This article is part of our free Freelancing to Financial Freedom series which teaches moms to make a part time income on the side through FREELANCING.
With nearly every form of communication and commerce, there’s someone behind the scenes doing the writing. As the economy expands and more people are getting into the marketplace, that means more need for good writers to come up with advertising slogans, publicity announcements, press releases, and more. Additionally, there are always jobs for writers in the field of publishing, openings for new writers at startup magazines and websites, and even at colleges and universities, helping students produce top-quality papers.
A lot of people promise that you can make hundreds of thousands of dollars a year as a freelance writer. Other people who have tried to make a living by writing might admit that they earned less than a hundred dollars a month.The truth for the ‘average’ freelancer who is willing to put in the work lies somewhere in the middle. However, this is an occupation where the limitation is how hard you are willing to work, how much you are willing to improve yourself as a writer, and how well you market yourself to get clients.
If you are going to jump into freelancing, however, you do need to know how much you can make as freelance writer. And figuring out how much you can make by writing starts by answering this question …
How Much Do You Want To Earn?
This isn’t the time to dream about lottery-winning sums or set yourself unrealistic goals. If you’re thinking about writing to bring in money, you need to decide how much money you want that to be. There are several factors involved in this calculation: your budget, your available time, and your rates.
- What’s your goal? Are you hoping to start a new career as a writer right away? Do you want to bring in a little extra money to supplement your weekly paycheck? Do you have specific amounts you need to earn right now (for a car, for a vacation, for a gift)? For some people, the answer to all three of these questions will be “yes.” Do your best to come up with the total amount of money you want or need to make per week.
- How much time do you have? You also need to calculate how much time you can spend doing that writing. When you’re first starting out as a freelance writer, you might already have another full-time or part-time job. Because you’re a single parent, you also have responsibilities and family chores that will take up more hours of the week. Before you start calculating how much you can make, calculate how many hours per week you have to devote exclusively to writing. If you need help figuring out how to find or make time for writing, read this article for some helpful advice.
- How much do you need to charge? Although it’s not the usual way to calculate writing fees, it’s a good idea to start by thinking about how much you need to make per hour in order to reach your budget goals in the amount of time you’ve decided you have in your schedule each week. Take the dollar amount you came up with and divide it by the number of hours you have. That’s the amount you need to earn to reach your goal.
What number did you come up with? For many people, the first time they do this calculation they’re surprised and discouraged at the result. When you’re thinking something like “I want to earn an extra $500 per month” that doesn’t sound unreasonable. It sounds fairly easy to do, in fact. However, if you only have three hours a week to make that money, you need to earn that $500 in twelve hours: 500 / 12 = 41.67. You’ll also have to include the amount you’ll pay in taxes on those earnings. And most freelancing sites will take a cut as well. We’ll talk more about this at the end of this article.
Are you ready to start charging $40 an hour? When you think about it that way, it’s not so reasonable any more. If you’ve come up with a number like this, try reviewing your schedule again. There are more tips on finding time to write in this article. Remember that you may need to start slowly, so give yourself at least a few months to get into writing and learning how the freelance market works before you start setting any higher goals for your earnings.
Average Freelance Writing Rates
When you’re starting out, you probably won’t be making very much money at first, unless you’re an extremely good writer, or have contacts with clients who are looking for freelance writers already. On average, a beginning writer who has good English and writing skills could be earning 1 to 2 cents per word – that’s between $5 and $10 for a 500-word article, not including any fees or charges involved in getting the job or transferring the payment funds when the job is done.
However, on most freelance job sites where clients are advertising for writers, they’re often only paying anywhere from $1 to $3 dollars for 500 words. If it takes you an hour to research and write those 500 words, you’re only making 3 dollars an hour, and even less once you take out any fees charged by the site. This means that you need to have a very clear idea of how long it takes you to research and write articles or blog posts. It’s a good idea to look through some of the jobs being advertised and try writing sample articles on those topics. Time yourself in the writing – don’t forget any time you spend doing research on the topic – and see how long it takes you to write 500 words. (We’re using 500 words as a target because many clients will ask for articles of 500, 1000, or 2000 words, so it’s an easy way to calculate writing time.)
