One Writer’s Crazy Quest to Earn Six Figures–Working Part Time

4 Tips on How Writers can Earn Six Figures Working Part Time. Makealivingwriting.comFor many freelance writers, hitting six figures in income is the brass ring.

I’ve been privileged to grab the ring once in my career, but it can be a grueling effort to earn six figures. I learned I’m too lazy to do that year after year.

I decided to pursue the six-figure quest my own way: working part-time.

So far in 2015, I’m on track to do just that. I’m spending about 18 hours a week at my desk, and I’ve booked an average of $8,500 per month in assignments. Here’s how I’m doing it.

Fish where the fish are

If writing dollars were fish, where would you drop your hook? Where would you find the biggest, fattest fish to catch?

I’m not talking about markets. I’m talking about broad categories. For me, the best fishing hole right now is health-care marketing agencies. They need a ton of content for their clients. For you, it might be trade magazines. Or management firms. You must identify who offers the most lucrative opportunities within your vertical, then fish aggressively.

Work efficiently

I constantly strive to improve my efficiency. Here are a few techniques I use:

  • Streamline business processes. I have client intake forms, proposal templates–even a checklist to walk me through the steps for each type of project I do.
  • Track time zealously. I use OfficeTime to log every minute I spend at my desk, billable and non-billable. I review my time reports weekly to make sure I stay productive in the office.
  • Keep set office hours. I work Monday through Friday, 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. I do not deal with personal issues during that time. In my mind, I’m in the office to work as fast and as hard as possible.

Finding big rocks

Have you heard the story of the big rocks?

A management guru set a large glass jar on the lectern and filled it with big rocks. He asked his students if the jar was full. When they said yes, the guru proceeded to add gravel, sand and water until the jar was overflowing.

Lesson? You must prioritize how you fill your freelance jar in order to maximize your earning potential.

I always fill my jar first with clients who give me repeat work. They represent the big rocks within my freelance jar.

Where do you find the big rocks for your jar? The two best strategies I’ve used are:

  • Conferences. In order to fish where the fish are, I attend industry conferences. Last year, for example, I went to Content Marketing World, because my best clients are content marketing agencies. I’ve garnered over $10,000 in work from that (so far).
  • LinkedIn. I’m a big, big fan of fishing on LinkedIn. I landed one of my best clients by sending an email that simply said, ‘Hey, I loved that stat sheet on X you published on your website. Do you ever use freelancers?’

Creating rewards

I work roughly 20 hours per week. I use that other 20 hours as a carrot.

Positive reinforcement helps me perform better. When I’m not working, I:

  • Give myself an hour a day of workout time.
  • Spend at least one hour per week in my private den, door closed, reading.
  • Garden.

In other words, I actively pursue interests that help me stay fresh creatively while also giving me downtime. If I didn’t do this, I couldn’t maintain a high level of focus when I’m in the office.

Elizabeth Hanes, RN, is the nurse who knows content. At RN2Writer, she teaches nurses (and other healthcare professionals) how to transition to a second career as a freelance writer.

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74 comments on “One Writer’s Crazy Quest to Earn Six Figures–Working Part Time
  1. Beth, thank you for your kind reply, and for the offer to share your forms, I will be emailing you momentarily. And thank you again for this enlightening article.

    Warmly,

    Jennifer

  2. Your article was informative as well as motivating — thank you so much!! My initial thought was to ask if you can share tips about the client intake forms, proposal templates and checklists you use — I’m typically an organized person but your use of forms like this fascinates me. Unfortunately I don’t really know where to start.

    But one of the comments above has me wondering, what do you think of sharing your expertise in ebooks rather than articles? I devote so much time coming up with article ideas, submitting proposals, and then playing the waiting game to hear back, yet I’ve never considered ebooks — what do you think?

    Jennifer

    • Carol Tice says:

      Do you mean ebooks that you pitch to a publisher, or that you self-publish?

      Making sales as a self-publisher requires platform-building — you need to first attract an audience who wants to buy your expertise. It’s a completely different dynamic from trying to get an article assignment from a magazine, where you won’t be ‘sharing your expertise,’ but interviewing experts and quoting them.

      I think if you read through the comments, Elizabeth shared some of her organizational tools.

      • Hi Carol,

        I was referring to ebooks that you self-publish (probably on Amazon) but your response has already opened my eyes to the answer. If I share my expertise in an ebook to sell on Amazon, I would then have to concentrate on marketing to sell one book at a time, whereas an article would mean being paid by the magazine (or blog) once it’s accepted.

        Thanks for clarifying!

