Content of the material
- How much can you earn as a freelance writer?
- Practice patience
- Breaking Into Magazine Writing
- The state of freelance writing in 2022
- Dealing with revisions and scope creep
- Should you become a freelance writer?
- Realistic Expectations for a Freelance Writers Salary
- 4. Freelance Medical Writer Salary
- Types of Freelance Writing Work
- How Much Should Freelance Writers Charge Per Article?
- What can influence freelancers’ pay rates?
- Traditional education may not matter much.
- Full-time freelancers make more than part-time freelancers.
- A freelancer’s age affects their earnings.
- Is freelancing worth it?
How much can you earn as a freelance writer?
As you likely suspect, this really depends. I’ve heard of some freelancers that earn upwards of $250,000 each year. And, of course, there are others who treat freelance writing as a side gig and as a way to earn some extra cash—so, they make anywhere from $10,000 and up each year.
I’m a big believer in income transparency for freelancers, which is why I break down my freelance numbers in each of my year-end recaps. I share:
- My gross income
- My total expenses
- How many total clients I worked with
- How many clients were new versus existing
But, how much can you expect to earn as a freelance writer? Let’s dig into some details.
If there’s one thing I can tell you for certain, it’s this: Anybody who promises that they’re going to teach you how to earn thousands of dollars freelancing in a matter of weeks is probably lying to you.
Like building any business, earning a solid living as a freelance writer is going to involve an investment in time and a real commitment to patience.
Need proof? Let’s do this thing:
- 2014: This was my first year in business as a freelance writer (granted, I started in July—halfway through the year). I earned roughly $5, 300 before taxes.
- 2015: This was technically my second year, freelancing. But, it was my first full year. I earned roughly $32,000 before taxes.
- 2016: I earned just under $80,000—not including those big checks I wrote to the government.
- 2017: I earned right around $102,000.
- 2018: My gross income came in around $98,000. That’s right—it was less than the prior year, and I still survived.
- 2019: I earned about $118,000. It’s proof that freelancing has highs and lows.
See? Freelancing is something that builds on itself—it’s absolutely not going to happen overnight. I’ve invested years in making a living that I’m proud of.
I know, getting started is rough and oftentimes disheartening. But, if you keep trucking along, the snowball really starts rolling. Once you have a solid portfolio under your belt, you can chase down bigger clients.
Once you land a few gigs with those bigger clients, your name really gets out there—meaning even bigger, higher-paying clients are more likely to approach you.
So, basically, the lesson is this: Be prepared to put in the work and invest the time. There’s absolutely no way around that.
Breaking Into Magazine Writing
One high-paying writing niche that’s a little tougher to break into is magazine writing.
Writing for a magazine can net you anywhere for $0.10-$2 per word. That can add up to a lot of money. If you’re successful in this niche you can make a lot more versus freelance blogging. The only downside is that your work may be a little less consistent.
If you want to break into magazine writing one of the best places to begin your search is the Writer’s Market. This book contains hundreds of different publications that will pay you for your words. Not only that, but the Writer’s Market has the name of editors to pitch as well submission guidelines and pay.
This is one book I’ve had on my shelf for a couple of years now and is a wealth of information.
The state of freelance writing in 2022
Freelance writers have been important business assets for years. When COVID-19 emerged and businesses and consumers moved online, freelance writers became even more in demand.
To understand how many freelancers arose through a pandemic, 16% of freelancers started less than a year ago as of November 2021. Some 19% reported freelancing for between one and two years. Though the majority of freelancers (65%) have been writing professionally for between two and 10 years.
When we dove into freelance writing niches, one industry was more popular than others.
Some 27% reported working in software. Another 14% wrote for agencies, and 12% wrote for ecommerce.
Understanding what niches writers work in leads us to the next section. We wanted to know how much people were changing. So, we asked freelance writers to disclose their yearly earnings.
More than half of freelance writers earn less than $30K per year 💔
The next income level was $31K and $50K, with 18% of freelance writers claiming that was their annual freelance income for 2020. When you combine the percentages of these two groups, almost three quarters of freelance writers make less than $50K per year.
That suggests there is room for business improvement in a majority of freelance writer’s businesses. Think about your own operations. Where can you provide more value for clients to charge more?
Of the remaining writers in the survey, 9% said they made six figures. Some 5% reported making between $100K and $125K, and 4% earned over $125K in 2020.
When it comes to time spent versus income as a freelance writer, the longer you’ve been around, the more you earn.
It’s probably no surprise that people bringing in larger incomes have been in business for longer. If we look at those who’ve been freelance writing for less than a year, the vast majority (91%) earn less than $30K.
