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Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The State of Fulltime Freelancers' Income

Over the last few weeks, I’ve asked fulltime freelance writers to come forward and share something rather personal—the amount of money they’re making. (Don't worry--it was anonymous.) Specifically, I asked 100 self-employed writers what they made in 2009, how long they’ve been freelancing, what kind of work they do, and—very telling—whether they expect to make more money in 2010 than 2009.

The 100 respondents (yes, this is an admittedly small sample) were relatively new to the fulltime freelancing business. Five percent had been freelancing fulltime for less than a year; another 29 percent, for one to three years; and 24 percent for four to six years. Fourteen percent have self-employed scribes for 7 to 10 years; 15 percent, for 11 to 15 years; and 13 percent have been doing it for 16 years or more. That means that more than half of respondents (58 percent) have been freelancing for six years or fewer, and in my opinion, are still building their businesses.

And you know what? There is some bad news. Out of 100 respondents, 27 percent made less than $20,000 last year. Another 22 percent made between $20,000 and $40,000 in 2009, and 24 percent made between $40,001 and $60,000. If you’re keeping track, that accounts for 73 percent of respondents.

But there's some good news, too. Another 9 percent of respondents made $60,001 to $80,000; 7 percent, $80,001 to $100,000; and 11 percent made more than $100,001 in 2009, a very challenging year for just about everyone. That's one in ten respondents--not bad at all.

I find that inspiring and encouraging—especially as I didn’t hit those kind of numbers last year. (Of course I work part-time by choice, and a number of respondents pointed out that they too work fewer than “full-time” hours, which means these figures may skew a bit lower than they could be.)

Perhaps the best news is what we’re expecting for the future. More than half of respondents (55 percent) say they’re on track to make more in 2010, and another 30 percent expect to make about the same amount of money. Just 15 percent say they’ll make less.

What does this mean for you? That no matter what you’re making, you’re in good company—and if you aspire to make more, there are plenty of other freelancers already doing it. So why not set a more challenging income goal--and go for it?


  1. Thanks for doing that survey, Kelly. (I participated!) I'm trying to remember--did you include in that survey where the bulk of the projects are coming from? I would be interested to know if freelancers are making income mostly from copywriting, PR, online work, ghosting, or magazine writing?

  2. Thanks for putting this together and sharing the results, Kelly. It is inspiring and I'm trying to reprogram that little voice inside my head that's telling me it's all bad out there!

  3. Ditto what Heidi said. Thanks Kelly.

  4. Depending on where and how you live, $50,000 per year--or rather, $50,000 in 2009, which was a pretty bad year for many freelancers--isn't necessarily "bad news."

  5. Thanks, Kristine! And yup, that info (what kinds of work we're doing) will be the subject of my next blog post. :)

    And Heidi, it is bad out there...but it's good too. It just depends on where you're looking and who you're talking to! :)

  6. Thanks for doing this survey, Kelly. After reading over the results, I found MORE reasons to be encouraged than discouraged, and I now feel more motivated.

    This may be the subject of your next blog post, but I'm finding that developing expertise in different areas (i.e book writing, articles, grant writing, something I'm now taking a class in, etc.) can be a winning strategy.

  7. Actually, Anonymous, I agree...mid-50s is a decent living depending on where you live and your overall living and business expenses. As with so many things, it depends.

  8. And I apologize for saying live or living three times in one sentence! Duh!

  9. Kelly:

    Thanks for the survey and its results.

    As for me, this survey is proof that good things can happen if you work hard, market, and produce good work again and again.

    When you look at some of the higher earnings above, it gives you hope. Also, no matter what you earn, IF you can live comfortably on that amount while doing what you love, that counts for much as well.


  10. I don't know if I missed something, but are these figures before or after tax? I live abroad, earning tax-free, so I wanted to make sure I can compare.

  11. The figures are gross income, before taxes, Ulrike.

    And thanks for your post, Steve!

  12. Thanks for this.

    Did you ask anything else, like what type of freelancing they do, what kinds of clients they serve?

    Also, how does the income level breakdown if you seperate the part-timers?

    Thanks again!

  13. Hi, Matt--
    Yes, see my newest post for the work category breakdown. And almost all of the respondents were fulltime; just a couple mentioned they were working part-time.

    Hope this is helpful! :)

  14. I participated in the survey. While I freelance "full time" - meaning that I don't have another source of income - I work only "part time." What I mean by this is that I don't spend 40 hours a week writing. In reality, it is closer to 15 or 20 hrs max. Personally, I'm happy earning around $35K for that amount of work. Though I am beginning to work harder to grab more lucrative assignments. Most of my work has been for regional pubs, which don't pay more than .50/word. I am hoping to tap into national markets this year and I'm pitching more. Ideally, I'd like to keep my hours the same and see my income rise.

  15. Anonymous, this is a really good point. Like you, I work part-time hours (about 15 hours/week now--I have two little kids) but I still am trying to make a full-time living during that time).

  16. Thanks for taking the time to do that, Kelly. Much appreciated!

  17. This is really eye-opening, Kelly. It will be interesting to see if the expectations match the realities at this time next year. Best to you~

  18. Yes, we should all set goals for ourselves, and we all want to make more money, but we also got into this to have a flexible schedule. I work during my child's naps (no more than 3 hours a day and make a little more than 20,000 a year. To me, I'm contributing to my family and being there for my kids. 100,000 it is not, but I don't imagine any kind of life where I'm busting my (non-existent) balls to make that kind of money. That is the real good news about freelancing.