How does someone make 6 figures as a freelance writer?
For years, that’s a question I didn’t have the answer to.
And to be honest, I’m still not sure I have the answer. What I do have, though, is the story of how I went from making $0 per year as a minister to building a freelance business that brings home $240,000 per year.
(Collectively, my wife and I made $24,000 in 2013)
To be clear, this isn’t my “10 STEP PROCESS TO MAKING LOADS OF MONEY” — it’s the story of how I found success as a freelance writer — hard work and lucky shots included. Your story will be different.
But my hope is that this story will inspire you and teach you a few things about how you might be able to increase your own income.
Note: This article explains how I grew my freelancing business to $240,000. But just like you, I’m still learning and growing — you can sign up to get my weekly insights and expert interviews at The Tonic. It’s 100% free and always will be.
From $0 to $1,500 Per Month
In 2013, my wife and I made a grand total of $24,000… collectively.
In 2014, 2015, and 2016, we made just above $30,000 per year.
(At the time, I was pursuing my dream of being a full-time minister for a $0-per-year salary while my wife supported us with paychecks from a full-time gig in payroll)
But in 2017, I left ministry and — with much hemming and hawing — decided that I wanted to be a writer (whatever that meant).
So I pursued two opportunities that happened to be in front of me.
First, a journalism job had opened up writing for the school newspaper where I was half-heartedly pursuing a degree in Communications — this paid a whopping $10 per article.
Second, I was lucky enough to have a friend who had just started building a writing career — all I knew at the time was that he’d been mentioned in Entrepreneur and Forbes and that he seemed to be doing well for himself.
So I reached out to him, Aaron, and asked if I could buy him lunch to discuss what, exactly, he was doing.
And much to my surprise (still to this day), Aaron said that he wanted to hire me as a ghostwriter — a writer whose work gets published without their own byline. He said that he’d be able to pay upwards of $100 per article and that he’d seen my writing before and he trusted that I could pull it off.
I wasn’t so confident.
But I also figured I didn’t have anything to lose. So I said yes.
The first article I wrote was about wearable tech and it was to be published on Entrepreneur.
It was a disaster — at least that’s how it felt to me. I still remember watching Aaron edit (well… rewrite) my work on the Google Doc, thinking to myself, Well, you tried. He’s gonna fire you.
Then the craziest thing happened.
He called and said that I’d done a pretty good job and that I’d likely improve with more articles, so he paid me $100 and gave me my next assignment.
Every month for the next 6 months, I wrote 5-7 articles for Aaron, making between $1,000 – $1,500 total.
(It’s worth noting that I’d often have to outright ask Aaron to give me more work… but he always delivered when I did)
I’m very grateful for how this experience opened me up to the possibilities of freelance work. But at the same time, my work with Aaron never felt like something that would last long-term.
Aaron’s own writing career was building steam and I figured that he’d soon outgrow needing my help, as his rates increased and he started doing less work for more money.
So I kept my eyes open for other writing opportunities.
At one point I even wrote for a bailing wire company (via referral from Aaron) — it was just as terrible as it sounds, but it paid well.
Then near the end of 2017, I got an unexpected chance to land a full-time writing job with an Inc. 5000 startup.
From $1,500 to $6,500 Per Month
At some point during the 6 months that I worked with Aaron, I became obsessed with getting published on a noteworthy publication — in particular, I had my sights on Entrepreneur and SUCCESS.
I was convinced that if I got a byline on one of those sites, my writing career would be bumped to the next level and I could command a higher rate.
After about 7 rejections, I finally got an article accepted on SUCCESS.
(It was this one: 22 Entrepreneurs Reveal Their Worst Habit)
While I wasn’t immediately able to increase my rate (SURPRISE!), that article did do a few valuable things for my reputation…
First, it forced me to meet and interview 20+ entrepreneurs, which shoved me into the digital marketing world in a wonderful way.
And second, it increased my “street cred” when talking to new people and it also improved my confidence as a writer (which is no small thing).
Heck, it might have even played a part in what happened next.
Since I’d been writing for Aaron for about 6 months, I knew who his clients were (in order to write good content, I had to know).
And one day, I woke up to a Facebook friend request from Trevor — the CEO of an Inc. 5000 SaaS company who I’d been ghostwriting for via Aaron.
(I’d later find out that Trevor had discovered me on Facebook through some online interactions that Aaron and I had engaged in)
It seems a little silly now, but all I could think at the time was that this might be my “big break.”
So I immediately messaged Trevor and tried to engage him in a conversation. He asked me about myself and I shamelessly told him how I’d been creating content as a ghostwriter but desired to start writing under my own byline.
