How I Make a Living as a Full-time Freelancer

Ten years ago, I earned $66.23 in my first freelancing gig. It was a data entry job for some real estate company.

I can’t exactly remember why I tried Odesk then, or how I got there. But one thing that I can still clearly remember is the feeling I had when I opened my bank account and saw my earnings there—this can work.

Today, I’m still using the same platform but it’s now called Upwork. It still makes up the majority of my income but for the past few months, I’ve been building different income streams so I don’t depend on one income source alone.

Regardless of which stage you are in your freelancing journey, let me say one thing: you can make a career out of freelancing.

You’ll make mistakes along the way. You’ll experience a lot of ups and downs. It might take a while to replace your full-time income or the goal you set for yourself, but you’ll get there eventually.

Why I Started Freelancing

As with most freelancers, I started because I wanted to earn extra money. I didn’t have a goal back then nor have any plans. All I know is that I wanted to earn more so I can buy the things I want.

I worked in our family business straight out of college. In the morning, I helped out with admin stuff and some basic project management. At nights, I logged hours in Upwork.

After a while, I stopped hustling. Life happened. It was also during this time that I left the family business and worked in corporate.

I poured myself into my day work more, or hung out with friends instead of pursuing my side gig. Another factor that contributed greatly is my average commute time takes about 2 hours back and forth. By the time I get home, I’m drained physically.

Why I Still Freelance Today

In 2016, I was fired from my job. This was a few weeks before my wedding. Talk about bad timing, right?

But I didn’t panic. I have a fallback plan. Freelancing.

Since I “know” I’m good at what I do and have the results to back it up from my corporate jobs, I know I can quickly get some clients.

The next day, I started sending out proposal in Upwork to make up for my lost income.

I never looked back.

Today, there is one primary reason why I focus on freelancing: to enjoy the freedom that comes with it. I want to control:

  1. Where I work
  2. When I work
  3. What I work on
  4. Who to work with

Personally, it’s the ‘who’ that matters more to me right now. I had some terrible experiences with bosses and clients over the years. And it has affected me greatly. That’s why I don’t want to go through that again.

And because I learned from my past mistakes, I have the luxury to not accept any project that comes along my way. I don’t have to force myself to work people whose values aren’t aligned with mine.

What Full-Time Freelancing Looks Like

For the past 12 months, my average monthly income is around $2500. This is solely coming from direct freelancing work—actively trading my time for work.

I’m still building my “passive” income streams so I don’t have much to share there yet. But what I’m exploring are real estate, affiliate sites, paid newsletters, and writing on Medium.

Here’s What My Average Day Looks Like

I work 7 days a week. 10 hours on weekdays and 5 hours on weekends. That’s a mix of client work and personal projects.

7-8 AM: Morning routine—waking up, brewing coffee, a little bit of exercise and stretching

8-11 AM: Personal projects—depending on the day, it’s either working on my affiliate site, own website, or other stuff. Generally, this is the time I use for writing or researching to move the needle on the projects I’m working on.

11-12 PM: Planning and prioritizing client work—I check email, my Trello board, and other messaging apps to assess which ones I need to work on for the day.

12-1 PM: Lunch and afternoon coffee; maybe take a short nap or do some other admin stuff

1-6 PM: Client work and/or meetings—this is spread out on multiple projects and clients.

Not every day looks like this but generally this is how my weekday looks like. Sometimes I switch client work with personal projects or allot the entire day for clients. But that’s rare. Sometimes I also work beyond 6PM. This is mainly to accommodate time zone differences for my clients.

On weekends, I use it for personal projects or for catching up on some client work if I didn’t get to finish some during the week.

I limit myself to working in the mornings only during weekends. That way, I have the afternoon off to rest and spend time with my wife.

On Priorities

If you noticed, I spend the majority of my work day on client work. They are my priority for my freelancing business.

Creating customers (and keeping them) is the reason why businesses exist. And as a freelancer, adding value to them is the most important thing you can do.

If you don’t prioritize them, sooner or later, you’ll find yourself stuck in the vicious cycle of feast and famine that a lot of freelancers face.

But, you also don’t want to solely focus on your clients’ businesses. You need to build your own business as well. That’s the reason why I try to move the needle every single day.

Depending on how you work, it may be different for you. For example, I know some freelancers who spend weekdays for client work and weekends for their personal projects. While that is another option, I tried it, and it doesn’t work for me.

On Side Hustles

It’s foolish to rely on one income stream. You’ve heard it over and over, wealthy people have 7 different sources of income.

I have 3 right now, but still in the early stages. My main source of income is direct freelancing work where it makes up around 90-95% of my total monthly income.

When the pandemic hit, that income got slashed by 70%. Since I spent the last few months building my emergency fund, I didn’t worry. Plus, I know there were several industries that weren’t affected as much as others. These were the ones I can target and find new clients.

That said, I still have a long way to go. But I’m putting in the time and effort to grow other incomes streams. And so should you.

Freelancing Is an Option

I know some people who were forced into freelancing because they lost their jobs. It may seem scary, but know that you can make a career out of freelancing.

No matter your reason, or stage in your freelancing journey, remember that you are not alone.

What side projects are you working on right now? Are you relying on one income source, or are you building several ones?

Ariel Lim

Ariel Lim

Management consultant / MBA / Inbound marketer who helps startups generate leads, create and execute strategies.

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