        Jennifer

        • Carol Tice says:

          Right — it’s a completely different platform-building model where there is no client, and you are trying to earn from your audience.

          Most writers just write the e-book, slap it up on Amazon…and then wonder why there’s no sales.

    • Jennifer, I want to start by apologizing. Between the time I wrote the guest post and the time it was published, I removed the templates and forms I referenced from my website. If you (or anyone else) wants free copies of them, feel free to email me at beth [at] elizabethhanes [dotcom].

      When I was a staff person in various middle-management jobs, I naturally developed routines and administrative forms to make my life easier. The same is true for freelancing. I just note down the common information I need from every client (name, contact person, that person’s phone number, who to invoice, when invoices are due, and so on) and then put this information into a form. That’s all it is.

      In terms of ebooks, Carol is right. First, you need platform. And even then, you may sell a few ebooks…or not. It kind of depends.

      Personally, I do plan to offer ebooks in the future. I think they can be a great marketing tool.

      ~Beth
      Elizabeth Hanes recently posted…One Simple Trick To Double (or Triple) Your Freelance RevenueMy Profile

  3. Williesha says:

    Love it! Especially that you’ve done it part time. That is astounding. I hope to be there soon. Will use your tips for sure.
    Williesha recently posted…Finding Financial Direction with Carrie Smith, Careful CentsMy Profile

  4. Giselle says:

    What about resume writing? Is there money in it? How would I find clients? I live in a medium sized prairie city of 750,000 so I’d like to find clients outside here because I’m not sure if this is a big pool for clients. Thank you.

    • Giselle, I can’t speak to resume writing. My sense is it’s not as lucrative as other types of writing. For what it’s worth, I believe anyone who can write a winning resume also can write dynamite sales copy (because a resume is basically a sales document). If you ever feel like branching out, copywriting might be something for you to explore.

      All best,
      Beth
      Elizabeth Hanes recently posted…The 4 Essential Pages Your Website Must HaveMy Profile

    • Carol Tice says:

      Giselle, my sense is that resume writing doesn’t pay very well — at this point, there are too many online resume-creator resources and most people do it themselves.

  5. Rob S says:

    Some good points here. I might try OfficeTime. I just asked a client for a hefty raise this morning after meticulously keeping track of every minute I worked for them this month. Including emails, making files, formatting the newsletter and blogs, writing up the Facebook and Twitter blurbs and editing photos, it took twice as long as I originally estimated.

    I used to think earning six figures was an impossible goal. I’m not there yet, but it actually seems like a realistic goal now.
    Rob S recently posted…So you want to be a travel writer?My Profile

  6. Elizabeth,

    I few months from now I have been pitching only for Ebooks Jobs.

    That way:
    – The amount of money I charge, the clients think it is fair and easily agree with my price. Since an Ebook is “more valuable” than an blog post or article

    – I have much more time to write it, and it’s easier for me to set a confortable deadline. I may choose the rush approach or the calm down approach

    Do you think I am wrong?
    Thanks for the awesome content

  7. It was kismet that I stumbled upon this post at this particular time. Just as I was starting to feel a little down and out at my earning potential, I read this. I know I am a good writer who is easy to work, however, it’s catching the big fish piece that is my struggle, like so many. My bait must be old and rotten. 🙂

    Thanks for the inspiration and actionable advice. I also appreciate the fact that you answered all the questions with detailed and useful responses.

    Warm regards,
    Jennifer L Markell

  8. Laura Ryding-Becker says:

    Hi, Beth! What a great post – informative, inspiring, and full of good ideas. I love writing; it is my true passion. I actually have two niches I’d really like to break into – mental health and helping college students “find themselves”. I have a feeling it’s probably easiest and most effective if I can focus on just one of these, but it’s hard to decide which one.

    Thanks for sharing your experience with us! 🙂

  9. Holly Bowne says:

    Wow! Super encouraging post, Beth! I’d love to hear more about the specific ways you streamlined your process which resulted in your increased hourly rate. (Maybe a great topic for a future post?! ;o). Thanks for sharing your tips!

    • Hi Holly!

      Thanks for reading.

      To briefly answer your question…

      I felt like I was always reinventing the wheel with each client that came along. I wasn’t gathering information efficiently at all, so that is the part I attacked.

      I literally wrote out a sequence of steps to go through when I onboard every new client. It looks something like this:

      1. Set up phone interview
      2. Use the client intake form to gather information
      3. Create proposal
      4. Send proposal
      5. Follow up on proposal

      (later, when the proposal has been signed)
      12. Set up client in CRM
      13. Set up client in Xero (my accounting system)
      14. Create initial draft invoices

      …and so on.

