after reading his 2016 book “Deep Work.”

Though all his stuff is worth a read, the book’s message is pretty easy to distill: Work in focused chunks, with zero distractions. No phone, no email, no dashing off clever tweets. Believe me: It’s tougher than it sounds, at least at first. I can’t remember how long Newport recommends doing it, but I started with 25-minute sessions and worked my way up to an hour. 

To stay on track, I use the Marinara extension for Chrome. I tell my bf I’m “doing a deep,” which is code for “don’t bother me,” set the timer for an hour, and dive in. At the end, I take a five-minute break to stretch, pee, eat. And then I do it again. I average around four deeps a day, though sometimes I’ll only get through two and once I got through six (and then basically couldn’t form sentences the rest of the day). After I’m done with my deeps, I’ll focus on admin stuff like email.

It’s incredible how much work you can get done in a focused hour. It’s mind-boggling how much you can get done in four. By working in deep spurts in 2019, I became much more efficient with my time, which allowed me to take on more assignments and earn more money (without losing my mind). 

What do you think? Helpful? Maybe these shifts will help you smash your income goals in 2020!

xoxo, Susan


“New freelancers sometimes worry that talking to other freelancers is fraternising with the enemy. I call BS on that! Be collaborative and collegiate because there really is enough space at the top for all of us. Go out and find your people. Forget WeWork, find a local, affordable co-working space. Or join a virtual community (like my Slack group for freelancers!) and make the best colleagues you've ever had.” ~ Anna Codrea-Rado in The Professional Freelancer




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