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:
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.