The Truth About the Freelancer Lifestyle

How much money does the average freelancer make?

Questions like these often raise more questions than they answer. If you’re just starting out as an aspiring website designer, writer, virtual assistant, etc., it’s probably the most important question of all.

How much can you really make? Or, maybe it’s safer to ask, how much should I expect to make?

The most recent answer to this question that I could find is this – the average freelancer works 36 hours a week at a rate of $21 per hour, giving them an annual pretax salary of more than $39,000 (freelance pay rates).

These are global averages. There are people out there who are either north or south of $39k a year.

How Many Hours Will Your Work?

The first number that really sticks out to me is 36-hours. That’s four hours short of a forty-hour work week. That’s 7.2-hours a day, Monday through Friday.

Maybe I’ve lost touch with reality, but I don’t know any freelancers who work eight hours a day consistently? There are plenty of them sitting in front of a computer for that long (and longer)… but they’re not actually working.

They’re reading, watching videos, talking to people on social media, etc.

Some are looking for new clients, networking, bidding on projects, etc.

I guess if you’re logged into a system of some kind (maybe Upwork?) that monitors your activity, maybe then you can squeeze out eight hours a day?

Even so, doing it week after week seems unrealistic to me unless you’re working with a team of people.

Not to have a bad attitude about it, but in the context of the average numbers alone – you may as well get a job. At least there’s a chance you’ll get benefits and you don’t have to spend all your time beyond the 36-hours marketing yourself.

Going the Freelancer Route

I’m self-employed. Before the entrepreneurial label became a thing, that’s how I saw myself – as a self-employed business owner.

I didn’t go down this road because I had dreams of working forty-hours a week.

I went down this road because it offered freedom and opportunity. I went down this road because I didn’t want to become just another “bot” in the corporate system.

I found the hint of unspeakable riches very appealing, too!

So yeah, I just jumped in and got started and decided to let the pieces fall where they may.

Focus On One Foundation Product, Service or Income Stream

It seems like some lessons you learn the hard way. For me, that lesson was FOCUS. I knew I should have been focusing on one thing, but I didn’t. Keep it simple. Ask yourself, “What product or service is the biggest money-maker for my business right now?”

That’s where your focus should be. Focus on doing the thing that brings the biggest return.

[bctt tweet=”Focus on doing the thing that brings the biggest return.” username=”jgaliano”]

Although this makes sense on paper, you’d be surprised how many people do the opposite in practice.

Let me give you a personal example. When I first got started, I realized quickly that it was a huge advantage in being able to meet people face-to-face to discuss their project with them.

Sure, some of these people weren’t a good fit. Some were barely getting by themselves and couldn’t afford to have the job done properly. Others, however, were just the opposite. They had the money, but they were assessing the risk of doing business with me.

When you’re an unknown quantity, there’s an element of risk involved.

You’re part of the investment, so you’re part of their risk assessment.

You’re the Product, Get Used to it

People “buy you,” or they pass on you and say, “no thanks.” You’re judged right alongside the product or service you’re selling. I discovered that the more relaxed I was, the more relaxed potential clients were. When I was tense, the client would sense it.

The first hurdle was them buying me. They were assessing, evaluating and judging in terms of risk.

In the process of the sales transaction, they’ll use whatever you give them (or don’t give them) to draw their conclusions. A whole array of thoughts may pass through their minds.

“Maybe this guy is a pretender?”
“This poor schmo is desperate. I think I’ll pass.”
“I don’t have a good feeling about him…”

That makes sense, right?

Think about how relationships work. Even without the business element, it’s complex. Why are we subconsciously repelled by needy, clingy people? Why do we tend to walk away from people we feel are desperate to sell us something?

Think about it.

Yet, we’re attracted to those who display the opposite qualities. We’re attracted to successful people and businesses.

Selling Your Service

Once you’ve sold yourself, your foot is in the door. Next comes your service. You’ll probably find it easier if you sell different versions or different packages of whatever it is you do.