To reach the six-figure salaries, it seems you need to have been working on your business and growing it for at least a couple of years. Of those earning over $100K, all have been freelance writing for at least two years, with 65% writing for more than six years.
💰 Read about how Peak Freelance’s very own Elise Dopson grew her freelance writing business to six figures over three years.
Dealing with revisions and scope creep
Clients asking for revisions is a normal part of writing. It’s highly unlikely that you’ll nail things the first time around. Different clients have different expectations.
We asked our writers how many rounds of revisions they would typically include within their regular rate before charging extra.
Almost all writers (98%) include at least one round of revisions within their standard rate. It’s a fairly even split between those including one round (46%) and two rounds (44%). Some 8% will include three or more rounds within their standard fee.
Revisions may be routine, but what do you do if you start work on a project and realize it is far more extensive than expected?
Responses from our writers varied widely on the topic of scope creep. When the situation happens, most writers (44%) would ask the client for an increase in the budget as soon as it becomes clear the work is more considerable. Some 8% would wait until they submitted a draft to ask for an increase.
Worryingly, almost a third would not say anything at all, and absorb the cost of scope creep—likely to avoid the awkward conversation with the client.
There were a lot of comments on this question. Most people tend to make decisions based on the specific circumstances.
Many felt that making an error with quoting would be their fault, so they should be the ones to absorb the costs. But if the project scope had changed, they would review the fee:
“If I’ve misjudged the scope of the project, that’s my fault and I work to the agreed rate. If, however, the client moves the goalposts or adds to the scope after we’ve agreed the fee, I tell them straight away and revise the fee.”
For a lot of freelancers, approaching the difficult conversation of scope creep depends on the relationship they have with the client:
“It all depends on the client. I request a change for long-term clients. For clients I work with sporadically, I tend not to ask for anything additional.”
While many wouldn’t ask for an increase on a current project, they would mention the issue so that clients were aware future projects would cost more.
“If it’s a one off project I’d absorb it at my loss. If there’s potential for an ongoing relationship I’d be honest and say I underquoted on this one, so they’re aware future jobs may cost more.”
Should you become a freelance writer?
First, you need to find your reason for becoming a freelance writer. Without a solid reason to pull you through the long hours, it can be difficult to make your dream a reality. The benefits of becoming a freelance writer can be absolutely amazing.
You have the opportunity to build your freelancing business from the ground up. You have the option to choose how much you are willing to work, when you are able to work, where you will work and how much you will charge for your services. However, you need to determine why these benefits matter to you.
Would you use the newfound flexibility to spend more time with your kids? To pursue a new passion in your free time? Or to make your own schedule while you travel the world? You’ll need to understand how these benefits will play out in your life.
Find something to hold on to. As you start to build your business, you’ll likely need to put in long hours on top of your regular job. As you get closer to the tipping point of being able to afford to quit your regular job, the longer those hours might get to you. You’ll need to draw on the reason why you are doing this to find the self-discipline to carry on.
Realistic Expectations for a Freelance Writers Salary
Now that we’ve thrown some figures your way let’s get down to brass tacks.
While this probably isn’t what you want to hear, the official answer to “How much can I make as a freelancer?” is, “It depends.”
Means, medians, and averages don’t mean a darn thing if you’re not putting in the work in earnest. Freelancing is one of those careers where “You get what you put in” is entirely and unequivocally accurate.
It’s also prudent to note that especially if you’re just starting out, you probably won’t be pulling in mega-high rates. Even if only for a short time, newbie freelancers will have to “pay their due” while they build both their reputation and portfolio.
The goal should be for growth over time and year after year.
Thankfully, Contena can help you find higher paying clients with ease. Padding your portfolio with profitable clients can help boost your yearly salary by leaps and bounds.
The more you put into your business, the more you’ll get out of it. Plain and simple. Having these figures should be a point of reference, rather than a benchmark set in stone.
4. Freelance Medical Writer Salary
If you want to land medical writing jobs, having a background like nursing or being a paramedic, or having a job in healthcare will make the transition to freelancing easy.
This extra experience and skill level will help you make more money than an average health writer.
According to Payscale, the average medical writer salary is around $75,384/year.
This is the type of writing job where you can leverage your existing network of doctors and other nurses to help you land that first profitable job.
Types of Freelance Writing Work
Next, you'll need to understand that different types of writing have vastly different earning potentials.
Online writing, such as web content, blogging, SEO writing, and content mill work, generally pays the least. Feature writing online can pay more than general online writing as listed above, but usually still less than print.
In the middle of the payment spectrum is newspaper writing and associated functions (copyediting, etc.) and some social media work (posting, campaigns, planning, and production). Note that newspapers are struggling these days, which is partly why they hire freelance writers.
