How I doubled my freelance income in 2020 — and hit six figures

Wudan Yan
7 min readDec 2, 2020

At the end of June, when I was assessing my finances, I was completely shocked to see that I had basically hit my target income already.

That must be a fluke, right? But it wasn’t. My trusty Google Sheets had the right formula, and I double checked to make sure all my invoices were documented correctly.

“Welp,” I thought to myself, “I already hit $50k” (my target income). “I could just give up on working for the rest of the year.”

Of course, I didn’t. At the time, I didn’t strategize for a six-figure year, but towards the end of Q3, when it was looking more and more likely that I could hit that goal without overworking myself, I thought, why not?

I know 2020 is a strange year to be making money as a freelance journalist. Publications have shut down. Some have entirely cut their freelance budgets. Over the last year, I’ve coached nearly 100 other freelancers, so I am very much aware of how difficult it is to get freelance pitches commissioned — and commissioned at a fair rate, at that.

As I close my books, I want to share my numbers, and a few tips on how I made this possible.

Gross income: $107,000

Net income: $103,300

50% journalism (writing)

19% journalism (fact checking)

16% non-journalistic writing (trade pubs, brands)

10% from podcast

5% from coaching

Vacation days taken: 35–40.

Clients (excluding coaching and podcast): 34

Lessons I learned

  1. Calculate a ‘rock bottom’ hourly rate. Then, use that to determine your ‘secret hourly rate.’

In season one of my podcast The Writers’ Co-op, which I run with Jenni Gritters, the two of us advocate for all freelancers to come up with an hourly rate to match their target income. It’s a simple calculation: take your desired earnings (based on your living costs), and divide them by how many hours you want to work a year (which accounts for “paid” vacation days)

That hourly rate is great — I call it my ‘rock bottom’ hourly rate — but all freelancers need to account for non-billable hours. You know, the hours you spend developing a pitch, updating your CV or website, promoting the work you’ve published…

Wudan Yan