On many of the general freelancing jobs sites, you’ll also be competing with experienced and beginning writers from all over the world. This means that you may not be offered even that much to write in popular formats like website articles, blog posts, or search engine optimization (SEO) advertising text. Many of the people who are posting job advertisements are working on limited budgets themselves, and may not have a lot of money to spare to pay a writer. Many of the people offering their services as writers are willing to work for pennies an hour. The only reliable way to earn good money as a writer … is to become a good writer. When you’re a professional, you’ll have more control over the rates you can charge, and you’ll have a portfolio of work to support your asking price.
Professional Freelance Writing Rates
Professional writers charge at least ten times the average. Instead of 1 or 2 cents per word, they ask for – and are paid – between 10 cents and 25 cents per word. Many full-time professional writers charge even more, depending on the type of document or publication they’re working with. Professional publications are willing to pay those rates for quality writing from established writers who have a good portfolio and a lot of experience.
Keep in mind there are ‘types’ of professional writers.
Publication Writers: There are writers who are talented writers who land a writing job for some specific niche (fashion, family, etc). Since they are talented writers, they can write about most topics and usually end up writing for some specific publication. These writers are provably talented and can write in that ‘voice’ and style that a certain publication is looking for — be it a large website, fashion blog, or actual magazine or known publication. At the end of the day, these writers write for a large audience usually. You won’t find their writing on some unknown blog or written for the search engines. When they write something, thousands or millions of people see it.
Expert Writers: Then there are the ‘specialist writers’ — the writers who are extremely knowledgeable about specific complex ‘learned’ topics. Think science or finance or fitness or engineering, etc. Often, these writers are specialists in their field of writing, having worked directly in the field, have advanced university degrees, or are considered a well known (public) expert about that topic. And they are (usually) good writers to boot.
The difference between a generalist and an expert writer is typically in the scope of what they writer – expert writers write about very narrow topics that require being an expert in the field. Between the two, becoming a more general writer is the easier, but the competition is higher and it’s harder to set yourself apart.
Either of these types of writers can command between $50 and $500 (or more!) for a published magazine article, and that’s a goal you can aim for. Start out by setting a goal to earn at least $10 for each 500-word article you write, and start collecting examples of your writing to create a portfolio to show clients in the future. If you get enough published work, and have the proof that you’re a good writer who can create interesting articles on many different topics, you should eventually be able to charge higher amounts.
Ways To Improve Your Reputation as a Writer
There are a solid ways you can build your image up as a writer so you can start to command higher pay rates when you freelance. Keep in mind there’s a time aspect — you won’t start at the highest rates. You’ll have to gradually move your rates higher AS you become a better writer, secure more clients, and get your work on many different sites.
Create a Website
One of the ways you can look more professional is by setting up your own website. Not only is this a great way for potential clients to find you, it also gives you a place to link to when you apply for jobs on the internet. Many of the things you write for pay will be published on other peoples’ websites, and your name won’t appear with the article. However, if you are offered the chance to be credited as the author of an article, you’ll need a website of your own to link to. You can set up a free website through several different companies, including Wix, Weebly, and WordPress. Or you can start your own website on your own hosting and build your own ‘brand’ up.
Get Published Around the Web
Another way to upgrade your image is to find ways to get your name published, along with the articles you write. Here are some of the main ways to get your name out there:
- Guest Post: This will probably mean you’re going to be writing for free, at least for a while. Many well-known and good niche sites invite “guest bloggers” to contribute articles on different topics. You won’t be paid for those articles, but you will get good experience writing, and you’ll also have published articles you can add to your portfolio. It’s a good way to practice writing to spec. That means writing to the site’s specifications: how long the article should be, the format they prefer, the topics you can write about, and the tone you use. These are the same things you’ll need to do for the clients who are paying you to write. If you can guest post (or submit an article to a well established site who posts it) for a reputable website in a niche or, even better, for a well known publication, this can greatly help you showcase your work and impress potential clients that you’ve been ‘published’ on a well known site.
- Ask Employer to Attach Name to Work: Another way is to ask your employer if you can attach your name to your work. If you are a basic article freelancer (writing generic content articles for websites), this won’t be allowed usually. But there are some employers who post your work on blogs that will say yes. Keep in mind if you are going to attach your real name to your work, you better be proud of showing that off or having potential employers see your work.
