Create Your Ultimate 2016 Freelance Success Plan (For Newbies and Pros)

Your Ultimate Freelance Marketing Plan 2016 - Makealivingwriting.comAre you ready to earn a heck of a lot more from your writing in 2016? Good!

You might think it would be impossible for me to write a single post that tells every freelance writer out there how to find better clients and get paid more in the coming year…but that’s exactly what I’ve got for you.

How can I do that, when some writers are brand new and others have been at this game for years? When some write for magazines and others for businesses? Well, I can do it because there are basically only three types of freelancers:

  1. Aspiring freelancers who want to quit day jobs, but haven’t taken the plunge yet.
  2. Freelancers who don’t have any good clients yet — they’re writing for $5 a blog post or $20 an article…that sort of travesty.
  3. Freelancers who have some good clients, but need/want more or better-paying clients.

There is an approach to creating a freelance success plan that will work optimally for each of these types. Because ultimately, marketing isn’t that hard to figure out (though many writers whine constantly about how difficult marketing is, in lieu of actually *doing* marketing).

Let’s solve this today! Here we go:

1. Marketing for aspiring freelancers

Have you been learning, learning, learning, hoping you’ll discover the one best, fastest, lowest-cost, easiest and most effective way to find great freelance gigs?

Let me save you some time: It does not exist. Or it might, but by the time you figure that out, it could easily be 2025.

The way you quickly find your best niche — and find good clients — is to write a lot and start marketing.

When I’m asked where freelance writers should start, my answer is always the same: “Somewhere.”

Start somewhere. Begin taking action.

Whether it’s asking the local paper if they’d like coverage of city council meetings, or it’s pitching businesses case studies you could write, it’s time to stop fantasizing that the luck fairy will kick your freelance career into gear and start DOING.

The actions you take will give you vital information about what works and doesn’t, who hires freelancers and at what rates. That will allow you to start figuring out where you fit in the marketplace, and start finding paying gigs.

Finding a community

I know what you’re going to say: “But that will take a ton of time!” Yes, it might.

Unless…you connect with a community of freelance writers who can tell you about what’s working out there these days. What going rates are. How to negotiate the best rate. And so on.

Besides saving you oodles of wasted time falling for scams or pitching the wrong types of clients, joining a community will help you not feel like a lonely freakish weirdo that you want to freelance. Instead, you’ll be surrounded by other freelancers who completely get what you’re going through.

For many writers, that makes all the difference in giving them the confidence to keep going while they ramp their business. Start putting your name out there and letting people know you want to freelance, and I guarantee you, you’ll earn more from writing in 2016 than you did this year.

2. Marketing when you have lowball clients

I am constantly asked if I can provide a list of websites writers can ‘apply’ to where they offer fantastic pay rates and lots of steady, readily available work. Also, if I can provide a list of such websites that will hire ESL writers based in places such as Africa, India, the Philippines, or Asia, at great rates.

Sadly, no such lists exist. Mass websites where thousands of writers compete for jobs — from Elance to Craigslist ads to content mills such as WriterAccess or Demand Media — always have low rates by nature. This will never, ever change because the model of making writers compete by the hundreds for the same job drives rates to the floor.

Also, getting clients through an intermediary always means you earn less, because that platform is taking a nice, fat cut of the fee.

Please recall that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over but expecting a different result. Stop asking where the better content mill is — there is no such thing.

If you’re a writer who’d eked out a subsistence income on these sites, but you’d like to start earning a real living, you will have to change your whole marketing approach from passive to active. You’ll need to learn how to leave the underworld of freelance writing and find your own clients.

In brief:

“Passive” marketing is applying to online job ads you see, or responding to posts on Elance. You are at the mercy of whatever ads or offers get posted. Your freelance life is something that happens to you, while you stand on the sidelines bemoaning the lack of good offers.

“Active” marketing is things like:

  • Building a great a great LinkedIn profile, and then being active on that platform
  • Sending out queries and letters of introduction
  • Going to in-person networking events and following up with people you meet

That sort of thing. You go out and beat bushes, look under rocks, put your writer website in your email signature, tell every warm body you encounter you want clients, until you find great clients who love you and pay you professional rates.