Marketing-related writing pays higher than general content creation. This includes copywriting, sales pages, press releases, ads (pay-per-click ads or advertorials), and email content. Other business writing, such as white papers, brochures, and position statements, generally pays better than articles and other online writing. Working on pieces that are typical for non-profits may also fall in this better-than-average area.
Ghostwriting books can pay very well, although there are some ghostwriting jobs that pay as low as $15 per 1,000 words, which isn't a lot.
Writing that requires you to have specific knowledge or a skill set pays better than general writing. This includes technical writing, medical and scientific writing, health and wellness writing, and financial writing.
How Much Should Freelance Writers Charge Per Article?
So, the nitty-gritty: how much should you earn for your work? First of all, don’t compare freelance income to an employed writer’s salary. Freelancers aren’t just writing, we’re running a freelance writing business, so it makes sense to value that added responsibility.
Remember that freelance writers also have more expenses, including paying about twice as much in taxes. All this means a freelance writer’s income should be significantly higher than a writer with traditional employment, although it can take time to build up to it.
The fact is that there’s a massive range of prices freelance writers charge. You’ll regularly see freelance writing rates ranging anywhere from $.05 to $1 per word or more. A good rule of thumb for a new writer is to start around that lower end, perhaps $.06-$.08 per word, and gradually move up from there as you improve your freelance writing skills.
Keep in mind that some writers translate their per-word rate into a per-article rate. For instance, you might want to make $.10 per word, so you price a 1000-word article at $100, even if the exact word count ends up anywhere between 950 to 1050 words. (Always try to stay within the agreed word count for each article. Some clients may not be willing to pay extra if you write more words) Regardless of how you price projects, always be clear about the per-project rate and payment terms from day one. Life is easier for freelancers and clients alike when everyone’s on the same page rather than waiting and bickering about prices when the invoice arrives.
What can influence freelancers’ pay rates?
Many factors impact how much freelancers earn. According to Payoneer, aside from obvious aspects like location, industry and years of experience, the freelancer’s age, gender, education level and availability can impact pay rates.
Here’s a deeper look at factors that influence freelancers’ earning potential.
Traditional education may not matter much.
The 2022 Payoneer study revealed that freelancers with a college degree earned, on average, $24 per hour, while high school graduates earned $22 per hour. These numbers differed from the 2020 survey, where freelancers with a college degree earned $19 compared to $22 for freelancers with a high school education.
Still, the fact that there’s not a wide gap in pay between college graduates and high school graduates indicates that companies that hire freelancers favor experience and client reviews over formal education, according to Jonny Steel, vice president of marketing at Payoneer.
“Not everyone has the same access to traditional higher education, but the beauty of the internet is that as long as you’re connected, you have access to an almost infinite amount of knowledge,” Steel said. “People can learn skills from watching online tutorials, reading e-books and following the latest trends on top-notch blogs. So when it comes to making an impact on the freelance marketplaces, it matters a lot less where you acquired your skills from, as long as you can do the job.”
Full-time freelancers make more than part-time freelancers
According to MBO Partners, the number of U.S. full-time freelancers grew 25% in 2021 to 3.4 million, and it is likely to increase. As Payoneer suggests, on average, full-time freelancers make $3 more per hour than those who engage in freelance work on the side. Additionally, workers who choose to freelance full time report a significantly higher work-life satisfaction rate.
The decision of whether to commit full time to the freelancing lifestyle depends on many factors. For example, workers at the beginning or end of their career are more likely to freelance exclusively, and those in the industries like finance and QA are much more likely to use freelancing as a side gig.
A freelancer’s age affects their earnings
Considering that technology advancement and shifting work paradigms contribute to the freelancing surge, it’s not surprising that younger workers are more likely to embrace those trends and spearhead the freelancer movement. Millennials and Gen Z represent a vast majority of the freelance workforce worldwide.
However, when it comes to compensation, experience is still rewarded with higher earnings. Freelancers over the age of 55 earn more than twice as much as their 18-to-24-year-old counterparts.
Did you know?: Despite increased representation of women among the freelance workforce in recent years, there is a persistent gender pay gap, with women making an average of $23 per hour versus $28 per hour for men.
Is freelancing worth it?
The short answer is that it depends. While freelancing offers benefits like flexibility and the ability to work remotely, it comes with financial risks and the need for an initial investment to establish yourself in the market. Studies indicate that many freelancers earn more than their employed peers, but the rate varies greatly by industry, specialization, region, experience level and other factors.
There are many opportunities for writers to make a living freelancing. The challenges are determining your niche, embracing your passions and applying your skills. If you’re thinking of becoming a freelancer, research your field’s opportunities and challenges, invest in upskilling, and have a backup plan in case of unexpected financial emergencies.
Nicole Fallon contributed to the writing and reporting in this article.