The $100-a-Day Freelance Shell Game

What I’m listening to: Laminated Cat by Jeff Tweedy

There’s a bit of a disturbing trend in freelance writing, and it’s pointed at new writers and those who are struggling.

It’s the lowering-of-the-bar promise.

In one week, I saw four different blog posts tweeted out, full of can-you-believe-it exclamations about how much money you, freelance writer, can make in a day. The promises came with assurances and “here’s how” kind of advice. The amount these blogs were touting as your newest goal?

One hundred bucks a day.

That’s right — for eight hours of work, these bloggers were thinking $100 a day was the bee’s knees.

Those of you who pulled out a calculator just now are saying “But Lori, one hundred bucks a day for 365 days is $36,500. Any beginning writer would be doing great starting like that!”

Except that’s not what someone looking to make a living writing will actually earn.

Since your calculator is still open, let’s do some real math. Let’s assume our freelancer is going to work five days a week instead of seven. Five days a week times 52 weeks a year equals:

$26,000

Okay, still not terrible, right? Not great, but any freelancer starting out might think that’s decent. However, that’s 52 weeks, five days a week. No time off except on weekends. What about holidays? Birthdays? Vacations? Okay, so let’s assume our freelancer is able to work a total of say 48 weeks per year. That gives a week off for vacation, and one to take care of Thanksgiving, religious holidays, and various birthdays. What’s our total now?

$24,000

Yes, still within the realm of reason. So we have to assume our freelancer never gets sick. Some are lucky like that. But one thing we can’t assume:

Work that’s available daily.

That’s right — the calculations we’ve used so far assume our new freelance writer will be working five days a week every single week. But can we expect that? Yes and no. Some of you may argue that anyone can write four or five content mill articles and get to that $100 easily. That’s true. However, there’s one thing you’re missing in the equation:

No-sweat freelancing keeps you locked into the same rate year over year. Click To Tweet

For some new freelancers, that may be all you ever wanted — just a way to stay home and write. Ah, but you haven’t factored in the real issue you’ve not addressed (and probably because you don’t realize it yet):

You’re going to want to earn more.

Hey, even fast-food workers get annual raises. But are you getting that from your content mill client? From that cheapo who argues every syllable? From that one-off job you did because you needed a quick $100?

Fat chance.

Plus, you’ve not realized that of that money you’re earning, about 18 percent of it belongs to your government. That’s right — that’s $24,000 gross, not net. Your federal and state (and local) entities want their piece.

Calculator time again. Let’s assume conservatively that you pay about 15% in federal taxes. State taxes are another 2% and local, another 1%.

  • The IRS wants $3,600
  • Your state wants $480
  • Your local wants $240

Now deduct that from your $24,000. That leaves you with:

$19,680

Ew. But hey, you’re just starting out, so you figure as long as you’re making a profit…

Wait. Did you count your retirement savings? Your office expenses? Your health care?

  • You spend $50 a month on you IRA
  • You pay $400 a year on office stuff, including memberships and journals
  • You pay $1,056 annually under the Obama healthcare plan (what one of my kids paid on $20K in gross earnings)…oh wait. That’s being repealed by the Republicans. You now pay triple that, unless you have a pre-existing condition, which means you can’t qualify for health care (and that pregnancy you’re nearly through, thyroid condition, high blood pressure are all pre-existing)

Double Ew.

Here’s the thing; you, freelance writer, do not have to set the bar so low. You don’t have to accept that $100 a day is all you should be aiming for. The people telling you that this is the brass ring you should be reaching for? They’re reeling you in, for their next promise is going to be about how you can double that or triple that or (hang on, here it comes)…

You can make six figures by following their fabulous (paid) advice.

And since they were the ones who showed you so readily, so freely, how to make $100 a day, you’re going to go ahead and trust them. Money is exchanged. You’re now going to learn how to earn like the big guns!

Only, the advice? It’s more of the same — long on promise, just short on full delivery. What’s more, if you do a search on the same topic, you’re going to find that same advice littering the internet, and there for the taking. No money needed.

That’s how you start taking your career, your freelance writing business seriously: you take a proactive approach.

  • Research how to do it
  • Read — a lot
  • Ask peers
  • Have a plan for what you’ll sell and to whom
  • Reach out directly to potential clients often and regularly

It’s like hockey — you can’t score if you’re not trying to score. Put all your energy and focus toward that goal. Eventually, your efforts will pay off in the form of a viable, growing freelance writing business.

How did you break out of the earnings rut?
What one thing worked best for you?
What would you do differently?

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Comments

  • Mary Schneider June 26, 2017 at 1:04 pm

    Yep, it’s easy to fall into that trap. $100/day would *almost* cover my living expenses… Feeding teenagers is no joke!

    Reply
    • lwidmer June 26, 2017 at 1:38 pm

      Feeding teenagers takes at least $100 per teen per day, Mary!

      Reply
  • Damaria Senne October 17, 2017 at 1:00 pm

    My issue was my own self-esteem: I was too afraid to ask for more money because I was not convinced that my services were worth a higher fee. I was afraid that the potential client would hire someone else to do the job. Once I began to value my work, I was fine with the potential client who walked because they did not want to pay my fee. I began to regard days when I had no contracted work as days I could spend marketing. Now I have a marketing plan and everyday, I do a task or two towards building my client base and I know if the potential client and I can’t come to an agreement about price, I have more prospects lined up.

    Reply
    • lwidmer October 17, 2017 at 2:20 pm

      That was my experience too, Damaria. The moment I valued my own skill, I didn’t fight to keep clients not worth keeping.

      So glad to see you here. I miss you. 🙂

      Reply