Should You Share Your Freelance Writing Income?

on April 5, 2008 in Freelance Writing Business
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Should freelance writers share information about their freelance writing income publicly? Some writers do so regularly on their writing blogs. Others refuse to ever share details about how much they make, and how they do it. What's right for you? Let's explore the issue.

Is Talking About Money Really Taboo?

I'd argue that disclosing income information hasn't been "taboo" in the freelance writing profession for quite a few years now. We're simply seeing that discussion in a new medium (via blogs, forums, etc.) and able to have more interactive discussions about the topic. Would Bob Bly have sold as many books to budding freelance writers if he didn't disclose at least a hint of his own income level? I highly doubt it.

Any copywriter will tell you that one thing people always want to know is how to make more money. It sells books, and it also happens to "sell" blogs. People also like to learn from the example of others. Knowing others have gone before you and reached your goals is inspirational for a lot of people, and that's not likely to change.

Is it Ever Not OK to Talk About Your Writing Income?

As far as I'm concerned at least, how much you disclose is entirely up to you; as are your motives. I think readers are often smarter than we give them credit for, and they'll have a good idea of your motives when you post - whether you're just happy to hit a goal, trying to be helpful, etc.

If you Share Your Income Stats, Do You Have to Tell People How to do the Same?

I don't think you need to justify your own income by telling everyone else how to do what you do. Sometimes it would be inappropriate (such as if the work itself is confidential). Other times you just want to share your success story if you reached a personal goal, and there's really nothing "special" in how you did it... you just did your job. I'll be "taboo" myself for a moment and share a personal example:

It's looking like this month or next month will be my first five figure month through freelance writing work. That's a goal I didn't expect to even come close to this year, especially considering I only write for clients part-time. (It's also something I don't expect to continue in following months - I just happened to have a few excellent contracts coming in together.) So I'm having a good year, I'm pepped up about work, and decide to share my enthusiasm with other writers. I don't think it's a big enough deal to warrant its own post if and when it officially happens, but I've found that when I discuss things like my rates (which are always publicly available on my business site), I get more of a positive reaction than a negative one.

Perhaps that's because I network with a lot of newer writers who appreciate having the positive stories to look forward to in their own work. I've even had quite a few writers tell me that they charge more now in part to seeing my rates as an example of something beyond those crappy $5 / article gigs. If I targeted an audience that was already more established, perhaps I'd get different reactions. You'll always run the risk of alienating people, but if you have something others might find useful, or if you just want some support from your fellow writers, go ahead and talk about reaching your own goals - I've found the freelance writing community to be quite encouraging and supportive most of the time.

Now, since I told you (even in vague terms) about my current writing income, should I also tell you how to do the same thing? If I could give you a step-by-step and tell you it was "easy," I would. But reaching goals doesn't happen overnight, and I don't think any reader should expect to be able to mimic someone else's success... they have to create their own.

The How-To

Despite the fact that I don't think anyone has to tell you how to earn what they're earning, I'll do it. I simply followed the advice I gave to my blog readers, writers I met in forums, etc. for the last few years:

  1. Specialize. (For me that's press releases, business copywriting, and business-oriented content writing.)
  2. Don't under-price your work from the start.
  3. Find ways to interact with your target market, and build your reputation as an expert in your niche or style with them. (In my case, that involves a lot of forum participation around potential buyers, and running several blogs.)
  4. Build a strong referral network of other writers. My best gigs almost always come from referrals from other writers if they're not from a repeat client. It's a two-way street though. To get referrals, don't be afraid to give them. You can't do everything. Point clients to someone better suited to their needs, and chances are they'll come back to you later when they have work available in your specialty.

Three and four take time. There's no getting around that. Other than the four points above, I simply did what I do... I wrote articles, press releases, and Web copy for clients, and I did it based on my advertised rate schedule and appropriate discounts (for extremely large orders, old regular clients still on extended lower rates from last year, etc.). By all means, I haven't been writing as long as some (about nine years overall, and about four years online). But I had to work my ass off for those years building something from (literally) nothing. There's no magic pill or secret formula that's going to make it "easy," and I think anyone telling you otherwise is a liar.