Making the massive mindshift

This requires a major mental shift. You need to stop imagining a great gig is sitting around on some wide-open website waiting for you, and start treating this like a business. In my Den 2X Income Accelerator mastermind program, we actually have a “Mindset Reset” training that’s one of the first steps in the course, where we retrain your brain with new concepts about how freelancing works and your value to clients.

Do the retail shops in your town just open the door and expect customers to flock in? No. They place ads. They sponsor events. Offer discounts. They blog. They’re on social media. They team up with other businesses and cross-promote each other. They do a million things, and they never stop doing them.

Take a page from their book and realize that if you want this to really pay some bills, you’ll need to up your marketing game.

If all your clients are crummy, you can’t rely on referrals. The good news is you CAN start with no clips, quickly build a starter portfolio, and find good-paying clients in a short period of time — if you know how. And if you start actively marketing your services.

Which of these proactive marketing methods will work best for you? Only trial and error can tell you.

Start with the marketing methods that speak to you, that seem doable and not terrifying. Try different marketing approaches and discover what types of marketing you find reasonably pleasant to do, and which make you feel like you may vomit.

Remember, the best kind of marketing is the kind you’re willing to actually DO.

Maybe for you, that’s LinkedIn reach-outs on InMail, or maybe it’s sending out email queries. See where you get a response, and where the better clients come from. Then, do more of that.

3. Marketing when you need more good clients

For established freelancers who have some decent clients, but really need to take it up a notch, the road to marketing success is a little different.

Begin by analyzing the clients you’ve had in the past year. See who your most lucrative clients were, both in terms of net dollars and hourly rate. Then ask yourself:

Where did my best clients come from?

This analysis should lead to a revelation about which clients you want to keep, which you want to drop, and what types of marketing have worked best for you. Once you’ve identified what’s working in marketing, do more of it.

The types of marketing that led to less-desirable clients, you should drop. Yes, it’s that simple!

The other trick to really moving up is that you’ve got to learn how to identify better-quality prospects. Once you learn how to locate the magazines that pay $1 a word and up, and the $100 million and up businesses, you’ve taken the first critical step toward marketing and getting hired by clients who’ll pay you well.

Set goals and get serious

One of the biggest problems freelance writers have is that they don’t understand the volume of marketing that needs to happen to really move your career forward.

I talk to a lot of writers who’ll tell me their marketing plan is along the lines of, “I plan to send out three letters of introduction this month.”

When the way to really make things happen is to send 300.

Or they go to one networking event or conference a year, when they should attend 12.

The way to ramp up your marketing is to start setting aggressive monthly (or even weekly) goals and getting accountability for them — find a freelance buddy, join a writer group, call your best friend once a week and confirm you checked off your to-do marketing items.

Yes, you may fall short of those monthly goals. But in the meanwhile, you’ll find yourself stretching and doing way more marketing than you ever did before as you strive to hit those targets.

Whatever type of freelance marketing plan you’ve created, if you want to earn a lot more, do a LOT of marketing. This is a numbers game. More lines in the water ups your odds of catching fish, right?

Tons of marketing = many nibbles = you have choices = you can turn down low-payers and only skim the cream.

That’s how you end up being fully booked, in demand, and able to name your price on rates.

How will you get good freelance clients in 2016? Leave a comment and share your approach.

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69 comments on “Create Your Ultimate 2016 Freelance Success Plan (For Newbies and Pros)
  1. Jan Hill says:

    Hey Carol! I’d like to add one more method to #3 – referrals. I just got a referral from an existing client that led to a great blogging gig – 8 blog posts for $1000/month! The guy I talked to said they weren’t even going to talk to any other writers, just based upon what the referral source had told him about me. So if you’ve got some good clients, they can definitely lead to others. Just let them know that you’re looking!

    • Carol Tice says:

      Oh, definitely! And congrats on the steady blogging gig — nice rate. 😉

    • Ravi says:

      “if you’ve got some good clients, they can definitely lead to others.”

      I heard the same point from Angela Booth and it is really great to know from your side as well. I wrote and sent a fiction story to an online magazine last year and it was published. After a few weeks, I got a mail that asked me to write for a special issue of the magazine. I’m shocked because I was new to the magazine and the publishing world. Even the publisher wrote a complement on my story page of another magazine. Of course, it would be different to the case, but it shows that good publishers encourages to grow just as good clients leads our name to others to grow.

