The first time I earned $10,000 in a single month in the spring of 2016, I jumped around my kitchen after adding the new numbers. My dogs looked at me like I was crazy. It was a huge milestone for me. And one that I repeated a few times in the fall of 2016.
But when I added up my finally tally for February 2017, I was completely silent and shocked. I knew I was having a high earnings month, but I honestly never expected the number on my Freshbooks accounting system (thanks Leslie for encouraging me to finally take the plunge) to read $19,550. Yes, that was a single month. And, I even turned down a considerable amount of work.
I’ve said this before and I will say it again, there is plenty of work out there for content marketing writers, both from what I see personally and from talking to other writers.
I wasn’t trying to break my record or have a crazy high month, it just happened. I actually didn’t do any intensive marketing either. I got a few new projects. Some regular clients needed more work. And at the end of the month, the numbers added up pretty high. Yes, I worked a lot. No, I am not planning on doing this again. But, I probably wouldn’t actively stop it if I had another month like this. But it is an amazing feeling to know that it is possible to do this. And that if my financial situation required it, I could likely come pretty close to a repeat, which gives me a sense of confidence and security.
Since I think it’s important for writers to talk about money honestly, I thought it might be helpful to share in detail (without client names) how I achieved this high-earning month so you can maybe use a few of the things I’ve learned (most of it the hard way) to increase your own income. I find talking about money uncomfortable and hope that no one takes this as bragging (because it’s actually the furthest from the truth). I really think that any writer can achieve this level of financial success if they want to and want to help as many people meet their goals. I’m really hoping that by laying out my month in detail that you can find something useful to apply to your own business.
Where my work came from in February 2017
As you can see, it wasn’t just one specific tactic or strategy that resulting in my record-breaking month, but rather a lot of things working together. I also wanted to say that I didn’t get to this point overnight or even in a year. This month I worked on 11 different projects with 7 different clients, which is slightly higher on both fronts than the average month, but not dramatically.
Here is the breakdown:
Project 1: $3,000
Type of Project: Monthly retainer for a four-month annual project (my third year working on it, subject matter is related to my first job out of college)
How I Got the Project: The project manager is an ASJA member whom I met through volunteering at a conference.
Project 2: $1,800
Type of Project: Monthly retainer for healthcare technology project with Agency A
How I Got the Project: I met the owner of the agency at the 2015 ASJA NYC Client Connections event.
Project 3: $2,000
Type of Project: Ebook addition to Project 2 (NEW DELIVERABLE FOR EXISTING PROJECT)
How I Got the Project: I suggested an additional deliverable on an existing project.
Project 4: $600
Type of Project: Two blog posts for Agency A and four posts a month going forward (NEW PROJECT)
How I Got the Project: I asked Agency A about additional projects.
Project 5: $2,100
Type of Project: Six blog posts for Agency B at $350 each, which take 3 to 3.5 hours apiece, averaging $100/hour
How I Got the Project: I was on another project for Agency B and asked about additional projects. Once I got on this project, the editor liked my work so much she referred me to another editor at the very large tech company which doubled my work from this company.
Project 6: $1500
Type of Project: Ongoing project from Agency B. 3 articles at $500 each, which take about 2.5 hours apiece for an average of $200/hour
How I Got the Project: While working on my original project with Agency B, I heard from another writer about a new project starting with Agency B that was perfect for my experience. I mentioned to my contact at Agency B that I heard about the new project through the freelance grapevine and was interested. They happily added me to the project, which has resulted in $1500 per month since fall.
Project 7: $2,000
Type of Project: Four 700-word articles at $500 each, which took about 4 hours apiece for an average of $125/hour (NEW PROJECT WITH EXISTING CLIENT)
How I Got the Project: Because Agency B knew that I was open to other projects and I had explained my different niches, when a regular writer on a top tech company project left the project, they asked me to take it over.
Project 8: $1,000
Type of Project: Two 700-word articles at $500 each from Agency C. This equates to $150/hour. (NEW PROJECT WITH EXISTING CLIENT)
How I Got the Project: Last year an agency I had not worked with before saw my byline from project #5, which is a high profile tech online magazine. He approached me for a project and I mentioned my experience writing on several IBM projects and my interest in more work so he asked me if I wanted to be on a new IBM project. I said yes.