- Land Writing Gigs for a Website: The quality of these jobs can vary, but if you can get yourself a steady gig writing for a website, you can use this to build your name up
- Sell Work to Magazines/Newspapers/Distribution Networks: This falls in line with becoming a ‘writer’ in the classic sense of the word where you writer for a newspaper or magazine. There are entire books written about this and for many freelancers, this is THE ultimate goal. It’s hard, it’s tough, and it requires some real talent, effort, and perseverance (not to mention a thick skin since you will get rejected a lot). But IF you can land a quality writing job — even just have your work published by some well known websites, magazines, or publications, this can give you a shot at some real money paying writing jobs.
Ultimately, if you want to make good money with less work, you are going to want to move yourself from the Average Freelancer to Professional Freelancer. Anyone can become an average freelancer and command $5 per 500 words. But far fewer become a professional who writes .25 to 1 per word for well established publications. To become the later, you need to have talent (if you don’t, you have to put in the work to become a great writer who is knowledgeable about a topic), you have to market yourself, and you need to build up a portfolio of work to showcase your skill (and previous jobs).
Don’t Us Content Farm Articles for Client Portfolio
Just a warning. For better writing gigs applications OR to impress clients looking for ‘professional writers’ don’t use content farm work in your portfolio. There are some content farms that you can attach your name to like EzineArticles.com. I would not advise you to do this as these websites are associated with low quality work. As someone who has hired freelancers before, I automatically reject applicants who give me ‘EzineArticles’ as reference work. The same goes with attaching your name to content mill work like TextBroker or Demand Media (ehow.com). Even though you are paid money to write a freelancer at these types of sites, the requirements to ‘get in as a writer’ are very low (they hire most writers). These types of content mill sites are associated with low quality work and you won’t be doing yourself any favors by listing these as ‘references’ if you are applying for higher end writing jobs; I’d argue using these sites as references will actually work against you!
Don’t Forget About Taxes!
Anyone who has looked at their paycheck receipts knows that there’s a reason they call it “take-home pay.” You might be earning $20,000 per year according to the Human Resources department, but there are local, state, and federal taxes that are automatically taken out of each paycheck that can lower your take-home pay by a third. Fortunately, you have the chance to get some of that back when you file your taxes each year!
When you’re a freelancer, the good news is that none of those state or federal taxes are taken out of the money you earn. The bad news is that you’re still required to pay them. If you sign up with a third-party site like oDesk or Freelancer, you will probably have to fill out an IRS-1099 form before you start. They will put that form on file, and at the end of the year you’ll get a copy showing all of your earnings that year, just like you get a W-2 from your employer now. You’ll need to use that form like a W-2 to enter the amounts as part of your regular tax filing each year.
When you’re setting your goals and thinking about how much you need or want to earn each month, take the dollar amount you came up with and increase it by one-third to cover the potential taxes. How much you actually pay on what you earn will depend in the end on any other income you have, your deductions, and your overall financial situation. However, using the one-third margin should leave you enough room to cover any unexpected tax charges at the end of the year. So if you’ve decided that you want to earn $500 per month, you’ll need to be bringing in about $650 per month to guarantee that money in the end.
Here are some good articles on tax problems and solutions for freelance writers:
- How to track your income and file your taxes http://www.learnvest.com/knowledge-center/how-to-do-your-taxes-if-youre-a-freelancer-2/
- How to lower your taxes by using deductions http://www.forbes.com/sites/learnvest/2014/03/18/a-guide-to-tax-deductions-for-freelancers/
- An explanation of the self-employment tax: http://www.irs.gov/Businesses/Small-Businesses-&-Self-Employed/Self-Employment-Tax-Social-Security-and-Medicare-Taxes
- A step-by-step guide to paying taxes as a freelancer (http://www.wikihow.com/Pay-Taxes-on-Freelance-Work)
- An explanation of how the 1099 form works by a popular job marketplace http://help.elance.com/hc/en-us/articles/203735323-What-tax-forms-do-I-receive-
- A guide to deductions you can claim as a freelancer https://www.freelancersunion.org/blog/2014/02/13/tax-deductions-guide-freelancers-and-self-employed
- A tax preparer’s guide to taxes for freelancers https://turbotax.intuit.com/tax-tools/tax-tips/Self-Employment-Taxes/Tax-Topics-for-Freelancers–Contractors–and-Consultants/INF12025.html