      In 2016, I set goals to write in English as I do in my regional language. I know I have to move my language skills to another level if I want to get writing gigs in English. I already started the learning wheel to achieve the goal. Hope I will reach it soon.

  2. Gina Horkey says:

    Just start. That’s the advice I give new writers too! I like how you addressed the 3 different groups of writers in this post and gave specific solutions – great read, thanks Carol!

  3. Well said Carol. Struggling with the starting can become a full time “job” and a huge time waste. It is definitely in the “doing”.
    I took a few small steps this year, including sending my first pitch out to write a post. It wasn’t as scary as I thought it might be. Didn’t get the job, but now that I’m over some of the fear, I have a very positive outlook and plan for 2016.
    Thanks for the inspiration and always great info.
    Best to you and your family in the New Year.

    • Carol Tice says:

      Remember, it’s a numbers game, Barry — don’t send ONE pitch…send MANY.

    • tobyo says:

      Your year sounds almost identical to mine. I created a “to do” list early in the year and finally sent my first pitch as well about a month ago. It too was rejected but I agree, not as scary as I thought it would be. I also submitted several pieces and entered a few contests in the last several months. And most of those were not accepted but I am pressing forward with many more ideas for next year! And I feel good that I did actually start 🙂

      Good for you and your positive outlook!!

  4. Willi M says:

    Once again, Carol, you’ve proven why you’re the tops when it comes to freelance writing know-how.

    I’m revamping my marketing plan a little bit. Not relying on social media as much, except for LinkedIn Inmails. I’ve always connected with people locally that I’d like to work with.

    It’s going to be a great year! <3

    • Carol Tice says:

      I say analyze, see what’s working — and if it’s not paying off for you, try another marketing method. Every writer gets clients in their own way, I find.

  5. Lisa says:

    Some great take always here for writers of all levels, thank you so much!

  6. Clara says:

    Thanks for this valuable information, Carol. I love LinkedIn connection/referrals. Have met some great people in the process.

    • Carol Tice says:

      LinkedIn is the only social media where asking for referrals and networking to build your business is A-OK. I always say if you’ve only got time for one platform…make it LinkedIn.

  7. Ariel Rule says:

    I think it’s good to add an action plan to your goals. Goals are easy to create, but the light at the end of the tunnel is harder to if you don’t have some plan of action to make the goal a reality.

    If you set a goal to send a query letter every month, then you need to know to which magazine you plan to send it to, who you’ll be contacting, ect.

    Details matter 😉

    • Carol Tice says:

      Oh, definitely — in Freelance Writers Den, we do monthly concrete action items. You’ve got to break it down to what you specifically plan to do.

      And A query letter a month is…not enough to earn a living from. Gotta pitch a lot, if that’s your marketing method!

  8. Thanks for the great post, Carol. I’m on the same page, and I am particularly weary of the “poor starving artist” mindset of many writers and the expectation (in Australia, at least) that government grants should be the basis for earning a living from writing. The sooner writers understand the concept of “authorpreneurship” the better!

  9. lynmarenjensen says:

    I’d like to see more information on being active on the Linkin platform. (You’ve got your site, you’ve got connections, you post updates–now what?)

  10. Hi Carol, I couldn’t find a way to contact you directly via your website but thought you would like to know that I clicked on the navigation on your site for “My eBooks” and tried to buy an eBook but it seems they are returning Errors saying the correct code for the product isn’t entered. I’m using Firefox, if that makes a difference. Take care.

  11. Mark says:

    Freelancing is serious business. If you want to succeed, you have to get ready for it. This is a great help to create my own business plan!

  12. Arjun says:

    Google Adwords and Facebook Ads also helps us to find out new customer.

    • Carol Tice says:

      Really? I’ve never heard of a freelance writer who gets clients with these ads, so if you’re doing that I’d be interested to hear more. If this is just you stuffing a link to some other type of business…then we don’t need details.

      • Arjun says:

        I am here to improve my Writing styles, because I want to write better article for my blog, not to become freelance writer. And I have some knowledge about PPC marketing. I have seen many of guys bid on “hire freelance writers” keywords, Why you did not search your self on Google, you will see many of ads at top/left side.

        Same thing apply to Facebook, we can choose connection to target specific pages i.e. I can display my ads in your facebook page. (Not all the time, it’s depend on other target option and ads quality score).

