My first paycheck was $190.71. That was five years ago.
In September 2015, I brought in $4,733.08. Last month, I made $3,518.87.
But guess what? I’m not working a full-time desk job. In fact, I’m a full-time college student.
I’m not here to brag. I don’t even like sharing my income publicly.
But I do like to inspire. By sharing my journey, I hope to convince you that making a full-time wage on your own terms while pursuing a bachelor’s degree is possible.
I’m a freelance writer, and this is my story.
How I Became a Freelance Writer
I never planned on becoming a freelancer. But at 17 years old with just a mere $400 to my name — thanks Grandma! — I needed to start saving money for college.
I thought I had to choose between a job or extracurricular activities. I didn’t realize I could have both.
At the time, I lived in a house with five teenagers and we shared one car with our mom. It was tough to coordinate our schedules, so working as a server or retail associate at a place I had to drive to would be difficult. I also lived in the country, so getting a job within walking distance wasn’t an option.
When my sister told me about a company that was hiring writers, I jumped at the chance. I could work around my schedule and didn’t need a car to make money? Sign me up!
Although my first client was a content mill — and content mills don’t typically pay much — I was lucky they didn’t care about previous work experience; they just needed people who could write.
How I Built a Writing Business and Grew My Income
I started freelance writing in November 2010. The next year, I didn’t even break $4,000.
Yet in 2015, I’m on track to break $35,000 while going to school full-time. (To put that in perspective, the average household income in the town where I live is $36,770.)
So how did I do it?
In January 2013, something changed: I stopped looking at my writing as a source of side income and started thinking of it as a business.
I launched a website and raised my writing rates 10 times more than where I’d started. At the end of that year, my income was triple what I made in 2012.
Since most of my previous work had been ghostwritten and I couldn’t disclose who I’d written for, it basically felt like starting from scratch. I began following writing blogs and forums, and I submitted my first bylined guest posts.
I started making a name for myself, and in a short time, people were referring clients to me or finding me through search engines. As a result, my portfolio grew and so did my clientele. I raised my rates again.
In time, I found long-term clients looking for month-to-month work, who wanted to hire me on retainer. It was all about putting myself in the right mindset while making my website look good, contributing guest posts, and networking with other writers and learning from them.
How I Ran a Freelance Writing Business as a Student
Starting out, time-management was key. I kept an extra notebook in my backpack so I could jot down headline ideas between classes. If I had an hour between class, I’d find a quiet spot on campus and work on a guest post. I’d even highlight sections of my textbook and use that passage as a basis for an article.
But slowly, I started putting my business first. My grades didn’t suffer, luckily, but I got to the point where I wanted my schooling to be as flexible as my career.
So I transferred to an online program. Now I complete my schoolwork between my work breaks — not the other way around.
Because of the route I took, I did give up a bit of the college experience. I spent two years on campus and then moved on to better things — marriage, a career, a house — all without giving up my dream of earning a bachelor’s degree. And when I graduate, I’ll have an extra credential to attract more clients and raise my rates.
Today, I work a typical 40-hour week, but I incorporate my schoolwork throughout the day.
And the best part? No one cares I’m only 22 years old and still in school. If anything, it makes me unique, and people remember me because of it.
3 Major Mistakes I Made While Building My Freelance Business
Does running your own freelance writing business sound like something you want to do? It’s definitely possible, but you’ll want to avoid the mistakes I made starting out.
1. I took low-paying work just because it had a dollar sign next to it. I started making $0.01 per word. Now I rarely make less than 12 cents per word. If you realize how much your services are worth immediately, you’ll get to that $4,000 per month mark much faster.
2. I didn’t think of myself as a business owner. It took me years to realize I was, in fact, a sole proprietor and needed a website. Put yourself in the right mindset from the start.
3. I thought I couldn’t make a career out of freelancing. If you’re passionate about it, you can make a full-time living freelancing, so don’t be afraid to choose a major that will help you boost your business. I did, and it’s been a game-changer.
You won’t get rich quick. But if you put your mind to it, you can earn a full-time income before earning your bachelor’s degree.
Your Turn: Are you interested in freelancing full time? What type of freelancing business would you like to start in college?
Alicia Rades is a freelance writer, blogger and editor who specializes in blogging and freelancing topics. Learn more about her at aliciarades.com, where you can download her free blogging guide.