Can freelancers REALLY make 6 figures a year?

July 29, 2010 by Dean Rieck
Filed under: Freelancing 

6 figure freelanerI won’t keep you in suspense. The answer is yes.

There’s a lot of hype about this, of course. And unfortunately, the hype has caused many would-be freelancers to be cynical about their earning potential.

Some years ago, while speaking to a roomful of writers at a local conference, I encountered one young man who kept rolling his eyes during my presentation.

When I asked if he had a question or comment, he told me that he just didn’t believe that you could earn lots of money from freelance copywriting. He said it all sounded like a scam.

I can’t blame him for thinking that. I see all those get-rich-quick ads on the Internet too, and they make me roll my eyes.

Freelance copywriting is not a quick way to riches. You have to have skill. You have to be willing to work hard and stick with it, often for several years, before you start earning big money.

But you can make a lot of money at it. I used to earn little more than $5 an hour. And now I earn closer to the equivalent of $500 an hour. That’s no scam. It’s just the truth.

But it begs the question: Why is it that most copywriters, or other freelancers, never seem to earn much money from writing? Or to ask it another way, what’s the difference between high earners and low earners?

Just from personal experience, here are a few observations:

  • High earners approach their work as a business, while low earners approach their work more like a hobby.
  • High earners go after lucrative writing work for carefully-selected businesses where there is little competition, while low earners compete with millions of other writers for any writing gig available.
  • High earners act like professionals, while low earners act like employees.
  • High earners are willing to take a little risk working for themselves, while low earners want the security of a “boss” to tell them what to do.
  • High earners are willing to put their skills to the test and compete in the business world, while low earners generally just want to punch a time clock and cash a check.

I’m not trying to be insulting here. I’m just telling it like it is.

If you prefer to work in a job situation, that’s fine. But you’ll probably never earn as much as the high-end freelancers. And if you do freelance, you must get rid of your employee mindset or you’ll always earn low fees and experience a lot of frustration.

I’ve seen this from both sides of the fence. I used to be a full-time employee and didn’t want to do anything like freelancing. I didn’t even like the idea of running a business.

In fact, I was shocked when I realized I was in business after accepting some freelance work early on. But I made the transition and have seen how a shift in my point of view was essential to my success.

So, yes. You can earn six figures a year. IF you’re willing to change your thinking. IF you’re willing to polish your skills. IF you’re willing to do what needs to be done.

In other words, freelancing is pretty much like anything else in life. You must have what it takes and do the work.

I’m curious, do you find that inspiring or depressing?

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Smart Comments

11 Comments on Can freelancers REALLY make 6 figures a year?

  1. James Chartrand - Men with Pens on Jul 29th, 2010 8:17 am
  2. Neither. Factual. Yes, it can be done, and to do it, you have to do what it takes to make it. That simple, no?

  3. Andrew B. on Jul 29th, 2010 9:48 am
  4. Dean, you’re completely right. I’ve made six figures every year doing freelance work, but only if you count the two after the decimal point.

  5. Mike Klassen on Jul 29th, 2010 11:46 am
  6. I think there’s an aspect to earning 6-figures that you alluded to, but I’m not sure if it’s totally clear. The 6-figure people are in constant learning mode. They’re soaking up information that they can apply to their business and client projects.

    As part of that learning, they become more than just a copywriter to their clients. They’re able to contribute ideas related to marketing or to whatever niche they may happen to work in.

    That type of person is valuable to a company and will usually continue to get calls for more projects, and be someone who gets more referrals. In turn, their income goes up.

  7. Dean Rieck on Jul 29th, 2010 11:56 am
  8. Mike,
    Good point. The better freelancers learn more and contribute more to their clients’ projects. But I think overall, it’s about attitude. Some people are go-getters and others aren’t. Just like some people will spend 8 hours a day looking for a new job and others will mope around the house. In life, the prize doesn’t necessarily go to the smartest or best, but to those who want it most.

  9. Joshua Black | The Underdgo Millionaire on Jul 29th, 2010 12:22 pm
  10. Inspiring and factual. I think that it’s also about being able to have the stones to ask for a higher fee as well. This is something that Dan Kennedy likes to talk about.

    If a freelancer doesn’t believe that his/her own work is worth a lot of money, then that feeling will translate right on over to the client. They won’t believe you’re worth it either.

    On the other hand, if you submit a large fee (provided that you can create the value) and you believe it… just putting it on the table- BAM! “I charge $10,000 per sales letter,” and you REALLY believe that you are worth it, then that is what you will be paid.

    Sometimes (not always), the only difference between the skills of a $500 freelancer and a $25,000 freelancer is that the latter charges $24,500 more for the same project and believes in it.

    -Joshua Black
    The Underdog Millionaire

  11. Dean Rieck on Jul 29th, 2010 12:34 pm
  12. Joshua,
    Well, maybe. I see your point. But you don’t necessarily get a fee just because you ask for it. You can’t be a total unknown and get $25,000 for a project purely through willpower unless you’re one hell of a salesman. See my recent post on expectations.

  13. Chrystal @ Happy Mothering on Aug 5th, 2010 10:03 pm
  14. I think it’s also about finding the right niche and being able to add value for the client. I won’t take the elance type jobs that want to pay $5 an article. I think people visit sites like that and it lowers their expectations. This is my first year freelancing, coming from the corporate world, and I won’t earn 6 figures this year, but that’s only because I choose to work “part time.” I could easily make 6 figures if I chose to take on more clients.

  15. Arfa on Aug 7th, 2010 3:04 pm
  16. I have only been freelancing for around 5 months now part time and already I have made more money than working 9 months doing my regular classroom assistant job and without the hassle. Am I earning 6 figures? Hell no, but will I if I continue doing what I am doing? You betcha! I am constantly learning and applying these skills to my work. So far, I have invested nearly $3000 in training courses, resources and training materials and I have no intention of stopping. I advertise like mad and I follow up calls with clients. I have two young children and I am aiming to set up a business to business writing consultancy within the next 12-18 months. I work very hard for my kids and I am not afraid to take risks. Like any good business who wants to do well, I invest in myself because I can only get better. I have met so called writers who are willing to starve for their skill because they cannot be bothered spending the time or the money to get better. Well, if they want to scrape the bottom of the barrel, that’s fine by me. Myself on the other hand believes that anything is possible once you will it and are willing to work towards it. Six figures would be great now, but I will happily set that as my year 3 goal.

  17. Dean Rieck on Aug 8th, 2010 4:29 pm
  18. Arfa,
    That’s a great attitude. You’ve already won half the battle if you have your head in the right place.

  19. Michelle Buss on Aug 9th, 2010 9:33 pm
  20. I don’t know about 6 figures but i do make a handsome living, more than I made teaching working far fewer hours.

    I think the key thing is that people need to realise the truth of two of your statements.

    1. You must have talent. I am not saying you have to be the next Peter Carey but you have to have a high level of skill.

    2. Like any business it takes time to build.

    Get rich quick merchants need to look elsewhere.

  21. Dean Rieck on Aug 9th, 2010 9:51 pm
  22. Michelle,
    I know what you mean about teaching. I used to be a teacher. Survived in a Las Vegas school for 3 weeks and 3 days before quitting. Freelancing isn’t anywhere as dangerous and pays a LOT better.