Your Freelance Earnings Goal (and why $100K may not be it)

What I’m listening to: The Wild Hunt by The Tallest Man on Earth

Today was going to be a This Job, Not That Job post, but then a comment came in from a reader. Michelle had read The $100K Myth post from nearly two years ago, and her comment was spot on.

She said this:

If I have to see one more “how I made six figures as a freelancer writer!” post, I’m going to puke. It’s literally always connected to an expensive informational product, which right there tells you this person couldn’t have been paying their bills as smoothly as they would have liked or they wouldn’t be cobbling together these pie in the sky, pipe dream info products to sell.

Michelle, you’ve inspired this follow-up post.

I’ve said much of this before, but repeating it seems necessary. New writers are coming onto the scene every day, and they’re the ones being targeted by people eager to sell them on the “How to make $100K a year” dream.

The operative word there: Sell.

Look, we’ve all seen writers claiming to hit that six-figure income and yes, some of them have done so purely by writing and editing. What do I mean by that? I mean they’ve made their money without including the income they would have made had they sold you their success secrets. But they’re busy making money through actual work, so you wouldn’t hear from them, would you?

I’ve already gone over the ways to vet these claims, so I’ll let you go back and read that at your leisure. Today is about why it matters to you, or anyone else, that you hit that arbitrary earnings goal.

Hint: It doesn’t.

You can be a successful, happy, busy freelancer doing your own thing without making six figures. Click To Tweet

You can pay your bills, live well, and have nice things without a six-figure income. You don’t need it unless you do.

By that I mean if you’ve done the math and realize that $100K is what you need to get by with some cash in your pocket, then yes, you need it. But to say you, writer making $45K annually or $25K working part time, need $100K because you’ve been told you do is to say you’ve bought into the hype. Think of it this way: If you’re making $100K just writing, do you really have time to teach other people how to do the same thing?

Not that there’s a thing wrong with using multiple streams of income to reach your targeted earnings goal. Not at all. But a little truth in advertising is sorely lacking in many of these sales pitches presented as wow-look-at-me-go statements. In so many cases, the person selling you the course or book or whatever is counting your cost in that equation.

So how much of that is from actual writing? Hmmm…

My advice to you, the freelancer who isn’t sure if the $100K Valhalla is right for you:

  • Do the math: It could be that $50K annually would make you swoon and keep you in a pretty comfortable life. You won’t know that until you factor in bills, taxes, expenses, and savings/fun money.
  • Consider how busy you need to be: If $100K is your goal, do you have the time to make that happen? If you’re looking at an easygoing career that gives you ample time to yourself, you may not be well-positioned for that. You may need to either raise your rates or increase your time commitment.
  • Think about what you need to put in place to achieve it: And I’m not talking about decreasing your income at the start by paying for those pie-in-the-sky course or book promises. I’m talking about what information, resources, skills and yes, clients do you need to reach your goal. Would your current client base support your goal? If not, how many more clients do you need to win? At what rate? How will you measure your progress? Hold yourself accountable?
  • Ask yourself why it matters to you: Look, I’d love to make $100K a year, but I’m at a point in my career where I’m winding down a bit and working in more leisure time. I’ve come close to that number, but it doesn’t matter. I’ll repeat that: it doesn’t matter. This is where I want to be right now. Do I need that $100K? No. Do you? That’s up to you to answer. But if you want to make it simply to say you did, you’re going to have to put the action behind it and maybe sacrifice something. And ask yourself why it matters so much to you — to say you did? To see what it feels like? To have enough money to survive and meet all your goals? Only you can answer that.
  • Ask yourself why you haven’t earned that so far: Tough love time. If you’re thinking of going from $35K annually to $100K, that’s a big jump. I’m not saying you can’t — I say go for it if you want it that badly — but I will ask you to really examine your actions, your business processes, your skill level, your marketing prowess, your branding… really look at why you’ve not reached for that $100K before this. Are you really that consistent, motivated, dedicated, confident, committed to working your ass off to get where you want to be? If not, that’s an honest answer, and maybe it’s a clue to whether you should be attempting this or finding a goal that suits you for now.

Writers, how did you come to your earnings goal?
What do you see wrong with the $100K pronouncements?
What advice would you give new and established writers in building their income goals?


About the author




  • Paula Hendrickson March 23, 2017 at 11:41 am

    I’ve never understood people’s obsessions with arbitrary numbers – or even with other people’s income. I don’t care how much or little other people make as long as they’re happy. I know people who stress themselves to unhealthy levels just because they want the six-figure income and all of the trappings that come with it. I also know people who earn less than I do who are happy because they have more flexibility and truly enjoy the work they do.

    Would I like to be able to afford to restore my house to it’s bungalow glory? Sure. But the other day I realized that would cost more than the asking price of similar sized houses near me. Right now I’m glad I can afford to hire a plumber if I need one to fix the new leak in the bathroom.

    • lwidmer March 23, 2017 at 3:08 pm

      Paula, that’s called prioritizing. And it sounds like you’re doing it right — if you’re happy, you’re doing it right. 🙂

  • Dava Stewart March 23, 2017 at 1:37 pm

    Last year was my best-ever year income-wise, and I was not even close to $100K. For the majority of the year, I worked part-time hours. I took off every Monday afternoon to sell produce at a farmer’s market with my family. I took off early every Thursday to go kayaking. It was heaven.

    I’d love to have the same this year, but you know what? Freelancing is a roller coaster, and this year, I’m working roughly twice as many hours for about half what I was making on a per month basis at this time last year. It’s not looking like I will have an even better year this year, in spite of working harder.

    But I don’t care. I love the work I do, and I can still take off early if I want or need to. My bills are still getting paid, even if I’m spending a little more time each month outlining my budget. Six figures doesn’t even begin to factor into my definition of a fulfilling, successful career.

    This is a lovely, insightful post. Thank you for writing it!

    • lwidmer March 23, 2017 at 3:11 pm

      Dava, that does sound like heaven! I had a similar year (2016 must have been good to us) — easy work, bigger paychecks. The rollercoaster continues. 😉

      It’s about balance. I’m so happy doing what I do, and I love my clients and the time I can give them. Sure, I could take on five more clients and make oodles of money, but at some point the quality of what I deliver might suffer. And there’s no doubt my sanity would.

      I choose sanity. 🙂

  • Cathy Miller March 23, 2017 at 3:15 pm

    I know you have heard my story many times, Lori. 🙂 I had the 6-figure income for years in my corporate career. I am convinced I would have died early from stress if I had not left that life behind. There is nothing wrong with a 6-figure goal IF that’s what you want (and not what someone else says you need to validate yourself).

    When I first started, I had a simple goal. Make more than the year before. 🙂 My good health and being here for my mom bring far greater rewards – for me – than any 6-figure did or ever could.

    • lwidmer March 23, 2017 at 5:49 pm

      Your story is worth repeating, Cathy. 🙂

      Your ongoing goal is a good one. It’s not nearly as stressful (if at all) as your career, and it’s an easy one to manage.

      In 2009, I had my absolute best year ever. I came rather close to that $100K. It’s also the year I don’t remember summer happening, fall happening, or anything before I flat-out refused to work past December 21st. I was exhausted and stressed.

      This past year, I made a good bit more than I usually do — close to that 2009 total — and I didn’t feel stressed or exhausted. I even had time for three vacations. Not bad. 🙂