Beyond the Rhetoric


The Confused Perception of Freelance Income

February 19th, 2013 by
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I’ve been working full-time as a freelance writer for a number of years now, but I still get the same reaction from people when I tell them that I do this for a living. Well, that’s not completely true, because it’s not really the same reaction as much as it is two very different reactions.

You Get Paid for That?

On the one hand, and this is likely closer to the majority than the alternative, I get people who are utterly flabbergasted that it is possible to make a livable income working from home as a freelance writer. The more traditional view is that, in order to earn a living, you have to leave the house and go to some sort of workplace and be employed by some kind of company. If I’m not actively employed with a particular company and I never leave the house, I can’t possibly be making any real money, right?


The fact of the matter is that running a freelance writing business isn’t all that different from running any number of small businesses that offer professional services. In effect, when you hire an independent lawyer, accountant or photographer, that is fundamentally the same relationship that a freelance writer would have with his or her clients. There is a business structure in place. Some may argue that there is a greater legitimacy (or at least the perception of such) if you rent a physical office somewhere and there may be some truth to that, but it’s not quite the right fit for my particular situation.

Many people have the assumption that if you don’t leave the home, it must be a hobby and not really a career. However, many hugely successful businesses got their starts in basements and bedrooms. Even if the company does grow to that level, a home-based business is no less legitimate than one that is based outside the home.

You Must Be Very Wealthy!

Although less common, another reaction that I get from people when I tell them that I’m a freelance writer for a living is that I must be rich. After all, my wife and I own our own home in an increasingly expensive Vancouver real estate market. We’re able to go out to eat and go on the occasional trip. And I’m a business owner, not someone else’s employee.

Well, this perception isn’t really accurate either. We aren’t rich, but at this point in our lives, we are reasonably comfortable. We’ve been able to be frugal where we need to be and we’ve been disciplined with our savings. I’ve worked on ways to maximize my freelance income, like developing sources of passive income, but I’d consider myself to be quite middle class.

So, How Much Money Can/Do You Make?

Without going into specific figures, the truth is that the potential for a reasonably successful career in freelancing is really not that different from many other career possibilities. If you choose to open up a modest eatery in the heart of the city, you could become the hottest place in town and make tons of money. On the flip side, you could be a monumental flop and find yourself riddled with debt.

It sounds cliche and you’ve probably heard it before, but it’s worth repeating: a freelance writing business is a business and needs to be treated as such. It carries with it all the risks and opportunities that you find with other businesses, including a difficult-to-predict flow of income. You can make money and there are opportunities to make a lot, but there is also the possibility of really struggling to make ends meet. As with so many other career aspirations, the majority of us who stick with it fit somewhere in between.

  Category: Freelance Writing, Work from Home   Tags: ,

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Michael Kwan Freelance Writer

3 Responses to “The Confused Perception of Freelance Income”

  1. Ray Ebersole says:

    I see it as you do Michael. You are working hard to make your living, just as I do with the School Board. You go out and get business, your market yourself, you put your time into making yourself successful.

    I, on the other hand do my best to be the best District tech support in the business. Because of my situation I cannot or do not have the time or built up cash to do my own business. I do some side work, but cannot build on it to make it a full time business because of the direction I took 10 years ago.

  2. Jenn Mattern says:

    I heard a lot of the former early on, with plenty of “that’s not a real job” comments from one particular family member. Over time they see it for what it is though, and if anything I find people are curious to learn more about freelance writing and how it all works.

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