I made $ 120,000 as a freelance writer after firing a big client
- Jen Miller is a freelance writer who has weathered the pandemic to earn six figures in 2020.
- She did this by following up on old clients, looking for new ones, and even firing her main client.
- His ebook full of independent knowledge also earned him $ 6,000 in passive income.
- Visit Insider’s Business section for more stories.
When COVID-19 got very real, very quickly, I panicked.
Of course, most of this panic was for health and safety reasons, but also for my business.
I have been a full-time freelance writer for 16 years, a period that included the Grand
in 2008 and 2009. During this period, I lost half of my income.
This time, I avoided that fate. Partly that’s because my work focuses on health, medicine, and science – exactly what people should be reading right now. But I also took some key steps to make sure that when copywriters were asking, “Who do I hire?” the first person they thought of was me.
Through a mix of short and long term marketing efforts, I was still able to earn $ 120,000 freelance last year. I also did this despite the dismissal of my main client in 2019.
I contacted all past and current clients
Unless I put an editor or post on my own personal blacklist, everyone I worked with who was still running a post got an email from me in March.
It was short, sweet and precise:
I just wanted to register you – if you need help with any possible coronavirus issues let me know! Or anything else, of course!
I also looked around in my immediate social circle. When I saw that a friend who was editing a health-focused website needed help, I said I would participate, even if he was paying a little less than I was used to.
I had no shortage of work last spring. At first I had too much. I’m trying to bill $ 8,000 per month, but I billed almost $ 19,000 in March alone.
But I couldn’t keep up this pace while trying to stay on top of the emerging crisis. I have generalized anxiety disorder and have struggled with panic attacks to meet these deadlines. I ended up refusing to work and stopped writing for my friend (and yes, we are still friends).
Sometimes work can help me with stress, but when you’re writing about the thing that’s causing the trauma, it’s not always the right solution. Yet this multitude of outreach that I did in March helped seed the work throughout the year.
I kept looking for new work even after having a strong pipeline
Despite this job crisis in March, I kept looking for new work because I knew these connections could be tenuous, especially since the economic fallout hit different clients in different ways.
In 2020, I sent 167 Letters of Introduction (LOI), which are short emails about myself with a few links to clips, to potential new clients. I also followed up on 135 LOIs that I sent in 2019 and 2020 (sometimes followed by a 2019 LOI for the second time).
This type of marketing can be boring, which is why I usually market a Marvel movie in the background.
But I do it because it works. It’s like planting seeds without knowing when they will germinate.
The 2020 Letters of Intent didn’t get me any new gigs, but following up on those I sent in 2019 allowed me to land four new alumni magazine clients and a promising new client in 2021.
I attended virtual conferences
I was about to go to two big conferences in 2020, but of course they were canceled – at least in person.
One went virtual, so I signed up for that option. I’ve had
meetings with a few editors on new publications and makes one of those meetings a regular job.
Hopefully another will become a client as well (I haven’t given up – as with LOIs, I continue to follow up).
I have also attended virtual networking meetings and happy hours with other writers. I didn’t get any work from these directly, but was able to send the work back to another writer.
Plus, it’s just nice to talk to people who do what I do and understand the ups and downs, especially right now. These sessions kept me full when I was feeling quite depressed. I can’t wait to do more this year.
I monetized my expertise
I wrote “Notes from a rented pen, “an independent editorial newsletter, since 2015. I pledge to keep it free, but I felt I could do more with this knowledge that I had gained over the past 16 years.
I also wanted to create a passive income stream – something that would continue to pay off whether I promoted it or not.
I wrote “Notes from a hired pen: how I made $ 135,000 in a year as a freelancer, “which I self-published in early 2020. Minus the editing and design costs, it earned me almost $ 6,000. Although most of this money comes after the initial publication, I still get a direct deposit every Friday, usually enough to pay for that weekly grocery store.
In the middle of the year, I took one more step. I got a lot of emails asking for more specialized advice so I started offering one hour consultations for $ 100 per pop, where I would help someone understand the weak points in their business and how they could improve.
I didn’t think I would find a large following because $ 100 is a lot of money (and if that was too much for a writer’s budget, I directed them to the free newsletter and the $ 10 eBook ). I also offered these sessions only when I had extra time. I’ve worked with 20 people so far, with five more requests to plan.
We are all experts in something, and I am an expert in it. It wasn’t a ton of work to turn it into another line of business. Between the book and the consultations, freelance teaching made up 6% of my income last year, all without much marketing.
I fired my main client
How the hell is that a good thing? Because when I stopped fighting with this company’s accounts payable department to get paid within 75 days of submitting a story, I had time to go out and find another job.
I also pulled myself out of a scary situation which helped keep my other clients happy because I was able to introduce myself and focus on those who value my work and me without being begged for.
I earned a little less in 2020 than in 2019 because of this move, but I was already doing more than I ever imagined as a freelancer, so I was safe to let them go. And I knew that with regular marketing, I would replace them soon enough.
I know it’s early 2021, but I’m about to hit six figures again. I will continue to do marketing, even if it means another round of fundraising with Dr. Strange.