There’s a lot of hype online about how much money you can make as a freelancer. And while some of it is true, I also see a lot of unrealistic promises. So today, I want to peel back the curtain and share my real freelance income numbers with you.
In this article, you’ll discover…
- The surprising rate I was able to charge my very first freelance client.
- How many years I was freelancing before I had my first $2,000 month. (I’m a little embarrassed to admit how long it took…)
- The one change I made to my business in 2017 that allowed me to have my first $10,000 month.
- How much I made when I had a record-setting month earlier this year — now that I’m nearly decade into my freelance career.
- And much more…
See, I get emails all the time from freelancers who are struggling to get started.
Plus no matter how far you are in your freelance journey…
It’s Easy To Get Trapped Comparing Your Freelance Income With People Who Are Further Along Than You
And for that to make you feel like you’re falling behind.
Now I’m sure you’ve seen the advice not to compare yourself when you’re just starting out to freelancers who are 10 years into their career.
The only problem is…
How the hell are you supposed to know how much those freelancers made back when they were starting…unless they tell you about it?
So that’s what I’m going to do today.
Plus I’m also hoping that — by revealing the intimate details of my freelance income from the last 10 years — it will help us get to know each other a little better at the same time.
So let me show you how long it really takes to make a living freelancing, starting with my very first client way back in 2012…
Got My First Client From Elance (Now Upwork) For $25/Hour
Yes, I got my first client from what is now Upwork.
The URL for the job listing isn’t live anymore. But I was actually able to find it in my email…
And after this first job, I probably got my next dozen or so clients from Craigslist.
So if you’re just starting out, there is NO shame in using a job board like Upwork, Craigslist, Fiverr, etc.
In fact, I actually recommend it for new freelancers.
Because when you use a job board, the companies posting are actively looking to hire someone like you.
So all you have to do is show them why you’re the best fit for what they need. (Which you can do — even as a total beginner — when you use the “judo” philosophy.)
And signing a client who is actively hiring is way easier than approaching a cold prospect.
Because with a cold prospect, you have to start by convincing them why they need your services at all. And that’s something even experienced freelancers struggle with. So it’s next to impossible when you’re brand-new and also trying to figure out everything else it takes to be a freelancer at the same time.
Also — Speaking Of “Figuring Everything Out” — Here’s A Screenshot Of The Very First Invoice I Ever Sent To My First Client
They sold a course that helped people get better scores on the LSAT — the test you need to take to get into law school here in the U.S.
And as you’ll see, the invoice is nothing more than an Excel spreadsheet with the dates, cost, and tasks completed. In fact, I’m almost positive I had to Google “What goes on an invoice” to even come up with this…
It’s not pretty. In fact, usually an invoice will include the contact information for both the company sending and the company receiving the invoice. And mine clearly doesn’t.
But guess what? It was good enough for me to get started. And then as I got more experience, I was able to make it even better.
Which brings me to the next phase of my career…
2012 to 2015
Never Exceeded $1,735 A Month Of Freelance Income
For the first three years of my career, my freelance income never exceeded $1,577.50 per month. And I never made more than $14,133.75 in a year, either.
Now I was freelancing on top of my day job at the time. So that’s actually a decent amount of money to make on the side.
But if I had tried to go full time during this period, I don’t think it would have turned out well.
And thanks to my day job, I could afford to take chances, make mistakes, and learn from them.
On the other hand, if I had tried to go full time during this period, I would have been under a lot more pressure to make money. And I believe that financial pressure would have made me less willing to take risks. Which would have slowed down my growth over the long term.
Because as you’re about to see, taking a few years to get experience gave me a solid foundation to build on top of. And that means, when I finally did start to get traction, my business took off from there…
Finally Broke $2,000 Per Month Of Freelance Income & Peaked At $4,449.50
It’s kind of embarrassing, but it took me four years before I made more than $2,000 of freelance income in a single month. And I wound up doing $4,449.50 in my best month of 2016.
But like I said, looking back I’m glad I took the time to build my skills before I really started to grow. Since that set me up for long-term success. (As you’re about to see…)
Also, the biggest reason for my growth in 2016 was when I used a strategic partnership to meet a high-paying client, who wound up investing $163,360 with me over the next three-and-a-half years.
And that laid the foundation for me to start freelancing full time the following year as well…
Started Freelancing Full Time & Hit First $10,000 Month
I finally made the jump to freelance full time in September of 2017 — half a decade into my career. And I also had my first $10,000 month the same year.
Now you may have heard me talk about the “tripod” framework I used to guide my transition to freelancing full time when I was a guest on Brennan Hopkins’ Facebook Live show for freelancers. (That part starts at 0:19:45.)
But in case you missed it, the key thing to note is that I used my vacation days at my last job to take off Tuesdays and Thursdays beginning in July 2017. And I used that time off to sign the high-paying client I mentioned above to a retainer.
