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2011 Freelance/Side Income Breakdown

A huge goal of mine was to increase my income by 50% this year and bring in $25,000 in freelance/side income, and I am thrilled to say that I not only accomplished this goal, but I crushed it. Okay, well, maybe I didn’t crush it. But I definitely exceeded my expectations.

In 2009 I only made a few thousand dollars in freelance/side income, and in 2010, I made approximately $8,000. It wasn’t a lot, so how was I able to jump from $8,000 to $25,000? There isn’t an easy answer to that question. I worked hard, and had a couple of big breaks.

Here’s how my income broke down per month:

January $1,214
March $3,444
April $2,314
May $1,297
June $1,863
July $2,536
August $2,097
September $4,362
October $4,850
November $3,594
December $2,366

TOTAL: $32,425

My income started to skyrocket right around September, which coincided with taking on another freelance contract AND the Financial Blogger Conference. I don’t actually think that FINCON11 did anything for me in terms of directly increasing my income, but I do think that it helped me get more traffic to my blog.


Well this will be the first time since I was 15 that I haven’t been employed by a company, and it’s scary. I spent the last 2 weeks freaking out about taking such a drastic pay cut by leaving my day job. But, after running the numbers for this upcoming year, I’m feeling a lot better about it. At least a lot better about meeting my obligations.

It looks like I’ll be able to count on around $35-40k coming in from steady freelance work. And as for the rest? Well that’s all up to me and my hustle. I’m aiming for a $70,000 salary, so that means I’ll have to bring in an additional $30-35k. That’s basically an extra $3,000 each month. Hmm.

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!


Toronto trip on hold

Wahoo! I made an additional $270, bringing my extra income total for July to $1,250! I *would* be happier if I could be saving all of that money, but most of that is going to pay for the trip to Hawaii (and my new MOH obligations), as well as the August wedding. On a positive note, that means I won’t have to dip into my savings or pay for any of it out of my monthly budget (since my monthly budget only reflects spending out of my FT income).

Also, in an effort to get back on track with saving (this summer has been pretty spendy with all my traveling), I’m not going to take my trip to Toronto. I think I’ll try to go later on this fall, maybe in November – where hotel prices and flights might be cheaper. It totally sucks, but I need to replenish my savings accounts and get that pesky Emergency Fund fully funded before I can think about another vacation!

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