        You should try PPC for your community(freelancewritersden).

        • Carol Tice says:

          Arjun, I will never put ads on Freelance Writers Den. My members pay a membership fee for the chance to consume our resources and network in an ad-free environment. I personally believe passionately that ads are not the way to go in building a blog that earns — stay tuned for my next e-book, “How I Earn a Six-Figure Income From My Tiny Niche Blog” for details on what I believe works much better!

          • Ravi says:

            When would you publish your new book?

            I think Arjun suggested you to try PPC for promoting FreelanceWitersDen, not for placing ads on the site.

            Maybe, as a new reader of the site, he would not know that your services are not like many other services. I mean, your services matter quality. That’s why the Den’s membership gates are not always open to go.

      • Kat says:

        I do a lot of Google AdWords campaigns and social media ads (Twitter & Facebook) for clients, and I do not recommend them at all for freelance writers. It’s true LOTS of people bid on “hire freelance writer” keywords–they are the content mills like Textbroker or BlogMutt, as well as term paper/essay sites too. Because of those places, the ads are extremely expensive in terms of PPC and not at all useful for a legitimate freelance writer.

        • Carol Tice says:

          That’s the sense I have as well, Kat.

          • Ravi says:

            I know that you perfectly knew about PPC and how much it is good for freelance writing. But what about PR sites?

            Many writers use those sites to promote their services and eBooks even they hate promoting through PPC.

  13. Melinda says:

    This post perfectly sums up my mindset lately. I can spend months just looking up tips for becoming a freelancer online, or I can stop questioning and doubting and just do it. For me accountability is key! Thanks for the great post!

  14. Sherri says:

    Great post for New Years Eve! I’m currently marketing on Linkedin. I’ve had some nice replies to my connection requests which is a positive. I keep telling myself, “It’s a numbers game, it’s a numbers game.” It feels like a lonely business tho. 🙂

  15. Jeremy says:

    Great way to turn over a new leaf in 2016 … thanks for all the amazing advice!

  16. Charley Jai says:

    Thank you so much, Carol, for taking the time to put this together! Massively insightful and helpful.

  17. I’ve been trying something new – creating content that helps my clients. I want to write blogs and web content for more dog-related businesses, so I created a free opt-in ebook about content marketing in the dog niche and started writing weekly blog posts on similar topics. So far, I got a few leads, nothing finalized yet, but I finally feel like I’m getting somewhere without depending on freelance job boards.

    At the same time, my freebie is attracting small businesses, those who don’t have much of a budget. I like working with them, but I also like eating, so I know it’s time to aim higher.

    Carol, I never would have come this far without your help. Happy new year!

    • Carol Tice says:

      Thanks for sharing your story, Lindsay. If you’re attracting small businesses, it may be time to rethink the type of marketing you’re doing. I don’t see a lot of dog-related businesses DOING content marketing, so that may not be a market-method fit.

  18. Darryl says:

    Hi Carol,

    I’ve been reading your blog lately and love the content!

    Right now I’m focusing on building up my portfolio, as well as connecting with other freelance writers.

    Happy New year!

  19. Kat says:

    Thanks for this Carol! It’s a good kick in the butt 🙂

    I see so many writers waiting to get X amount of clips or waiting for so-and-so to introduce them to some famous editor. They end up sitting there for months without any progress. If they just sat down, got up their website, and sent out several queries or LOIs a day, they’d be in a way better position.

  20. Langley says:

    I, too, am looking for a good push in the behind to get to work on my blog. I am a young adult and teacher/graduate student. I really want to start a blog geared towards young adults, educators, and students. I’m just really nervous on starting it up and I am afraid of the rejection if it doesn’t work out. Still trying to push through with this New Years resolution and need to figure out my niche. Any suggestions?

    • Carol Tice says:

      There’ll be a lot of tips on this in my “How I Earn a Six Figure Income From my Tiny Niche Blog” ebook coming up!

      For now — first off, don’t be nervous. When you start, no one is reading it. 😉 I think ‘rejection’ isn’t a concept that applies to blogs. How would you know someone rejected it? It’s more about you promoting it and starting to spread the word. A blog is only a failure if you give up and stop…otherwise, it’s just still on its way to finding an audience, in my view.