      By consistently going through the same steps for every client, I have become much faster at accomplishing them. This has been the main way I have improved efficiency and saved time.

      ~Beth
      Elizabeth Hanes recently posted…The 4 Essential Pages Your Website Must HaveMy Profile

  10. Scott says:

    Beth,

    I live in a healthcare hotspot – metropolitan Detroit – and am interested in tapping into the market. What confuses me is that all of these organizations have marketing and public relations staffs. Where does Content Marketing come into play? Are you writing for healthcare providers? Suppliers?
    Scott recently posted…Attention Editors, MarCom Pros & BloggersMy Profile

    • Scott, I work a lot with marketing agencies. But even organizations with marketing and PR staffs use freelancers (and agencies).

      When I attended Content Marketing World last fall, one of the presenters was a large healthcare system (I can’t remember who it was off the top of my head, but it was one of those mega-gigantic systems on the coast), and they said even though their organization was large, the truth was their marketing department consisted of only 7 staff members. They relied on two agencies to wrangle a lot (again, can’t remember the exact number off the top of my head) of freelancers for them.

      In terms of “where does content marketing come into play?” in healthcare, the answer is: in many surprising places.

      Do you receive a print or electronic newsletter from your healthcare provider or system? Content marketing. Does you provider/organization have a blog? Content marketing. Health condition information on their website? Content marketing.

      In my opinion, you have nothing to lose by contacting those marketing departments to ask if they use freelancers (or work with an agency).

      And, yes, independent providers need content, too. I’ve written a website and blogs for a cosmetic surgeon, and they usually have the dollars to spend. Ditto for cosmetic dentists.

      ~Beth
      Elizabeth Hanes recently posted…The 4 Essential Pages Your Website Must HaveMy Profile

  11. Brian says:

    Great article! Inspiring and a similar trend I hope to follow.

  12. Nicky says:

    Great post! Keeping a schedule is so important, but it’s the one thing I struggle with most! I do earn a living writing part time, but it is my home business. I don’t do any other work. I’m going to start keeping a schedule to maintain a routine.

    • Nicky, good for you! Earning a living writing, I mean. That’s awesome.

      Likewise, I work from home and writing is my sole source of personal income. I guess in the interest of full disclosure I should say that I am married, and my husband also makes a good salary. We kind of compete to see who can earn the most each year. Having just done the taxes, I can tell you 2014 was a dead heat. I told him I’m definitely beating him this year. Power to the women!!

      ~Beth
      Elizabeth Hanes recently posted…The 4 Essential Pages Your Website Must HaveMy Profile

  13. Liesa Malik says:

    Thanks for the refresher on personal marketing! Too often, a lack of vision about what I want stops me from moving forward, but your article brought back the reality–know what you want, research where to find it, target specific people within your market, and connect. Great formula! Wishing you well.

  14. Holly says:

    Great post Beth. Of your 18 or so hours per week, how many would you say are billable vs. spent on other tasks that are necessary to run your business? ie. marketing, admin work, etc.
    Holly recently posted…Yard & Garden Prep: March 2015My Profile

    • Thank you, Holly!

      To answer your question, I looked back at my OfficeTime data for March so I could give you real numbers.

      In March 2015, I spent 75.5 hours ‘in the office.’ That’s an average of about 19 hours per week. It includes all my work-related time, billable and non-billable.

      That total includes:

      18 hours of administration (checking email, sending invoices, etc.)

      3 hours of marketing activities (I was busy with client work in March, so I slacked off on marketing, which is not a good thing to do)

      11.5 hours for my passion project, RN2Writer

      Subtracting that (32.5) from the total hours leaves 43 hours devoted to client work. I consider that my “billable” hours, even though some of that time is performing research and so on.

      Admittedly, some of what gets counted as “administrative” time is actually me checking Facebook, but I have another category called “personal” that I try to switch to when I’m actually vegetating.

      I should have mentioned in the post I also use the free version of RescueTime to get a snapshot of how efficient I am week by week. It’s fun and motivating.

      ~Beth
      Elizabeth Hanes recently posted…The #1 Mistake Writers Make When Writing Their Own WebsiteMy Profile

  15. Rebecca says:

    Thank you for this great article! I have been wondering how I might find content marketing agencies that have certain areas of specialization. Is there an organization or directory of content marketing agencies, for example? My background is in nonprofit performing arts marketing, so I think I should drop my fishing hook in the “arts and entertainment fishing hole”, for freelancing work. Ideally, I’d like to find clients in the for-profit world, since the pay is likely to be better than nonprofit, and I wonder if there is a way to find content marketing agencies that specialize in arts and entertainment? Thank you again!

