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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!


Designing like crazy

So I’ve spent a couple days playing around with my new MBP. It’s awesome. Super fast and quiet as anything. I’ve already moved everything off my iMac and onto the MBP. It’s also been amazing having Adobe CS5 – I’ve been designing like mad.

Oh, and I did end up buying a 1 TB external hard drive the other day. I’ve been needing one for years, and figured it would be much faster transferring all my data this way. It’s a total no-frills hard drive; you just plug it in and it’s ready to go. And it was under $90, so you can’t really beat that.

My first design project is my personal online portfolio, which is coming along quite nicely. I’m designing 2 versions – one in HTML and one in Flash. Which means double the work. I’m not a huge fan of Flash, but I haven’t used the program in about 3 or 4 years so I figured I might as well try to brush up. It’s a nice skill to have, and it’s really fun.

The only con I’ve found with the MBP is the lack of screen space. I know that it was the right purchase for me because I do need the portability – BF and I are going away this weekend for a wedding and I can take my work with me and design on the ferry and in our down time. Whereas that would have been impossible on a desktop computer.

But my next purchase is definitely going to be a computer monitor that’s at least 24″. My parents said that they would buy one for me for my birthday (October). So I have a while to wait, but it’s not a need-to-have item. I can deal with the small screen space for now.

Macbook Pro almost within reach

I am very close to buying a new MacBook Pro. I’ve been doing months of research on what exactly I’ll need, and who to buy from for the best possible deal. I’m getting a great deal by buying from a reputable online seller (trust me, I researched up on this big time). Basically I’m getting student discount pricing, and saving an additional $400  for a fully loaded 15″ MBP. Was going to go with the 17″, but it’s just a little too big for easy portability.

The total cost is $2,600. Go ahead, freak out a little. I’m freaking out too! It’s a lot to pay for a computer (less than I paid for my current one though). When I was researching laptops, I knew 2 things: it was going to be an Apple product, and it had to run multiple CS5 programs at once with minimal lag. I work my computers hard when I’m designing, and I need this to last me at least 5 years.

I was originally set to wait a year or so to upgrade to a new computer, because my current one – despite its inability to run CS5 without major lag (it can barely run CS4 when I downloaded the full trial version) – is in great condition. But with the release of CS5, my design business still getting work, and this new PT job opportunity, portability is so key. Especially in our house, where space is at a premium and I might have to relocate to a coffee shop or outside if BF is studying. Plus, the upgrades to the Adobe products are so crazy that I need to get out of CS3 and into CS5.

Right now I have about $1,200 in cash saved up from extra income that I’ve made over the past few months – which includes the $300 sitting in my Savings. I would have had more, but the weddings took a fair chunk of change out of my accounts. I put my iMac up for sale and have generated good interest at $1,100 … hoping to sell it for no less than $900 (anyone want to buy an awesome used computer?). That leaves me with about $300-500 left to make. I’ve got about $300 of guaranteed side income coming up, so once I get that, depending on how my iMac sells, I could have all the cash in hand! :) All that without having to dip into my regular FT job income.

Timeline for purchase is by the end of August. Hopefully mid-August.

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