      The core question to start with is: WHY do you want to start a blog. What is the GOAL of your blog?

      You have several different potential audiences there. Why would they read you? What can you help them with? Can you serve both educators and students in one blog, or do you need to choose which of those audiences you’re going after?

      If you’re looking at this as a blog you might earn from…are there competing blogs out there that you see successfully doing that? That would be a sign that it is a monetizable niche.

      This was a good exercise for me — all good fundamentals to make sure I put into my ebook!

  21. Emma Hudson says:

    Great article, Carol.

    I love the idea of having a freelance buddy! I start out with good intentions but life seems to get in the way, my schedule becomes hectic, and my freelance business ends up taking a back seat. But not this year! It’s time for a new approach 🙂

    • Carol Tice says:

      I’m a HUGE believer in accountability, and a buddy can really help create that. It’s funny, but once we tell someone ELSE we plan to do X amount of writing or freelance marketing, we feel we must do it or look stupid. But when we tell ourselves alone that we’ll do it, we feel more comfortable blowing it off.

  22. Jennifer says:

    I totally agree about the writing buddy. Mine pushed me to earn 100K this year because she did it last year so I knew it was possible. From a writer who started writing regional parenting reprints to making six figures, your road map is SPOT ON and almost exactly the things I have done to get where I am.

    • Emma Hudson says:

      That’s great to hear, Jennifer. Where did you meet your buddy? I’m not quite sure where to look for one.

      • Carol Tice says:

        Not sure where Jen met hers… but we have a Writer Accountability Buddies matching forum in Freelance Writers Den. 😉 Lots of great relationships have formed through it, keeping loads of writers on track!

  23. Hi Carol,

    I’m a mix of group #1 and group #3! I’d love to quit my day job and blog/write full time, I have a couple good clients, but I haven’t yet “taken the plunge” to full-time blogger/writer status. 🙂

    Love your thoughts. Reading through the comments, I see you’re decidedly pro-LinkedIn. I really do need to up my efforts with that platform. Thus far, I’ve only dabbled my toes into the waters.

    Anyway, great work, Carol. I’ll tweet this right away!

    Hope your 2016 is off to an amazing start. 🙂

    – @kevinjduncan

  24. Lisa V says:

    Hi Carol –
    Thank you for all your helpful posts, especially for someone like me who’s trying to get a foot in the door. I read your post regarding Content Mills, as I was contemplating signing up with Constant Content, just to get a few articles to have a portfolio. I’m even more hesitant now.
    I’d like your opinion regarding adding some sort of add-on to my website advertising my freelance services. Any advice?

    • Carol Tice says:

      “I read your post regarding Content Mills, as I was contemplating signing up with Constant Content, just to get a few articles to have a portfolio. I’m even more hesitant now.”

      Yes, you should be — because many times, the content mill clips can’t be USED in your portfolio. You may not know who the end client is, may not be able to use your name, or may be under a nondisclosure. I don’t know Constant Content’s model, so check carefully before you bother. I’ve mentored TOO many writers who’ve spent YEARS on mills, only to discover they are really still at ground zero with building their portfolio.

      “I’d like your opinion regarding adding some sort of add-on to my website advertising my freelance services. Any advice?”

      Yes, loads of it. If you’re talking about adding to a blog site, you’re looking for a ‘Hire Me’ tab that starts letting people know you write for others, too — here’s a post that may help you:

  25. Ravi says:

    When I was reading your older posts, I felt many times to comment (for help or suggestion). But couldn’t find an option for commenting. I can understand why did you close the comment option for older posts.

    I don’t know much about “commentluv+”; I know about many services offering the moderation facility. If it is available with “commentluv+,” open the comment box for older posts too. And then publish the readers’ comments only after approval.

    • Carol Tice says:

      Ravi, I’ve closed older posts because of too much spam — too much time spent spiking it off. Our Commentluv+ is currently broken! We’re working on getting it fixed. I prefer not to throw all comments into moderation — my policy is to keep recent posts open for comments, which I’m liking. It focuses the conversation on what’s new. Of course you can always comment on some older posts when they go up on my Make a Living Writing Facebook page, or on Twitter. 😉

  26. Ravi says:

    Thanks for the idea for commenting on FB or Twitter.

    In Blogger, we are able to allow comments for recent posts with a certain days of time, and allow comments for older posts only after moderation. I guess premium services like “commentluv+” might have that option.

