How Much I Made My First Year as a Freelance Writer & Web Designer (Full Breakdown)

Like you, I didn't grow up with dreams of being a freelancer.

In fact, I didn't really know what freelancing was until I was already doing it.

Writing kept me financially afloat while starting a business, and it led to growing my network & making impactful connections rather quickly.

I started back in 2021 and in the first 12 months, I made $33,816 (pre-tax).

Here's a breakdown of the earnings and things I did to increase my chances of success:

Income Breakdown

For context, my freelance writing career began in April 2021 and I didn't start web design work until September 2021.

So from April '21 to April '22, I made $33,816 from all of my freelance efforts.

But the below calculations are a breakdown of the first 12 months of each, which totals $54,666 (pre-tax):

12 Months of Ghosting Writing & Content Writing

🛠 Total work: 112 written articles (~9/month)

📈 Revenue: $24,166

💰 Average: $216/article

12 Months of Web Design

🛠 Total work: 11 designed & developed websites (~1/month)

📈 Revenue: $30,500

💰 Average: $2,773/website

How I Started Freelancing

In July 2020, I quit my 9-5 job and started my own financial planning business. With a mission to grow the business and get clients through content marketing, I was unknowingly building a small, diverse portfolio of my own content.

I was making videos, writing blogs, creating email campaigns, posting on social, everything.

Because I spent a lot of time on Twitter, my network and following was most engaged there. In January 2021, I saw a post mentioning a freelance personal finance content writing role and because business was going slower than expected, I applied.

To my surprise, I landed the role after submitting a sample draft and signed a 6-month retainer immediately.

Retainer: a contract that 'guarantees' a certain amount of work over a certain period of time

So my career in freelancing started more stable than most as I had a guaranteed 4-8 articles/month to write and get paid for. This made it much less stressful than it could've been however, the income still wasn't enough to cover my bills so I took on a few similar freelance writing roles.

Eventually, I came across a higher-earning, more fulfilling opportunity..

Adding a Skillset

Because I couldn't afford to hire a website designer or developer, I had to build all of my own websites for any business or project I wanted to start.

This led to teaching myself Webflow so that the rebrand of my financial planning firm to AllStreet Wealth looked as clean and professional as possible.

After designing and publishing my first site, some other financial advisors were impressed and asked who we worked with to build it.

Since it was me, I landed a couple out-of-the-blue freelance web design roles right away.

Fast forward 12 months and I've designed & developed 11 websites and began offering ongoing design services in August.

What Worked Well

The relative success and enjoyment I found in freelancing was part of the reason I started Creatorbread. I've had an interest in creative business and the creative world for awhile but it wasn't until I started making money from my own creative efforts that I started falling in love with it.

By far the biggest impact on getting new clients and growing as a freelancer was investing in my Twitter presence. I've shared almost-daily content for over two years and built a partial following of potential clients (financial advisors). I share websites when I'm done with them and regularly talk about freelance work and things that I'm working on. This has led to all of my new business coming from inbound leads and referrals.

I've written more about having a niche here, but focusing my writing and design efforts around the financial services industry allowed me to build a brand and name for myself around a specific set of services.

Having a portfolio is a non-negotiable in my opinion. It’s hard for someone to hire you if they don’t know what your work looks like and it doesn’t have to be complex or costly - it can be as simple as a one-page Carrd site for $19/year. Having a portfolio makes it easy to show an inbound lead your body of work. It also makes it easy for a client to share your work with potential referrals.

When I started my financial planning business, I knew I wanted to document and share the process so that I could use my business as a case study to sell marketing or content work back to other financial advisors.

This led me to creating Converting Attention, which started as a marketing & content resource center for financial advisors. I shared my content strategy, marketing strategy, the tools I was using, examples of what was working, and more. I wasn't exactly sure when this website and brand would come into play, but it's now what I use to house my freelance work and having an extensive library of content has helped solidify my expertise in a potential client's mind.

Lastly, a lot of freelancers treat themselves as a service-provider. They’re told by the client to write two blogs per month, they’re given certain topics, and they turn in those assignments. There’s nothing wrong with this approach.

But when you begin to position yourself as an expert and a strategist, you become an invaluable resource to your client’s business. They’re not only getting an end-product, they’re getting someone who can help them grow their business without paying a full-time employee.

This is also why you need to charge appropriately and ensure that your rates account for things like insurance costs, taxes, etc

As an expert, you can charge more for what you do and if you deliver results, your clients will be more than happy to talk about what you do to other business owners. This is exactly how I've approached my design work as I spend time helping the advisors build their messaging, content strategy, and more.

What I Would've Done Differently

Create a better portfolio - The biggest mistake I made in creating my design portfolio was only grabbing a screenshot of the client’s hero section and then linking directly to their URL to see the full project. This is an issue because almost every site has been slightly changed since I handed it off and they don’t represent changes I would make myself to a website. I’m still learning how to be a better freelancer, so now I know to document the design process and save my full, final designs rather than just linking to the client’s website at the end.

More outreach - If I wanted to get more clients, faster, I would've done way more outreach. I messaged a few financial advisors directly on Twitter to see if there was interest, but all of my new business came from referrals or inbound inquiries. This was perfect because I couldn't take on more work than I was doing, but I plan to spend more time on growing the freelance side of what I do in 2023. This might consist of hiring subcontractors for certain pieces of the process, focusing more on recurring services, or maybe raising prices & doing more outreach towards my ideal clients.

More confidence to change services - I was hesitant to stop freelance writing and spend more time on design because I didn't have any retainer-work for design. If I kept pumping out multiple articles per month, I knew I'd be able to (barely) pay my bills. It wasn't until I had a two-month cash reserve and enough confidence to commit to more design work and no freelance writing that I found more fulfillment (and more revenue) from freelancing.

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