Give Me Back My Five Bucks

The growth of my freelance business

I was asked a few weeks ago to talk about my freelancing income: when I started to make good money from it, and if I’m still on track to earn $25,000 this year. 

My freelancing business started in 2005, when I was still in college. I didn’t have many clients. In fact, I think I mostly did volunteer work in order to build up my portfolio. Which actually turned out to be a good move, because I was able to get full-time jobs a lot easier during the first few years out of college, since I had a decent portfolio to show.

From 2006 to 2009, I made between $2,000-$3,000 each year through freelancing. Not a lot of money, but at least it was something. A little bit of it was through blog advertising income, but most of it was through word-of-mouth graphic design work. I just sort of plugged away at the contracts that kind of fell into my lap, not really working hard at growing my business.

In 2010, I decided to make a conscious effort to make more money through freelancing. I reached out to existing and potential graphic design clients, but noticed that I just wasn’t getting much more work. It was then that I started getting noticed a bit through GMBMFB. My readership was steadily growing, and my advertising income was increasing. So I decided to channel my energy into what was working for me, and my focus shifted to growing my blog instead. But I wasn’t sure how I was going to make that jump from being an amateur blogger, into something that would actually generate a decent income (without selling out or being spammy). I had been blogging at GMBMFB for over 3 years, and in that time, I had seen newer blogs surpass me in terms of ad revenue and job opportunities, and I really wasn’t sure if I was ever going to make it to that level (or if I even wanted to).

Then, about mid-way through the year, I was offered my big break, which (unsurprisingly) proved to be the tipping point of my freelance career. The personal finance editor of the Toronto Star contacted me, and offered me a job as a blogger for a new website called Moneyville (which launched in September 2010). Of course, I accepted. It’s not every day that someone offers you a position writing for the biggest newspaper in Canada, with pretty much no real writing experience.

It was a huge adjustment writing for a newspaper. I had to learn on the fly, and at first it was incredibly difficult dealing with the criticism. And the haters had good points – I had no financial credentials, I was a recovering shopaholic, and I was an awful writer. But I grew into it, and eventually found my comfort zone.

By the end of 2010, I had made about $8,000 through freelancing. It still wasn’t a lot, but it gave me that push to keep going and to challenge myself to see how far I could go.

This is how my thought process works when coming up with a freelance target for 2011:
“If I can make $8,000, then I can definitely make $10,000!”
“But $10,000 isn’t really a challenge, is it?”
“What if I increased it to $20,000? That would really make me work hard.”
“Why don’t I make it $25,000? That sounds better.”

I knew I had an outside shot at making $25,000 in freelance income. A lot of people can easily make that kind of income through freelancing, but I knew I’d have to work harder because I don’t generate a lot of ad revenue on this blog. Plus, I literally had no plan of attacking the $25,000 goal, except to work as hard as I could. Which makes me sound naive and kind of stupid, now that I look back on it. I should have created a plan and figured out where I was going with freelancing.

As expected, January 2011 started off a bit slow, and I got  stressed out. So I decided to announce my $25,000 intention on Moneyville/Toronto Star. I knew writing for that audience group of lovable crazies would really give me the motivation that I needed to make it happen – and make it sustainable.

So far in 2011, here’s how much freelance income I’ve made each month:

January $1,214
February $2,488
March $3,444
April $2,314
May $1,297
June $1,863
July $2,536

In order to be on pace to earn $25,000 in 2011, by the end of July, I had to have made $14,452. As of August 1st, I’ve earned $15,056, and am just ahead of pace by $604. As you can see, my freelance income can fluctuate wildly from month-to-month. Luckily, I have my full-time income to bring me the stability that I need in order to not go insane with stress.

I try to follow my freelancing schedule, and keep a (somewhat) balanced lifestyle at the same time. I have been working hard to minimize the time I spend procrastinating, and I think I’m doing a better job at it. It’s a lot of work, but I’m really seeing results, and that motivates me to keep moving forward. Although I will admit, now that I’m living on my own, it’s a lot harder to balance my life. There’s commitments to two field hockey teams, seeing friends and my (new) boyfriend (who lives 30-45 min. away, depending on traffic), and general chores around the house that I was used to having help with. Which is why I’m seriously considering a house cleaner, but that’s a post for another day.

Truthfully, I would say 95% of my freelance income now comes from writing and blog advertising. I’ve been turning down new graphic design contracts, and only keeping up with my existing clients. Why? Well, I just don’t have the time, and I’m not willing to compete for jobs against thousands of other graphic designers in the city. Everyone’s a designer these days, and I can easily list off 10 people I know personally who are better than me at it. So instead, I’m sticking to what works. For now.