    • Carol Tice says:

      I’m not aware of any directories for this, Rebecca…but use the Google, as we old folks say.

      Unfortunately, my experience is the ‘arts and entertainment fishing hole’ doesn’t have many fat fish in it. Smaller nonprofits want volunteers. You could go on Guidestar and qualify nps with bigger budgets to target, would be one idea. I don’t know how many of these groups use ‘content marketing agencies,’ or even do content marketing — I feel like it’s not very common in this niche.

      I think many bigger NPs have a marketing staff and supplement with freelancers. One tip is to think venues rather than individual entertainers, or to connect with talent agencies that represent many artists.

    • I have to agree with Carol that arts and entertainment doesn’t have many big fish in it. I know from first-hand experience: I began my career as an arts and antiques writer, and pay rates are no better today than they were 20 years ago.

      To find content marketing agencies, try the Content Marketing Institute website (especially the blog, where people post a lot of thought leadership pieces) and also Google (as Carol suggested). I use a variety of search terms, such as “content agency healthcare” or “medical marketing agency.” It’s worth noting the regular ol’ marketing agencies need content writers, too, so don’t limit your search to “content agencies” only.

      Good luck!

      ~Beth
      Elizabeth Hanes recently posted…The #1 Mistake Writers Make When Writing Their Own WebsiteMy Profile

  16. Evan Jensen says:

    Hi Elizabeth,
    It’s great hearing from writers like you who have achieved such success. I’m working on growing my freelance business in healthcare writing too. Is your RN experience a key factor in landing well-paying clients?

    • Evan, I often joke going to nursing school was the best thing I ever did for my writing career.

      The RN credential helps on the content side, but not so much on the journo side. Editors need to know I can do serious reporting. They don’t care too much about the RN.

      But marketers love it. That said, I know plenty of successful healthcare writers with no clinical license or degree. It’s definitely the niche to be in right now.

      Good luck to you!

      ~Beth

  17. I feel like I’m just starting my freelance writing career even though I have been creating content for people for a few years now. But most of the jobs have been low-paying work, even when I increased my rates to $15 for 500 words, I thought that nobody would hire me because that was “too high”. Thanks to Carol, I’m now digging for high paying clients, and it’s really starting to make a difference. I’m learning to find where to people who need writers hang-out, how to pitch, and many other skills that I would have never learned if I continued working for crap. This article is really interesting but I would like to know how you contact these clients, do you pitch them through email or over the phone? What works for you?
    Timothy Gagnon recently posted…FreelancerMy Profile

    • Hi Timothy,

      Thanks for your questions.

      I mainly contact prospective clients directly, using a letter-of-introduction. It’s come to my attention some folks are now calling this “email marketing” for writers.

      As I said in the post, though, another key tactic for me is attending conferences. Every time I have attended a conference, I’ve come away with at least five figures’-worth of work over the next year.

      One thing I didn’t include in the post is my devotion to value-based pricing. I’m the queen of value-based proposals. I think many freelance writers lack great proposal-writing skills and also don’t understand how to negotiate well. If you can hone your skills in those two areas, I think you’ll see your income increase.

      Of course, value-based pricing doesn’t work for journalists. It only works for people like me who produce content and marketing stuff.

      ~Beth
      Elizabeth Hanes recently posted…The #1 Mistake Writers Make When Writing Their Own WebsiteMy Profile

      • Hi Elizabeth, thanks for your response. That’s really useful advice, unfortunately, I can’t attend conferences, because I live in Taiwan, and I don’t speak Chinese…yet. I have been sending out emails to different editors with article ideas, the article ideas still need a lot of improvement, and I haven’t been accepted yet; but I did get a couple of responses so at least someone is reading this emails. Hopefully soon I’ll grab a client. Value based proposals sounds interesting; I’ll have to look into that.
        Timothy Gagnon recently posted…FreelancerMy Profile

  18. Karen says:

    I am making money part time writing, but certainly not making a “living” at it yet. And six figures? I would be happy with five figures at this point. That’s my current goal for 2015.
    Karen recently posted…Great Sellers on eBay: Ralph Lauren Men’s ClothingMy Profile

  19. Sarah says:

    This is so encouraging! I am also looking to earn a full-time income while working part-time. I’ve got the part-time working down…now just to increase my earnings 🙂

    Thanks for the tips!!
    Sarah recently posted…Hobbies: Are they costing you money or making you money?My Profile

  20. Nur Costa says:

    Amazingly brief and useful. Thanks Carol 😉
    Nur Costa recently posted…A TRIP TO INDIA #1 (A SERIES)My Profile

  21. Mike Johnson says:

    Hi Beth,

    Great post! Detailed, actionable and inspiring.

