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Three Tips For Building Your Six-Figure Freelance Career

Written by: Alice Sullivan, Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.

Executive Contributor Alice Sullivan

Becoming a successful freelancer doesn’t often happen overnight. It’s taken 23 years of experience in the publishing industry—and many trials and errors—to get to where I am now as a professional freelance writer. Becoming the best at what I do means carving out time to devote my most undivided attention to writing—and then charging appropriately and setting boundaries without backing down.

person using laptop on wooden brown table

Although there are endless lessons I’ve learned in pursuit of my dream, here are my top three tips for becoming a sought-after, high-earning freelancer.

1. Determine when you do your best work and protect that time at all costs

You’ve heard that saying, “Nature abhors a vacuum”? Well, it turns out that writers love them, and you might too! My best working time, which includes higher creativity levels and better focus, begins at 4:30 in the morning. As painful as it can sometimes be waking up this early, the quiet of the world before dawn is magical.

The energy in my home office is completely calm. No one will text or email me until 8 or 9 a.m. No weed eaters will churn outside my windows until later in the day. I have a few hours of complete, uninterrupted silence.

At this hour of the day, I do my best work. I focus without strain. I generate new ideas and stories. In fact, I accomplish such a tremendous amount that, often by 10 or 11 a.m. I’ve finished all the work I needed to complete for the day. Now I can choose to get ahead on another project, play in my garden, or take a nap.

The early morning hours won’t be the ideal work window for everyone. I admire people who do their best work at two in the afternoon or seven in the evening. But the point is to identify the time that works for you and build boundaries around it.

That might mean going to bed earlier, putting your phone on airplane mode, shutting your office door, or refusing to check email or social media for a few hours. In a world of constant distraction, your attention is your most precious resource. Guard it all costs and channel it into your most important project.

2. Research the market before you set your rates

In the mid-2000s, when I started freelancing, I wasn't sure what to charge my clients. So, I charged the same rates I’d paid my own freelancers at the publishing company I’d recently left—despite the unfortunate fact that Christian publishing (where I got my start) is famously low-paying.

It wasn’t that it hadn’t occurred to me to do market research; I'd been actively punished for speaking about my salary while I worked in-house. Both of my corporate editorial jobs slapped me on the wrist for discussing compensation with co-workers.

Finally, too many years later, I mustered the courage to ask my lawyer if my rate was roughly on par with other freelancers at my level. She said I was charging less than half of what I should be. I was floored, but something in me also knew I was worth the higher rate.

The only way to get comfortable with that rate was to quote it to clients and see what happened. I was terrified of change. Some clients and new leads walked away in search of lower rates. But other clients understood my value and didn't balk when I charged more.

As a freelancer, charging clients a rate commensurate with your skill level, experience, and talent is crucial. You may think having consistently lower rates guarantees you more work. And sure, it may keep you busy. But there is also the possibility that someone may pass because they assume your lower rates indicate lesser quality or experience.

I've often been the more expensive writer a client has considered. And I've often gotten the gig anyway because they understand I can deliver a higher quality product with excellence.

3. Say no to some potential clients so you can say yes to the right ones

When I started charging a higher rate—a price I’ve raised consistently over the years as my business grows—many clients said yes. But even the most successful freelancers will have clients say no, ask for a discount, or say yes but then ask for extra work that falls outside the project's scope. They have the right to ask for these things. And you have the right to decline or to renegotiate your agreement when factors change.

Learning to say no to clients is an art. It takes courage to set boundaries around your time and energy, but it’s ultimately worth it. I now make more money taking on fewer projects. I have more time to do whatever I want—one of the major drivers of becoming a freelancer in the first place.

I've written 60 books, and I realize that saying yes to clients when my intuition said no has only led to resentment and bumpy projects. I also had to learn it's okay to turn down work for any reason, including financial, topical, a difficult timeframe, or a clash of personalities.

Saying no can certainly be scary, but I’ve seen time and time again that a no will leave space for a yes to another project that’s a much better fit.

Follow me on LinkedIn, and visit my website for more info!

Alice Sullivan Brainz Magazine

Alice Sullivan, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine

Alice Sullivan is an award-winning ghostwriter, collaborator, and 11-time New York Times bestselling editor. A natural-born storyteller, she’s written 60 books and edited over 1,300 titles. She specializes in nonfiction—specifically memoir, self-help, and personal growth. She helps clients identify their goals and messages while creating engaging content to connect with their target markets. Her favorite projects are those that challenge her point of view and expand her knowledge.



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