He responded: “Want a job? Haha”
I turned his half-joke serious and said “Honestly. That would be awesome!”
His next message explained that he was coming to my town in about two weeks and that we should meet up and chat about it.
Before the meeting, I told Aaron about my conversation with Trevor and asked for permission to disclose that I’d been the “wizard behind the curtain.” Because his own career was excelling quickly (or more likely, because he’s such a decent freakin’ dude), he encouraged me to pursue the lead.
My meeting with Trevor felt like an interview.
He drilled me with questions and I answered with as much confidence and charisma as I could muster.
By the end, I felt confident that I’d secured the job.
That is, until he said, “Well, you seem like a good dude and I know you’re a good writer. But obviously, I don’t want to steal you from Aaron. If things work out within a few months, maybe we can work together.”
It felt like a rejection.
And I wasn’t sure what to do about it.
I went home discouraged, feeling that I’d missed out on an important opportunity.
But then I had an idea. What if I just… told him what I wanted?
After all, I didn’t have anything to lose.
So I texted Trevor and said,
“Hey man! It was great to meet with you today and it’d be a dream for me to work with your company. So here’s what I’d like to propose: starting next month, I’ll write four articles per month for you for $500 per article. If after a month you’re happy with my work, then I come on as a full-timer at $40k per year. To be clear, I’ve already discussed this with Aaron and he’s assured me that there won’t be any hard feelings. How does that sound?”
He texted back, “I like the sounds of that! Let’s chat next week!”
We did. And they agreed to my arrangement. After a month, I went full-time with the company as their primary blog content writer (the job was remote) — this required that I go through a whirlwind of training on SEO, real estate investing (that was the company’s niche), and conversion optimization.
It fascinated me and I approached all of it with a sense of curiosity.
I stayed with the company for almost two years and, during that time, negotiated salary increases and bonuses that eventually added up to about $75,000 per year.
(My base salary became $60k and there was $15k worth of optional bonuses I could secure by finishing certain projects… which I always did)
You might be wondering how I negotiated my salary from $40k to $60k per year — and in that regard, I got lucky.
About 7 months into my work with Trevor’s company, I got another job offer through my consistently growing online network — a job that would require me to write 4,000 words per day for a $60k salary.
Sounds great, right?
I accepted the job and gave Trevor 4-week notice.
Then, after three months of working at what I now know is a “content mill”, I was on the edge of a mental breakdown. I texted Trevor, told him that I’d made a mistake by leaving, and asked for my job back.
We talked on the phone the next day and, miraculously, he agreed to bring me back with a $60k salary because he said I’d “increased my value by getting so much writing experience.”
So I went back for about a year and a half.
But during that time, everything changed.
From $6,500 to $12,000 Per Month
“Andeline Amy-Deanne Blankenship” is my daughter’s name.
We call her Andie.
She was born on August 10th and weighed just 5 pounds, 9 ounces.
For my wife and I, having a child carried with it all of the stereotypical changes that a parent goes through — less sleep, more stringent routines, more milk dishes than could fit in our sink, and lots of diapers.
But it also carried something else.
A near-desperate desire to not stop living a life we loved.
After spending four months inside the house with a newborn (we didn’t even go grocery shopping during that time), we worried that we were allowing parenthood to mute the excitement and spontaneity in our lives.
This became such a big concern that we booked a month-long trip (of which we were capable because my wife was now a stay-at-home mom and I worked remote) to Hawaii for April of 2018.
But one week before we were set to leave for Hawaii, massive flooding struck, rendering our AirBnB unlivable.
Bummed but determined not to let the flooding hamper our plans, my wife started doing research. After a few moments, she said, “What if we went to Australia?”
To which I responded, “What the hell is in Australia?”
She then showed me some pictures of Cairns, Australia and its lush rainforest.
“Let’s do it.”
Over the next few days, my amazing wife was able to secure refunds on almost all of our Hawaii travel expenses and book flights, an AirBnB, and a rental car for a one-month stint in Australia.
We traveled 18 hours with a 9-month old and experienced some of the worst jet lag of our lives.
By all accounts, it was crazy.
But it was also a lot of fun.
This experience opened us up to traveling internationally (something we’d never done before) and made us confident that we could do so with a 1-year-old.
(“BABE! WE’RE DRIVING ON THE LEFT SIDE OF THE ROAD!”)
It also lit a fire under us.
So upon returning home, we booked a 10-day trip to Rome for August of 2018.
But one month before we were set to leave, we’d become dissatisfied with our hometown and our current way of life.
We wanted to do something exciting.
And when my wife said, “What if we didn’t come back?” possibilities started to form.
