Response to Freelancing Thoughts

July 2nd, 2015 by Potato

Last week I did some thinking out loud about freelancing, which included some discussion around some recent posts by Robb Engen at Boomer and Echo. Robb left this really long and thoughtful comment which I think should be a post in its own right so you can all see it. Here’s Robb.

Hey [Potato], I’m not sure if you’re just taking issue with the $1000/month comment or what, but this comes across as a pretty whiny rant. The point is, if you were in financially dire straits, you could easily find a way to double your best freelance earnings. You’re not in that position, so you don’t NEED to hustle that hard.

Think of it this way: the average couple with no kids could rent out a spare room or basement to reach that extra income target. But they won’t, because having a stranger in your house is weird and uncomfortable. One or both of them could take a part-time job or use a marketable skill to earn extra money on the side. But they don’t want to because they’d rather watch TV and look at Facebook.

My advice to millennials [snip] is to hustle. “Do what you love” is a great mantra, but do it on the side. Anecdotally, I know a few people who do it, and plenty who could, but choose not to.

You make a lot of assumptions about me and my situation. I’m actually offended (well, offended enough to make this comment). I’m not in the upper-stratosphere of writers — not even close! I write a lot and do a decent job promoting. I’d say my biggest strength when it comes to my side business is finding what the next thing is going to be.

When the typical online ad revenue streams dried up, I looked for other ways to increase my side income. I noticed plenty of brands trying to start a blog or newsletter, and most of the time they had no content strategy whatsoever. So I’d reach out to a few of them and offer to write articles at $250/post. I took a targeted sales approach and it paid off. Incidentally, many of those relationships turned into advertisers on B&E or RCC.

After the Toronto Star column ended, I was out $8k to $10k per year. Enter the fee-only planning business, which filled that void and to be honest takes less time than writing, finding sources, and going back and forth with an editor (as you described above).

Yes, I benefit from a short commute and a steady 9-5 job. But did you know that I work every Friday/Saturday night from September to December, and from January to March?

Yes, I’m blessed to have a stay-at-home spouse. But that does not limit the time I spend with my family and looking after my share of the household duties. Did you know that my wife has MS? I can’t imagine how tired she gets chasing after two young kids every day while keeping the house in order, groceries stocked, and family on schedule. I drove my daughter to and from Kindergarten most days. I do whatever I can to help ease that burden at home.

Finally, I’m also working on plenty of non-income generating activity on the side, such as completing the coursework required to earn my CFP designation, and doing pro-bono financial planning.

Hey, we also love binge-watching shows on Netflix and do so on a regular basis. But when The Bachelor comes on, or (shudder) Grey’s Anatomy, I pull out my laptop and get to work.

I freelance to replace my wife’s working salary so that she can stay home for her health and to look after our kids. It’s a lot of work, but I’m in no danger of burning out.

I don’t think it’s unreasonable to earn $1,000 per month on the side. Deep down, if your financial livelihood depended on it, you could hit that target. My turn for assumptions: You have the luxury of working on “dream projects” like writing a book or creating a course because you don’t necessarily need the immediate income (these projects may pay off down the road, but likely would not return the time and effort that were put into them). If you had to focus on immediate income, you could easily earn $1,000 per month or more. You know you could.

Potato again. In last week’s post I did some thinking out loud including deciding not to try to quit my job to do freelance full-time, and also trying to think of what the average person might be able to expect in terms of side income if they started freelancing. I started by referring to and criticising a recent post by Robb Engen at Boomer & Echo, which left off anchoring readers at $1000/mo, and then whining that I was nowhere near that and then thinking out loud to try to figure out if the expectation was reasonable or if I just stink [TL;DR: I leave off inconclusive, but suggesting it’s doable for some, and that my odour is not entirely that of freshly baked cookies and rainbows]. I also made some assumptions about Robb’s situation that he found offensive. Robb, for what it’s worth I’m sorry. It’s not going to stop me from continuing to run my big stupid mouth (err keyboard) over the next few lines, but I’m not intentionally trying to provoke you.

I think one thing that comes out clearer in Robb’s post here than in the original is the issue of need. Having the ability to start tapping some kind of side income if you lose your job is a great backstop (whether that’s freelancing or something else), and of course for that to be there when you need it, you have to have at least a little bit of freelancing going on while things are fine. Whether that’s going to bring in $500/mo, $1000/mo or more is hard to say, and not all that relevant except for my own neepery and nit-pickiness on numbers and setting expectations — the point is that doing it will open possibilities and create backstops for you.

His closing point here is valid. I do diddle around a lot on projects with no economic return. If I was in a needful situation I would hustle a lot more for paid work and shelve things like the book and course, and that might make me more positive on the prospects of freelancing.

And a final sticking to my guns moment: I’ll still suggest that Robb is in the upper stratosphere of freelance writers. Freelance writing is not so lucrative that said stratosphere is necessarily paved with gold, and I didn’t want to suggest that that makes it easy to do — writing a lot [hard work] and doing a decent job of promoting is how you get to be a top-level writer. And Robb is a machine.

3 Responses to “Response to Freelancing Thoughts”

  1. Robb Engen Says:

    Thanks for your response here, John. While $1000 might be on the high side for some, I think you’re now anchoring on the idea that I was talking about freelance writing only. There are plenty of other ways to earn money on the side. Sean Cooper did it by bagging groceries and renting out the upstairs of his home. Some people do wedding photography or DJ weddings or bar-tend on the weekend. Heck, you could probably sell $250 worth of “stuff” every month on Facebook swap-and-buy.

    You’re right, on the earning side I’m probably in the upper stratosphere of paid writers. And I certainly didn’t want to suggest that anyone could earn $1000/month blogging. That would be like saying I could earn $1,000/month doing wedding photography – not going to happen.

    The whole point circles back to millennials and the need to develop some type of side-gig to compensate for the lack of steady, full-time employment with benefits. Don’t get stuck on the amount – even $200 per month is enough to pay your heating bill. I earned nothing for a year of blogging – but eventually the income will come or another opportunity will open up.

  2. sherry @ save. spend. splurge. Says:

    I’d agree with Robb’s last comment about how in GENERAL it is easy to hustle $1000 extra a month if you are willing to do so.

    Of course, this holds very little water coming from someone like me, but … it’s true. When I wasn’t working I was able to rustle up at least $500 a month (on average more than that) with very little effort.

  3. Potato Says:

    Thanks Sherry & Robb. Of course to bring it back to my own sad sack, I barely got above that $1k level for May/June and was all like “I am much awesome freelance now! Many felicitations!” and then also felt kind of burned out. (Indeed, I had a few hours today where I was going to work on the backend of the site and realized I just needed to nap and veg more — that mobile version will have to wait a few more weeks).

    Fortunately I have a much-needed vacation coming up in just a few weeks.