Think in terms of small, medium and large with matching price points.

Maybe you can offer a guarantee of some kind?

At the end of the day, if the client is happy, everyone wins. If they aren’t, it’s up to you to make it right.

One-Off Services vs. Monthly Services

My “one thing” was originally website development. My customers, however, needed more than that. They needed web hosting. They needed email addresses for themselves and their employees.

So, I stepped up and filled the need.

These new services helped stabilize my business and provided me with ongoing income from month to month.

As a small business owner, I was able to provide my clients with a more personalized experience. That’s something they just don’t get with the larger companies.

On the other hand, whenever something went wrong, guess who got the call? I did.

That led to some stress at times, but that’s life. It’s not like you’re working on a trauma unit, right? If there’s a week link somewhere in the chain somewhere, you figure it out and fix it.

If you’re a new expense to a client, they’ll probably “feel that expense” for a month or two. Think about your own expenses. When you pay for something ongoing that’s a genuine help to you, it moves from the expense column into the investment column.

I’ll admit, when I take on a new expense, I’m not exactly happy about it. I question whether it’s going to be worth it or not in the back of my mind. It works the same way with your clients. You’re an expense on the front end, but the value you bring to the client will transform you into an investment with time.

If you stop bringing value, there’s nothing to stop a client from replacing you with a competitor selling a competing service for a few dollars less.

The point is, don’t fall asleep behind the wheel or get lazy. You’re not the only game in town. That realization is acute on the front end, but over time and with each added success, it can be tempting to believe you’re virtually irreplaceable.

In the world of business, everyone is replaceable – from the bottom all the way to the top.

Lifestyle – What Do You Really Want to Build?

The difference between the boutique, freelance business lifestyle (with less moving parts) and the online agency lifestyle is like the difference between night and day.

I know that’s a very general, sweeping statement, but I think it works.

Do you like working with teams of people? Do you enjoy working on big projects? That’s what agencies are like. Multiple projects all happening at the same time.

I like big projects, but not all the time.

Personally, I thrive when there’s some variety thrown into the mix.

Maybe that’s not something that interests you?

The point is, you should know what you’re building on the front end. If you’re not sure, at least consider having a Plan B in place, just in case. In case of what? In case you build something you end up hating.

Sometimes, you just don’t know what you’ll like until you’ve sampled it for yourself. Some people like the city, others the country, and still others – somewhere in between.

Applying those visuals to business, I find myself gravitating towards the “somewhere in between.” Think about it.

It’s not my place to tell you what you should build. I’ll go as far as saying, “Just be aware of what you’re doing and know the cost of it.”

If you have children and need to sacrifice to give them a better life, I’ll be the last person to tell you not to.

Sometimes we get to choose, other times the choices are basically made for us.

I will say this, working with the right people changes the entire dynamic. If you want to build a full-blown agency type of business that offers multiple services… the people you’re connected to can make it a blessing or curse.

I laugh as I say that because I’ve experienced both sides.

I stress this a lot on my podcasts, and now again in my writing. People usually consider the costs involved in building something but forget all about the costs involved in maintaining it.

I’m not just talking about money. I’m talking about time, stress and the daily routine that comes with maintaining whatever you’ve built. You can become a slave to the very thing that was meant to give you certain freedoms that aren’t otherwise found with a “regular job.”

You Can Be Small and Still Be Very Profitable

Some of my friends own and operate “boutique-style” businesses. They offer more personalized services than the larger competitors. They’ll never be confused with a “Titan Services International” type of business and that’s fine by them!

I remember a beer commercial I used to hear all the time on the radio back in the late 80s and early 90s. It was from a smaller brewing company in Boston. In the commercial, they said, “The big beer companies spill in one day more than we sell in a year…”

They went on to explain how they took their time, finding the best ingredients available, etc. They were committed to brewing each batch to perfection. If it wasn’t perfect, it didn’t leave the brewery. They dumped it down the drain.