    I especially agree with going after clients with repeat work. That really boosts the income and reduces the work hours due to far less marketing time.

    In the 1990’s I was a 6-figure writer (adjusted for inflation) for six solid years from just one client. I achieved that working just part-time too.

    I’ve since moved on from trading time for money to passive income, but my writing skills and experiences got me here.

    This article is solid gold for building writing income and gaining time. Time and writing skills can take you anywhere!

    MJ
    Mike Johnson recently posted…Retire Now & Make Your Life a Perpetual SaturdayMy Profile

  22. Great article! You’ve nailed it. It’s all about charging more for the work you used to do for peanuts, not working more hours. I also like that you set your hours. I tend to work 3-4 hours a day, but it spans the whole day because I need to take breaks for my back. Still, I could set office hours, like 10-12 and 2-4.
    Bonnie Nicholls recently posted…Target to Replace Gala: Is This So Bad?My Profile

    • “Raising your hourly rate” definitely is a key factor in earning big bucks as a freelancer, but I do want to clarify that the way I “raise” my effective hourly is by working very efficiently. It’s not really that I ‘charge’ more than I used to, it’s that I spend less time on the same projects. I hope that makes sense!

      ~Beth
      Elizabeth Hanes recently posted…The 4 Essential Pages Your Website Must HaveMy Profile

  23. Mai Bantog says:

    You’re one highly disciplined bionic woman, Elizabeth! This is truly inspiring. I, too, am a nurse, but I left my hospital job in 2012 to pursue full time freelance writing.

    I still couldn’t wrap my head around working part time and earning six figures, but so far I’m successfully trying to cut down my procrastinating habits so that work doesn’t take over most of my time. Still doing an 8-hour workday (it used to be more than 12 hours!), but I’m looking forward to that day when I can also work 18 hours a week. 🙂

  24. Ronda Swaney says:

    I love the notion of being brutally efficient with your time. Great ideas. I’m making my living as a full-time writer, but am strategizing now to make the same money doing part-time work. Thanks for the inspiration, Elizabeth!
    Ronda Swaney recently posted…Need More Leads? Blog Early and Often.My Profile

  25. Daryl says:

    A six figure yearly salary on 18 hours per week.

    Mind=Blown

    To answer your question, at the present moment I’m looking to be more selective in choosing long term clients who pay decently, if not better. I think that’s crucial in transitioning from a struggling writer to a successful one!
    Daryl recently posted…No Gigs, No Problem – How to Make Money From Your Freelance Blog Without Freelance Writing ClientsMy Profile

  26. Jireh says:

    I am just getting started, i have sent out a few magazine submissions and i write for Ultius. I could definitely use better time management skills. To earn five figures would b great let alone six.

    • Jireh, I have really found that implementing systems around my writing life has increased my efficiency. Think about all the routine tasks you do every day, and then find a way to combine them in a single block of time. I think you’ll be amazed at how much more efficient you’ll become.

      ~Beth
      Elizabeth Hanes recently posted…The 4 Essential Pages Your Website Must HaveMy Profile

  27. Great article. I’m also glad to see that Linkedin is one of the methods that you’re using to find big fish. I’m already on LinkedIn and will definitely up my game when it comes to finding fish!

    • Yes, LinkedIn is a key tactic for me. If you have any press clips, you can get a free upgrade to the Professional plan by joining LinkedIn for Journalists and taking their free training (in case you didn’t know that). Being on OpenLink allows me to field inquiries from prospective clients without their having to connect with me first.

      ~Beth
      Elizabeth Hanes recently posted…The 4 Essential Pages Your Website Must HaveMy Profile

  28. Wow Elizabeth, that’s seriously impressive!

    So glad to hear that you’re on your way to reaching your goal, it only fills me with inspiration to achieve my own. Wishing you all the best!
    Jake Mcspirit recently posted…The Minimalist Guide to Self-AcceptanceMy Profile

  29. Gina Horkey says:

    Awesome! Kudos to you on your success – I wouldn’t categorize you as lazy, just beyond efficient!
    Gina Horkey recently posted…5 Decisions I Now Make as the BossMy Profile

  30. Nida Sea says:

    Love this! I’m so driven to make six figures this year and your plan is exactly how I want to do it. No more 40 hour weeks or low-paying work for me. This totally inspires me. Great article!

  31. Wow, what an inspiring post!

    Productivity and multitasking is my biggest obstacle and time suck as I get more clients. I’m downloading OfficeTime right now to prioritize my time so I have more left for marketing!

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