As we move closer to the end of the year, I’m at a point right now where I am making a minimum of $30,000/year through just freelance writing alone (this is through steady, non-fluctuating work – I just picked up another freelance contract – more details to come soon!). This doesn’t include one-off writing assignments, blog advertising income, or graphic design contracts. Meaning, my goal of one day making a $100,000/year salary (a combination of all of my income streams) doesn’t seem too unattainable. Not that I’m willing to make that a goal for 2012, but knowing that I’m not too far off is a satisfying feeling.

I’m happy to answer any questions you might have!


Author: Krystal Yee

I’m a personal finance blogger and marketing professional based in Vancouver. I’m a former Toronto Star (Moneyville) columnist, author of The Beginner’s Guide to Saving and Investing, and co-founder of the Canadian Personal Finance Conference. When I’m not working, you can usually find me running, climbing, playing field hockey, or plotting my next adventure.


  1. Laura @ nms says:

    Hi Krystal and well done on the freelance income you've earned so far this year. I wanted to ask how you do stop yourself procrastinating… there are so many distractions on the Internet! Also how well do you stick to your weekly schedule?
    My recent post Menu Plan Monday (and Grocery List)

    • Krystal Yee says:

      I am a professional procrastinator… it's really difficult sometimes to stay on track, but it's definitely gotten easier. I think I stick to my schedule pretty well in terms of hours dedicated to work each week, but the days and times that I work now, they fluctuate a lot. I find (for me) it's easier to cram all of my work into 3 or 4 nights a week, instead of spreading it out over 5 nights out of the week. That gives me more time to spend on the fun things, and because I've condensed my schedule, but still have to work just as hard, I find that cuts down on a lot of the procrastination. Also, sometimes because I can get so distracted at home, I find myself heading to Starbucks a few times a month. I hate writing there, so it forces me to get my stuff done as soon as possible, so I can leave. :)

  2. Rhona says:

    Thanks Krystal for explaining. I know I also asked you about this. Well, good luck and keep forging ahead. You are an inspiration to all. And, I am all about getting a cleaner. Ugh, cleaning is the worst….ever.

  3. Martilyo says:

    That is awesome! You have inspired me so much that I started my own personal finance blog to track my progress as I go from debt to wealth and I will help everyone I can as I do it. We really need to help one another with education, motivation and accountability. We cannot count on the government regarless of the country. I could only dream of having a well known website offer me side work. I love writing about finance, saving money and efficiency. I also feel your pain when it comes to critics. I have come to find out that there are unhappy people in this world and no matter what you say or what you do, you are wrong in their eyes and what you say is like science fiction to them. Just try to focus on the people, like me, who you inspire to make positive changes in life. Thanks again for what you do and good luck on your goals!

    To your financial health — Martilyo!!/angrymillionair
    My recent post Debt Worth, laying the cards on the table

  4. shoegal0424 says:

    This is great. I am trying to find some side income opportunities as well but I find before I can get freelance writing work, I should first keep my blog going for about a year first (3 weeks down)….I have also started tutoring on the side and trying to get some bookkeeping business. It is very difficult and but doable….I hope.
    My recent post a change of heart

  5. CarlyB21 says:

    What a journey you've created for yourself! Your blog is an ongoing source of inspiration and a joy to read. Thanks for posting this! I'm currently trying to make it in the freelance world and realizing it's time to pick up a part-time job to keep a balance with fluctuating pay cheques. I love the self-employed lifestyle, but there are too many stress triggers if it's the sole income you're relying on.

    • Krystal Yee says:

      I totally agree. If I were relying only on freelancing income, I think I'd have a heart attack. It's way too stressful (I don't know how full-time freelancers do it!), and I need that steady pay cheque coming in to calm me down.

  6. Kay says:

    Great job, krystal!

    Reading that was an eye opener for me. no, I dont have a hosuekeeper now, but it has made me at peace to hire one whenever I need one. I've come to realize that It's worth spending a few bucks to have a clean house during extra stressful months. (if you have money tos pare that is.. I'm not advocating this to anybody to somebody who is trying to get out of debt or save a good emergency fund.)