Today, craft beers produced by microbreweries are more popular than ever before. Especially where I live in the State of Florida.

The food industry has many examples of “smaller companies” being highly profitable.

Artisan pizzas, organic vegetables, grass-fed (only) beef. I’ve tried these products and, yes, I’ve noticed the difference.

Of course, all these examples involve taste. Literal taste.

What about other things?

How or where something is made can separate it from the competitors.

A special process that you use can be an appealing selling point, highlighting the quality and justifying a higher price point.

Guess what? I didn’t understand how to apply any of those “formulas” when I started and I lived to tell the story!

In fact, didn’t understand or implement any of these things for years. I understood the concepts, but I didn’t know how to apply them to my business in a practical sense.

Niching down didn’t work very well, either. I chose a niche (more than once), and for all intents and purposes, the common response I got was, “No thanks!”

I chose niches, but the niches didn’t choose me back.

So, I took what I could get and grew from there. One restaurant, one doctor, one lawyer, one spa, one consultant, one car dealership, etc. Yes, that approach actually worked.

The point is, did my best with what I had and kept adjusting and improving from there.

There Are Plenty of Detours on the Road to Success

Somewhere along the line, we’ve developed the belief that if we’re doing it right, we should see FAST results. I’m using the word “we” because I’ve gone through this, too. Everyone advertises the “home runs” in business. Although the fine print may say, “these results aren’t typical,” they seem to be typical because it’s the big wins people are always talking about.

Don’t assume you’re doing it wrong because it’s taking time to get your name out there. Don’t assume you’re doing something wrong because it’s taking more time than you thought to build trust.

Some journeys are filled with detours, breakdowns and one delay after another.

The point is – challenges aren’t an indication that you’re not doing it right. Challenges and slow progress aren’t an indication that you’re doing it wrong. There are more factors at play than people realize, that’s why it’s so important to keep learning and keep moving forward.

Today, I see it as a matter of having faith and persevering all the way to the end.

That may sound corny, but the small wins add up. They build your confidence. They keep you going.

Yes, you can become an overnight sensation! All the pieces may fall into place. If that happens, that’s great! If it doesn’t, just know you can still get there.

The Freelancer Lifestyle

So, what about this whole freelancer, entrepreneur type of lifestyle? Is it worth pursuing? If you can persist and persevere, it absolutely is. Even if that just means starting out part-time.

I took the freelancer to the boutique-agency path. Instead of one-off gigs, I provided monthly services to my clients such as website updates, hosting and email marketing services.

Some freelancers go on to build passive income websites that sell advertising and/or affiliate products. They combine that with their freelancing income. Other freelancers find themselves contracted by a few large companies and benefit from a steady stream of work that way.

The great news is, the tools available today enable you to work faster and more efficiently than was possible in the past.

As I look back over the last twenty-plus years of business, I’ve been able to spend more time with family and do the things that have been important to me. At the lowest points, I’ve had to deal with the pressure of wondering how I was going to meet my financial obligations and get out of credit card debt.

At my highest point (today), I’m debt free and don’t owe anyone a dime.

In the end, the rewards that come with sticking with it far outweigh the cost, time and commitment it takes to experience success.

When your dream is finally realized, and it becomes a reality, you’ll never be the same again. It’s humbling. It’s exciting. That’s been my experience and I believe it can be yours, too, if you want it.

(* If you liked this article, you may also be interested in this podcast episode discussion the different online business models)

Picture of Jim Galiano

Jim Galiano

Jim Galiano is an Internet consultant, web developer, author and podcaster who started doing business online in 1998. His consulting, marketing and publicity services have been used worldwide since 2002. Jim has been interviewed by a variety of media sources including the Wall Street Journal and CBS News in New York.

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About Jim

Jim Galiano is an Internet consultant, web developer, author and podcaster who started doing business online in 1998. His consulting, marketing and publicity services have been used worldwide since 2002.

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