    I observed that serious people, who aimed to do something, are not following FB that much as they follow Twitter. What would be the reason? And my friend told me yesterday that Twitter is the only site having the page rank 10 (even not Google).

  27. David Throop says:

    Every single time I read your posts, I glean something new and motivating. This is no exception! I took your advice and pitched a number of potential clients, playing the numbers game, but only received about 1% response rate – and a thanks but not right now response.
    But after reading this post, I hear the echoes of those words from before, it’s a numbers game and after reading I’m back at it!

  28. Adel says:

    Dear Carol,

    I’m new to your site. I’ve been freelancing on and off for a few years now. I love writing and I really want to make a career out of freelancing. I am not “qualified”. I’ve worked on Elance ever since I started. Currently, I’m on Upwork. Where should I start? How do I move forward? Do I really need some sort of degree? I started a BA in English but due to circumstances, I was unable to continue.

    I appreciate your help.


    • Carol Tice says:

      Adel, I’m not ‘qualified’ either — I’m a college dropout as well. There are no credentials needed for freelance writing except good writing skills, a willingness to market yourself and to work with clients:

      You might check out my Step by Step Guide ebook on that tab above — that outlines my program for finding clients away from these race-to-the-bottom low-pay places like UpWork. I’m hearing a lot that good assignments are really drying up on that platform, too, so you’re smart not to put all your eggs in that basket.

  29. Susan says:

    People think I’m nuts, but I love cold emailing and cold calling! But it all comes back to your positioning and self-marketing. If you research the right markets, and craft your LOI accordingly, it’s not that difficult to find work. In my experience, clients want experience. But that does not necessarily mean writing experience. I mentor a student who is an equestrian. I got her set-up with a few well-paying writing clients simply by showing her how to connect that experience to the client’s needs.

    My advice is to spend more time on your LinkedIN profiles, cold pitches, letters of introduction than sitting around responding to job boards. I have landed lucrative gigs on job boards (even UpWork), but in my opinion researching and targeting clients is fastest.

  30. George Donaldson says:

    I’m researching a lot of aspects of starting up a freelance writing business, and the biggest thing seems to be marketing. One idea that came into my head today was: What about approaching web developer startups or freelancers and offering to provide content for the websites they’re building? This might be an angle a lot of people haven’t tried. What do you think?

    • Carol Tice says:

      Partner with designers/photographers and other creatives can be a good strategy — see my Products I Love page here for Peter Bowerman’s book Profitable by Design, about working with designers to get referrals. But freelance writers generally are NOT a source of a lot of referral or subcontracting business. Most barely have enough to feed themselves.

      Lots of people DO try it though — I get asked to sub out my work all the time. Most well-paid freelancers don’t have the option of subbing out the work, because clients would know immediately if they weren’t writing the stuff.

      In general, the marketing you want to do is to clients — to the publications or companies you want to write for, directly. Some people target agencies, but unless you have agency experience, I don’t find that pays off that well.

      As far as approaching Web developer STARTUPS — in general, startups tend to be broke, and flakey. I usually advise writers to steer clear of startups, unless they’re the kind that have venture-capital funding, and you now they have money.

      • George Donaldson says:

        That’s a good point about the startups. They sound like a risk in terms of getting paid. I didn’t mean to suggest hitting up freelance writers – I was just talking about web developers.

  31. Sara says:

    I just wanted to send a quick hello and thank you. A few months ago I decided to start my own social media management and blog writing business. I have a very specialized degree in Acupuncture and Chinese medicine with a focus on research in that and noticed so many of my peers were really lacking in their online presence. I also have a writing background and been published in peer reviewed journals, so it seemed great but I lacked confidence in asking for $100 posts, even though I know my creds could warrant that or more.

    I found your blog and for several months have used your information to help build my business. And your gusto gave me confidence in setting a $100 a post for blogs.

    Anyways this a few weeks ago I soft opened my business just to friends and people close to me in the medical world. And in a week I signed 4 contracts, one which will have me writing weekly through the summer possibly longer. I am blown away! I haven’t even got all the bugs sorted out with my website and I was met with such a warm reception from my community.

    And it was reading your blog that really helped me decide that yes I can do this and make a living too.

    So thank you, thank you so much!