Project 9: $3,000
Type of Project: Whitepaper from Contently client in hospitality technology field (15 hours, equates to $200/hour) (NEW PROJECT)
How I Got the Project: Because my niche of hospitality tech is clearly illustrated on my Contently profile, I was added to a hospitality tech project two weeks ago. A last minute whitepaper revision was offered to the project team and since I had a slow weekend planned, I grabbed it and made some extra cash over the weekend.
Project 10: $1,050
Type of Project: Ongoing Skyword blogging project. Three 400-word blog posts at $350 each, averaging 1 hour each for $350/hour.
How I Got the Project: This is honestly one of my most lucrative projects (rate per hour) and it is one that I could have easily overlooked because the rate seemed low at first glance.
Project 11: $1,500
Type of Project: Specialty publication on a health topic that I have personal experience with (2 articles, 15 hours at $100/hour)
How I Got the Project: A writer friend passed on this opportunity to me. While not as high paying as some of the others, I really enjoyed this because it was journalistic and about a topic that is personally meaningful.
Here are my top takeaways from Feb 2017:
- Anchor Clients – I think that this is one of the biggest differences in earning a high income and not. It is almost impossible to earn a high income if you are always scrambling for work, but by having long-term anchor clients you can depend on for regular monthly work, you have guaranteed income each month. This month $6,300 came from anchor clients (project 1, 2, and 6) and starting next month project 4 will be a steady $1,200 per month for a 12-month contract.
- Asking Current Clients for More Work – This is by far my most effective strategy for increasing my income and I think that it is a tactic that many writers overlook. In Feb 2017, this strategy accounted for almost half of my income: $9,200. If you have a client who likes you, ask for more work. If it’s an agency, ask for work on other projects. If it’s a direct client, ask if any other departments at the company need content work. And whenever possible, suggest new deliverables on current projects (ex. project 4) that make sense for your client.
- Having Clearly Defined Niches – Because I have a very defined niche, it was much easier for my agency clients to easily find other projects where I would be a fit. I also think that having a few unique niches, such as healthcare IT and hospitality IT is very helpful. When I talk to writers that say they are struggling to find work, I always find that they are not marketing themselves with a clearly defined niche.
- Networking with Other Writers – Other writers are not our competition, but our colleagues. Not every project that I run across is perfect for me, so I often pass on projects to my writer friends. And they do the same. For February, $6,000 of my income is directly attributable to networking with other writers, plus another $4,400 when you add in work from ASJA.
- Paying Attention to Hourly Rate – Many writers would have turned down my $350 project from Skyword or my $300 blog posts from Agency A. But the hourly rate on these projects was actually a very high $300 per hour, so they ended up being some of my most lucrative assignments. Yes, I write fast, but the other key is that these projects are on topics that I am very experienced with and they did not require outside interviews.
- Outsourcing – I could not have achieved this level of income without outsourcing. My total spent on outsourcing was about $2,000 with my VA, a proofreader and paying for a few transcriptions to save time. Even though I had to spend a little bit of money, the time it bought me paid for itself many times over. I probably could not have earned more than $8,000 to $10,000 without these services.
How Much Did I Work in Feb 2017?
I probably averaged about 50 to 55 hours a week this past month, so I worked a lot but nothing insane. I worked each day from about 9 am to 2 pm (the reason I freelance is so I can pick my kids up from school) and then probably worked another 1 to 2 hours either in the afternoon or evening depending on my kid’s schedules. Some days I worked around three hours after the kids invaded the house, but two is usually my max. I also worked about 5 to 10 hours most weekends in February, spread out over the two days. The exception was the weekend before last when I took the whitepaper and worked about 16 hours over the weekend, but that was a conscious financial choice. And this past weekend, I only worked about four hours (and took an entire day off which included a much needed nap) since I was approaching burnout.
I also wanted to add that in that 50 hours a week is a considerable amount of volunteer work for ASJA as well. It’s hard for me to untangle the two because I spend most days juggling both. So all 55 hours were not spent on paying work, but probably included at least 7 to 10 hours of volunteer time each week.
So that was my last 28 days in 1,500 words. I’m tired. I’m happy. And I’m ready for work to slow down a little bit.
What do you think is your secret to your high income months? Any questions for me?