    • Krystal Yee says:

      Exactly. Hiring a cleaner is something I've always wanted to do, but could never justify. But it's worth the extra cost to not have to stress out about trying to keep a clean house. I work enough as it is – when I have free time, I don't want to spend it scrubbing floors and dusting! :)

  7. SavingMentor says:

    That's really impressive work Krystal! It's amazing what good things can happen when you apply your full motivation to something and it looks like that along with your big break with Moneyville allowed you to have this breakthrough. Always love to see Canadian bloggers doing well :D
    My recent post How To Save Money By Using Coupons

  8. Byrocat says:

    You go, young lady!

    Re the cleaning lady — shop around, check references, etc. And don't forget abut the friend/church/work connection! Our last cleaning lady was inexpensive and flexible on timing. Downside was that it was a friend so there were the almost weekly mutterings from my wife on the dust-bunnies under the bed, sofa not being thoroughly vacuumed, etc.

    When they work out right, they're terrific to have around; if not, it can be a regular annoyance or worse!

    Just remember that it's a business relationship, the same as your freelance work. Get it written in a contract as to waht is being done and what is not being done.
    My recent post Handling the annual bonus or whatever the boss calls it.

  9. ashley says:

    Amazing. You have been the push I needed this year in making my freelance income take over my 'day job' income.

    Go big or go home, right?

  10. LittlePira says:

    Great post Krystal! I did email you about your freelancing and you wrote back promptly. Much appreciated! Like someone else said, I've started a blog and figure I should keep it up for awhile first, but am dying to start freelancing at some point! How did you get your name out there? I figure once I get that first gig, the rest shouldn't be as hard, but just not sure how to get that first one!
    My recent post Running update: my playlist and other news

    • Krystal Yee says:

      A lot of people ask me how I got my name out there, but it was really just networking. I'm on Twitter a lot, I comment on a lot of blogs, and it just kind of grew from there. My readership is heavily based on returning visitors, and I really believe that's because I truly have established relationships and friendships with a lot of people out there. I love talking to fellow PF bloggers and readers, and I think the key to getting yourself known is to engage and build relationships. But that's just my opinion. I like reading and following people that I feel like I know on a personal level, and I try to do the same with this blog, and in my writing.

  11. Glad to hear that things have worked out well for you and your freelancing. So good that you managed to score such a big break with Moneyville. I hope everything continues to go very well for you!
    My recent post TotallyMoney Blog Carnival #33

  12. Bonnie says:

    I'm trying to grow my freelance client list, too, and this is definitely inspiring.

    I'm surprised that there were so many initial haters on Moneyville. i mean, the fact that you are a recovering shopaholic means that you are BETTER quailifed to teach about PF, in my opinion, than someone who's never had to wrestle with money.

    Finally–did I miss the post where you announced a NEW BF?!! :)

    • Krystal Yee says:

      I think that no matter who the authour is, or what they're writing about, there will always be haters on Moneyville. And that's no big deal, it's probably the norm for most newspapers I would think.

      Also… no you didn't miss any announcement about a new BF. I've kept it pretty quiet, but you'll probably hear more about him in the next little while. :)

  13. Thanks for posting this; great information!
    My recent post How a Pothole Nearly Sent Me to Jail….

  14. kateb1_2_3 says:

    This is amazing Krystal!

    Besides networking and your blog, how do you find freelance opportunities? Is that the only way, or do you seek them out through other avenues? Writing is something that I'm really passionate about (although, in a different area) but I've only ever had a few very small potatoes freelancing contracts. I'd love to grow it to a place where I could supplement my income like you are. Any advice you have would be great!

    Love the blog, very inspiring! :)
    My recent post Google Me

  15. anne says:

    You may want to watch your income growth and tax bracket. Even though you are earning more, you are also paying more taxes. Take into account the tax you have to pay on the increased income. After tax dollars may not be as much as you think.

    • Krystal Yee says:

      I will still be in the same tax bracket as I’m currently in. That being said, I know that I will end up owing taxes come April. But I have a lot of write-offs, and have been contributing like crazy into my RRSPs. Moving forward, if my freelance income holds steady, I’ll have to have a plan in place for taxes.

  16. Jeff says:

    I love you could have been defensive and angry when the haters came out, but instead you recognized their valid concerns and tried harder. That alone will help you be successful with your goals :)

    Now that we’re at the year end, it’d be interesting to see an update again! I hope you met your goal!

  17. Charles says:

    Krystal, how many hours do you spend on freelancing on top of your primary job? Seems like its alot of work! However you do it, keep it up!

    • Krystal Yee says:

      Right now I spend about 25 hours extra per week on freelancing. So I’m working 65 hours each week in total. Which isn’t that bad. Now that I’ve actually transitioned over to full-time freelancing, I anticipate working around 50 hours/week instead.

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