Their initial deposit covered the first three months of our work together. (Which I talk about more in my Landlord Retainer.) And that deposit is what gave me my first $10,000 month of freelance income.
Then after I used up all my vacation days, I told my boss that I was leaving to run my freelance business full time.
Also, My Last Job Was Running The Ecommerce Marketing For The National Hockey League
And as a lifelong hockey fan, it was an awesome experience.
So to celebrate all the great years I had there, on my final day of work, I ended the day by sending myself and my family the last email from my NHL address…
Now remember, I already had one client signed on retainer when I left the NHL. Plus thanks to the tripod framework I mentioned before, I also had another client waiting to sign a retainer as soon as my last two weeks in the office were over.
And between those two retainer clients, I started making nearly $10,000 a month from retainers alone. Which was already a big jump from my old salary.
Plus thanks to other one-off projects I booked, I wound up breaking the $10,000 barrier a few more times before the end of 2017.
And my business has only continued to grow from there…
First Year With $100,000 In Freelance Income
In my first 12 months freelancing full time, I made $116,016.
And in the calendar year of 2018, my total freelance income was $111,416.
But remember, it took me six years before I made six figures as a freelancer…
Not six months, like a lot of overhyped online courses promise.
Now I know that some freelancers have made the jump to six figures in a few months.
So it is possible.
And honestly, my six-year journey to hit six figures is probably on the long side, given how risk-averse I am.
But like I said, with so many people promising near-instant riches from freelancing, I think it’s important to share my own story as a counter example.
Because even though I took a while to have my first $100,000 year, I got there using consistent and steady growth.
Which means unlike a lot of freelancers — who may hit six figures one year, but then struggle the next year…
I’m proud of the fact that once I had my first six-figure year, I never fell back below that mark again.
And I continued to see slow but steady growth for the next few years…
First $20,000 Month
I had my first $20,000 month in early 2019. But other than that, I only saw limited incremental growth during the year.
I raised my rates a little whenever I got a new one-off client. Plus I also increased my retainers a little bit each year.
And at the end of the year, my revenue went up by about 10%.
Now this was the second year in a row where I saw consistent — but modest — gains of around 10%-15%.
And I decided something needed to change in 2020 if I was going to speed up my growth even more…
Joined The Copy Accelerator Mastermind
I was finally ready to make a big investment in growing my business. So I joined the direct-marketing mastermind Copy Accelerator in February of 2020.
After joining, I almost immediately doubled my rates for long-form copy — from $7,500 to $15,000. And by the end of the year, I had signed two clients at that rate.
So along with my retainers and other work, it brought my annual freelance income from around $120,000 the year before to $150,000 in 2020.
And my income has only continued to grow as we get to this year…
First $30,000 Month & First $200,000 Year
In 2021, I continued to be more aggressive about raising my rates based on the support I have from Copy Accelerator and the success my work was generating for clients.
That allowed me to have my first $30,000 month in June of 2021. And by the end of the year, I had earned over $200,000 a year for the first time.
But again — this is almost a DECADE into my freelance career. And a lot of freelancers give up in frustration way before they reach this point…
First Effective Hourly Rate Over $200
My goals changed a little for 2022. At the beginning of the year, I knew I would be both planning my wedding and also moving to a new house by the end of the year. So my goal was to roughly match my income from the previous year, while working fewer hours.
And it worked. I was able to make just over $200,000 for the second year in a row. Plus for the first time ever, I was able to earn more than $200 for every single hour I spent working — including non-client work like bookkeeping, biz dev, and other administrative tasks.
Which brings me back to the original point of sharing all this with you…
Yes — Freelancing Can Absolutely Give You Tremendous Freedom And An Enviable Income
And in my opinion, it’s worth all the struggle and the sacrifice it takes to get started.
But there WILL be struggles and setbacks. Especially in the beginning.
So if you’re not prepared to dedicate yourself to the craft of freelancing for years — ideally while supporting yourself with income from somewhere else — then save yourself the hassle.
Better to walk away now, avoid the wasted time and the heartache, and dedicate yourself to something else that is a better fit.
But if you are committed for the long term, then I’ll be here with you every step of the way.
Now let me show you how to make freelance clients come to you — like clockwork — using a simple, 30-second conversation…
All the details are inside my free business blueprint 30-Second Referrals.
With this free PDF, you’ll discover how to use a simple, 30-second conversation to get two referrals from every single client you sign. (I’ll even show you exactly what to say during this conversation with my word-for-word script on page 13.)
That way, you can make clients come to you like clockwork. And you can fill your pipeline with more new business than you can handle.
But there is a small catch…
30-Second Referrals is only available to members The Freelance Like A Pro email list.
So enter your best email below to join us and claim your free copy of 30-Second Referrals now. (And you’ll get my members-only emails to help you run a more profitable and stress-free freelance business, too.)
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Thanks for the freelancing guide and the emails that you've been sending out — the 30-second referral method is so stupidly simple, that it's genius!Connor Inch, Freelance Copywriter