I called our real estate agent and asked how quickly we could sell our home (“Should be able to sell quickly in this market.”), I talked with Trevor and outright asked him if he’d fire me if I moved overseas (“If you keep doing good work, I don’t care where you live.”), and my wife started researching travel regulations in Europe.
We packed, we planned, we listed our house, we had garage sales, and we put some stuff in storage.
We said our goodbyes and then we flew to Italy.
I mention this because I believe it was a fundamental step in increasing my risk threshold. Since becoming the sole financial supporter of my wife and daughter, I’d shied away from becoming a freelance writer, afraid of the risk involved.
But just 2 months after leaving for Europe (what felt like the biggest risk of my life), I pursued and landed two freelance clients on the side (one had seen my work for Trevor and wanted to hire me for his business, the other was referred to me by a freelance writer who didn’t have the bandwidth for an additional client).
I charged both clients $0.25 per word.
Amazingly, once I opened myself up to freelance work, clients came easily — this was partly because of my ongoing activity on Facebook where I consistently interacted with entrepreneurial-minded people, and partly because of the byline I’d secured for a fast-growing SaaS company during my work as a full-timer.
After securing 3 freelance clients, I reached a tipping point where I was working so little for my full-time job that it didn’t feel right.
So I raised my rate to $0.50 per word hoping that one of my clients would call it quits so my bandwidth would go back to normal.
But all of my clients agreed to the rate change.
So I decided that if I could convince Trevor to let me write for his company as a contractor (for less money per month but more money per article), I’d go fulltime as a freelancer.
He also agreed.
The next month I made $10,000, more than I ever thought was possible.
I remember doing the math, looking at my wife, and saying, “Babe. Did you know we make more than $100,000 per year!”
When all was said and done, we spent 15 months in Europe — Italy, Portugal, Spain, Germany, Scotland, Croatia, France, London, Romania, the Czech Republic, and Greece — and I consistently made $12,000 per month as a freelance writer (this means I was writing about 24,000 words per month).
In 2020, we moved to Hawaii (where we now live) and my income hovers around $20,000 per month.
From $12,000 to $20,000 Per Month
For me, getting to $20,000 per month was mostly a matter of creating routines to increase my bandwidth.
At $0.50 per word, I have to write 40,000 words per month for my clients — that comes out to about 2,000 words per workday, which I find to be pretty manageable.
I know this isn’t the case for most freelancers, but finding clients has always been easy for me.
In fact, I don’t do any marketing for my freelancing business — I’ve never sent a cold pitch, I’ve never had a website, and I’ve never run advertisements.
Still, I have 6 clients who I work with every single month and my newest client is 6 months old.
For all of my clients, my main project is writing SEO blog content… plus a little bit of sales copy here and there. It’s also worth noting that my $0.50-per-word rate has allowed for a lot of agility and flexibility with my clients so that we don’t have to renegotiate terms whenever there’s a new project — I think this makes them more likely to work with me rather than going through the process of finding a new writer.
In other words, my clients stick.
That’s not to say that I haven’t lost some clients over the last 2 years. I have. But I’ve also gained clients to make up for the few that I’ve lost — and 3 of my clients who are with me now have been with me since the very beginning.
If I were going to attribute my success to anything, it would be this:
- Client retention. I work with people that I like and then I do everything in my power to provide exactly what they need when they need it. I always try to develop long-term relationships with my clients. In fact, I can honestly say that I count each of my clients as friends.
- I don’t do typical lead-gen but I do pay attention to opportunities that pop up. If someone mentions that they’re looking for a writer, I ask to hear more. If a friend has a client that they don’t have the bandwidth for, I ask for a referral. If I’m writing an article, I ask for a byline so that I can be more easily discovered. If someone reaches out and wants to work with me, I hop on a phone call. I do these things even if I don’t currently have the bandwidth for more clients. I think the universe has a way of working things out when you respect the opportunities it gives you.
The result of those two things has been a freelancing business that consistently brings home $20,000 per month.
That’s the story of how I went from full-time minister making $0 per month to full-time freelancer bringing home $20,000 per month.
It might not be as jam-packed with practical tips as you had hoped, but isn’t that just reality?
Life is full of unexpected twists and turns and, in the same way that I couldn’t predict where I was going, you likely won’t be able to predict where you’re going.
But what you can do is lean into the opportunities around you, invest in yourself, challenge your assumptions about what’s possible, and learn to take measured risks.
With enough time and determination, who knows what heights you can reach?
What’s next? This article explains how I grew my freelancing business to $240,000. But just like you, I’m still learning and growing — you can sign up to get my weekly insights and expert interviews at The Tonic. It’s 100% free and always will be.