If you’re a freelancer hoping to make a livable wage without a full-time job, here’s a stat that should lift your spirits: In 2018, there were 3.3 million independent workers—creative freelancers among them—earning six figures annually, according to MBO Partners.
Now, six figures as the new normal for freelancers might sound too good to be true. And we wouldn’t go quite that far ourselves. But as the gig economy expands, we’re hearing from more and more creators in our talent network that they make more on their own schedules than they ever made in an office.
To pull back the curtain on career freelancing, we reached out to high-earning creators and writers in Contently’s global talent network. They were generous with their trade secrets, actionable insights, and healthy habits, and we broke down the conversations into four core ideas. Use them to keep your clients happy—and your wallet happier.
Embrace transparency when it comes to rates
Oregon-based financial and tech writer Kelly Kearsley recommends radical transparency in terms of sharing what your time is worth—not only with clients, but with fellow freelancers as well.
“You might feel like talking about what you charge is the thing that no one wants to talk about,” she said, “but I find it’s actually more respectful to get on the same page early so that everyone is just in the right spot.”
Kelly also shares a co-working space with other freelancers who write on similar beats.
“We convene every other month or so to talk about rates and contracts,” she said. “Finding ways to be transparent with other writers in the field and understanding what they’re charging is important.”
There are other ways to boost your rates savvy. Contently operates a rates database where you can see what other freelancers earned for work with a given client or publication. And there are any number of online and in-person resources available to help you improve your negotiating prowess, should you need help commanding higher fees.
Find your niche and hone it, then market it to the world
Rebecca Lake, a writer in North Carolina who covers small businesses, told me every writer should have their own style that should stay consistent across their freelance engagements. That style should come to embody their personal brand.
“Get clear on what it is that makes you unique as a writer,” she said. “What do you bring to the table that an editor or client is going to appreciate?”
Take famed technology reporter Ashley Feinberg, who began her career in humorous, gonzo journalism in 2011 while working at a local Texas newspaper. From there, she became an editorial assistant at Gawker, where she honed the sarcastic tone that is so prolific among internet writing today.
Feinberg went on to work at The Huffington Post and, by 2019, had made Forbes’ list of 30 Under 30 professionals in media. She’s been called a “digital era Andy Kaufman,” and that identity is immediately recognizable because Feinberg spent eight years honing it.
Once you find what makes your writing different from everyone else’s, you can begin to market yourself and your talents to clients. Tell your favorite stories from every conceivable angle, find your niche, and own it.
Consistency is the bedrock of repeat work
Tessa Wegert, a freelance writer based in New York, recommended doing whatever you can to build long-term relationships with your clients.
“I approach every project as if I’m trying to make a good first impression,” she said. To that end, no freelancer can ever afford to let the quality of their output slip or rest on their laurels.
Sure, it’s faster and easier to follow a formula and produce dime-a-dozen stories. But that strategy does nothing to set you apart from the thousands of other writers vying for your clients’ business, Wegert explained. “Consistency and enthusiasm are what build the long-term relationships that sustain freelance careers.”
If you don’t say “yes” to gigs, you’ll never get hired
Michael Sorrentino, a freelance video producer at Contently, is also the founder and principal of Sorrentino Media. He optimistically reasoned that if you continue to do work and stay busy, the work will come. “I know many people who are very picky in the work that they do, and I think if you want to keep working, you shouldn’t be picky,” he said. “Look at every opportunity as something to learn. If you can find something about it that you can learn from or take away from it, then do it.”
Applying all of these tips will ultimately help you become a better freelancer and, over time, could help you break the coveted six-figure barrier. But regardless of what you earn, remember to stay transparent, prompt, and kind. That’s the best way to brand yourself as a freelancer.
Kylie Finnigan is the editorial services intern at Contently. When she’s not interning, you can find her exploring Brooklyn and finding the best gluten-free spots NYC has to offer.
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