Freelancing is possibly the most popular way to make a living online. We’ve heard a lot of people try to assert that remote jobs are the big deal but 1 in 3 Americans, according to Upwork and the Freelancers Union, have done some freelance work.
So, if freelancing is popular and freelancing writing is a real job, can freelance writers make money? Well, yes, they can – we’re pleased to report that the average American freelance writer earns between $40 and $60 an hour and 21% make more than $100 an hour.
So, let’s take a closer look at the numbers and see how freelance writers make money and what you can do to turn your freelance writing into profit.
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The Raw Data: How Much Money Do Freelance Writers Make
We didn’t make up the numbers above, we took them from the Clearvoice 2018 survey of freelance writers. They surveyed more than 500 freelance writers who all gave their time voluntarily to try and define industry standards.
They concluded that typical freelance rates fell into these categories (followed by the percentage of writers that earn that much):
- $1-$20/hour (9% of writers)
- $21 – $40/hour (19% of writers)
- $41 – $60/hour (18% of writers)
- $61 – $80/hour (14% of writers)
- $81-$100/hour (19% of writers)
- $100+/hour (21% of writers)
Now, we’d argue that in our experience this isn’t an accurate reflection of what freelance writers earn but most of the writers we know are based in South East Asia. That means they can afford to work for lower rates too. The writers in our circle of 5-20 years’ experience each are earning, on average, in the $41-$60 an hour category.
That’s still pretty good for a career traditionally associated with poverty pay, right?
The same ClearVoice survey also examined writers who charge per word. This is a fairly common arrangement for freelance writers and it fairly reflects the majority of the work that I undertake. In fact, I’ve found it very rare to find clients who prefer to pay hourly.
They found that typical per word rates fell into these categories (followed by the percentage of writers that earn that much):
- $0.01 – $0.10 (14% of writers)
- $0.11 – $0.25 (18% of writers)
- $0.26 – $0.50 (18% of writers)
- $0.51 – $0.75 (13% of writers)
- $0.76 – $1.00 (25% of writers)
- N/A (12% of writers say they don’t charge by the word)
We find that to be a little on the high side. Out in Southeast Asia’s freelancing world, we’ve had jobs for up to $1 a word but they were few and far between.
I charge more than the majority of my peers at a per word level and typically can’t find more than $0.50 a word even when working in very specialist niches.
Most freelance writers churning out content for the web will find that $0.25 is great pay, and that rates of $0.10 (or sadly, less) are far more typical.
If you want to charge more as a freelance writer by the word, you have to bring additional skills to the table. I ghostwrite books, develop training courses and corporate processes as well as writing instruction manuals, video scripts, etc.
What Is The Most Profitable Field Of Freelance Writing?
There are endless options for freelance writers. You can do any or all of the following:
- E-mail newsletters
- Social media posts
- Sales letters
- Sale e-mail campaigns
- Research papers/white papers
- Web copy (other than blogging)
- Technical writing
- Training development
- Video scripts
And there are probably many other variations on a theme that we’ve forgotten about or missed here.
So, of these fields, which is likely to pay the best?
It won’t come as a surprise if you have a head for business. The best-rewarded field in writing (excluding becoming J K Rowling) is… sales copywriting.
Most sales copywriters focus on two things: long-form sales letters (the near-endless webpages that exhort you to part with your $37 for $999 worth of value!!!) and e-mail marketing sales conversion campaigns (that is a series of emails that are designed to turn what you read into a purchase of some description).
Now, it’s fair to say that most conversion centered sales writing isn’t paid that well in terms of an hourly rate, these writers don’t make their money that way – they make their money by charging a percentage of the take once the campaign has been run.
I know at least 2 writers who moved into sales copywriting who were happily banking more than $100,000 a year at the end of their first year.
How To Become A Sales Copywriter: Without Spending A Fortune
There are a ton of courses to teach this “skill” online and most of them are quite expensive but it’s something you can research and learn to do yourself for free.
All you need to do is find products that have sold well online and then examine their sales letters on their websites (remember: these are the really long sales letters, if it’s not a really long letter, this isn’t a sales copywriting opportunity) and on their affiliate’s websites (most successful online products use affiliates to increase their sales – the top affiliates for a product will often have strong sales letters on their sites too) and work out what makes these letters work.
And for e-mail campaigns, it’s even easier – sign up with a couple of dozen businesses that sell products online and wait for their e-mails to start dropping into your e-mail box. Again, all you need to do is work out what they have in common and you can be writing sales copy in no time.
You don’t need any certifications to write sales copy. You just have to learn to convert sales.
So, why don’t I do this? I don’t do it because I’d find it so depressing that after a week or two, I’d stop getting out of bed. Sales copywriting is a skill that I admire but not one that I want to acquire. The thought of writing 15,000 words on why you should buy a carpet cleaning treatment leaves me cold.
However, if you have the stomach for it. You can earn $20,000+ for a very successful sales letter and that makes it the most lucrative work you’ll ever find as a writer.
How Do You Know What To Charge For Your Freelance Writing?
The good news is that you don’t need to spend too much time learning to charge for your freelance writing, but it is worth taking a little time to work out the market rates:
- Writer’s Market. This is the classic writer’s handbook. It’s cheap and comes in both paperback and Kindle formats. If you’re serious about freelance writing, you can’t live without a copy. Not only will it help you work out what to charge but it will also help you work out how to find work and how to close business. It’s packed with tips from other freelancers too. You can check the latest price of the Writer’s Market for 2020 on Amazon here.
- We don’t love the world’s most popular search engine and tend to use DuckDuckGo as our preference for search, but some things are too important to leave to chance and checking market rates is one of them. Don’t be afraid to Google jobs that are similar to the one you’re trying to land and work out what people are paying in the market today.
- EFA Editorial Rates Chart. If you prefer to do editorial work rather than basic writing, then you can find the going rates on the Editorial Rates Chart from the EFA (Editorial Freelancers Association).
One thing you should be very aware of is that work via Upwork, Freelancer, etc. simply does not pay market rates. The best rates on there are likely to be half what you’d get paid if you landed the client directly and most are likely to pay much less.
It’s important to review a client’s profile to see what they’ve been paying. You may, if you are an exceptional writer, get them to up their rates a bit but in my experience, nobody triples the rates they will pay, no matter how good you are.
However, larger more complex projects have far fewer skilled candidates applying to tackle them and those clients, often though not always, have a better idea of what the going rates are. You may be able to get 80-90% of what the job’s worth if you can write books or training courses.
Article Writing/SEO writing is the lowest-paid kind of writing work on these sites. 5 cents a word or less is very typical for that kind of work and you’re doing very well if you can get clients to run to 10-25 cents a word for it.
A Note Of Caution For Freelance Writers That Want To Get Paid
One author has already placed a bet that the first AI-written novel will be published by a major publishing house by 2050. We don’t know if this is a good prediction or not, but we do know: AI is a huge threat to would-be freelance writers.
We would expect article writers to be overtaken within the next 20 years by this technology. If you’re going to get into freelance writing and want to keep getting paid – you need more skill than the basics or you will get left behind.
Yes, freelance writers can make money, and, in fact, they can make a perfectly healthy living as the data shows. If you want to earn a decent living in freelance writing, you need to be able to offer more skills than crafting the occasional Twitter post or blog post.
The best-paid writers are sales copywriters and yes, you can learn to do that easily without spending a fortune on training courses.