Recently, I wrote about how to become a full-time copywriter. But maybe you have no interest in copywriting. Maybe you’re a part-time web developer, amateur graphic designer or aspiring life coach who wants to know how you can do that -- your chosen profession -- for a living.
I have good news: In the digital age, all kinds of freelance careers are possible, from telecommunications engineering and HVAC maintenance to SEO consulting and photography.
What's more, not only is it possible to make six figures as a freelancer -- it’s more easily achievable than you may think. In 2017, over 3.2 million U.S. freelancers earned over six figures. With the right approach, you can become one of them. Here's how.
1. Change how you define success.
I’m a member of a copywriters group on Facebook. Recently, in a thread about how to hit six figures, a senior agency copywriter of 17 years with numerous awards admitted that he couldn’t wrap his head around how six figures was even possible.
He had been writing spectacular copy for nearly two decades, he said. He was in his late 30s. And his highest annual salary to that point had been $60,000, from an employer that had since let him go. He was unemployed when he posted his message.
Want to know something crazy? This guy could have hit six figures on his own in a matter of months. The only thing holding him back was his failure to believe he could do it.
Here’s why he should have had a little more faith: The freelance industry is booming, and 77 percent of freelancers say the best days are ahead. Across the United States, more than one-third of workers are already freelancers. None of this is a coincidence.
Modern technology makes freelancing easier than ever. And, for most SMB owners, hiring freelancers makes plenty of business sense. Freelancers save companies money (read: benefits) while earning more on an hourly basis for themselves (and enjoying a home-business tax deduction). It’s one of the best win-win partnerships in the history of capitalism.
2. Commit to specific income goals.
If you’re serious about freelancing, you can’t just daydream without taking any action. Sujan Patel, an internet entrepreneur and growth expert (and Entrepreneur contributor), recommends having monthly and even weekly or daily income targets. In my personal experience, income targets are absolutely necessary.
Before you become a freelancer, in fact, you need to have an honest conversation with yourself about how much you’d be okay making as your own boss. Maybe you’d be satisfied with $10,000 per year less than what you’re making now. Or maybe you’d quit your current job only if you could make significantly more as a freelancer.
Whatever the case, as Patel says, it’s helpful to know what you need to earn on a daily basis so that you can structure your activities to best meet your needs.”
Setting income targets on a daily, weekly or monthly basis also allows you to clearly see how much you should be charging for your services. Too many freelancers make the mistake of starting off at a low hourly rate and sticking with it for years. They wonder why they never make enough money to pay the bills -- despite the fact that they're charging low, bottom-of-the-barrel rates.
3. Find ways to be more productive.
In 2015, only 32 percent of U.S. workers surveyed said they felt "engaged" at work. The other 68 percent were actively disengaged, which could mean they were engaged in anything from surfing YouTube to making out in the office stairwell. Worldwide statistics on this same criterion were even worse -- far worse -- with only 13 percent of employees surveyed describing themselves as engaged at work.
This is no coincidence. Most full-time employment is, frankly, boring. When you’re a rarely greased cog in a corporate engine, being disengaged is the norm. That’s why companies are always racing to offer bigger and better incentives, like free lunches or “unlimited” vacation.
One of the best things about freelancing, however, is that you won’t be bored. Because you’re doing something you care about and you’ll constantly need to learn new skills, you’ll rarely have a blah day. But first, of course, you’ll have to learn how to:
- Market yourself: Thanks to the rise of social selling, there are many affordable and free ways to spread your brand (from videos on YouTube to articles on LinkedIn).
- Choose the right clients: Many freelancers accept any client who comes their way because they’re worried that the party will abruptly stop. But this is a scarcity mentality, and it’s always a bad idea.
- Squeeze productivity out of your workday: As a newly minted full-time freelancer, you’ll need to wear all the CXO hats. (I never said it would be easy.)
- Automate what you can: From email marketing to invoicing, there are many ways freelancers can automate daily tasks and spend more time actually doing what they're being paid for.
Eric Rosenberg has written for Entrepreneurship Life of his study of highly successful freelancers. In his words, "$100,000-a-year freelancers . . . work with a diverse group of clients, take some recurring projects and some as-needed projects, and work to market their skills and raise their rates.
"People are willing to pay premium rates for premium work," Rosenberg continued, "and the most successful freelancers work to always produce quality results."
4. Find your niche (but first be a generalist).
When I started Tailored Ink, I set a standard rate and worked with literally anyone who would pay me to write copy. This was great because I was exposed to all sorts of business models, industries and markets. I learned what I was good at, what clients really wanted and what they were willing to pay.
But I was also stretched really thin. Penetration pricing and a diner-menu of offerings will get you only so far. Once you have to hire employees, a generalist strategy becomes a nightmare. That’s why most successful freelancers eventually settle on a comfortable and profitable niche.
Bryce Bladon, a freelance writer who's reported on the Freelance Transformationpodcast that he earns six figures, said that specialization lets you “start anticipating the needs of your client.” With each job, Bladon wrote, you gain more experience and knowledge, which undoubtedly makes your services more attractive to prospective customers.
And Miranda Marquit, a professional blogger who told Mediabistro.com that she's made over six figures writing about her expertise, finance, said that specialization is wise because it makes you more efficient. “If you specialize in a particular area and make that your area of expertise, then you can start picking up speed,” she said.
You can have your cake and eat it, too.
If you decide to pursue a freelance career, you may think you’re sacrificing financial security for personal freedom. You may think that that nice Manhattan home and car you dream about are unattainable. But, if you go about it correctly, you can have both freedom and riches -- or at least a comfortable income.
I’ll leave you with the same advice I gave that senior copywriter: You don’t have to be the smartest person in the room. There is no singular secret to starting your own business and getting clients. You already have all the tools you need to freelance successfully.
At the end of the day, you just need to believe in yourself and go for it. You’ll make plenty of mistakes and that’s okay. If you can get back up and do it all over again, you’ll eventually succeed beyond your wildest dreams. Entrepreneurship is all about hustling.