So even if someone does give you a detailed account of how they reached impressive earnings as a writer (or anything else for that matter), I'd suggest being more wary of that than the writers simply wanting to share their good fortune, hard work, and encouraging story. All you can do is what you've been doing all along - building your writing career one (sometimes slow) step at a time.

Your Thoughts?

So what do you think? Should people never share their writing income stats? Should they be more open about it in this day and age? Are you uncomfortable with doing so, but don't have a problem with others doing the same if they don't mind? Are you one of those readers who likes to see the stats for inspiration and encouragement? One that still hopes someone's going to give you that "secret strategy" to making it big?

Thanks for sharing!
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7 Comments

  1. Karen Zara April 5, 2008 Reply

    The 4th item in the How-To list is *very* important. Still it’s often forgotten. Much to my shame, I have to admit I’ve been neglecting it myself. Your post acted as a good reminder. Thank you. :)

  2. Deb Ng April 5, 2008 Reply

    My point was more that throwing out a figure saying “I earned $12000 last month freelance writing because I’m so great” doesn’t help anyone. How many hours were worked? What types of projects? Was this one client or a dozen?

    However, if the same writer said I earn $35 per hour writing content or $500 per month for this blog, it’s more helpful because it gives an indication of rates.

    Now, I don’t think discussing wages is taboo though I was raised to believe discussing money is bad manners. I don’t agree with it. I don’t mind giving an average figure for a particular gig but I don’t think it’s anyone’s business what I earn on a monthly or yearly basis.

    I can’t see two people hanging out at an office water cooler saying, “Hey I made $5K last month, you?” Not only is it tacky, it’s grounds for dismissal.

    All of the freelancers visiting FWJ earn money doing different things. We have novelists, journalists, columnists, content writers and bloggers. We have PLR writers, SEO writers, children’s writers, poets and more. A vague figure doesn’t help when there are so many different types of writing. Breaking it down into a rate per job gives a better indication of what a person in a particular field should earn. Which, by the way, is what I meant by “how they did it.”

  3. Jennifer Mattern April 10, 2008 Reply

    I agree with you to a degree Deb. If someone’s brand new to blogging, maybe posting to a forum instead, or they simply don’t have much info about themselves otherwise available, it’s probably a good idea to give a vague description of how they’re earning their income.

    At the same time, I don’t think most bloggers should need to delve into those details. Why? Because their readers should already have some idea of their background. I don’t think every post or comment should be written assuming someone’s new to you. For example, I have an “about the author” link at the bottom of the site here, where it also links to my writing site where people can view my rates. I think that’s more than enough in most cases. Although, your point is making me think I should add my author name to posts with a link there to make it a bit more obvious, so thanks for bringing that up. :) I think that even applies to a community like yours. If they include a link with their comment to their site which details their rates, types of services, etc. I think that’s just as helpful as saying so in the post (maybe moreso, since readers would be able to pull more detail from the site). But I agree it’s kind of pointless to just post with no link, no info, or anything at all.

    One thing I never do is share my overall income with my readers. When I do talk about money personally, it’s generally only for my writing, which is part-time. I never give a combined figure with my PR work. That would simply make me uncomfortable, and if someone asked, I probably wouldn’t tell them. So I do see your point there. At the same time, not everyone is as protective with what they earn. I would never ask them outright for stats, but I guess I don’t see a problem if they choose to share.

  4. Katherine April 12, 2008 Reply

    I find it inspiring when people share their income. So, when I do it – that’s why I do it. I like the way Amy at www.mydebtfreegoal.com does it. She breaks it down so you can see her income streams. Is it bad manners? No – I think that newbies especially appreciate seeing a real life example of someone actually making money at it.

  5. Diana April 12, 2008 Reply

    I don’t share my own income on my blog because even though I make enough to live, it’s nothing to write home about. Writers who earn a steady income or that increase it month to month, however, are an inspiration, and something I love to hear about. The more details I get, the better. I want to know how many projects the writer worked on, where he found them (cold calling, online job boards, etc), what type of projects (print magazines, online content, etc.). That kind of information really encourages me and gives me ideas on what to do to grow my own career.

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